Race, Slavery and the Global Textile Industry in Perthshire, 1840-1914

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: English


This project investigates how the textile trade in Perthshire-cotton, jute, and linen-was affected by, and implicated in, global issues around slavery and race in the long nineteenth century, with a particular concentration on the Victorian period. Its primary focus will be on how workers within this industry, and in the local communities in Perthshire's industrial towns and villages, perceived and represented questions of race, slavery and migration, and became involved in these debates. Using both historical and literary methodologies, it will uncover local and global histories and consider how heritage bodies might incorporate these into their public-facing activities. It has three key research questions:

1. How was the textile trade in Perthshire in the long nineteenth-century connected to the slave trade in North America, what were its wider investments in colonial and imperial enterprises, and how were discourses on race fundamental to these investments?
2. How did local workers in this industry encounter information about slavery and race, both in relation to the textile industry and more broadly?
3. How did textile workers themselves write about slavery, race, and the globalization of the textile trade? How did they discuss, and become involved in, local movements centred on abolitionism, reform and British and American slavery?

The project will deliver an in-depth focus on one local area, while also tying in with wider ongoing work in this field. Its innovation, however, lies in its focus on a later period than that which has received most attention to date (c.1750s-1840s), on a 'provincial' region, as compared to the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen, and on working-class investment in race and slavery, up until the major shifts in the global textile trade caused by WW1. This is especially important given that, as has been studied in relation to the Lancashire Cotton Famine, there is a rich history of Scottish working-class engagement with the language and politics of race and slavery, much of which has not been fully investigated. New large-scale online resources like the British Newspaper Archive, as well as physical archives, enable research into, for example, the Strathearn Herald's serialization of an American abolitionist novel in 1865; the Perth Anti-Slavery Society (committee members included the head of a small bleachworks, an asylum gardener, and a draper) and Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society activities-2000 people attended the 1851 Perth meeting at which former slaves William Wells Brown, William Craft and Ellen Craft spoke-and Perthshire women's involvement in Boston's Anti-Slavery Bazaar. Now forgotten disputes, like that over the 1864 appointment of Frederick W. Boyd, a Southern plantation owner, as minister in Crieff, galvanized small towns and highlighted the intersection between local and global. Such research will test lecturer Samuel Ringgold Ward's claim, that 'there is far more of active, organized, anti-slavery vitality among the 3 millions of Scottish population than among the 17 millions of English people' (Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro (London, 1855)).


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