Lucy Townsend – Abolitionist

Interesting fact:

The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833

Lucy Townsend 1781-1847

Born in West Bromwich July 1781, Lucy Jesse, was the daughter of  Reverend William Jesse, incumbent at All Saints Church from 1790 to 1814.  She married Rev. Charles Townsend, curate of West Bromwich in 1807.  He became vicar in 1815 until 1836.   Apart from her duties as the vicar’s wife and being a mother of six children,  she was still involved in many voluntary organisations.  She shared her husband’s views on cruel animal sports and supported the campaign to abolish bull-baiting.  They also supported the anti-slavery movement, something she would really engage with.

The First Women’s Anti-Slavery Meeting

On April 8th, 1825 Lucy Townsend held a meeting at her home in West Bromwich inviting her friends and other influential women to discuss setting up an all female anti-slavery movement.  Amongst those present were , Amelia Moilliett (daughter of James Keir), Sarah Wedgwood (daughter of Josiah Wedgwood), Sophia Sturge and Miss Galton to name a few. This was the moment when the Birmingham Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves was established. (later to be called The Female Society for Birmingham).  A committee was formed with Elizabeth Heyrick as treasurer for the organisation.  Lucy and her friend Mary Lloyd were joint secretaries and under their leadership the society developed. The group planned to raise funds from subscriptions and donations. The sale of goods such as workbags and albums etc. would follow, the workbags being sewn from East India cotton, silk or satin so as to avoid using the product of slave labour.

This was a time when the roles of men and women were clearly defined and deeply embedded in society.  The men controlled all business matters whilst the women looked after domestic things.  Therefore women were only portrayed as appearing helpful in the national Anti-Slavery Society led by William Wilberforce, rather than activists in their own right, their role always minimalised. Now they took to going from door to door canvassing and distributing leaflets emphasising the suffering of women under slavery.  They began a systematic promotion to boycott slave-grown sugar.  Wilberforce certainly did not support their militant approach but Thomas Clarkson was more sympathetic and in fact it was he who had encouraged Lucy to establish a women’s anti-slavery society. Very soon there was a network of over seventy anti-slavery women’s groups throughout the country.

Many of Lucy Townsend’s family members were also involved in the fight against slavery.  Her husband had published a sermon on the theme and their daughter Charlotte wrote a pamphlet on the subject.  Another daughter, Louise Joyce Townsend (who married Amelia Moilliet’s son Theodore) became an officer of the society like her mother. (According to Elizabeth Anne Galton, Louise was 6’4” in height, like her father’s family who were all exceedingly tall.)

Amelia Moilliett’s daughters also appear to have been  involved as she recorded in her diary that she attended the first meeting at Mrs. Townsend’s with Emily and Susie “to form a society for the amelioration of the condition of Negro slaves, particularly that of females”.  She reported that the Christian influence of her friend Lucy seemed to be diffused throughout the assembly which consisted of ladies of different religious opinions, principally of Quakers who were well informed on the subject.

Amelia Moilliet also held anti-slavery meetings at her Hamstead Hall home.  She noted that at the meeting on January 25, 1827, attended by  60-70 ladies of influence, only £52 was collected. (about £5000+ today).

In 1836 Lucy Townsend moved to Thorpe, Nottingham where her husband  became Rector at St. Lawrence’s Church.   At this time she gave up the job of honorary secretary of the society but remained as a committee member. Thorpe is where she died in April 1847 aged 65.

Further Information:

The first minute book of the society (MS3173/2/1) describes “A very large and respectable meeting of ladies”.  This and other documents are held in the Birmingham Library Archives.


Interesting fact:

By the time Lucy Townsend died in 1847 she had seen many of the laws she had campaigned so hard for become reality.