Anti-Slavery Activism on Bedford Row (1838–1855)

Design and casting by Liam Lavery and Eithne Ring. Pending installation on Bedford Row (Summer 2021).
1870 map of Bedford Row showing the location of the Independent Chapel. Source: UCD.

Moses Roper (1838)

Moses Roper was born into slavery in North Carolina in circa 1815 and fled to New York and then to England in 1835 whereafter he dedicated his life to abolitionism and spreading awareness about American slavery. He published his slave narrative in London in the 1830s and toured Britain and Ireland extensively, delivering anti-slavery lectures to larges crowds. Currently acknowledged as being the first fugitive slave lecturer in Ireland, he visited Limerick in 1838, speaking at the Independent Chapel, Bedford Row on the 19 November. His lecture made an impression upon “the numerous and respectable meeting” and his “appeal…on behalf of his suffering brethren, elicited the warmest sympathy and commiseration.” A journalist present also noted that “many of the Society of Friends were in attendance” highlighting their leading role in the anti-slavery movement in Limerick.

Moses Roper’s Slave Narrative, Narrative of the adventures and escape of Moses Roper from American slavery

“Slaveholders in America consider and treat their Slaves as though they were not human beings, but mere animals…” and that he was desirous of doing all he could “to aid the cause of Negro emancipation, by diffusing information on the subject with which I have been so painfully acquainted.”

He wished to make U.S. slaveholders aware that “Christians on this side of the Atlantic entertain a different view on the subject [of racial slavery]” and to this end he included an anti-racist and anti-slavery poem he had received from an Irish poet, one Mary Tuckey of Co. Cork.

Charles Lenox Remond (c. 1870) courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

Resolved — That it is the opinion of this meeting, from the facts laid before it by Mr. Remond, in his various lectures, that but little general information exists amongst the people of this country in reference to the workings of the horrible and inhuman system of Slavery; and that best thanks be given to the Limerick Anti-Slavery Society for having brought Mr. Remond to this city to expose the iniquity of a system disgraceful to a generation confessed enlightened, and that we pledge ourselves to aid in forwarding the extinction of this degrading and unchristian system by every legitimate means in our power.

The Irish Address
Hundreds of people from Limerick who attended these lectures would have added their signatures to the famous anti-slavery ‘Irish Address’ which Remond hand-delivered to Boston after his Irish sojourn. By then, it had amassed some 60,000 signatures including that of leading Irish abolitionists such as Daniel O’Connell and R.R. Madden. It called on Irish people in America to “hate slavery” and implored them to “treat the colored people as your equals, as brethren.”

“He wanted them to know, and if there was a reporter present they would know that a slave had stood up in Limerick and ridiculed [American] democracy and liberty.”

He markedly denounced the appearance of a blackface performer in the city at the same time as his visit and explained to the audience the difference between slavery in the U.S. and poverty and oppression in Ireland.

“If slavery existed in Ireland, it ought to put down, and the generous in the land ought to rise and scatter its fragments to the winds. But there was nothing like American slavery on the soil on which I now stand. Negro slavery consisted not in taking away a man’s property, but in making property of him.”

Near the end of this he quoted from memory the “genius of universal emancipation” speech by John Philpott Curran in defence of a United Irishman. A supporter of Irish independence for most of his life, Douglass later wrote to Garrison from Belfast about the incredible poverty he witnessed in Ireland and how it reminded him of the degradation of enslavement.

“I found freedom and a welcome to speak against slavery in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, and Cork, and though last, not least, in Limerick. Whether at home or abroad, I will never forget the very kind manner I was received in Limerick.”

“[I was] ever disparagingly reminded of my colour and origin; along the streets it ever pursued, ever ridiculed, ever abused me. If I sought redress, the very complexion I wore was pointed out as the best reason for my seeking it in vain..[..]..if I sought a trade, white apprentices would leave if I were admitted”.

He became a Congregational minister, abolitionist and formidable orator. And so it was, on a Wednesday evening 6 June 1855 during his visit to Ireland, that this “clergyman of colour” delivered a lecture titled “American Slavery” to a large crowd in the Independent Chapel on Bedford Row. The Limerick Chronicle newspaper described how Ward began the meeting with a prayer and then lectured for over ninety minutes with “impassioned rhetoric and logical acumen’’ that he interspersed with “bursts of humour” and “touching pathos.” The reporter present was impressed by how Ward effortlessly “instructed and charmed the large assembly.” After the lecture, a large collection was made “to enable the Lecturer to promote the temporal and spiritual welfare of our coloured brethern — the fugitive slaves in Canada — to whose interests he had been solicited to devote his future life.”

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Liam Hogan

Liam Hogan

Librarian & Historian. Researching and writing about slavery, memory and power. Ko-Fi https://ko-fi.com/liamhogan