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Women's Literary Networks and Romanticism"A Tribe of Authoresses"$

Andrew O. Winckles and Angela Rehbein

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940605

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781786940605.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 18 May 2022

Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick

Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick

Collaborative Campaigning in the Midlands, 1820–34

(p.47) Chapter Three Susanna Watts and Elizabeth Heyrick
Women's Literary Networks and Romanticism

Felicity James

Rebecca Shuttleworth

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the cultural and literary importance of a little-known network of women writers in the Midlands – significance which is rooted in, but extends far beyond, their local setting. Focussing on two Leicester writers and friends, the abolitionist and animal rights campaigners Susanna Watts (c.1768 - 1842) and Elizabeth Heyrick, née Coltman (1769-1831) it gives an insight into the rich culture of provincial women and restores a range of female voices to our understanding of Midlands society, religion, literature and reform. Collaboratively written itself, this chapter explores and contextualises collaborative practices, emphasising the importance of local community, worship, and friendship. While Heyrick, Watts and their circle should be seen as part of a larger anti-slavery network operating in the period, it is also important to recognise the subtle differences between groups which complicate our idea of the collective female voice in the period.

Keywords:   collaboration, women writers, abolition, Midlands, religious Dissent, activism

In the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland is a large black ledger, heavily worn, of a type which might have been used by some hosiery manufacturer or Leicester shopkeeper. But this ledger is bursting with letters, drawings, poems and ephemera: it is a record not of business transactions but of female connection, creativity and activism in Leicester in the early nineteenth century. Owned by Susanna Watts (c. 1768–1842), it bears witness to her own intellectual interests and to her friendships with other women writers and campaigners. Her closest friend was the activist Elizabeth Heyrick (1769–1831), a member of the influential Coltman family, and together they formed part of an extensive network of other remarkable women including the novelist Catherine Hutton (1756–1846), the composer, pianist and organist Martha Greatorex (1759–1829), and the needlework artist Mary Linwood (1755–1845), as well as others who were clearly influential but who have left less trace of their own individual voices, such as Mary Reid (1769–1839) and Heyrick’s sister, Mary Ann Coltman (1778–1871), who collaborated with Heyrick and Watts on an anti-slavery periodical which bears some resemblance to the scrapbook itself. Looking at the productions of such networks provides an insight into the rich culture of provincial women: from the ground-breaking scientific experiments of the Lunar Men to Victorian industrial innovation and social reform, the Midlands have long been recognised as one of the great hubs of Enlightenment and nineteenth-century creativity. Yet the role of women in this male-dominated community still remains to be fully explored. This chapter aims to restore a range of female voices to our understanding of Midlands society, religion, literature and reform, and to trace some threads of connection which bound together provincial society at a key point in history. It also shows some of the tensions and difficulties faced by these women as they conceptualised their activist role in society, examining their participation (p.48) in abolitionist discourse against a larger context of friendship and women’s writing in the period.

This group of women is at once extraordinary, and typical. Extraordinary, because of their wide output of campaigning publications, poetry and other literature, and their vigorous intellectual and philanthropic activities. These resonated through England and across the Atlantic, until Lydia Maria Child could write in 1838, thinking back to Heyrick’s pamphlet Immediate, not Gradual Abolition of 1824, ‘Has not the one idea that rose silently in Elizabeth Heyrick’s mind, spread until it has almost become a world’s idea?’1 Yet what this chapter seeks to emphasise is precisely that these women’s achievements do not depend on ‘one idea’ arising silently for an individual, but that they come about through collaboration and conversation. This group of Leicester thinkers is only one node of a larger provincial network of writers, readers, thinkers, and worshippers – typical, in some respects, of the ways in which small female coteries might exert a lasting cultural effect. Kathryn Gleadle has shown how groups of ‘radical Unitarians’, many with links to the Leicester women, established in the 1830s and 1840s ‘essential ideologies and personnel networks which were to determine the feminist movement of the succeeding decades’; Ruth Watts has also demonstrated the remarkable political and social impact of nonconformist women working together, particularly through education.2 There has been less attention paid, however, to the literary and creative aspects of such women’s networks. Literary criticism has, for so long, been locked in its love–hate relationship with the single (usually male) author that it is only relatively recently that we have begun seriously to look at the complex webs of connections which sustain individual authors and thinkers, especially those inflected by religion, and to move towards an appreciation of sociable creativity. As Gillian Russell and Clara Tuite contend, ‘the solitary self has stood for Romanticism for too long’; we need now to appreciate the work that was going on in conversations, in letters, around firesides and dinner tables, in streets and taverns and theatres, in schools and lecture-halls.3 Yet even Russell and Tuite’s important collection of essays spends a good deal of its time on metropolitan sociability and well-known groupings. Provincial writers – and provincial women, especially – have attracted less attention, and it is only now (p.49) that regional and religious nuances are truly starting to be investigated and appreciated.4 A close look at the relationship between these Leicester women allows a side-long glimpse of conversations and creative practices in the transitional years from the Enlightenment to the nineteenth century.

The range of these creative practices, including art, needlework, and music, and the achievements of Linwood, Greatorex, and Hutton, are ripe for further research: a wealth of archival material still remains relatively unexamined. In this chapter, however, we will be concentrating primarily on the abolitionist voices of Elizabeth Heyrick and Susanna Watts, whose friendship lies at the heart of the network. Heyrick, ‘the foremost female anti-slavery pamphleteer’, is probably the best known of the writers, thanks to pamphlets such as Immediate, not Gradual Abolition: Or, An Inquiry Into the Shortest, Safest, and Most Effectual Means of Getting Rid of West Indian Slavery (1824).5 This was one of the first and certainly most forceful texts to argue against the contemporary trend of advocating a gradual abolition of slavery as politically and economically expedient; the ‘means’ for which it argued being a rejection of all slave-grown produce. It was reprinted numerous times within its first year of publication, including in America, attracting widespread attention and reviews; it was discussed in parliament as ‘the work of some gentleman’ thanks to its fiery insistency.6 It formed part of a larger local abolitionist campaign involving Heyrick, Watts, and Heyrick’s sister Mary Ann Coltman which in turn had a clear role in shaping the approaches of female anti-slavery organisations. From 1824 onwards, the women canvassed door to door in their Leicester community, persuading households to boycott slave-grown sugar in a revival of ideas first mooted in the late 1780s and early 1790s. Playing on women’s perceived social role as consumers and household managers, the group used traditional female responsibilities and concerns to pressure for political change. The sugar boycott was supported by Heyrick’s pamphlets, and by a collaborative anti-slavery periodical, The Humming Bird; or, Morsels of Information, on the Subject of Slavery, which they produced from December 1824. This brought together essays, illustrations and poetry, and adopted an editorial tone of intellectual, as well as moral authority. This three-pronged approach – advocacy of community canvassing to boycott slave grown goods, collaborative periodical publication, and determined immediatist stance supported by pamphleteering (p.50) – was to have a lasting effect on the landscape of the anti-slavery movement, locally, nationally, and internationally, since their reputation spread across the Atlantic. The women’s abolitionist work, moreover, formed only one strand of their activism. Together, Heyrick and Watts campaigned for a range of animal and human rights, speaking out on behalf of those marginalized in society – the poor, the elderly, the imprisoned, the ill-paid.

