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Plaster bust of a male slave - 1796

Plaster bust of a male slave
    Plaster bust of a male slave

This bust made of painted plaster is one of a pair and has a female counterpart.

This bust made of painted plaster is one of a pair and has a female counterpart. c.1796-1800

  • Type of object: Ornamental ware/bust
  • Year produced: 1796
  • Material: plaster
  • Accession number: 4522
  • Dimensions: 230 mm (height), 100 mm (width), 105 mm (depth)

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Glossary

  • Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade

    Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade

    The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was a British abolitionist group founded in 1787 by Grenville Sharp, Philip Sansom and Thomas Clarkson. Nine of the Society's twelve members where Quakers - John Barton, William Dillwyn, George Harrison, Samuel Hoare Jr, Joseph Hooper, John Lloyd, Joseph Woods Sr, James Phillips and Richard Phillips - and thus debarred from standing for Parliament. Sharp, Sansom and Clarkson were Anglican and so were able to strengthen the Society's influence on the Parliament. The mission of the Society was to inform the British public of the dreads of slavery for example by writing pamphlets, conducting interviews with sailors working on slave-ships and obtaining equipment used on slaves on these ships like iron handcuffs or thumb screws. Other aims were to bring about a new law to abolish the slave trade and establish areas in West Africa where former slaves could live freely without the risk of being kidnapped again. The Society also tried to reach the public by means of writing and publishing books, prints, posters and the organisation of lectures on these topics throughout the country.

    Josiah Wedgwood supported this movement due to his close friendship to Thomas Clarkson but as well because he believed in the creeds of the Society. Perhaps Wedgwood's greatest contribution to the anti-slavery cause was the production, at his own expense, of a ceramic medallion featuring a kneeling slave in chains with the question: "Am I not a man and a brother?". The distribution and circulation of these medallions was central to the movement, as they publicly advertised the wearer's support. It became the most famous image of a black person in 18th-century art. There was also a female equivalent with a kneeling woman asking: "Am I not a woman and a sister?".

    Thomas Clarkson wrote on the use of the slave medallion: "... the taste of wearing them became general, and thus a fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom."