Am I Not a Man & a Brother


"After its formation in London in 1787, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade adopted an emblem for the organization. The approved design depicts an African man in a supplicant pose--on bended knee, genuflecting; his face angled upwards; and his hands clasped together--with chains connecting the shackles on his ankles and wrists. While unclear from this token due to wear, he is wearing a simple cloth around his waist. The words ""Am I not a man and a brother"" encircle him as if he himself is calling to the conscience of all. The pose in profile view and simple cloth garment, perhaps designed by a modeller at the Wedgwood factory, allude to classical art. The pose also relates to images of religious conversion and pleading, linking emancipation with the bestowing of a blessing and gratitude. At this time it was common for African men to be depicted in Western art as servants or supplicants, kneeling. This image, designed to call upon people's conscience, perpetuates the image of the subservient, kneeling slave and minimizes his agency. In fact, the deeds, resistance, and ongoing efforts of the enslaved and formerly enslaved were critical to the successful end of the slave trade and eventual emancipation. This image became a well-recognized symbol of the abolitionist movement. Josiah Wedgwood used the design in jasperware cameos and broadly distributed and marketed this image. The symbol embellished rings, bracelets, medallions, hair pins, plates, snuff boxes, tea caddies, and tokens such as this. The reverse shows two clasped hands encircled by the inscription “May slavery & oppression cease throughout the world.” The largely Quaker-led Society labored to end the international slave trade, which was finally outlawed in 1807. The Society only aimed to end the slave trade, not slavery itself. The United Kingdom eventually abolished slavery in 1833."

Object Information

Date Created:

ca. 1800

Local ID:



N-YHS Museum, Coins & Tokens

Credit Line:

New-York Historical Society, Purchase


1 1/8 in. ( 2.9 cm )




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