Elizabeth Heyrick’s family context, as a member of the Dissenting manufacturing clan, the Coltmans, rooted her in a particular intellectual and religious culture. Yet she also rebelled against family views. Her marriage in 1789 to John Heyrick, part of a leading local Anglican family, does not seem to have been welcomed by her relatives: it appears to have been a tempestuous love match, ‘the work of a moment’.7 The two clearly had shared sympathies – John Heyrick’s book of poetry, First Flights (1797), pays tribute to her abolitionism and her concern for animals as well as her friendships, with poems dedicated to Susanna Watts and Mary Linwood – but Heyrick was a possessive husband who isolated her from her family, who complained of his ‘reckless self-indulgence […] his capricious violence and suspicion’.8 Nevertheless, on his unexpected death in 1797 while she was at church, Elizabeth Heyrick was overwhelmed by grief, and sought comfort in religion. This gradually led to a conversion to Quakerism, and to her development of a public, reformist voice. She became a skilled and prolific pamphleteer, and although it is usually her anti-slavery works which are remembered, these should be contextualized as part of a broad span of works drawing attention to various social injustices and cruelties: bull-baiting, labour rights, the difficulties faced by Leicester’s framework knitters, and the Poor Laws. Her identity as ‘radical Quaker’ and pamphleteer has been ably discussed by Kenneth Corfield and more recently in the context of women’s anti-slavery campaigning by Clare Midgley, although she has still not achieved the full recognition she deserves.9 She has, for example, often been conflated with her acquaintance, Elizabeth Coltman, also from Leicester, the author of educational works Plain Tales (1799), Instructive Hints in Easy Lessons for Children (1806) and Familiar Letters Addressed to (p.51) Children and Young Persons of the Middle Ranks (1811), as well as an anti-war tract. These have long been catalogued as Heyrick’s work, and have led to some confusion about, for example, her views on gender equality.10 She ought, too, to be seen in the context of her friendship with Susanna Watts, to whom less critical attention has been paid, with some exceptions such as the work of local historian Shirley Aucott, and a detailed discussion of animal rights and national identity by Moira Ferguson, who shows how closely Heyrick, her sister Mary Ann, and Watts worked together.11

Prior to her work on abolition, Heyrick published a variety of pamphlets considering forms of animal cruelty, such as A Christmas Box for the Advocates of Bull-Baiting (1809), Bull-Baiting: A Village Dialogue between Tom Brown and John Simms (1809) and Cursory Remarks on the Evil Tendency of Unrestrained Cruelty, particularly on that practised in Smithfield Market (1823). It is recorded that whilst staying in the Derbyshire village of Bonsall she bought a bull destined to be baited, and then hid it the parlour of her hosts to protect it from the furious villagers. Meanwhile, Susanna Watts explored the treatment of animals in equally vivid, if more fanciful ways. The Insects in Council (1828), Watts’s long poem from the perspective of insects including gnats, dragonflies, and a praying mantis, footnotes Heyrick’s pamphlet on the ‘barbarities of Smithfield’, as she shows the insects pleading for their freedom from ‘slav’ry and grief’ at the hands of man, ‘the dread boiling water or poisonous pin’.12 The women’s humanitarian interests thus echo and develop one another in collaborative exchange. Both women were engaged in a larger programme of social, economic and political analysis and commentary, informed by their religious convictions – and the intellectual and social connections of their Midlands background.

The object with which we began, Watts’s scrapbook, provides a nice illustration of the ways in which different aspects of the women’s lives and works come together, an artefact which reflects the women’s community and wider network, as well as the range and scope of their cultural activity. It begins with a translation of Tasso, which Watts undertook as a commercial proposition, hoping to make an income from it because of difficult financial circumstances. (p.52) Her father died when she was an infant, the family home had to be sold to provide a bare annuity, and she supported herself and her mother through her writing: she may also have assisted with teaching, and she experimented with pictures in feathers and needlework alongside Mary Linwood. Although the Tasso translation was never published, it demonstrates her self-taught skill in languages; her other works include Chinese Maxims. Translated from The Oeconomy of Human Life, into Heroic Verse (1784), and The Wonderful Travels of Prince Fan-Feredin, in the Country of Arcadia (1799), collections of hymns, poems, and works for children. She had a keen interest in local history and wrote the first guidebook to Leicester in 1804, showing extensive knowledge of the settlement’s development from Roman times and detailing its changes and expansion in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

The scrapbook literally pieces together these different intellectual and artistic endeavours, along with the friendships of Susanna Watts. It begins with a biographical introduction to Watts added to the book by a subsequent owner, Clara Parkes, in 1865, which emphasises both her individual achievements and the way these were embedded in a context of friendly relationships with other women. Parkes begins by detailing Watts’s prowess in different forms of arts – a medal won for ‘an ingenious type of needle-work, in hair’; her invention of ‘curious and beautiful’ landscapes in feathers; her poetry and translations – before moving on to her campaigning work. Both she and ‘her friend Elizabeth Heyrick, were indefatigable in the use of their pens & their influence on the side of philanthropy’, and Parkes records the importance of their legacy, and the illumination of their names in Leicester in the abolition celebrations of 1834. Parkes’ account concludes with another tribute to female friendship, the importance of ‘her attachment to Ann Coltman was life-long & invariable, & was most warmly reciprocated’. It is to this particular friendship that the book owes its survival, since it was bequeathed to Coltman, who ‘in her turn, bequeaths with every kind wish and much affection, to her great great niece, Clara Parkes’.13 The dedication sums up several important points about the volume: it balances Watts’s more traditionally feminine and domestic achievements – needlework, feather landscapes – against her role as outspoken, publicly acknowledged activist, and makes clear, above all, that her work is rooted in female networks.

The rest of the volume bears out the importance of such networks, and unites different aspects of Watts’s life and works. We move between rhyming games – ‘subject and rhyme given by J. Coltman, senr. Filled up impromptu by Miss Watts, at the age of 16 or 17’ – which demonstrate the sociability of Watts’s creative circle, careful pen and ink drawings of flowers and butterflies (p.53) which would later be included in Watts’s published works such as The Insects in Council, penny portraits of famous men and women, excerpts from the work of Hannah More and others, advertisements, ephemera ranging from an illustrated ‘Hindi Primer’, railway tickets, and a flyer for an exhibition at Mr. Gee’s Boot Maker: ‘The Industrious Fleas’ drawing a ‘First-Rate Man of War’. There are gift poems to other members of the group such as Mrs William Heyrick and Mary Frewen – ‘To Miss Frewen – With a box of patent pins – whose heads & points are all one piece’ – and poems of friendship such as this, addressed to Susanna Watts by Martha Greatorex:

  • My dear Miss Watts
  • Though it’s our lots
  • Oft times to separate be:
  • Yet I and you,
  • (It is most true)
  • Can never disagree. (p. 181)

Other testimonies to the wider world of Dissenting female creativity include a transcription of a poem by Barbauld’s niece, Lucy Aikin, ‘Homage to Mary Linwood. On Miss Linwood’s Gallery of Pictures Worked in Worsted’, and a piece on Cowper’s garden by Jane Taylor of Ongar. In the midst of this miscellaneous material come artefacts relating to Watts’s abolitionist work: female anti-slavery society petitions, and illustrated cards still brightly coloured in violet and green carrying poems, ‘The Slave’s Address’ and ‘The Captive Lion’. Such publications and cards, along with the trace of other women’s handwriting, and transcriptions of each other’s writing, make clear that this scrapbook is a semi-public document, circulated among family and friends and bearing witness to their shared political and creative interests.

