In 1854, Samuel Ringgold Ward declared to an audience in York that since the Tudor times, the soil of England had been “reddened with the blood of my race.” He directly targeted the moral superiority narrative within British society that declared the nation was a land of freedom: instead, he pointed to cases where Black British sailors had been kidnapped into slavery in the US, and the British government did nothing to recover them.
Born enslaved in Maryland in 1817, Ward escaped and became a preacher, antislavery activist and journalist in the US. He joined the Liberty Party in 1840, and lectured on abolition across the eastern United States. From 1853, he travelled to the British Isles on behalf of the Canadian Antislavery Society and hope to capitalize on the commercial success of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He held temperance, abolitionist and religious meetings across the British Isles and befriended influential reformers, authors, and other formerly enslaved individuals who were travelling Britain at the time, including Alexander Crummell and William and Ellen Craft.
In 1855, Ward wrote Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro, which detailed his experiences in Canada, England and the US, and emigrated to Jamaica, where he died in 1866.
Englishmen sang “Britons never shall be slaves,” but some were annually made slaves. Mr. Ward referred to John Glasgow, whose case has lately been before the public, who was born free in Demerara, and English settlement, but who had been seized in Georgia, and not being able to pay the gaol fees, was now a slave in that state. Such a state of affairs he considered was un-English, and it was strange that this great country allowed it to exist without its voice being raised against it.