Wedgwood Abolitionist

Author Melinda Penner Published on 07/24/2014

You may be familiar with Wedgwood pottery. One of the most distinct of Josiah Wedgwood’s designs is jasper ware—most commonly with blue or green glaze with classic figures applied in white. He was a well known potter in the 18th century, and was also an abolitionist and innovative business man.

He was born in England in 1730 to a family of potters. They were dissenters of the Church of England, and his biblical values ran deep.

He opened his own pottery and experiments with glazing techniques and colors that became famous. Wedgwood invented the pyrometer to control the temperature in the kilns to ensure consistent quality of his pottery. He introduced a production line in his factory. “He is credited with creating the first illustrated catalogues, employing the first modern traveling salesmen, and pioneering direct mail marketing. He offered money-back guarantees, free delivery, and self-service in his shops. He even set up ‘buy one, get one free’ sales for his products.” As a result, he became a very successful businessman, and his pottery was purchased in the royal palaces of Europe, as well as middle class homes.

Because of his Christian convictions, Josiah Wedgwood had a high view of the intrinsic value of all human beings, and this led him to become involved in the abolition movement in England. He asked one of his designers to create an emblem for the movement. It was a kneeling slave with the caption, “Am I not a man and a brother?” The design became a wildly popular symbol of the abolition movement in England and even America. It could be seen on snuff boxes, pipes, cuff links, and women’s jewelry. The jewelry gave women a rare opportunity to express their social and political views when that was very uncommon. Wedgwood helped promote the cause of abolition that led to the end of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807.