We can therefore see it as analogous to the women’s collaboratively produced anti-slavery periodical, The Humming Bird. When published in volume form its opening statement makes reference to the support of friends:

We cannot permit the Humming Bird to take wing, and wander beyond the rather narrow circle to which it has hitherto been confined, without expressing our gratitude to those friends who have listened to its unpretending song with indulgent attention.14

Although described as an ‘unpretending song’ the periodical advertises its intellectual inheritance. The women’s chosen editorial personas were an ‘ancient (p.54) sisterhood’ comprised of Truth, Common Sense and Philanthropy, who were in possession of mythical items from classical literature: ‘the very spear by a touch of which the Seraph Ithuriel discovered Satan’, ‘the clue of Ariadne’ and ‘the very same piece of tapestry which, by the magic art of the Fairy Pari Banou, was bestowed on Prince Houssain’ (p. 3). The periodical strikingly deploys contemporary accounts of slavery, combined with an impressive knowledge of classical, historical, scriptural and philosophical texts. Throughout, the theme of friendship continues as an important strand in its abolitionist message: it not only makes an appeal for friendship to be extended to slaves, but is also the record of a group of friends – mainly women – working together. The ‘Friendly Reader’ is told about the periodical stemming from a ‘small party of Friends being in earnest conversation upon the subject of the Slave Trade’ (p. 4). As in the scrapbook, the conversation not only includes abolitionist material but also poems by the Leicester circle, historical, geographical and botanical information, extracts from writers such as Elizabeth Bentley and Hannah More, as well as essays bemoaning animal cruelty, and the treatment of the poor. Friendship itself is scrutinised in an essay, ‘Thoughts on Friendship’, which closes by linking it directly to Christ’s tenderness, so that the women’s own philanthropic activities – and their publication strategy – are given a form of divine authority.

Both scrapbook and periodical thus bear out recent work rethinking the nature of political action in the early years of the nineteenth century: as Amanda Vickery has argued, we need to extend our concept of the public political sphere ‘to include the supposedly “private” world of family connections and friendship networks – within which political ideas were debated and new social practices played out’.15 Alongside this interest in breaking down categories of public and private political debate, recent criticism has begun to pay closer attention, in Vickery’s words, to the wider ‘contexts both intellectual and familial’ which gave rise to female activism (p. 3). The intermingling of different items in both scrapbook and periodical vividly makes this point, showing how the public voice of abolitionism arose within a larger context of private friendship and shared creativity. Moving between the homely sociability of a rhyming contest between friends and an anti-slavery petition or pamphlet also underlines the point eloquently made by Kathryn Gleadle that, in thinking about women’s networks and women’s achievements in this period, we need to consider the intersection of domestic and political agency, ‘the home too could function in terms of political space’.16

(p.55) It could also, of course, be a contested one. The scrapbook records a moment of frustration as the women experienced tensions between these public and private roles, and friction even within their own local communities. A manuscript poem in the volume in Susanna Watts’s hand voices anger at the expectations others projected onto them:

  • On a Gentleman saying that,
  • Some ladies, who were zealous in the
  • Anti-Slavery Cause, were brazen faced.
  • Thanks for your thought – it seems to say.
  • When ladies walk in Duty’s way,
  • They should wear arms of proof;
  • To blunt the shafts of manly wit –
  • To ward off censure’s galling
  • And keep reproach aloof: –
  • And when a righteous cause demands
  • The labour of their hearts and hands,
  • Right onward they must pass,
  • Cas’d in strong armour, for the field –
  • With casque and corselet, spear and shield,
  • Invulnerable brass. (p. 303)

The poem may be seen as a complex response to the circle around William Wilberforce, with whom the women were connected through a mesh of local links. Leicester MP, Thomas Babington, elected on an anti-slavery platform, was an intimate friend of Wilberforce, who often spent time at Babington’s Leicestershire home, Rothley Temple. A watercolour of Rothley is pasted into Watts’s scrapbook, along with an image of Wilberforce, and the women’s familial links with the Babington circle of abolitionists is demonstrated by the list of Officers of the Leicester Auxiliary Anti-slavery Society, printed in their first publication An Address on the State of Slavery in the West India Islands. Headed by Babington, the society committee includes Elizabeth Heyrick’s family members, her brother, John Coltman and brother-in-law, William Heyrick. Crucially, however, no women are listed. For despite their shared abolitionist aims, the approach put forward by Leicester women differed considerably from that put forward by Wilberforce and Babington. The Wilberforce circle advocated a gradualist course of action, supported by the pressure group the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery and its local offshoots like the Leicester Auxiliary Anti-slavery Society. The Leicester Address summarises this wary position, stressing that ‘we are yet far from proposing a sudden revolution’: ‘we should deprecate (p.56) an immediate emancipation almost as much as the planters themselves’.17 The women, however, were far more ‘zealous’, to borrow Watts’s description, calling for immediate action at home and abroad, and taking matters into their own hands through their canvassing and boycotting activities. Set alongside Babington’s advocacy of a ‘slow and gradual cure’, supported by her own relatives, Heyrick’s rebuttal of the ‘senseless cry of gradual emancipation’ in Immediate, not Gradual, Abolition appears even more striking: ‘this GRADUAL abolition,’ she thunders, ‘has been the grand marplot of human virtue and happiness; – the very master-piece of satanic policy’.18 It was an extraordinarily bold move for Heyrick to set herself against the policies of the revered Wilberforce, which are here cast not as saintly, but as ‘satanic’ – a position little short of heresy in abolitionist circles.

The Leicester women’s activities caused Wilberforce considerable uneasiness. In such direct action, he worried in a letter to Thomas Babington, women were endangering their character – and the cause:

All private exertions for such an object become their character, but for ladies to meet, to publish, to go from house to house stirring up petitions, – these appear to me proceedings unsuited to the female character as delineated in scripture. And though we should limit the interference of our ladies to the cause of justice and humanity, I fear its tendency would be to mix them in all the multiform warfare of political life.19

Wilberforce’s disapproval, and Watts’s defence of female campaigning, points to an underlying tension in the contemporary evolution of women’s place in public and political spheres that was brought into sharp relief by the rapid expansion of British women’s involvement in the campaign for abolition. Wilberforce’s Evangelical Anglican Clapham Sect, which counted among its members conservative female writers such as Hannah More, had been for some decades crafting a complex social identity for women which anticipated the Victorian emphasis on idealised, angelic domesticity. As discourse on social morality began to invoke home and family as an essential component of an upright Christian nation, women’s movements between the domestic, social and political spheres required careful navigation. In her 1799 text Strictures (p.57) on the Modern System of Female Education, Hannah More simultaneously denigrated and elevated a domestic ideal of Christian womanhood:

Whatever inferiority may be attached to woman from the slighter frame of her body, the more circumscribed powers of her mind, from a less systematic education, and from the subordinate station she is called to fill in life; there is one great and leading circumstance which raises her importance, and even establishes her equality. Christianity has exalted woman to true and undisputed dignity … Their hearts are naturally soft and flexible, open to impressions of love and gratitude; their feelings tender and lively: all these are favourable to the cultivation of a devotional spirit.20

Thus, from More’s perspective, a woman safely ensconced within the domestic sphere, and so uncorrupted by the numerous vices found in the public, might be able to act as an inspirational Christian influence upon her family, to temper their interactions with public and political life.

