Raymond English Anti-Slavery Collection

  • Reference
      GB 133 REAS
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 li.m. Condition: some of the material is very fragile, and several of the volumes have loose covers and broken spines.
  • Location
      Collection available at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The archive contains letters, letter-books, diaries, lectures and printed works of and concerning the anti-slavery campaigners George Thompson and Frederick Chesson. Amongst the papers are Thompson's letters to his wife Anne, his daughter Amelia Thompson (later Chesson), Frederick Chesson and Elizabeth Pease (later Nichol, after her marriage in 1853), a member of a well-known abolitionist Quaker family from Darlington (Co. Durham). Much of the correspondence relates to Thompson's work in India, Ceylon and America. There are also several of Thompson's personal diaries, as well as his anti-slavery pamphlets, his addresses and related correspondence, and press cuttings relating to him and his anti-slavery activities. Chesson's diaries are also included, as is that of Amelia, who made notebooks of her father's anti- slavery activities using extracts from his correspondence, which she linked together with her own narrative. In addition, there are original minutes of the London Emancipation Committee and a letter book of the Aborigines Protection Society (of which Chesson was Assistant Secretary), both in Chesson's hand.

Much of the collection is handwritten; there are also printed pamphlets and extracts from newspapers.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Thompson was born in Liverpool in 1804, was brought up in London, and became a leading anti-slavery advocate in the 1830s. Appointed as a stipendiary agent by the London Anti- Slavery Society in 1831 (the year in which he married), he travelled extensively throughout Britain disseminating information about slavery in the British colonies. A series of his lectures led to the formation of the Edinburgh Society for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the World' in 1833, and he campaigned widely, giving notable lectures in Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bath (Som) and elsewhere. The effect was such that, when slavery was abolished in British possessions in 1834 (and in India in 1838), John Bright described him as "the liberator of the slaves in the English colonies". Thompson undertook his first missions to the United States in 1834 and 1851, helping the Anti-Slavery Society to establish more than 300 branch associations, but he faced violent opposition throughout the country. Large rewards were offered for his abduction in New Orleans (LA) and Charleston (SC), and he often faced physical intimidation, narrowly escaping with his life in Boston (Mass) in 1835. Thompson's stature in the abolitionist movement suffered when there was a rift within the American Anti- Slavery Society in 1839; he found himself in the minority both in Britain and America in his support for William Lloyd Garrison, and as a result became president of the Anti-Slavery League in 1846. Nevertheless, his efforts against slavery throughout the world earned him the freedom of the city of Edinburgh in the same year. By this time, Thompson was more involved in other issues. An ardent member of the Anti-Corn Law League and sympathiser with radical electoral reform movements and women's rights, he was elected M.P. for Tower Hamlets, London, in 1847, retaining his seat until 1852, and he maintained an interest in the government of India, instigating the foundation of the British India Association in 1839. The American Civil War renewed Thompson's appetite for anti-slavery work, and his successful tour of America in 1864 brought him many honours, including a meeting with president Lincoln and a reception in the presence of most of the United States Congress. He died in Leeds (Yorks) in 1878.

Frederick Chesson was a liberal journalist on the Star newspaper and a prominent advocate of anti- slavery, aboriginal rights and peace. He became Thompson's son-in-law after marrying his daughter, Amelia, in 1855.


When received at the Library, the collection was in 4 boxes. Transcriptions of many documents have been made by N.G. Spence of Chiswick, London, and outline lists were made by English before the deposit and by Library staff afterwards; copies of these lists and transcriptions have been retained in the collection (REAS/1; REAS/3).

This collection does not contain all of Thompson's letters. Many have been lost in unknown circumstances, and 64 others (mainly relating to the anti-Apprenticeship agitation and the events leading up to the formation of the British India Association) were bought at auction in 1981 by the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI, USA). It is not known when or how the collections became separated, and there is no clear chronological or subject distinction between them. Most of the Clements correspondence is with Elizabeth Pease/Nichol, although there are 4 letters to Mrs Thompson. Transcriptions of the Clements collection have been made by N.G. Spence, and now form part of the Rylands archive (REAS/3/6); a discussion of how the papers may have come to be separated may be found in the same item.

