Prince William made a historic speech in Jamaica last year, denouncing slavery as “abhorrent” in a public act of self-flagellation.
He said it “should never have happened” and expressed “deep sorrow” over the forced transport of millions of people from Africa to the Caribbean and North America, a trade that British monarchs supported or benefited from during the 17th and 18th centuries.
In fact, the Daily Mail can reveal that the ancestor of at least one senior royal played a key role in the movement that led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1837 and in the United States in 1865.
Princess of Wales’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-aunt-aunt Norfolk-born Harriet Martineau became known as “America’s greatest abolitionist” after fighting a battle for life to abolish slavery and racism in the USA.
And, in a fascinating twist of history, it was her lobbying of US Presidents James Madison and Andrew Jackson that ultimately set in motion Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the declaration that freed the Duchess’s great-great-grandfather. from Sussex, Stephen Ragland. of servitude.
Historian Michael Reed, who discovered the connection, said that while Harry and Meghan have been accused of inferring racism in the Royal Family, our future queen has an ancestor who fought nobly in the battle to free America’s slaves.
She may be relatively forgotten in Britain today, but the daughter of Norwich textile manufacturer Harriet Martineau was a formidable sociologist and social reformer who were friends with a generation of Victorian-era visionaries, including Florence Nightingale.
With a commanding intellect, she challenged male prejudice to carve out a career as a writer, befriending novelists George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charlotte Brontë, and Charles Dickens, and poet William Wordsworth, as well as the Darwin brothers. , Charles and Erasmus.
Although Charles Darwin was attracted to her brainpower, he ungentlemanly lamented her appearance, saying, “I was surprised to see how ugly she is.”
The more ambiguous response from his doctor brother was: “One must not look at her as a woman.”
Regardless of such criticism, and despite losing her hearing at the age of 12, forcing her to use a trumpet, Martineau was not short of professional success.
His first commissioned book, Illustrations Of Political Economy, published in 1832 when he was 30 years old, gained wide acclaim and, despite its intellectual title, became a bestseller.
Queen Victoria was an avid fan and invited her to her coronation in 1838, where she was recorded sitting in Westminster Abbey with “a column to lean against and a pleasant corner to” …[her] shawl and bag of sandwiches’. She also had the foresight to take a book to read while she waited.
Four years earlier, Martineau had sailed for the United States with his young research assistant, Louisa Jefferys.
Over the next two and a half years, he traveled the length and breadth of the nation, visiting New York and Boston, and spending six months speaking with slaves on plantations in southern states, including Georgia and Alabama.
Martineau was instrumental in helping two slaves from Georgia, who had managed to flee the state in disguise before immigrating to England. He educated the couple, William and Ellen Craft, at a private school in Ockham, Surrey.
In his book Society In America, published on his return to the United Kingdom in 1837, he devoted a chapter to the Georgian slave trade.
‘The slaves of Georgia and Alabama have less freedom of communication with each other than other slave states; they are deprived of the few means of instruction they had, and they are locked up earlier at night,’ he wrote.
He also spent two days at the plantation of former President James Madison and his wife Dolley in Montpelier, Virginia, in February 1835, lobbying the fourth president of the United States, who was dubbed the Father of the Constitution after writing the Bill of Rights on the evils. of slavery
A friend from Philadelphia, John Vaughan, had given him a letter of introduction.
Dated December 24, 1834, it read: “Miss Martineau of England, whose name you must be familiar with, will have the pleasure of presenting you with this letter: she is accompanied by her friend Miss Jefferys and has paid a visit to this country to train herself.” a more correct opinion of this country than I could get from the accounts of other travelers. You have a letter for my Venerable Friend, Mr. Madison, but wished to reserve the credit of your introduction to me.
The former First Lady wrote to Vaughan on February 26, 1835: ‘Miss Martineau’s visit was rendered very interesting, even by what little view we had of her distinguished talents and amiable manners. We are very sorry that she and her friend, Miss Jefferys, have had in leaving us such a chilling specimen of our changeable climate as the present blizzard, which may make your journey to Richmond a perilous one, though followed by many good wishes to your safety and happiness. ‘
A few weeks later, Dolley Madison told her niece Mary Catts: “I was anxious to write to you and tell you about Miss Martineau’s visit and how pleased we were with your enlightened conversation and easy manner.”
She wrote to another friend, Ann Maury: “We have lately had the pleasure of receiving a visit of two or three days from Miss Martineau, whose character and writings will no doubt be familiar to you: she was so interesting that we hastened to acquire her books.”, and now you are reading her Political Economy, so beautifully illustrated.
When Martineau returned to Britain in 1836, he had also dined at the White House with President Jackson, an American lawyer, planter, general, and statesman who served as the seventh president from 1829 to 1837.
He later wrote in his 1837 book Society In America: “Every colored man who is a citizen of the United States has a right to be as free as any other man: and it would be an added dignity to the White House if such were seen there.”
However, it would be another 28 years, after the American Civil War, before President Abraham Lincoln’s 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified and slavery was finally abolished.
The following day, an emotional Harriet Martineau received the news, saying it was “a day not soon to be forgotten”.