But how far should women’s own intervention in political activity go? As the second wave of anti-slavery campaigns began to roll out across Britain, many women felt the cause fell well within their jurisdiction of moral improvement for the nation through Christian empathy and assistance for the oppressed. Male leaders of the movement, however, disagreed. With its significant consequences for the commercial wealth and success of the nation, the question of slavery could not, felt leaders such as Wilberforce, be publically engaged with by women without an inappropriate level of involvement with the political sphere. Although women were permitted to subscribe to male anti-slavery societies as financial donors, as the list of officers of the Leicester Auxiliary Anti-Slavery Society demonstrates, they were not given any positions of influence within the campaign. Barred from direct involvement with the official face of abolition, women across Britain began to seek alternative methods to contribute to the cause, and in doing so, co-opted the concept of the spiritually and morally superior nature of femininity to justify their place within a public and political campaign, rather than discourage it. As we see from Wilberforce’s comments, he was anxious that involvement even in a Christian cause might conflict with the ‘female character as delineated in Scripture’; abolitionist women responded by showing how the female character might be particularly suited to such a cause, and adapting female activities to accommodate their activism. The publications of female anti-slavery societies emphasised women’s religious (p.58) sensibilities and the heightened female capacity for compassion and empathy which More had described; they also used their domestic influence as a way to gain ground in the campaign. Balancing domesticity, feminine sympathy and activism could be difficult, and in the publications of Female Anti-Slavery Societies such as Birmingham and Sheffield we see some complicated rhetorical negotiations as women try to work out how best to convey their abolitionist message. It is clear from quotations of Heyrick’s work and allusions to the Leicester women’s practices of publication, canvassing, and boycotting that they exerted a profound influence on the Birmingham and Sheffield female activists, although the ways in which they conduct their own campaigns can vary slightly but significantly from the Heyrick circle.

While it made no specific reference to her gender, Heyrick’s Immediate, not Gradual Abolition had argued for a rejection of gradual abolition on the grounds of Christian morality, and such emphasis on the Christian imperative would become a characteristic rhetorical strategy of female anti-slavery societies. In 1826 the first report of the Birmingham Female Anti-Slavery Society opened with an explanation of its members’ motivation. They expressed particular sympathy ‘for the degraded condition of their own sex’ and therefore ‘determined to endeavour to awaken (at least in the bosom of English women) a deep and lasting compassion, not only for the bodily sufferings of female Slaves, but for their moral degradation’:

Such Slavery as that which now exists in our Colonies, should have the prayers of all Christians, and the best exertions of every Briton, united against it, that ‘they who name the name of Christ may depart from this iniquity’.21

As the collective published voices of women’s anti-slavery societies began to appear as the movement spread across Britain, religious morality such as this was at the forefront of their rhetoric, portraying slavery as an essentially moral issue and a mortal sin. Whilst many male anti-slavery societies drew on religious rhetoric in their arguments, it was most often tempered by an awareness of economic and political practicalities in campaigning for its abolition. Female societies, however, were, like Heyrick, far more disposed to view the matter as one of such moral gravity that religious faith could not permit a policy of gradual abolition.

In response to Heyrick’s Immediate, Not Gradual, Abolition pamphlet, members of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society justified their decision (p.59) to adopt her stance for immediate abolition by presenting it as a matter of divine command:

We ought to obey God rather than Man. Confidence here is not at variance with humanity. On principles like these, the simple need not fear to confront the sage; nor a female society to take their stand against the united wisdom of this world.22

This appeal to faith ran alongside an emphasis on women’s greater capacity for compassion, particularly for the plight of enslaved women and children. In their annual reports the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society, for example, repeatedly invoked as one of their resolutions their eagerness to see a time when the lash would no longer be used ‘to lacerate the persons of helpless females’, and ‘when every negro mother, protected by British laws, shall press a free-born infant to her bosom’.23 The language of this resolution draws on a long history of sentimental abolitionist material, and fitted much more closely into conventional expectations of femininity, reframed to meet the ends of the immediatist cause. Similarly, existing standard female charitable activities were adopted by women abolitionists so that traditional expressions of domesticity could be used for political purposes. As the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society reports in 1825, ‘upwards of fourteen hundred pamphlets, tracts, &c. have been distributed […] besides the sale of two hundred and seventy-eight work bags, filled with tracts, with an engraving suited to the subject’ (p. 1). The sewing of work-bags is a particularly telling example of the ways in which women abolitionists could negotiate boundaries, linking ‘the “private” sphere of domestic work with the “public” sphere of campaigning’ (Midgley, Women Against Slavery, p. 57). Extracts on the sufferings of slaves were hidden within the interior of the work bags, to be found after purchase and so disseminate this evidence to a wide and potentially unsuspecting audience: an impeccably domestic activity thus concealing a confrontational approach.

Door to door canvassing – as practised by Heyrick, Watts and Coltman – also became one of the primary activities of many societies, but it was carefully framed as ‘visiting’, a far more sociable and acceptable activity for women. In society reports it was given very little space in the description of their activities, which could devote many pages to sentimental outpourings of sympathy for female slaves, but rarely gave more than a paragraph to the practice of ‘visiting’. The second report for the Birmingham society acknowledged that:

(p.60) The influence of females in the minor departments (as they are usually deemed), of household affairs is generally such that it rests with them to determine whether the luxuries indulged in, and the conveniences enjoyed, shall come to them from the employer of free men, or from the oppressors of British Slaves. When the preference is given to the latter, we see, therefore, with whom the responsibility must mainly rest. Pleasing accounts have been received from the Visitors who recommend Free Labour Produce in the districts they have undertaken for this purpose. More than half the town of Birmingham has been visited, house by house; and efforts have been made in many places in the neighbourhood to awaken the attention of the inhabitants to the same important subject.24

That more than half the town of Birmingham was visited implies a considerable undertaking, but it is noticeable that the report makes very little of it, perhaps choosing not to draw too much attention to one of the most controversial activities of the women’s societies.

Thus, Heyrick and Watts’s pioneering work in organising community boycotts of slave grown produce, canvassing, and disseminating information relating to the treatment of slaves was adopted and continued throughout the wider network of female societies, but not always in the same direct ways that the Leicester women had employed. The difference is illustrated by the careful selection of the works of Heyrick and Watts which appear in the reports of the central Birmingham Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society, of which they were members as representatives of the Leicester branch of this network. Only a handful of members have individual pieces included within the reports, suggesting the high level of influence the women enjoyed within the movement. Yet the pieces chosen are not necessarily representative of the complete outlook of the two women. The first report for the Birmingham Society, published in 1826, was concluded with an extract from one of Heyrick’s less well known pamphlets Letters on the Prompt Extinction of British Colonial Slavery, with an introduction that lauded her contribution to the movement:

The Committee cannot more properly close this Report than in the language, slightly varied, of a female writer who is one of the most powerful, and consistent, advocate of our enslaved fellow-subjects. The Author of ‘Letters on the Prompt Extinction of British Colonial Slavery, with Thoughts on Compensation’.25

