Storying Sheffield

Sheffield Black Atlantic Project

The Sheffield Black Atlantic Project is exploring Sheffield’s connections with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This post is by Jessica Yates.

This image shows hoes which were produced in Sheffield but used on the plantations in the West Indies by slaves. This is a rare piece of evidence which actually links Sheffield’s industry to the slave trade.

I am the researcher for the Black Atlantic Slavery Project and have been working in the Sheffield Archives and Local Studies Library, gathering primary information about Sheffield’s link with trans-Atlantic slavery. Instead of focusing on the widely researched events concerning slavery and its abolition, I have investigated connections with individuals and groups of people on the periphery of the subject who perhaps may have not been thoroughly researched before, but still have incredibly interesting stories to tell.
Sheffield was a radical centre for abolitionist culture in the UK and I have been looking at the role of women as groups and individuals as well as Religious organisations like the Quakers and activist Sheffield revolutionary newspapers. In addition, I am also gathering more information from the other side of the story of the slave trade, the narrative that is usually not mentioned in the broader interpretation of Sheffield’s history in Trans-Atlantic Slavery. Sheffield was a hub for industry, primarily due to its production of steel, so I am exploring the connections between industrial production in Sheffield and the role of ship building, the craft of instruments of work and discipline on the Plantations and the welding of steel for shackles. Additionally, many families in the region prospered from the trade and were engaged directly in the economies of Trans-Atlantic Slavery.

This photo shows a granite pillar which can be found in Wincobank, Sheffield. This pillar is dedicated to Mary Anne Rawson, a prominent abolitionist in Sheffield. It mentions a couple of her anti-slavery campaign achievements, such as writing a book which contained anti-slavery poems.
At the end of my internship, I will collate my research into a portfolio which will be used to construct a tableau, teaching Key Stage 2 children about the impact of slavery in Sheffield. This teaching style was devised by Professor Alan Rice who is a professor in English and American Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. I was fortunate enough to visit Professor Rice and even got to participate in a tableau he was using to teach his university students about slavery. The format of the tableau consisted of each student being assigned a character, their story was then told interactively. This was a great opportunity for me as I was able to observe how my work will eventually be used
If you are interested in finding out more about this project, do feel free to contact me: Jessica Yates or the Director for the Sheffield Black Atlantic Project: Dr Rachel van Duyvenbode