Anna Yearsley:
A Poem on the Inhumanity of
the Slave Trade
Presentation by:
Angela Lamb & Jessi Chai
Table of Contents
Biography & Background
Poetic Success: A Fresh Start
– Hannah More: Anna’a First Patron
Social Response to Yearsley and More’s Feud
Anna & The Bluestocking Circle
“Portraits in the Characters of the Nine
Muses in the Temple of Apollo” by Samuel
Yearsley’s Publications
Situating A Poem on the Inhumanity of the
Slave Trade (1788) within Historical Context
Triangular Trade”: The Transatlantic Slave
Trade Route
Map, Ship Diagram & Advertisements
Yearsley’s Concerns
Frederick Augustus Hervey
– The Dedication
Summary of the Poem
Unifying “Mankind”: Domestic Sentiment
Yearsley’s Portrayal of “Mankind”
Key Moments
Literary Similarities
– “Oroonoko”- Aphra Behn
– Inkle and Yarico
Discussion Questions
Pop Quiz
Works Cited
Inhumanity: “The quality of being inhuman or
inhumane; want of human feeling and
compassion; brutality, barbarous cruelty.” (OED
Slave-Trade: “Traffic in slaves; spec. the former
transportation of black Africans to America. “
(OED Online)
Biography & Background
• Anna Yearsley (née Chromartie) was born in 1756, on
the outskirts of Bristol, England at Clifton Hill.
• She was born to “laboring class parents;” consequently,
she did not attend school and was not provided with a
formal education.
• Anna’s mother was a milk-woman; nothing is known
about her father.
• Anna was apprenticed by her mother as a milkmaid,
and was nicknamed by the community as “Lactilla,” and
“the Bristol Milk- woman.”
• Anna was taught to read by her brother, William. Their
mother oftentimes brought home books for them to
read that were loaned to her by the “people whom she
delivered milk to.”
• Some of the books Anna read throughout adolescence
include Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and “Night Thoughts”
She was also familiar with some of Shakespeare’s plays.
• Anna got married at the age of 18 to
John Yearsley—he was a yeoman
farmer. She and her husband had
seven children– five boys and two girls.
• After ten years of marriage, the family
became impoverished and destitute.
• By 1784, John “lost [his] yeoman status
and was described as [a] ‘labourer’ in a
deed of trust intended to protect his
wife's earnings.”
• Records from this time indicate that
the Yearsley’s had “five children”– two
of her sons died.
• Landless and starving, the Yearsley
family “lived” in barn during the winter
months. Tragically, starvation claimed
Anna’s mother’s life and she died while
huddling for warmth in the barn.
• Soon after, their family was “rescued”
by a man by the name of Mr. Vaughn,
and his charitable organization.
Poetic Success: A Fresh Start
• Following the family’s rescue, Anna met (and was hired by) Hannah More in September
• Hannah More was an “esteemed Christian moralist, poet, [philanthropist] and
educator.” She took immediate notice of Ann’s natural “literary talent and arranged for
her work to be published by subscription.”
• The publication was a huge success; however, the relationship between More and
Yearsley crumbled. More felt that she was owed greater monetary compensation for
her assistance and felt Anna was “ungrateful” to her. They never fully reconciled-- Anna
was focused on “maintain[ing] full editorial control of her work,” and believed that all
the money earned from her poetry was hers alone to keep.
• Anna continued her literary career without More’s involvement . In addition to her
poetry collections, she also published some novels and a play. In 1793 she “opened a
borrowing library in Bristol.”
• Ultimately, Anna Yearsley “was one of only a few working-class women of the era” to be
published. In 1803 her husband died– upon his death she “retired to Melksham in
Wiltshire,” where she eventually died in 1806.
• Upon her death, the local newspapers in Bristol “reported […] that [she was] a
prominent, worthy person.” According to Bristol bookseller and literary patron Joseph
Cottle stated in 1837 that he “remembered [Anna] as evincing, ‘even in her
countenance, the unequivocal marks of genius’.”
