Birmingham Ladies’ Society for Relief of Negro Slaves

 

Although Mary Prince was eventually granted freedom in Great Britain she still struggled for true independence from her former masters even after she stopped working for them. Abolition in the British Empire was gradual. Even after the institution of slavery was completely abolished by the Slave Trade Act of 1807, British society resisted complying with the new laws.[1] Many former slave owners acted to prohibit their former slaves from getting jobs, forcing them to work as a form of indentured servants. Mary Prince’s former master John Wood wrote a letter that granted her de jure freedom, however suggested that no one hire her. Essentially ensuring that Mary Prince remained in a de facto state of servitude.

There were however, certain groups of English society that gained respect and influence by speaking out on behalf of former slaves. One such group that directly relates to the history of Mary Prince is the Birmingham Ladies’ Society for Relief of Negro Slaves. [2] The group was founded by Lucy Townsend and Mary Lloyd. The two women quickly increased the group’s numbers reporting seventy-three new independent organizations by 1831. [3]  This Ladies Association wrote propositions on behalf of Mary Prince and her character in hopes of helping her secure a job.

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A depiction of Amelia Opie, leader of the Anti-Slavery Female Society in Norwich. Norwich was greatly influenced by the organization and message of the Birmingham Ladies’ Society.

While groups like the Birmingham Ladies’ Society attempted to influence the spread of abolition in Great Britain, some interpretations question the real impact of these associations. Critical interpretation argues that these groups portrayed former slave women as kneeling enchanted women who were pathetically appealing for their freedoms. [4] Academics supporting this school of thought portray the writings of Mary Prince as an, “impassioned and articulate call of a woman who had broken her own bonds.” [5] The idea that Mary Prince grasped her own success without the help of white upper-class women’s associations creates a conflict between historical interpretations. What representation is more accurate? If Mary Prince really did act alone did she consciously disregard help from other groups because of difference in race? In a broader analysis, what does this interpretation lead us to believe in terms of race relations in Great Britain following the abolition of slavery?

~WDL

References

  1. Prince, Mary, and Thomas Pringle. The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. London: F.Westley and A.H. Davis, 1831. Print.
  1. Todorova, Kremena. “”I Will Say the Truth to the English People”: The History of Mary Prince and the Meaning of English History.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 43.3 (2001): 285-302. Project MUSE. Web.
  1. (john@spartacus-educational.com), John Simkin. “Spartacus Educational.” Spartacus Educational.Spartacus Educational, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2017.
  1. Midgley, Clare. “Anti-Slavery and Feminism in Nineteenth-Century Britain.” Gender & History3(1993): 343-62. Web.
  2. Anti-Slavery and Feminism, p. 355
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