Thursday 9th June marks International Archives Day. This year’s theme is ‘Archives, Harmony and Friendship’. With this in mind what better way to celebrate than by delving into a collection with friendship and campaigning for harmony, through the abolition of slavery, at its core.The Birmingham Ladies Negro’s Friend Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves was established in 1825 and grew out of the friendship of Lucy Townsend and Mary Lloyd and their joint opposition to slavery. Both women were heavily involved in philanthropic work and committed to the anti-slavery cause. They met and became friends through meetings of the Bible Society. Lucy’s husband the Revd Charles Townsend was an anti-slavery campaigner and a clergyman in West Bromwich and Mary Lloyd’s husband Samuel Lloyd was from a prominent Quaker family and head of the firm Lloyd, Foster and Co., Wednesbury.
The first meeting of the society was held in Lucy Townsend’s home in West Bromwich on the 8th April 1825 and in the first minute book of the society (MS 3173/2/1) was described as ‘a very large and respectable meeting of ladies’. Lucy and Mary worked together as joint secretaries of the Society which was the first active anti-slavery campaign group in the city. The first report of the Society, 1825-1826 (MS 3173/2/1), held in the archive, states the group’s resolutions including a particular emphasis on female slaves.
As part of their mission the group spread information about the mistreatment of slaves through canvassing. Each member owned a collection book of news clippings and anti-slavery arguments for this purpose. Two albums of anti-slavery leaflets and literature in the archive show the type of material they used. These included anti-slavery propaganda illustrations, poetry (such as British Slavery by Hannah More) and a map of the world illustrating ‘the impolicy of slavery’. An introductory note to the contents of the albums states that they sold work bags, albums and portfolios. Funds raised from this went towards spreading information, relief efforts and the education of British slaves.
‘That we form ourselves into a Society for the melioration of the unhappy children of Africa, and especially of female Negro slaves, who living under the British dominion, receive from British hands their lot of bitterness.’
The first minute book dated 1825-1852 (MS 3173/1/1) includes an account signed by Rachel Lloyd (Mary Lloyd’s mother-in-law) of the Society’s canvassing activities which suggests they had covered the central parts of Birmingham and were now working on the remaining outskirts.
‘Though we are not able to report the completion of many streets this quarter, several of the visitors have accomplished a considerable share of the remaining work, which now lies in such a scattered direction mostly in the environs of the town, that more than usual difficulty attends in making fresh appointments; yet we have the satisfaction to state that several have been made; and persevering zeal encouragingly manifested’ (report from minutes from 26th 11th month 1828 folio 75).
Rather than operating alone, the Society functioned as a hub of other female antislavery groups in the UK. The formation of a female anti-slavery association for Southampton is reported in the first minute book via a letter from a friend of the Society. The group’s influence was not limited to the UK. Its work was publicised in Benjamin Lundy’s periodical The Genius of Universal Emancipation which influenced the formation of the first female run American anti-slavery societies. As well as the USA, the group had connections in France, Mauritius, Sierra Leone and Calcutta.
To return to the two friends Mary and Lucy at the heart of the group, they acted as joint secretaries in to the 1830s. Mary then acted as treasurer from the 1840s-1861. Lucy resigned from the post of secretary in 1836 when she moved to Thorpe, Nottinghamshire, but continued to be a committee member until 1845. Both women were committed to the anti-slavery cause until their deaths.MS 3173 includes minute books, annual reports and two albums of publicity material. The online catalogue can be found here. In order to preserve the material, the majority of the collection is available to view in microfilm format only. The microfilm surrogates can be viewed by prior appointment in the Wolfson Centre at the Library of Birmingham.
Material from MS 3173 and its collection level description.
Clare Midgley, Women against slavery: the British campaigns, 1780-1870, London: Routledge, 1992.
Clare Midgley, ‘Lloyd , Mary (1795–1865)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2013 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/50718, accessed 2 June 2016]
Clare Midgley, ‘Townsend , Lucy (1781–1847)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/50717, accessed 2 June 2016]