Hannah More: Anna’s First Patron
• Part of the first generation of
romantic writers along with Mary
Wollstonecraft, Ann Radcliffe,
Anna Letitia Barbauld, and many
more (1790s-1800s)
• Renowned abolitionist and
actively encouraged women to
join the anti-slavery movement.
• Integral member of the
Bluestocking group.
• Conflicts involving class, jealousy,
and appropriate financial
restitution are what caused the
dissolution of Yearsley and More’s
Social Response to
Yearsley and More’s Feud
“Two Sappho’s in one City bred & born,
Sufficient a Whole Kingdom to adorn.
Tis hard to say, which we must more admire,
More’s polish’d Muse, or Yearsley’s Muse of Fire.
Yearsley self taught uncramp’d by Art or Rhyme,
Is forcible pathetic & Sublime;But More’s trim Muse subdues the Critic’s Heart,
And leads it Captive by the Rules of Art.”
-Eliza Dawson
Anna & The Bluestocking Circle
• Anna became a member of the Bluestocking circle (initially through Hannah More’s
invitation). This group was comprised of intelligent, intellectual women in Britain
during the 18th century who advocated on behalf of educational and social reform–
they are considered to be one of the first feminist groups.
• The Bluestocking’s were advocates of the abolishment of slavery and were concerned
with “emphasiz[ing] education and mutual co-operation rather than […] individualism.”
• Notable members include Anna Letitia Barbauld, Hannah More, Samuel Johnson and
Edmund Burke.
• The Bluestocking’s supported the “intellectual endeavors” and projects of each member
(reading, artwork, and writing), and like Yearsley, many were published writers. The
group placed paramount importance on “intellectual enjoyment;” ultimately, they
opposed the “universal tyranny of a custom (gambling and playing cards) which
absorbed the life and leisure of the rich,” and were focused on discussing “literature
and the arts.”
• Men were also members of the Bluestockings-- although the group was founded by
women, they seemed to collectively encourage gender neutrality and equality in the
pursuit of intellectual development.
“Portraits in the Characters of the Nine Muses in
the Temple of Apollo” by Samuel Johnson
• Johnson-- a
renowned painter-depicted the nine,
most prominent
members of the
Bluestockings as
the Nine Muses.
• Although Yearsley
is not included in
this portrait, Anna
Letitia Barbauld is
pictured (behind
the easel), along
with Hannah More
Yearsley’s Publications
• First volume- Poems on Several Occasions (1785). Anna is assisted
by Hannah More--she invested her time and supplied financial aid
to help Anna publish the work (More organized a subscription
service with her wealthy group of friends and peers).
– These poems explored “religious and domestic themes.”
• Second volume- Poems on Various Subjects (1787). Anna receives
help and encouragement from the Earl of Bristol (Frederick
Hervey) to publish her collection– he provides her with financial
aid. “A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade” is held within
this collection.
– Hannah More is no longer involved with any of Ann’s
• Third volume- The Rural Lyre: A Volume of Poems (1796).
Situating A Poem on the Inhumanity of the
Slave Trade (1788) within Historical Context
• Bristol: Rooted in the slave trade, dating back to the 11th century. The trade revolved
around capturing Anglo-Saxon men, women and children and selling them off to
locations “throughout the world.” Their enslavement was eventually “forbidden by the
• 17th century: The British Empire began to colonize the Americas and the Caribbean-slavery became “an increasingly important commodity.”
• Bristol gained financial prosperity because of the slave trade. Bristol, the West Indies and
Africa comprised “the three points of the slave triangle.”
• 1697-1807: approximately 2,100 trips were carried out upon Bristol’s slave ship “The
Beginning” for transporting African slaves.
• Start of the 18th century, abolitionist literature began circulating and its production
increased during the 1770-80’s. The literature helped to incite “political and economic
resistance on part of the British middle and upper class” while exposing “the evils of
• In 1787, the “Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade” was founded, and by
1788 they were publishing and circulating the majority of abolitionist propaganda. 1807the Slave Trade Act abolished slavery in the British Empire; however, it was not until 1833
that slavery was finally rendered an illegal practice.