The collection is arranged as follows:

  • REAS/1 Previous lists of the Thompson and Chesson papers
  • REAS/2 Letters of George Thompson
  • REAS/3 Transcriptions of letters of George Thompson
  • REAS/4 Letterbooks of George Thompson, compiled by Amelia Chesson
  • REAS/5 George Thompson's lectures, debates, pamphlets and related correspondence
  • REAS/6 George Thompson's anti-slavery scrapbooks
  • REAS/7 George Thompson's diaries
  • REAS/8 "Slavery and Free Trade": material relating to George Thompson's life and work
  • REAS/9 The Anti-Slavery Watchman
  • REAS/10 Amelia Chesson's diary
  • REAS/11 Frederick Chesson's diaries
  • REAS/12 "Dinner to Mr F.W. Chesson"
  • REAS/13 Letterbook of the Aborigines Protection Society
  • REAS/14 Album of Thomas Thompson, father of George Thompson

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Other Finding Aids


Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Custodial History

The fact that Amelia Chesson used her father's letters in compiling notebooks suggests that they were in her possession, and it seems likely that the Chesson papers also came into her custody. Her son, W.H. Chesson, is known to have used the collection for his book Anglo-American relations 1861-1865 (1919), and before he died in 1953 he loaned the entire collection to Raymond English, who reportedly wanted to use it for a dissertation. The collection was received by the John Rylands Library from Mrs E.R. English on 11 Jan 1967. W.H. Chesson had given permission for the documents to be taken to America, and the Englishes lived for some time at Shaker Heights (OH, USA) before 1967, but when deposited the papers were collected from a farm owned by an uncle of Mrs English at Langley, Macclesfield (Ches). It is not clear how long they had been kept there or where they had been before. Some discussion of this may be found in item REAS/3/6. Chesson's heirs could not be traced when the collection was deposited in 1967.


Select Bibliography

Primary works:W. Armistead, A tribute to the negro: being a vindication of the moral, intellectual and religious capabilities of the coloured portion of mankind; with particular reference to the African race (Manchester: 1848)

The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter (London: British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1840-45, 6 vols; New Series 1846-52, 7 vols; 3rd Series 1853-80, 22 vols; Series 4 1881-88, 8 vols)

Sir T.F. Buxton, The African slave trade and its remedy (London: 1840)

E. Cardwell, Viscount Cardwell, The slave circular: speeches of Lords Cardwell and Selborne in the House of Lords on Tuesday March 7 1876 (Westminster: 1876)

H.C. Carey, The slave trade, domestic and foreign: why it exists, and how it may be extinguished (Philadelphia: 1872)

Hymns for anti-slavery prayer meetings (London: 1838)

W.G. Sewell, The ordeal of free labor in the British West Indies (London: 1861)

Special report of the Anti-Slavery conference held at the Salle Herz on the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh August 1867 (London: British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1867)

H.J. Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, Speech of Viscount Palmerston in the House of Commons on Tuesday July 16th 1844 on the slave trade (London: 1844)

M.B. Tuckey, The wrongs of Africa: a tribute to the anti-slavery cause (Glasgow: 1838)

Secondary works:

Johnson Uzoha Jonah Asiegbu, Slavery and the politics of liberation, 1787-1861: a study of liberated African emigration and British anti-slavery policy (London and Harlow: Longman, 1969)

J.W. Blassingame, The slave community; plantation life in the antebellum South (New York: 1972) C. Bolt, The anti-slavery movement and reconstruction: a study in Anglo-American co-operation, 1833-77 (London: Institute of Race Relations, 1969)

Dwight Lowell Dumond, Anti-slavery: the crusade for freedom in America (University of Michigan: 1961)

J. Gratus, The great white lie: slavery, emancipation and changing racial attitudes (London: 1973)

Edith Farber Hurwitz, Politics and the public conscience: slave emancipation and the abolitionist movement in Britain. [A selection of contemporary documents with introduction] (London: Allen and Unwin, 1973)

F.J. Klingberg, The anti-slavery movement in England: a study in English humanitarianism (New Haven: Yale Historical Publications Miscellany, 1926)

N.B. Lewis, The abolitionist movement in Sheffield, 1823-1833: with letters from Southey, Wordsworth and others... (Manchester: 1934: re-printed from the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library xviii, number 2, Jul 1934)

W.L. Mathieson, British slave emancipation, 1838-1849 (London: 1932)

W.L. Mathieson, British slavery and its abolition, 1823-1838 (London: 1926)

W.L. Mathieson, Great Britain and the slave trade, 1839-1865 (London: 1929)

Suzanne Miers, Britain and the ending of the slave trade (London: Longman, 1975)

`Notes and news', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library xlix, number 2, Spring 1967, pp.271-272

J.H. Pease and W.H. Bound, Bound with them in chains: a biographical history of the anti-slavery movement (Westport, Connecticut: 1972)

Howard Temperley, British anti-slavery, 1833-1870 (London: Longman, 1972)

This bibliography is not comprehensive. For further works, see the Deansgate Library subject catalogue under "Serfdom and Slavery", which contains more localised studies of slavery within the British Empire, as well as material relating to the abolitionist movement outside the period 1834-1886 and in America and elsewhere around the world.