Abolitionists and Working-Class Problems in the Age of by Betty Fladeland

By Betty Fladeland

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Back in Liverpool the merchants wrote an address to the King to which Roscoe added a plea for peace, and the document carried by a large majority at a meeting in the Exchange. 101 Rathbone's testimony before the Lords was his last public act, his last attempt 'to plant [his] foot athwart oppression's way', as Roscoe wrote in a sonnet on the death of this, his closest friend. 102 Although Rushton did not die until 1814, evidence in regard to any continuing public activity on his part dwindles away, except for his antiwar verses.

The end to his career as a seaman resulted from one such incident. Ophthalmia raged below decks and all of the crew except Rushton refused to go into the hold. By going to help the slaves, he contracted the disease, which destroyed one of his eyes and left him blind in the other. It left him, also, a vehement opponent of the slave trade. 15 Even before the organized antislavery movement began in Britain, Roscoe, Currie and Rushton had begun their individual endeavours to influence the public through their writing, and Rathbone was doing his part as a member of the Society of Friends.

At first the seamen talked freely but, as Clarkson's aims became apparent, hostility increased and eliciting facts became not only difficult but dangerous. In the tavern where he stayed they took to taunting him by toasting the slave trade in his presence. Luckily Clarkson had with him an ex-slave-trader from Bristol whose size and athletic build warded off physical attack; but one day, when standing on a pier, Clarkson suddenly found himself surrounded by men about to push him into the sea. He was alert enough to sense their purpose, darted forward, knocking one man down, and so escaped.

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