Anti-Slavery Medallion

Object info
Wedgwood, Stoke-on-Trent
Anti-slavery medallion, 1787

Where to see it
Wilberforce House Museum

Accession number

Purchase a print or image licence
Anti-Slavery Medallion on Bridgeman Images

About this object

Abolitionists campaigning against slavery used the image of a kneeling man as their emblem in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It is based on an anti-slavery design created at Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery factory in 1787 and was modelled by William Hackwood, a worker at the factory.  Over 200 000 pottery medallions like this were made to campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.  The kneeling design appealed directly to white Europeans and their view of themselves. The phrase ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ played to people’s Christian beliefs and was intended to provoke empathy from the British public and Parliament. 

The kneeling man image was first used on medallions like this one and later appeared in many forms including on ceramics, hairpins and jewellery.  Fob signets with the design were used to seal letters in wax.  Clay pipes and tobacco boxes were made to remind people that the tobacco they smoked was worked by enslaved people.  The public showed their support for the campaign to abolish the slave trade by buying these items.

The kneeling design is not as popular in the modern world as it shows enslaved people as passively pleading for their emancipation, reliant on a ‘white saviour’. In reality, many people resisted their own enslavement and many formerly enslaved people campaigned strongly, such as Oulaudah Equiano and later Ottobah Cuguoano.