Documentary

Robert Wedderburn

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Robert Wedderburn was born in Jamaica in 1762. His father was James Wedderburn, a white Scottish sugar plantation owner, and his mother Rosanna an African slave. His father sold his mother to another estate owner, Lady Douglass, whilst she was pregnant with Robert.

 

He did stipulate that when the child was born, he should be free. Wedderburn recalled that as a child he witnessed both his mother and grandmother being whipped. .His mother was eventually re-sold away from her son who was then raised by his maternal grandmother, a woman known as "Talkee Amy".

As soon as he was old enough, Wedderburn left the plantation and became a sailor. He arrived in England in 1778. He lived in the district of St. Giles, London a multicultural slum community frequented by immigrants and outlaws known as the "London blackbirds".

 

He made a meagre living as a journeyman tailor. In 1786 he heard an open air Wesleyan preacher outside Seven Dials and himself became a licensed Unitarian preacher opening his own chapel in Soho in 1890 where it was said up to 200 people would attend.

In 1810 he joined and later led the Spencean Society which followed Thomas Spence an English Radical and advocate of the common ownership of land. (Spence was one of the leading revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.)

Robert Wedderburn was instrumental in achieving the freedom of the press in Britain in the 19th century. He, with many other working class radicals spent time in prison for publishing opinions, on religious and other matters, which challenged the ideas of the ruling class. Police spies were always watching him. He was imprisoned 3 times , the last when he was 68.

 

He probably died aged 73 in 1835 a few years after his release.

Wedderburn criticised radical reformers. He argued that revolution rather than reform was what was needed. His vision was of simultaneous revolution of the poor in Europe and the black slaves in the West Indies.