(p.61) Heyrick is represented not by her most famous and influential work, but by one that places an unusual level of emphasis on divine authority in comparison to her other writings. Addressed to different bodies of people connected with the Abolitionist movement, including male leaders, the wider ‘Christian public’ and the clergy, it broadens and extends her appeals to individual responsibility, beginning with although not limited to abstention from slave-grown produce. Other suggestions include a call for ministers across denominations, not simply Dissenting preachers, to guide their congregations in abolitionist thinking. The work is as outspoken as Immediate, not Gradual Abolition, beginning by paying homage to the ‘great leaders of the AntiSlavery Society’ but going on to condemn their continued gradualist approach: ‘this pusillanimous proposition is operating like a powerful opiate on our feelings and principles; – it is neutralizing our sympathy, palsying our exertion, and benumbing our charity’.26 It will in time, she predicts, corrupt the male leaders of the Anti-Slavery societies themselves, and she explicitly attacks ‘the mysterious incongruity in the language and conduct of the Gradual Abolitionists’ which justifies her ‘warmth of remonstrance’ (p. 6). This warmth is lacking, however, from the extract chosen for inclusion in the report, which does not pass judgement on the male abolitionists, and puts its case in Scriptural, rather than personal, terms:

“Let this people go,” – is the authoritative language of the great Parent of the Universe, to all who have ears to hear the voice of reason, of conscience, of revelation;—to all who keep aloof from the confused Babel of sordid interest and political expediency […] in the case of the poor Negro, the command is not less intelligible in a Christian’s ear, because conveyed by the spirit, instead of the Divine injunction.27

Whether the extract was selected by Heyrick herself or the society committee, it is evidently intended to support their collective image as acting on divine authority. In shortening the extract, we also lose a graphic description of the cruelty of the merchant ‘who stamps brand marks into [the slave’s] flesh with hot irons […] chains and flogs him without mercy’, and whose sins are continued by the consumer of slave-grown produce (Heyrick, Letters, p. 94). Instead, the extract as presented is an explicitly religious address, dictated by ‘Divine injunction’, and as such indicates the ways in which Heyrick’s (p.62) outspoken political voice could be toned down as it was transmitted in different contexts. Similarly, the poem by Susanna Watts used to head the fourth report in 1828 is an expression of feminine sympathy, as British ladies are encouraged to identify with slave mothers:

  • Natives of a land of glory,
  • Daughters of the good and brave,
  • Hear the injured Negro’s story,
  • Hear, and help the kneeling Slave.
  • Think, how nought but death can sever
  • Your lov’d children from your hold,
  • Still alive – but lost for ever
  • Ours are parted, bought and sold!
  • Seize, then, ev’ry favouring season
  • Scorning censure or applause;
  • Are your LEADERS in our cause!
  • Follow! – faithful, firm, confiding,
  • Spread our wrongs from shore to shore;
  • Mercy’s God your efforts guiding,
  • Slavery shall be known no more.28

Both pieces are by Heyrick and Watts – but they are not quite the Heyrick and Watts who emerge in the scrapbook poem ‘On a Gentleman saying that, Some ladies, who were zealous in the Anti-Slavery Cause, were brazen faced’. In that poem, albeit only circulated in manuscript, it is not female capacity for sympathy, nor women’s heightened religious sensibilities, which are emphasised. Instead, their ‘brazen’ aspects become a source of strength, an armour-plating which can protect them in Wilberforce’s ‘warfare of political life’.

How can we account for this bolder, ‘brazen’, and more combative approach adopted by Heyrick and Watts? One answer might be to turn back to the specific context indicated by the scrapbook itself: a local, intellectual female friendship group, informed both by wider interest in the arts and by religious enquiry, operating within – and made possible by – a developing industrial economy. Close attention to the precise details of such local networks helps us to understand the nuances of gender in practice, and to understand variations in women’s literary, political, or religious outlooks even when these might (p.63) appear to be similar. As Alison Twells has demonstrated in an exploration of Congregationalist women in Sheffield and Baptist circles in Wiltshire, female anti-slavery commitments were ‘put into practice in the context of local religious cultures, shaped by immediate circumstances and by wider denominational networks’.29 Alongside this argument for ‘a deeper understanding of local denominational cultures’ we would add that women’s friendships, as well as their familial and regional connections, also need to be kept in mind, as these can help both in strengthening faith and in moving beyond denominational boundaries to create a hybrid approach. In the case of Heyrick and Watts, we need to think about the Dissenting culture of the East Midlands at the turn of the century, and a particular atmosphere of intellectual discussion, reflection, and self-examination embodied in the work of the women. To understand their writings we need to place them more precisely in their family, social and religious context.

The Leicester of Heyrick and Watts’ youth, in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, was a city on the move: in 1789 it could still be described as a country town, ‘not yet grown far beyond its medieval limits’, but the subsequent decades would see rapid expansion, focused on its hosiery trade.30 Heyrick’s father, John Coltman (1727–1808) was a leading hosiery manufacturer in the city – ‘the most outstanding entrepreneur in Leicester during the late eighteenth century’ – and an intriguing figure, ‘not only,’ as David Wykes puts it, was he ‘an enterprising and active businessman, but was engaged in scientific and philosophical enquiry, antiquarian study and political reform’.31 This provided the young women of the family circle with a particular intellectual background, which is outlined in a number of papers preserved, along with Watts’s scrapbook, in the local record office, including a lengthy memoir by Heyrick’s brother, Samuel Coltman, Time’s Stepping Stones – Or Some Memorials of Four Generations of a Family – by an Octogenarian Member of the Same.32 There are also published accounts of the family by close acquaintances William Gardiner and Catherine Hutton, and Hutton’s cousin Catherine Hutton Beale. Such material is crucial in understanding the background for the women involved in this network, not simply Coltman’s daughters, Elizabeth (p.64) and Mary Ann, but also their friends, since Susanna Watts, Mary Reid and Mary Linwood, among others, were clearly intimates of the family, and often appear in the accounts. Watts, for example, is described as ‘Sister Susan’ by the Coltman family, and such items in the scrapbook as the rhyming games set by John Coltman senior for Watts show her fully taking part in Coltman family life.33 Mary Reid, meanwhile, appears to have considered marriage to John Coltman’s son, John junior, at one point.34

Faith was of central importance to the Coltman family. Like so many of the Midlands industrialists, they were Nonconformist, worshipping at the Great Meeting House in Leicester, at that time a Presbyterian chapel, although it would later become Unitarian. As indicated by this change, characteristic of such institutions at the turn of the century, Nonconformist belief is difficult to define categorically, and even congregations of the same sect could often differ in practice and precise belief. The central factor of the kind of Rational Dissent the Coltman circle would have experienced at the Great Meeting, however, was an emphasis on the signal importance of individual enquiry, on questioning oneself and others. To be a Dissenter, moreover, was not simply a religious identity: it connected individuals to a larger cultural, intellectual, educational and business network throughout the country, and indeed across the Atlantic, since many Nonconformists emigrated through the later eighteenth century. John Coltman illustrates this: the connections he made in his years studying at the Dissenting Academy in Kibworth in Leicestershire under John Aikin Senior, father of Anna Laetitia Barbauld and friend of Joseph Priestley, not only connected him to prominent industrialists elsewhere in England, but also directed his political sympathies towards radical causes. Well before his daughters and their friends set out on their own abolition campaign, Coltman was a ‘warm friend to civil and religious liberty’, sympathetic to the American and French Revolutions, opposed to the Anglo-French war, encouraging emigration to America, and supporting the foundation of the colony for former slaves at Sierra Leone.35 His experience at Kibworth also established his life-long scholarship, intellectual enquiry and interest in classical studies and archaeology, including coin collecting. Coltman’s knowledge of local history and archaeology may well have informed Susanna Watts’s guide to Leicester, which discusses in detail the Roman origins of the city, and relics including mosaics and coins, and the philosophical and classical knowledge on show in the Humming Bird (p.65) should be seen as, in part, a reflection of the intellectual interests fostered at Kibworth and passed on, through Coltman and his friends, to their wider female circle.36

