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Josiah Wedgwood


Josiah Wedgwood was another white male abolitionist, not as focused on the cause as Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce, but still important. We associate his name with his pottery, which is famous around the world even today. But I've picked him out because I think he's an early example of celebrity endorsement.

Wedgwood showed talent as a potter from the age of 9. But after falling ill with smallpox, his knee was left permanently weak, which meant he couldn't use a potter's wheel. Instead, he started designing pottery which he asked other potters to make for him. As a young man, he began to work with the most well-known potters of the day, and built up the first true pottery factory.

The genius of Wedgwood's design and production methods was that while royalty and nobility wanted the latest and finest pieces he produced, Wedgwood was able to make cheaper versions of the same things for the mass market. In Slaves for the Isabella, Lucy's family has a water closet - really just a glorified potty - designed by Wedgwood, which Lucy is very proud of.

Josiah Wedgwood, painted by Joshua Reynolds, a famous artist in his own right.

It was a friendship with Thomas Clarkson which prompted Josiah Wedgwood to support the abolitionists' cause. In 1787, he designed and produced the medallion pictured here, which had the words "Am I not a man and a brother?" underneath the picture of the slave. Wedgwood donated a large number of the medallions to anti-slavery societies, and they became widely fashionable. This spread the idea of abolition very successfully, as people were proud to be seen trendily supporting the cause. Today, we're very used to the idea of celebrity endorsement - just think how often you see someone famous advertising something. But who'd have thought it started so long ago?

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