Friday, 2 April 2010

Fighting Slavery and Climate Change in Yorkshire

Launched in May 2009 after a sucessful three-year pilot, the British Museum`s `Campaign - Make an Impact` project encourages active citizenship and an awareness of history amongst youngsters.

`Active citizenship` and `historical awareness` are key interests for this blog, so it was interesting to learn how the scheme has  been put into practise in Yorkshire recently.

Staff of the Dales Countryside Museum, the North Yorks County Record Office and researcher Audrey Dewjee  have been working with pupils from Richmond looking at the abolition of the slave trade and it`s relevance for their area, examining archival material such as a notice from Dent concerning an escaped slave and the baptism record of John  Yorke, described as a "black servant".

Having looked at the historical issue, the pupils went on to explore the techniques used and to mount their own campaign on a modern issue, that of climate change. Museum employee Jane Sammells  commented "we feel this is a wonderful way of encouraging young people to engage with their heritage whilst enabling them to consider contemporary issues".

Interestingly, Morris Birkbeck, a prominent opponent of the American slave trade, was born in the Dales, in the town of Settle. Accompanied by his children and a frind, George Flowers, Birkbeck emigrated in 1817 after the death of his wife. The two men hoped to found a colony where "the insolence of wealth and the severity of pauperism..are alike and unknown".

They settled in Edwards County, Illinois and founded a township named Wanborough. Birkbeck was moved to action when moves were made to introduce legislation allowing slavery in Illinois, and his `Appeal to the People of Illinois` is held to have been influential in leading the people to reject the proposal. 

Of course, Birkbeck was not the only opponent of slavery, many others played a part, including Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. Escaped slaves like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman also played an important role. In Jamaica, a band of former slaves called the Maroons (from the Spanish  Cimaron, meaning "an untamed person") fought the British forces in the 18th century. There was slave insurrection in Haiti, and some believe this contributed greatly to the end of slavery, not least because slave traders were afraid to sail too near to the newly freed country, fearful the Haitians would attack them to free their human cargo.

Back in present-day Yorkshire, Ms Sammells and her team are currently repeating the exercise,  still focusing on slavery and climate change, but are planning a future project looking at the campaign to create National Parks.


I don`t claim this article is particularly original. I drew heavily on two articles ;

J Sammells - Campaign - Make an Impact, Dales Heritage, Issue 11 , January 2010
Brian Goodall - Morris Birkbeck 1764 - 1825, Dales Heritage, Issue 11 , January 2010

and a visit to

On The Web

If any of the issues touched on here interest you the following sites may be useful ;

Anti Slavery -  - The UK`s oldest pressure group, this organisation was formed under the name The Anti Slavery Society by Thomas Clarkson and others in 1839 to fight slavery worldwide.

Also interesting is the unsigned article A Look at 21st Century Slavery ( 29 July 2010) at

Climate Change - these two American sites are interesting - and .

National Parks - . Two articles on this blog, `Kinder Scout and a Historic Mass Trespass` and `After Kinder`, touch briefly on issues relating to National Parks, though not in any depth, and have useful links.

Yorkshire Heritage -


Talking of young people getting in touch with history, I learnt recently of Hidden Herstories, a project involving a group of young budding film-makers. Their film looks at the lives of four women (Octavia Hill, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Claudia Jones and Jayaben Desai). I must admit, I haven`t had time to look at it myself yet, but it can be found here ; 

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