“Triangular Trade”: The Transatlantic Slave
Trade Route
“Must our wants/Find their supply in murder?” (26)
“The sweet luxuriant cane” (16)
• “Slave ships carried goods
(cloth, guns, ironware and
drink) that were traded in
exchange for slaves, at the
West African coast.”
• Bristol’s first slave ship was
named “The Beginning.”
• Slave traders either captured
people OR purchased them
from African chiefs.
• “Money made from the sale
of the enslaved Africans,
supplied Britain with goods
(sugar, coffee and tobacco)
that were bought and carried
back to Britain for sale. “
The Slave Ship: “Cargo Planning”
Slaves For Sale: 18th Century
Yearsley’s Concerns
• Anna Yearsley (and fellow abolitionists, like Hannah More) began “campaigning against
slavery;” ultimately, Yearsley et. al., helped form the “Committee for the Abolishment
of the Slave Trade” in May, 1787.
• Yearsley’s poem represents an act of agency on behalf of the marginalized and
oppressed– she suggests that by understanding others’ suffering as our own, we will
act more compassionately to one another. Furthermore, she argues for the
development of “social love,” and that society must redefine its “self-interest.”
• The poem depicts “extended portraits of suffering” for the enslaved and the
fundamental point of the poem is that society must collectively favor “social love”
because it is the sole “universal good.” The poem expresses her passionate plea for
society to turn away from the slave trade and instead, favor humanity.
• The poem also functions as a MAJOR critique of commerce by connecting the idea of
one’s “home” with the “domestication of suffering.” Yearsley makes it clear that the
desire to make money and be profitable is causing society to behaviour “injurious[ly]”
to people.
• Yearsley calls into question the legitimacy of contemporary custom with regard to the
treatment of slaves within the context of “commerce” versus “domesticity.” Yearsley’s
life experience as a labouring, lower-class woman allows her to express her concerns
with the system of commerce in Bristol.
Frederick Augustus Hervey
The Dedication:
Frederick, Earl of Bristol
• Frederick is Yearsley’s patron (sponsor) for her second collection of poetry-- he provided
her with significant financial aid to help publish the work.
• The dedication provides us with information that indicates Yearsley is attempting to
arouse compassion by “aligning her sense of power, with her imaginative
representation of him.”
• For example, Yearsley writes “Vanity is flattered, when I but fancy that Your
Lordship feels as I do.” Anna seems to “invert their economic relationship” and is
essentially trying to appeal to his senses through praise, in hopes that he will enact
more substantial forms of social advocacy.
• Moreover, Anna implies that by adopting and nurturing a sense of powerful
compassion, the Earl will read the poem correctly. She posits the notion that
power can be both “powerful and powerless” and suggests that the former is more
authentic and effective. Powerful compassion (within a social and political
context) nurtures one’s conscious choice to act with agency. Ultimately, powerful
compassion is Anna’s solution for challenging inhumanity– she contrasts the
relationship between the commodification of humanity, with the concept of
“social love.”
Summary of Poem
• Yearsley claims that “Custom […] hast undone us,” and has “led us far /
From God-like probity, from truth, and heaven” (3).
• Society does not adhere to what is true and morally right– we do not
adhere to the purest ideals or the highest principles. Instead, we behave
injuriously and favor the commodification of mankind to profit financially.
• Society is the “slave of avarice” and are disconnected from human
suffering. Again, we are consumed with the insatiable desire to obtain
wealth through greediness (4).
• The poem shames colonialism, imperialism, slavery, commerce, etc. and
questions the legitimacy of its so-called “Christian” foundation.
• Slavery disallows people from maintaining their “Heav’n-born Liberty”—for
e.g. experiencing sacred moments with family is denied (Death of a parent
pg. 5-6).
