Legacy Makers at Cromford Mill: Black History at Cromford

October 26th 2019

The Legacy Makers family travelled back to Derwent Valley Mills for a day full of Black History. We had a very interesting coach journey thanks to volunteer Janice Wilson who gave us a bus tour. Janice spoke to us about the history of Arkwright and Cromford Mill, educating us about both the area and cotton as we drove through the countryside.  Janice is a Blue Badge trained guide who has previously worked at places like Dove Cottage in the Lake District.

When we reached Cromford Mill we all caught up over a cup of tea before heading over to the main site to begin the event. We all gathered for a talk by volunteers from our Legacy Makers family.

Our volunteers shared the narratives of former enslaved people.  They educated us on the cruel and harsh conditions on cotton plantations. Hyacinth Barnes reminded us what the “Slave Trade Triangle” was and how cotton fitted in to that, Veronica Barnes read Mary Prince’s description of an auction and the separation of an enslaved mother from her children, Charles Kihago read a narrative published in 1838 by James William who was enslaved on a cotton plantation Alabama but had escaped to freedom.  Charles’s ancestors had also been enslaved on cotton plantations in Alabama, so this was very poignant.    Louise Garvey told us more about the treatment of babies and children on the plantation and how mothers had to leave them while they were forced to work. 

We also considered how the production of cotton became industrialised and the role the Industrial Revolution played in the demand for enslaved labour.  Paul Pryce told us more about the invention of the cotton gin and the role that the Mississippi steamboat and the steam railways played in accelerating the cotton industry.  We also learnt how some of the steam engines used in America (such as the first Mississippi steamboat) were designed by Watt of Birmingham

Michael David again reminded us  about the harsh realities of life on the plantation. He used the narrative of the fugitive Harriet Jacobs which was published in 1861 to describe punishment for attempting to escape.   The narrative in full can be found bellow:

Jenny Wizzard discussed the enormous risks that the fugitives took in attempting to escape and the help that was offered through the “Underground Railroad”.   Finally Mrs Anderson read some newspaper extracts from October and November 1819 to remind the audience of the role that Liverpool played in bringing cotton that had been picked by enslaved labour from New Orleans.   Vivinne Whiteley summed up  what “Legacies of Slavery” mean to her and how the work that the group had done at Cromford Mill in the past was important.  Veronica Barnes ended the session by singing “O Freedom!”  The talk was incredibly emotional, however, together we were all able to heal in each other’s company whilst learning more about the Slave Trade and our ancestors’ connection to the industrial revolution in the UK.

Raphael Blake captured the whole day on camera, ready for the creation of our film that will follow us on our journey as a group.

We then had lunch together where we were able to discuss our thoughts and feelings about the day so far.

Whilst the gospel choir (made up from members of the Legacy Makers family) practiced for their performance in the afternoon, the rest of us participated in a stone painting session guided by Evadney Jalloh. We used our painted stones to spread messages of love inspired by the talk we attended in the morning.

After our stone painting session, we all gathered back together as a group to listen to Dr Susanne Seymour’s talk where we were also joined by other guests wanting to learn more about Black History at Cromford Mill. Dr Seymour gave us a talk on Slavery and Supplies of Raw Cotton to the Derwent Valley Mills. This talk focused on a case study of the Strutts family who we learnt about on the Colour of Money phase of our project.

Please find the Colour of Money Blog below:

Dr Seymour discussed the historical geographies of connections between the slave trade and the industrial revolution in the UK. We learnt about who the Strutts family were and how they were abolitionist sympathisers. Dr Seymour also showed us how the slave trade is directly linked to Nottingham through businesses such as Nottingham Hosiers who were customers of the Strutts.

Dr Seymour’s presentation was very thought provoking and enabled us to make wider connections between cotton plantations, trade and businesses in the UK. This knowledge inspired the audience to engage with what they had just learnt and ask any questions that they had.

We closed our event with an amazing performance by the gospel choir. The choir begun with an emotional performance of “O Freedom!” by Veronica Barnes.

We are incredibly proud of the gospel choir, including members of the Legacy Makers family, performing at the Legacy Makers event at Cromford Mill. It was the perfect way to end what our volunteers found to be a very valuable day of learning.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting

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