The anti-slavery medallion “Am I Not a Man and a Brother” was produced as part of the late 18th century abolitionist movement in Western Europe and America. Many abolitionists wore these medallions to clearly state their position and start conversations about slavery. These small porcelain and ceramic medallions were designed and produced by a team of craftsmen led by British potter Josiah Wedgwood. Over time, the medallions’ popularity grew, and the image of “Am I Not a Man and a Brother” appeared on a variety of objects, including chinaware, cufflinks, and pamphlets distributed by and among the activists.1Nicholas Guyatt, Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (United States: Basic Civitas Books, 2013), 96-97; Zoe Trodd, “Am I Still Not a Man and a Brother? Protest Memory in Contemporary Antislavery Visual Culture,” Slavery & Abolition, 34: 2, 338-352, DOI: 10.1080/0144039X.2013.791172.
This medallion depicts a kneeling man who is bound by chains. The idea for the design came from a May 1787 meeting of the London-based Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, giving the anti-slavery movement a visual medium through which it could deliver a strong message.2Clarkson, Thomas. The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament. (London: James P. Parker), 2: 1808. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/12507/pg12507-images.html. The imagery was used to remind others of the human qualities of those who were enslaved, and communicated a religious and humanistic message. The movement to abolish slavery grew during the American Revolution and in the years immediately after it, and slavery remained a topic of public debate for many years.3Paul Finkelman. “U.S. Constitution and Acts: The Abolition of the Slave Trade,” New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 2007. http://abolition.nypl.org/print/us_constitution/; Major Problems in the Early Republic, 1787-1848, eds. Sean Wilentz, Jonathan Earle, and Thomas G. Paterson, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 28.
The idea for the image that appears on the anti-slavery medallion came from the London-based Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which wanted to create a seal that would promote the organization and its cause. In a July 1787 meeting, members agreed upon an image of an African man in chains on his knees with the motto “Am I not a man and a brother?” According to the minutes from this meeting, committee member Josiah Wedgwood’s company would produce the medallions and send copies overseas to Benjamin Franklin so he could distribute them among his fellow abolitionists in Philadelphia.4Josiah Wedgwood to Benjamin Franklin, 29 February 1788, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Yale Searchable Documents, http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/
Written correspondence between Wedgwood and Franklin during this time illustrates their shared dedication to the anti-slavery cause. “It gives me great pleasure to be embarked on this occasion in the same great and good cause with you, Sir,” Wedgwood wrote in a February 1788 letter to Franklin, “and I ardently hope for the final completion of our wishes.”5Josiah Wedgwood to Benjamin Franklin, 29 February 1788, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Yale Searchable Documents, http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=45&page=520. In May 1788, Franklin responded in a letter complimenting Wedgwood’s “valuable Present of Cameo’s [sic], which I am distributing among my Friends; in whose Countenances I have seen such Marks of being affected by contemplating the Figure of the Suppliant . . . I am persuaded it may have an Effect equal to that of the best written Pamphlet.”6Benjamin Franklin to Josiah Wedgwood, 15 May 1788, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Yale Searchable Documents, http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=45&page=520. At least 500 Wedgwood medallions were distributed, and demand for anti-slavery materials increased.7Thomas Clarkson. The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament (London: James P. Parker), 2: 1808. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/12507/pg12507-images.html. The medallion was both a political statement and a fashion accessory. Men used the medallions to decorate snuffboxes, and women wore them in their hair, on their hats, and on their wrists.8“Literary and Visual Expressions, African American,” The Princeton Companion to Atlantic History, ed. Joseph C. Miller et al. (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2015), 299.
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) was a British potter, recognized for his innovative production methods, such as the use of steam to power a pottery wheel.9“Disability,” The Wedgwood Museum. http://www.wedgwoodmuseum.org.uk/learning/discovery-packs/pack/lives-of-the-wedgwoods/chapter/disability. Wedgwood worked with Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant, to expand his pottery business. Bentley’s knowledge of classical and Renaissance art influence Wedgwood’s work.10Brian Dolan, Wedgwood: The First Tycoon (New York: Viking, 2004) 9, 92-96; Mark Dodgson, “Exploring New Combinations in Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Social Networks, Schumpeter, and the Case of Josiah Wedgwood (1730–1795),” Industrial and Corporate Change 20, no. 4, 1138. Wedgwood’s strong opposition to slavery was rooted in his religion. He was a Protestant Unitarian and a strong advocate for religious tolerance as well as humanism, which emphasizes the value and goodness of human beings.11Clarkson, Thomas. The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament. (London: James P. Parker), 2: 1808. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/12507/pg12507-images.html. Wedgwood was also influenced by his experiences in Liverpool, which was a major slave port.12The Wedgwood Slave Medallion: Values in Eighteenth-Century Design,” Journal of Design History13 (2000), 93-105. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3527157.
Henry Webber and William Hackwood, artists who worked for Wedgwood, were enlisted to help produce the medallion.13Brian Dolan, Wedgwood: The First Tycoon (New York: Viking, 2004), 305. Webber designed the image and text, and Hackwood created the block models on which the medallion was crafted.14Mary Guyatt, “The Wedgwood Slave Medallion: Values in Eighteenth-Century Design.” Journal of Design History 13 (2000), 96. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3527157.
The American Revolution challenged how American colonists viewed slavery and the slave trade. When delegates of the First Continental Congress met in September and October of 1774,15Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 16. they approved trade sanctions, or penalties, against Great Britain in a document called the Articles of Association.16For a digital copy of the Articles of Association, see the National Archives Record Group 360: Records of the Continental Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1765-1821, identifier 6277397: https://research.archives.gov/id/6277397. Article Two of this document sought to ban slave trade with Britain and was affirmed by the Second Continental Congress two years later.17Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 16; for Fehrenbacher’s source citation, see Journals of the Continental Congress, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., I: 77 and IV: 258; digital copies of the journal are available at https://archive.org/details/journalsofcongre00unit and https://archive.org/details/journalsofcongre04unit.
During the Revolutionary War, slaves fought for both American patriots and British loyalists.18Duncan J. MacLeod, Slavery, Race, and the American Revolution (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 30. Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, promised freedom to slaves in exchange for their enlistment and service in the British military.19Betty Wood, Slavery in Colonial America, 1619-1776 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005), 82; for a digital copy of Lord Dunmore’s proclamation, see http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/work_community/docs/dunmore_proclamation.htm. Historians estimate that 30,000 slaves fled Virginian plantations in response to Lord Dunmore’s proclamation.20Doors, and Top Down versus Bottom Up,” The William and Mary Quarterly 68, no. 4 (October 2011), 655.
Following their victory against Great Britain, American colonists considered abolishing slavery.21For an overview of the conversations and outcomes of the Constitutional Convention, see Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 15-47. Founding father Benjamin Franklin was named president of a Pennsylvania society dedicated to abolitionism in 1787, the same year he attended the Constitutional Convention. Other leaders, including James Warren and John Adams, also spoke out against slavery.22Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 18; George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 2 Letterbooks, George Washington to Senate, March 4, 1791, Admission of Vermont as State. https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw2&fileName=gwpage025.db&recNum=297 The United States Constitution’s original clause concerning slave trade23See Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution: “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html permitted the importation of slaves to the United States until Congress passed acts (1807-1809) that ended slave trade with other countries.24See proceedings from 10th Congress, October 26, 1807 to March 3, 1809, http://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/slavery-records-congress.html#10th; James Walvin, “Abolition of Colonial Slavery,” Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450, ed. Thomas Benjamin. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007), 1: 2-6. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 July 2016.