Summary- continued
“Bristol, thine heart hath throbb’d to glory. Slaves […]” (1)
Yearsley is addressing the problems of the commodification of mankind in the very first line of the
• Bristol-- where Anna was born is now a city flourishing because of the inhumanity and sinful
nature of the slave trade.
“We feel enslaved” (2)
• Who is “we?” The slaves? Women? Children? The poor, working class?
“Horrid and insupportable” (4)
– Slavery is worse then death (see Luco’s attempt at escape in Key Moment slide.)
“My song / Shall teach sad Philomel a louder note, When Nature swells her woe”
– Referencing Philomela
– A character in Greek mythology
– Raped by her sister’s husband, Tereus; has her tongue cut off to be silenced forever. She
becomes a nightingale.
• Anna writes that her “song” will encourage the “Philomel” (nightingale) to sing more
loudly. Yearsley wants her poem to inspire hope and faith in those who are marginalized
& oppressed within the confines of society.
Yearsley criticizes the English law-- how can we place ownership over another person’s life?
– “Speak, ye few / Who fill Britannia’s senate, and are deem’d / The fathers of your country! Boast
you laws, / Defend the honour of a land so fall’m” (27)
– Reference to “Rule Britannia Rule”
Summary- continued
-Christianity & Religion•
“* Indians have been often heard to say, in their complaining
moments, “God Almighty no love us well; he be good to buckera; he
bid buckera burn us; he no burn buckera.”
Yearsley asks “[…] where/ Is your true essence of religion? where
/Your proofs of righteousness, when ye conceal/The knowledge of the
Deity from those/ who would adore him fervently? Your God/Ye rob of
worshippers, his altars keep/Unhail’d, while driving from the sacred
font/The eager slave, lest he should hope in Jesus.” (22)
On page 23, Yearsley describes how the Turks give freedom to their
slaves if they embrace “Mahometism.”
“* Spaniard, immediately on purchasing an Indian, gives him baptism”
Towards the end of the poem Yearsley advises “Advance, ye
Christians, and oppose my strain” (25).
“A fellow-creature’s blood: bid Commerce plead/ Her publick good,
her nation’s many wants” (26).
Summary- continued
“Indian Luco” & his lover, Incilanda:
– Luco is captured by Christian slaver traders; he is
“destin’d to plant/The sweet luxuriant cane.” (16)
– Yearsley describes how the labor is wearing out his
– Slave masters whip him.
– Yearsley goes on to describe Luco’s greatness and
Incilanda’s undying love for her man. They used to
meet at noon, but Luco is not there. She mourns as
she is “banish’d from his arms,” (14)
– Burned to death
Unifying “Mankind”: Domestic Sentiment
Yearsley’s Portrayal of “Mankind”
White Men
“guileful crocodile’s” (3)
“slave[s] of avarice” (4)
“seller of mankind” (7)
“Selfish” and Remorseless
Christian” (8 & 18)
“superior […] boast[ful]” (8-9)
“Christian renegade” and
“violate[s] justice” (16)
“cruel soul” (17)
Prideful and malicious (18)
Slaves (Luco)
• “gentle” (9)
• “generous breast” and
“faithful lover” (10)
• Loving and devoted to his
beloved, Incilanda (10)
• “strives to please, / nor once
complains” (16)
• “smothers grief” (16)
• “poor Indian, with the sage, is
prov’d / The work of a
Creator” (13)
Key Moments
• “[…] where / Is your true essence
of religion? Where / Your proofs
of righteousness […]. / Ye
hypocrites, disown / The Christian
name, nor shame its cause: yet
where / Shall souls like yours find
welcome?” (22)
• “[…] Oh, social love, / Thou
universal good, thou that canst fill
/ The vacuum of immensity, and
live / In endless void! / […] touch
the soul of man; / Subdue him;
make him a fellow-creature’s woe
/ His own by heart-felt sympathy,
whilst wealth / Is made
subservient to his soft disease.”