Although Leicester could not quite rival the intellectual environment fostered by Brimingham’s Lunar Society, it is clear Elizabeth Heyrick was brought up in a highly educated, Dissenting family, who were well acquainted with leading radical Unitarians such as Priestley. Such an important intellectual and cultural legacy needs to be taken into account when considering the development of Heyrick, Watts and their circle. The complex position of women in Rational Dissenting society also needs to be considered, beginning with the relationship between Coltman and his wife, Elizabeth, née Cartwright. She seems to have been his intellectual equal, highly educated and devout, with family connections to literati including Robert Dodsley, Joseph Spence, and William Shenstone. She was commemorated fulsomely by Catherine Hutton, for whom she ‘knew all things; read all things; from reviewing new publications to sweeping the house. Her needlework was unrivalled, her landscapes, cut with scissors in writing paper incredible; and her ingenuity inexhaustible’.37 Female learning is here celebrated, whilst being simultaneously aligned with virtuous domestic labour. Such artistic interests appear to have been given up on her marriage; indeed her daughter’s painting talents were not encouraged, and a letter from mother to daughter tells her that a ‘Wife’s chief ambition ought to be to shine in the eyes of her Husband’, a line that could have been written by Hannah More herself (Coltman, Stepping Stones, p. 126). Yet Elizabeth’s role as Coltman’s wife seems not simply to have been a domestic one. She clearly shared her husband’s interests; she too was an abolitionist who considered Thomas Clarkson ‘the greatest man in the kingdom’ and eagerly took the opportunity, even in her seventies, to have ‘an hour of delightful conversation with him’ (Hutton Beale, p. 146). When, as part of his literary and philosophical discussion group, Coltman invited ‘a lecturer on Electricity, Hydraulics, etc.’ to give a talk, ‘Mrs. Coltman, and her friend, Mrs. Reid, were the first ladies in Leicester who ventured to make their appearance in a philosophical lecture room’ (p. 65). She also seems to have had to take an active role in Coltman’s business, since his scholarly interests and ‘insatiable’ reading seem to have distracted him, and family accounts note his unworldliness. His success may therefore have owed something to his wife’s support, since his son’s memoirs, Time’s Stepping Stones, complain,

(p.66) how little sinecure that woman has, who undertakes to manage a household of which the Father is a Book-Worm and Philosopher; no less, or rather more that a man of business[…] That his business was progressive and even prosperous is true […] but still if he had not been aided by the vigilance and care of my Mother, not only in her domestic duties, but often lending her assistance to her Husband in his own immediate department, it is doubtful if at times his love of studious ease … might not have led him into difficulties.

(Coltman, p. 92)

The ‘assistance’ mentioned here indicates the level to which women might have assumed authority within Rational Dissenting families, although this was not always straightforward or openly acknowledged. The Coltman family memoirs give us a glimpse of a world in which female intellect – and business acumen – was valued, although subservient to feminine domesticity and wifely obedience. Alongside such family influence, the Leicester women would also have encountered some powerful role models in the wider Dissenting community, such as Anna Laetitia Barbauld, poet, educator, and the public voice of a particular strain of female Rational Dissent. In poems such as ‘Corsica’, or ‘Epistle To William Wilberforce, Esq. on the Rejection of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade’, we see her self-assumed civic identity, which would take a more radical turn in the 1790s as she spoke out – and was pilloried for doing so – on matters of conscience in works such as Civic Sermons to the People.38

A background in Rational Dissent encouraged a questioning, challenging approach in all aspects of life, with the frequent consequence that Dissenting children rejected the faith of their parents. This was the case for Elizabeth Heyrick. Her diary entries show her extreme youthful piety, as she berated herself: ‘I must destroy my habits of indolence and self-indulgence – and acquire those of activity and self-denial’ (Coltman, p. 149). After her husband’s death, she became increasingly drawn to Quakerism, and was formally received into the Society of Friends in 1802. At the same time, she came into conflict with her family over her desire to set up a school in her home and live independently. A letter from that period concerning the school plans shows the way in which, even as she became a Quaker worshipper, Rational Dissenting emphasis on the importance of individual judgement had sunk deep into her consciousness:

(p.67) The rest of my family disagreeing with me in opinion is no reason why my own judgement is to be discarded as a useless thing […] every individual must govern his actions according to the measure he has received, and not by that of another.39

Compare, for example, Theophilus Lindsey, a close associate of the Aikins and Priestley, in his sermon on the opening of the first avowedly Unitarian chapel in Essex Street, when he told the congregation that ‘we can only submit to the authority of Christ in his written word, and in the sense we ourselves put upon it, and not that of another’.40 This Rational Dissenting inheritance, as Clare Midgley has demonstrated, was to come together with Heyrick’s new interest in Quakerism to form her outspoken abolitionist identity: ‘if her family background in rational dissent had equipped Heyrick with a good education and sense of women’s worth as intellectual beings, becoming a Quaker by convincement involved her following the path of her own conscience over deference to her family’s wishes’, and also showed her a group where females were allowed to speak out publicly as ministers (Midgley, ‘Dissenting Voice’, p. 98). Heyrick was not alone in rejecting the family faith: as the Great Meeting moved towards overt Unitarianism, her sister Mary Ann and their mutual friend Mary Reid moved to Harvey Lane, a Baptist congregation where the famous preacher Robert Hall ministered. Susanna Watts, whose own family background had been Anglicanism but who seems to have become an honorary member of the Coltman family, also moved towards Baptism, and her work appeared posthumously in Baptist periodicals. In Watts’s scrapbook, meanwhile, a highly religious but somewhat eclectic identity emerges, since snippets of information about Moravianism, Anglicanism and Methodism, portraits of John Wesley and James Montgomery all appear, alongside hymns by Watts, and a sermon by Robert Hall preached in Leicester. While the women developed different sectarian allegiances, they all seem willing to draw from a range of approaches in order to make their points, and the description of Mary Ann by a friend, Alicia Cooper, may be telling in this regard. She did not, writes Cooper, despite her attendance at Harvey Lane, ‘adopt a creed, nor be exclusive even in appearance. She believed in one universal Church […] but she attached herself to no particular portion of it, and allowed a large latitude to all who did not see through her spectacles’ (Hutton Beale, pp. 234–5). We might, then, see the women as informed by a strong local and familial culture of Rational Dissent through (p.68) the elder Coltmans: enabled by this, they were then able to draw on different affiliations to shape their own religious identities.

