New Orleans news: Preston Cotton Radicals

Posted: May 15, 2010 in News Stories

Dec. 1, 2009

In the North West of England lie our connections with a quaint town by the name of Preston now celebrating black history month.

This town’s violent past in striking for both the freedom of slaves in New Orleans cotton plantations, and for the recognition of their own workers rights has shone as a dimly lit star throughout history.

In 1853 the world watched as the people of Preston rose up to fight for better pay throughout the cotton manufacturing industry.  This began as a result of a 10% cut in individual pay due to the northern American blockade of the international cotton trade.

Karl Marx himself had strengthening interest in what he described as “my St Petersburg” in the New York Tribune. The famed Frederic Engels briefed Marx on the story that he supposed was to be the beginning of a communist revolution.

Dr Alan Rice, author of ‘Radical Narratives in the Black Atlantic” (2003) and Leader in American Cultural studies at the University of Central Lancashire has spent 30 years dedicated to the teachings of Black history, heritage and culture, he said: “Preston grew in the industrial revolution and its growth was due to slave produced cotton.  Without slavery, the growth of Preston, in common with most north west (English) towns, could not have been so world renowned.”

During this trying time in the region of Lancashire, suffering from the blockade of cotton, the cotton weavers began an uprising, campaigning for the end of slavery in America.  They felt as though they were being exploited and so had sympathy for slave workers and their plight.

The knowledge of slavery in the north west of England came from lecturers that were African and American Men and Women who crossed the Atlantic to inform the British of south American slavery.

Dr Alan Rice explains: “Fredrick Douglas was one of the most prominent of lecturers that came over to this country to inform on the subject of slavery.

“Frederick said it was to build an anti-slavery wall, and that was key to his idea that we needed to work against slavery by going outside of America to try and build this coalition of peoples across the world.”

Preston Historian, Emma Heslewood of The Harris Museum in Preston is keen to point out the passion of the cotton weavers for this worldly cause: “They wanted to know why the manufacturers were buying cotton from Plantations in south America where slavery of the peoples of Africa were rife.

“Thomas Miller Jr was the owner of the largest worldwide cotton manufacturer Horrocks, based in Preston.  Horrocks still imported American cotton from New Orleans and we know that they did, it was recorded that they bought it from merchants in Liverpool.  At that time slavery had already been abolished in the British Empire.”

If ever an interested party should visit Preston, it is advisable that they should join the thousands that have made the pilgrimage to Sambo’s grave to leave a stone.  The grave belongs to a black slave boy brought to England to work, he lived just 2 days and was buried at Sunderland Point just outside Preston.

The industrial architecture around the town was built in the 19th century for the manufacture of cotton, the wonderful Harris Museum and Art Gallery caters for a more full explanation of the town’s connections with slavery.

Within Preston there are plenty of stunning 18th century parks to unwind within and the Guild Hall provides adequate entertainment.

Today, Preston attempts to bring together both it’s past and future, integrating a revolutionary background with the new and the modern.

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