Sarah Wedgwood

Sarah Wedgwood

Sarah Wedgwood, the daughter of Richard Wedgwood, a prosperous merchant and the eldest brother of Thomas and John Wedgwood of Burslem, was born in 1734.

Sarah married her third cousin, Josiah Wedgwood, on 25th January 1764. According to his biographer, Robin Reilly: "Sarah was a substantial heiress and brought with her a considerable dowry, said to have been £4,000, which came under Wedgwood's control. It was a love match, successfully negotiated in spite of initial opposition from her father, and there is ample evidence that the marriage was a happy one. Sarah was intelligent, shrewd, and well educated - better, in fact, than her husband - and they shared a broad sense of humour and a strong sense of family duty. In the first years of their marriage, she helped Josiah with his work, learning the codes and formulae in which he recorded his experiments, keeping accounts, and giving practical advice on shapes and decoration."

Sarah Wedgwood had seven children: Susannah Wedgwood (1765–1817), John Wedgwood (1766–1844), Josiah Wedgwood II (1769–1843), Thomas Wedgwood (1771–1805), Catherine Wedgwood (1774–1823), Sarah Wedgwood (1776–1856) and Mary Anne Wedgwood (1778–86).

Josiah Wedgwood was an active member of the Unitarian Church. Like most Unitarians, Wedgwood was a political reformer. He supported universal male suffrage and annual parliaments. In 1780 he joined the Society for Constitutional Information and became friendly with other reformers such as Joseph Priestley, John Cartwright, John Horne Tooke, John Thelwall, Granville Sharp, Thomas Walker, Joseph Gales and William Smith and the Duke of Richmond. Wedgwood told his friend, Thomas Bentley "that every member of the state must either have a vote or be a slave".

In 1787 Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and William Dillwyn established the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Wedgwood joined the organising committee. As Adam Hochschild, the author of Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery (2005) has pointed out: "Wedgwood asked one of his craftsmen to design a seal for stamping the wax used to close envelopes. It showed a kneeling African in chains, lifting his hands beseechingly." It included the words: "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" Hochschild goes onto argue that "reproduced everywhere from books and leaflets to snuffboxes and cufflinks, the image was an instant hit... Wedgwood's kneeling African, the equivalent of the label buttons we wear for electoral campaigns, was probably the first widespread use of a logo designed for a political cause."

Sarah Wedgwood died in 1815. Her daughter, Sarah, continued the campaign against slavery and was a member of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery. At the conference in May 1830, Sarah suggested a plan for a new campaign to bring about immediate abolition. The following year they presented a petition to the House of Commons calling for the "immediate freeing of newborn children of slaves".

In 1833 Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act that gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom. It contained two controversial features: a transitional apprenticeship period and compensation to owners totalling £20,000,000. Sarah joined James Cropperand Joseph Sturge in a new campaign and in 1838 the apprenticeship system was terminated.

Sarah Wedgwood's daughter, died in 1856.

© , September 1997 - April 2014