Poems Against Slavery
This page is the index to a growing collection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century English poetry about slavery and the slave trade.
Thousands of poems about slavery have been written over the centuries, from ancient texts in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, to recent poems in most modern languages.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when poets were the celebrities of the day, antislavery poems were both an important tool of the abolition movement and an key aspect of contemporary literary culture.
Here, I offer just a few examples chosen from those thousands, mostly from the 1780s and 1790s, but I will add to them as time goes by. The texts are formatted to closely resemble the originals, although they are not quite exact facsimiles.
Please let me know if you can suggest any corrections or have a seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth-century poem you would like to nominate for inclusion.
Thomas Day and John Bicknell's The Dying Negro, a poem, first published in 1773, played an important part in alerting readers to the ongoing tragedy of enslavement on the streets of London.
Based on a tragic true story reported in the London newspapers in 1773, the poem explores the thoughts and emotions of an enslaved African man in London who commits suicide after being imprisoned on a ship on the Thames bound for the West Indies - a practice which had been made illegal the previous year but which still continued.
The poem was read by thousands, and went into several editions. First published more than a decade before the formation of the Abolition Society, it was instrumental in turning many British readers against the slave trade.