The headwrap originated in sub-Saharan Africa. For centuries, it has been worn by women in different African countries and regions, in different forms, to reflect both communal and personal identities – which clan or tribe they belonged to, whether they were married, widowed, young or old, for example. This cotton kerchief, or headwrap, belonged to Nancy Burns (1800 – 1849). Born in Albany, New York, the daughter of slaves, she would eventually find work as a house servant and was painted in a portrait wearing the item in the 1840s. It represents a long history of cultural identity associated with women of African origin – particularly African-American women – that is still very much alive today.
Between the 1500s and early 1800s, millions of Africans were kidnapped, sold and transported to the Americas to work as slaves, in unimaginably cruel conditions, on hugely profitable plantations, producing sugar, tobacco and other commodities. These plantations were largely owned by Europeans and Euro-Americans. Britain grew rich on the profits from this transatlantic slave trade, which were reinvested into other economic sectors. Only in the late eighteenth century did public opinion slowly begin to turn against the trade in Africans, and campaigners for abolition used every way they could to bring the issue to people’s attention in Europe.
Kevin Dalton Johnson’s Captured Africans is a memorial to enslaved Africans transported on ships originating out of Lancaster as part of the Transatlantic slave trade. It stands on St George’s Quay in Lancaster and was unveiled in 2005.
During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, prisoner exchanges between Britain and France only occurred rarely, meaning large numbers of captives were held for long periods in each country. French prisoners in Britain were often invited or compelled to practice crafts, and manufactured many intricate models made from bones and other recycled goods.
Transatlantic slavery was a brutal system which forcibly shipped over twelve million Africans to the Americas and lasted over 300 years. It allowed African men, women and children to be stolen from their homeland, bought and sold as property and used to produce sugar, coffee, cotton and other goods for huge profit in the European and North American markets. This print was made to highlight the inhumane conditions under which enslaved Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean, forced to make the long voyage from West Africa to the Americas, tightly packed into the hold of ships and held in chains.
Olaudah Equiano was an African-born writer who documented his experiences of capture and enslavement, worked and travelled all over the British Atlantic world, and later became involved in the movement to abolish slavery. He was among the first and most effective black political activists within Britain’s African community. The recollections and arguments of people of African origin made a profound contribution to arguments for the abolition of the slave trade, adding urgency and authenticity to the work of fellow white campaigners.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain is one of Britain’s most important ships. By combining size, power and innovative technology, Brunel revolutionised sea travel and paved the way for modern ship design.
The Great Famine was a period of mass starvation and disease in Ireland. It lasted from 1845 to 1851, killing one million Irish people and leading to the migration of perhaps two million more. It became a watershed in Ireland’s history, permanently changing the demographic, political and cultural landscape. The ‘Apprehensive Man’ is one of a series of five bronze sculptures in the ‘Arrival’ series created by Irish artist Rowan Gillespie in 2007 and situated in Ireland Park in Toronto, Canada. It marks the arrival of thousands of starving Irish migrants in 1847.
In 1834, six farm workers were arrested and transported to Australia as a result of banding together to improve the miserable wages of farm labourers. The maltreatment of the ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’, as they became known, helped pave the way for the creation of trade unions and the protection of employees’ rights.
The move, led by the United Irishmen, to drive through a fully-fledged anti-colonial rebellion against British rule, inspired by the American and French revolutions.