“By nature fierce; while
Luco sought the beach, /
And Plung’d beneath the
wave; but near him lay / A
planter’s barge, whose
seamen grasp’d his hair /
Dragging to life a wretch
who wish’d to die.” (19)
• Slaves = commodity
– Torture (20 & 21)
• Slaves = women  no equality, freedom, etc.
– “Sight no more / Is Luco’s, his parch’d tongue is ever
mute” (21). Literally and figuratively silenced.
– Philomela  symbolic representation of both the
“slave,” and those in society who are held under the
thumb of social hierarchy.
• Religion
• “Social love”
• Souls (“Nature”)
Literary Similarities
• “Oroonoko” by Aphra Behn (1688): Similar fate as
Luco: punished for striking his master; facial features altered
permanently. Burned to death.
• “Inkle and Yarico” (1787): comic opera & first staged in
• “A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade”
by Anna Yearsley (1788)
• “Slavery: A Poem” by Hannah More (1788)
Discussion Questions
1. What do you think Anna’s motives were for writing this
poem? Is this truly an act of advocacy to encourage and
influence social change, or was she merely trying to profit off
of the “slave trade.” Is Luco a literary commodity?
2. By taking Yearsley and More’s feud into account, and
recognizing that they each published pro-abolitionist poetry in
1788, do you feel that their poems were influenced by their
conflicts (and or “competition”)? If so, how does this
influence our impression of the poem?
3. Do you feel that Yearsley was justified in distancing herself
from More? Was Anna’s decision founded upon an
“ungrateful disposition,” or was it ultimately a testament of
Ann’s strong-willed nature (to preserve her own personal
1. What was Anna’s maiden name?
a) Chromartie
b) Hervey
c) Lactilla
3. Anna had ___ children and her
husband was a ____ farmer.
a) 7 , cattle
b) 5 , cattle
c) 7 , yeoman
2. Which volume of poetry contained “A Poem on
the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade,” and what
year was it published?
a) Poems on Several Occasions (1785)
b) Poems on Various Subjects (1788)
c) Poems on Various Subjects (1785)
4. Anna was given a/an ____ education and
her brother’s name was _____.
a) formal , John
b) informal , John
c) informal, William
d) formal , William
“Ann Yearsley (1752-1806).” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.p. Web. 22 Jan.
2013. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/ann-yearsley
“Brilliant Women: the Bluestocking Circle.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Oxford University Press, n.p. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.
“Bristol’s Role in the Slave Trade and Abolition.” Bristol. Britain Online, 2013. Web. 27
Jan. 2013. http://www.bristol.org.uk/history/slave_trade/
Felsenstein, Frank. “Ann Yearsley and the Politics of Patronage The Thorp
Archive: Part 1.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 21.2 (2002): 346-392. Print.
Ferguson, Moira. “The Unpublished Poems of Ann Yearsley.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s
Literature 12.1 (1993): 13-29. Print.
Mitchell, Robert Edward. “The soul that dreams it shares the power it feels so well”:
The Politics of Sympathy in the Abolitionist Verse of Williams and Yearsley.” The
Transatlantic Poetess 23.30 (2003): n.p. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.
Waldren, Mary. “Ann Yearsley.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford
University Press, 2004. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
Yearsley, Ann. “A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave-Trade.” BrycchanCarey. 17 Nov.
2007. London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1788. n.p. Web. 20 Jan. 2013.
Ann Yearsley [photo]. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from:
Ann Yearsley [photo]. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from:
Bluestockings Muse Portrait [photo]. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from:
Bristol Slave Ship [photo]. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from:
The Dedication [photo]. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from:
Frederick August Hervey [photo]. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from:
Hannah More [photo]. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from:
“Luco is gone” [photo]. Taken by Jessi Chai from actual Yearsley poem: January
31, 2013.
Map of Slave Trade Route [photo]. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from:
“Negroes for Sale” Advertisement [photo]. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from:
“To Be Sold” Slave Advertisement [photo]. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from:

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