They were also working within a larger tradition of Dissenting abolitionist literature. Thanks to the careful detective work of Tim Whelan, we now know more about the culture which produced the first wave of boycott literature in the 1790s.41 A key figure was the female bookseller and Baptist Martha Gurney, who published a clutch of important anti-slavery works, including sixteen radical pamphlets by the little-known William Fox, a fellow bookseller. Of these, Fox’s 1791 pamphlet An Address to the People of Great Britain, on the Propriety of Refraining from the Use of West India Sugar and Rum was the most celebrated and very widely republished. It brought the abolition debate home, arguing that the way to combat slavery was for individuals to boycott the pleasure of sugar and rum. The women’s boycott work owes a good deal to Fox’s confrontational insistence on the individual responsibility of the consumer, and his call for complete abstention from slave-produced goods. Meanwhile, the vivid prose employed by Heyrick in her pamphlets, and the collaboratively produced Humming Bird periodical is inflected by his turn for the dramatic. The women remark in the Humming Bird that ‘it is our duty to give a faithful picture of slavery, and if that picture be hideous, we cannot soften it’, going on to argue that ‘if the susceptible be disgusted by the revolting object of a flayed negro woman devoured by maggots, let them remember that the delicious sweets, which, at every repast, pass their lips, are the cause, the single cause of these agonising tortures’ (p. 56). Such insistent, graphic detail might be set alongside Fox’s equally vivid argument from two decades previously, that although British laws metaphorically hold such produce ‘to our lips, steeped in the blood of our fellow-creatures’ consumers are not compelled to ‘accept the loathsome potion’.42 In doing so, they become ‘partners in the crime’ of slavery, the cruelties of which Fox describes in explicit physical terms, such as the ways in which slaves are lashed: ‘at every stroke of the whip a piece of flesh is cut out’ (p. 9). Heyrick, Watts, and their circle were drawing on this writing of the 1790s, and a culture in which a Baptist woman had been responsible for the dissemination of an extremely influential abolitionist work.

The final factor in developing the Leicester women’s voice, however, seems to have been their female friendship. As single women – Elizabeth Heyrick widowed, Watts, Mary Ann Coltman, and Mary Reid unmarried, as were Catherine Hutton and Mary Linwood in the wider circle – they gained strength and community from one another’s company, frequently staying with one (p.69) another for extended periods. Their occasionally challenging attitude towards men is revealed by the sharpness of several inclusions in the scrapbook, such as Susanna Watts’s ‘Lines to the Rev. Robert Throsby, on his saying that a Party of Ladies who had established a little Book Society (his intimate friends) were a set of Dragons because they refused to admit him to their Meetings (1800)’ (p. 545). Here, as in the ‘brazen-faced’ poem, Watts takes the insult and turns it into a compliment, extending the comparison between her group of female friends and the dragon, ‘ever deem’d an emblem of the Wise:

  • Their tongues are forkyhere the truth you hit;
  • For sure, a pointed tongue denotes a wit;
  • They vomit flames – your simile is here,
  • By ev’ry rule of rhetoric, strong and clear; –
  • For see you not – how from our mouth’s transpire
  • Huge blazing volumes of poetic fire?

Like Heyrick two years later determined to maintain her opinion in the face of family opposition, Watts is issuing no apology for their decision to exclude the Reverend. Her lively poem is at once self-deprecating and defiant, a joke which is also, like the ‘brazen-faced’ poem, a female challenge. This is comparable to the way the Humming Bird also uses lively, sly humour, as when the title of the periodical is discussed:

“Humming Bird! No,” exclaimed a Gentleman, fond of wit and repartee—“that will furnish the Anti-Abolitionists with a pun” – “all a hum” – “all humbug.” (pp. 5–6)

But the women persisted with their intended title, stating ‘if the shafts from the quivers of wit and ridicule should strike at our little plumed Messenger, so much the better’, since it will afford it publicity. This is language very close to Watts’s ‘brazen-faced’ poem, and its deflection of ‘shafts of manly wit’: it seems characteristic of the ways in which these Leicester women could enter into the ‘warfare of political life’, shielded by their intellectual and religious convictions, and given strength by a network of like-minded friends.

Thus we might see family, friendship, locality, and various strands of Dissenting religious culture coming together to shape the specific outlooks of these women, and to foster the more ‘brazen’ tone adopted by Heyrick, Watts, and their fellow Leicester abolitionists. While we should see them as part of a larger network of women anti-slavery activists operating in the period, we should also recognise the subtle variations in the approach of different groups which complicate our idea of a collective female voice. We need, too, not only to appreciate the significance of works by provincial women, but also (p.70) to set them in a larger context of community and collaboration, a theme we hope to have underlined by our decision to write together.43 Academic writing, like the Leicester women’s literature, is produced not by individuals working alone, but by a wider network of other researchers, stretching back to the family historians such as Samuel Coltman and Catherine Hutton Beale who set down their memories of the women’s friendships, and forward to the unsung heroes of women’s history, local archivists who preserve and promote the manuscripts in their care.44


Bibliography references:

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Aucott, Shirley. Elizabeth Heyrick 1769 to 1831: The Leicester Quaker Who Demanded the Immediate Emancipation of Slaves in the British Colonies. Leicester: Shirley Aucott, 2007.

—. Susanna Watts (1768 to 1842): Author of Leicester’s First Guide, Abolitionist and Bluestocking. Leicester: Shirley Aucott, 2004.

Child, Lydia Maria. Letters of Lydia Maria Child, with a Biographical Introduction by John Greenleaf Whittier. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1883.

Coltman, Samuel. Time’s Stepping Stones – Or Some Memorials of Four Generations of a Family – by an Octogenarian Member of the Same (1852). Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, MS Misc. 1153.

Corfield, Kenneth. ‘Elizabeth Heyrick: Radical Quaker’, Religion in the Lives of English Women, 1760–1930, ed. Gail Malmgreen. London: Croom Helm, 1986.

Ferguson, Moira. Animal Advocacy and Englishwomen, 1780–1900: Patriots, Nation, and Empire. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

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(p.71) Fox, William. An Address to the People of Great Britain, on the Propriety of Refraining from the Use of West India Sugar and Rum. London: M. Gurney, 1791.

Gardiner, William. Music and Friends: Or, Pleasant Recollections of a Dilettante, 2 vols. London and Leicester: Longmans, 1838.

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—. The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women’s Rights Movement, 1831–51. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1995, 2nd edn. 1998.

Heyrick, Elizabeth to Elizabeth Coltman senr., 15 October 1802, Coltman MSS, 15D57, 64.

—. Immediate, not Gradual Abolition: Or, An Inquiry Into the Shortest, Safest, and Most Effectual Means of Getting Rid of West Indian Slavery. London: Hatchard, 1824.

—. Letters on the Necessity of a Prompt Extinction of British Colonial Slavery: Chiefly Addressed to the More Influential Classes, to which are Added, Thoughts on Compensation. London and Leicester, 1826.

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(1) Lydia Maria Child to E. Carpenter, 6 September 1838, in Letters of Lydia Maria Child (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1883), p. 23.

(2) Kathryn Gleadle, The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women’s Rights Movement, 1831–51 (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1995, 2nd edn. 1998), p. 1; Ruth Watts, Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760–1860 (London and New York: Routledge, 1998). See also Marjorie Reeves, Female Education and Non-Conformist Culture, 1700–1900 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 2000).

(3) Gillian Russell and Clara Tuite, eds., Romantic Sociability: Social Networks and Literary Culture in Britain, 1770–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 4.

(4) For example, in the remarkable collection of papers Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720–1840, ed. Tim Whelan, 8 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011).

(5) Clare Midgley, Women Against Slavery. The British Campaigns 1780–1870 (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 75.

