Manchester Genealogists Find Relatives On Anti-Slave Trade Petition

By Caroline Lewis | 22 March 2007
close up of four cursive signatures in a column with the centre two surnames reading Hesketh

The signatures of WT Hesketh and Alice Hesketh as they appear on the online 1806 anti-slave trade petition. © Parliamentary Archives

Names on the 1806 anti-slave trade petition to Parliament that went online on March 19 2007 have already been recognised by a member of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society.

The new website that features the digitised petition and a transcription, Parliament and the British Slave Trade 1600-1807, has seen a flurry of interest since its launch.

Pam Watkins quickly looked up the website, which was produced by the Parliamentary Archives and the 24 Hour Museum, when she saw a notice about it on the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society messageboard. It was hardworking volunteers from the local Society who transcribed the list of more than 2,000 names of people from the area who were against the transatlantic slave trade at that time.

On the petition, she found two names of people she believes to be her ancestors. Asked whether she was expecting to find anyone she knew of in the list of names, Pam says: “I was hoping to, but I wasn’t expecting it. Then there they were on the very last page.”

The names Pam found were Alice and WT (William Tomlinson) Hesketh – her fifth great grandparents. There was also a Robert Hesketh, who she thinks may have been William’s brother. She was particularly pleased to see Alice Hesketh (nee Longden) on there, as far fewer women signed the petition than men.

Pam is confident the couple are her forebears as William is listed as a corn merchant, and this tallies with her own research. A certain William Tomlinson Hesketh was also described as a corn merchant on George Hesketh’s 1841 marriage certificate – the latter is known to Pam as her fourth great grandparent.

screenshot of a website featuring three pieces of archive material

The new website contains a glimpse of the archive material that will go online in May 2007. © Parliamentary Archives

Does Pam, from Cheadle Hulme, have any idea why her relatives were against the slave trade?

“I’ve not really got any insight into it, but I’m glad they were!” she says. “When I saw the names I got goosebumps. It’s something to be really proud of.”

She says that her teenage children were also pleased by the news, and in time her four-year-old twins will appreciate their anti-slave trade heritage, too.

Pam started investigating her family history after her mother passed away in 2003, and visits the archives at Manchester Central Library regularly to carry out research. She’s got a lot of work done on the tree but says there’s plenty more to do. One thing she’ll be following up after her new discovery is the name Robert Hesketh.

In addition to Pam's discovery, a descendant of the Reverend Ralph Harrison, minister at Cross Street Chapel in 1806, believes he has recognised the minister's signiature and those of Harrison's two sons below. Colin Ainsworth Harrison, from Utah, USA, adds another element of intrigue to the picture with the hypothesis that the Reverend might have had a brother he left out of written accounts of the family due the fact he was a slaver!

close up of a petition featuring two columns of handwritten signatures

The Manchester anti-slave trade petition holds more than 2,000 names. © Parliamentary Archives

Janice Tostevin got in contact, too, when she found some familiar names on the petition, who were possibly her fifth great grandfather - a shoemaker in Eccles - and her third great grandfather, a cooper from Deansgate.

"This branch of the family appears to have been politically aware," she says, " and, although their name does not appear in any of the lists attached to Peterloo, there is a story which has come down the family that they did go to St Peter's Fields on the fateful day and were caught up in the action, so it would seem that they were liberal in their thinking and may well have been abolitionists too."

Anyone can search the 1806 Manchester petition against the slave trade on the website Parliament and the British Slave Trade 1600-1807, which also has a smaller pro-slave trade petition and a part of the 1807 Act to abolish the trade.

The site has gone live in time for the 200th anniversary of the passing of the Act on March 25 1807, and will expand in May 2007 to include many more key documents from the Parliamentary Archives and a wealth of background information about the abolition.

More information about Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society can be found on the website www.mlfhs.org.uk.

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