Karen Swallow Prior/ March 4, 2015
Hannah More: Powerhouse in a Petticoat
Image: Frances Reynolds / Bristol Museum and Art Gallery / Bridgeman
Imagine yourself seated at a fashionable London dinner party in 1789.
The women are wearing hoops several feet wide, their hair dressed nearly as high and adorned with fruit or feathers. In between hips and hair, bosoms overspill. The men sport powdered hair, ruffled shirts, embroidered waistcoats, wool stockings, and buckled shoes. Politeness and manners reign around a table laden with delicate, savory dishes.
As guests wait for the after-dinner wine to arrive, a handsome but demure woman pulls a pamphlet from the folds of her dress. “Have you ever seen the inside of a slave ship?” she asks the natty gentleman seated next to her. She proceeds to spread open a print depicting the cargo hold of the Brookes slave ship. With meticulous detail, the print shows African slaves laid like sardines on the ship’s decks, each in a space so narrow, they can’t lay their arms at their sides. The print will become the most haunting image of the transatlantic slave trade””as well as a key rhetorical device used to stop it.
The woman sharing it is Hannah More.