(6) For more discussion of the national, and international, impact of the pamphlet and its effect on other abolitionist societies, see Midgley, Women Against Slavery, pp. 103–7, and the anonymously authored A Brief Sketch of the Life and Labours of Mrs Elizabeth Heyrick (Leicester: Crossley and Clarke, 1862), p. 10.

(7) Catherine Hutton, ‘Hasty Sketch of the Coltman Family’ (1802). Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, MS 15D57/387.

(8) Samuel Coltman, Time’s Stepping Stones – Or Some Memorials of Four Generations of a Family – by an Octogenarian Member of the Same (1852). Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, MS Misc. 1153, p. 171.

(9) Kenneth Corfield, ‘Elizabeth Heyrick: Radical Quaker’, in Gail Malmgreen (ed.), Religion in the Lives of English Women, 1760–1930 (London: Croom Helm, 1986), pp. 41–67; Clare Midgley, ‘The Dissenting Voice of Elizabeth Heyrick: An exploration of the Links between Gender, Religious Dissent and Anti-Slavery Radicalism’, in Women, Dissent and Anti-Slavery in Britain and America, 1790–1865, ed. Elizabeth Clapp and Julie Roy Jeffrey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 88–110.

(10) See Tim Whelan’s discussion of this persistent misattribution in Other British Voices: Women, Poetry, and Religion, 1766–1840 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), p. 185; p. 233.

(11) Shirley Aucott, Elizabeth Heyrick 1769 to 1831: The Leicester Quaker Who Demanded the Immediate Emancipation of Slaves in the British Colonies (Leicester: Shirley Aucott, 2007); Susanna Watts (1768 to 1842): Author of Leicester’s First Guide, Abolitionist and Bluestocking (Leicester: Shirley Aucott, 2004). Moira Ferguson, Animal Advocacy and Englishwomen, 1780–1900: Patriots, Nation, and Empire (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).

(12) Susanna Watts, The Insects in Council, Addressed to Entomologists, with other Poems (London and Leicester: Hurst and A. Cockshaw, 1828), pp. 20–21.

(13) Susanna Watts, Scrapbook, The Record Office of Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, Rare Books, L. A. Watts, p. 1.

(14) ‘Preface’, The Humming Bird; or, Morsels of Information, on the Subject of Slavery (London: A. Cockshaw, 1825), pp. iii–v, (p. iii).

(15) Amanda Vickery, ed. Women, Privilege, and Power: British Politics, 1750 to the Present (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 3.

(16) Kathryn Gleadle, ‘British Women and Radical Politics in the Late Nonconformist Enlightenment, c.1780–1830’, in Vickery, Women, Privilege and Power, pp. 123–51 (p. 126).

(17) Leicester Auxiliary Anti-slavery Society, An Address on the State of Slavery in the West India Islands. (London: Hamilton and Leicester: T. Combe, 1824), pp. 20–21.

(18) Elizabeth Heyrick, Immediate, not Gradual Abolition: Or, An Inquiry Into the Shortest, Safest, and Most Effectual Means of Getting Rid of West Indian Slavery (London: Hatchard, 1824), p. 9.

(19) Letter from William Wilberforce to Thomas Babington, 31 January 1826, cited in Robert Isaac Wilberforce and Samuel Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce by His Sons, 5 vols. (London: John Murray, 1839), V: pp. 264–5.

(20) Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, With a View of the Principles and Conduct Prevalent Among Women of Rank and Fortune (London: T. Cadell Junior and W. Davies, 1799), p. 31.

(21) The First Report of the Female Society, for Birmingham, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Walsall, and Their Respective Neighbourhoods, For the Relief of British Negro Slaves (Birmingham: Richard Peart, 1826) p. 3.

(22) Report of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society (Sheffield: J. Blackwell, 1827), p. 10.

(23) Report of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society (Sheffield: 1825), p. 1; Report of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society, (Sheffield: 1827), p. 13.

(24) The Second Report of the Female Society for the Relief of British Negro Slaves (Birmingham: 1826), p. 14.

(25) The First Report of the Female Society, for Birmingham, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Walsall, and Their Respective Neighbourhoods, For the Relief of British Negro Slaves (Birmingham: 1826), p. 12.

(26) Elizabeth Heyrick, Letters on the Necessity of a Prompt Extinction of British Colonial Slavery: Chiefly Addressed to the More Influential Classes, to which are Added, Thoughts on Compensation (London and Leicester: 1826), p. 1; p. 5.

(27) The First Report of the Female Society, for Birmingham, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Walsall, and Their Respective Neighbourhoods, p. 12.

(28) The Fourth Report of the Female Society for Birmingham, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Walsall, and their Respective Neighbourhoods, for the Relief of British Negro Slaves (Birmingham: 1828), p. 1.

(29) Alison Twells, ‘“We Ought to Obey God Rather Than Man”: Women, Anti-Slavery and Nonconformist Religious Culture’, in Women, Dissent and Anti-Slavery, ed. Clapp and Jeffrey, pp. 66–87 (p. 68).

(30) A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester. A History of Leicester 1780–1850 (Leicester: University College Leicester, 1954), gives an account of the industrial and political growth of the city.

(31) David L. Wykes, ‘The reluctant businessman: John Coltman of St Nicholas Street, Leicester, 1727–1808’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (1995), pp. 71–85 (p. 85; p. 71).

(33) Catherine Hutton Beale, Catherine Hutton and her Friends (Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1895), p. 159.

(35) William Gardiner, Music and Friends: Or, Pleasant Recollections of a Dilettante, 2 vols. (London and Leicester: Longmans, 1838), I: p. 61.

(36) Susanna Watts, A Walk Through Leicester: Being a Guide to Strangers, Containing a Description of the Town and Its Environs, with Remarks Upon Its History and Antiquities (Leicester: T. Combe, 1804), see pp. 3–4, 35–41, 46–7.

(38) See William McCarthy, Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment (Baltimore: John’s Hopkins University Press, 2008); Anne Janowitz has done especially significant work on Barbauld’s shifting voice in the 1790s in, for example, ‘Amiable and Radical Sociability: Anna Barbauld’s “Free Familiar Conversation,”’ in Russell and Tuite, Romantic Sociability, pp. 62–81.

(39) Elizabeth Heyrick to Elizabeth Coltman senr., 15 October 1802, Coltman MSS, 15D57, 64.

(40) Theophilus Lindsey, A Sermon Preached at the Opening of the Chapel in Essex-House, Essex-Street, in the Strand, on Sunday, April 17, 1774 (London: J. Johnson, 1774), p. 10.

(41) Timothy Whelan, ‘Martha Gurney and the Anti-Slave Trade Movement, 1788–94’ in Women, Dissent, and Anti-Slavery, ed. Clapp and Jeffrey, pp. 44–65.

(42) William Fox, An Address to the People of Great Britain, on the Propriety of Refraining from the Use of West India Sugar and Rum (London: M. Gurney, 1791), pp. 2–3.

(43) This chapter forms part of a larger PhD research project funded by the AHRC on Women Writers in the Midlands, 1750–1850, using the holdings of the Records Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland. One of the aims of the research project was not only to promote local archives but also to bring the women’s writing into the local community with a series of public events including creative writing workshops, a poetry pamphlet, and involvement in a film, ‘Rothley, Slavery and Me’, produced by the Community Interest Corporation, Candy Arts.

(44) We would specifically like to thank Jess Jenkins of the Records Office for her generous assistance and sharing her research on the Leicester women.