Dressing Abolitionists and the Enslaved: Slave-Labour and Free-Labour Gingham Cloth in Carlisle in the 1850s

Anna Vaughan Kett

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Against the backdrop of the Trans-Atlantic boycott of slave-grown cotton, from the 1840s to the 1860s a significant cohort of antislavery activists, primarily Quaker women demanded ‘slave-free’ or ‘free-labour’ alternatives to cotton grown by the enslaved. Henceforth a small, idealistic and highly efficient supply chain was established, linking Philadelphia, Manchester and Carlisle to enable raw cotton grown on free farms in the American South to be shipped to Britain, to be manufactured in the North West and distributed for sale in Britain and America. Using fresh research, and through close examination of surviving samples made by John Wingrave of Carlisle, this paper makes a close examination of free-labour cotton cloth. Through The Slave: His Wrongs and Their Remedy, the British mouthpiece of the Free Produce Movement, attitudes to the wearing of this extraordinary cloth will be unpacked. There will be a focus on gingham, the ubiquitous, striped and checked cloth during the 1850s. This cloth proves to have several identities; humble textile of the labouring poor, hand-woven and bespoke cloth of abolitionists and despised clothing of the enslaved on American plantations. There will also be a focus on the town of Carlisle where a tale of capitalistic enterprise and idealistic endeavour function side-by-side. Whilst the Cumberland Gingham Co-Operative was making bespoke, hand-loomed, free-cotton gingham for British and American abolitionists, a few streets away, Peter James Dixon & Son was making vast quantities of gingham specifically for the American market, where it was in great demand to dress the enslaved. Samples of the two types of gingham are oddly similar; both are hand-loomed, heavyweight and woven in similar patterns and colours. From this conclusions will be drawn on abolitionist empathy with the enslaved, notions of connectivity between abolitionist and enslaved and political intent through cloth and clothing.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2019
    EventAnnual Conference for Art History 2019 - University of Brighton, Brighton, United Kingdom
    Duration: 2 Apr 20195 Apr 2019


    ConferenceAnnual Conference for Art History 2019
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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