Thomas Glazebrook Rylands and Anti-Slavery

Philip Jeffs looks at Thomas Rylands’s support of the abolitionist movement…

Records of the Rylands family, and of their friends and associates, show that Thomas was an ardent supporter of the abolitionist movement. One of the books in Thomas’s collection after he died is recorded as being A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery. This book is listed as having the inscription: Thos. G. Rylands, March 30th, 1838, Bewsey House, purchased from the author.

Moses Roper (1815 – 1891)

Moses Roper (1815 – 1891) was a mixed race slave born in North Carolina, the son of a white farmer named Henry Roper and a slave of African American and American Indian descent named Nancy. He wrote one of the earliest accounts of life as a slave in America. Roper escaped captivity in 1834 and in 1835 fled to England where slavery had been abolished 2 years earlier. In England he met with key abolitionists who helped him to get an education at various schools and universities, so that Roper could then write the story of his life as a slave in his own words. The story Roper wrote, of cruel and sadistic torture and abuse, shocked English society, and for several years Roper toured the country spreading the word of the horrors of slavery. Roper’s life is deeply interesting and electronic copies of his book can be found free to read online.

Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)

The meeting with Moses Roper was not the only time Thomas met an escaped slave. Records suggest that in 1846 the equally famous author and former slave, Frederick Douglas stayed at Thomas’s house in Warrington during his tour of England. Douglass (1818 – 1895) was born a slave in Maryland, though the exact date of his birth was unknown to him. In 1845 he published his work A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. This recounts the harsh and often brutal life Douglass suffered as a slave, his early glimpses of education and his escape to freedom. Douglass travelled to Ireland in 1845 and from there on to England in 1846 promoting the abolitionist cause. Following the American Civil War Douglass became a prominent figure in American politics and fought for the rights of many minority groups, but particularly fought in favour of rights for African Americans and rights for women.

Rylands’s diary for the year of Douglass’s visit is missing and we have only the mention of it in a memoir of his life published in 1901 to go by. However, Douglass’s own records do show that he visited Warrington and lectured here at the Mechanics’ Institute, once in 1846 and again in 1847.

It is actually not such a great surprise that Douglass visited Warrington, as he credited much of his early political thinking to having secretly read “Dialogue Between a Master and Slave” by Barbauld and Aikin, published in Warrington in 1796 by those two famous members of the Warrington Academy. Douglass had read this whilst a slave when reading or writing was forbidden and the punishment for doing either was severe.