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You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Abolition > James Montgomery and 'The West Indies'

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The Bahamas

James Montgomery and 'The West Indies'

Sheffield hero James Montogomery wrote an epic anti-slavery poem called 'The West Indies' in the eighteenth century, and he was editor of Sheffield newspapers the Register and the Iris.

James Montgomery statue

Statue of James Montgomery by Sheffield Cathedral

Next time you find yourself near the Cathedral in Sheffield, have a look for the statue of James Montgomery.

Who is he? As well as the statue, there's a hall in Sheffield named after him on Surrey Street, a road named after him in Wath-on-Dearne, a Drive, Avenue, Mount and a Terrace Road, and a Grade II listed 'James Montgomery Memorial Drinking Fountain' on Broad Lane in Sheffield, so he made quite an impression on South Yorkshire.

In fact James Montgomery was a local hero at the time - a journalist and poet who wrote a popular epic poem in 1809 about the slave trade: 'The West Indies'.

Extract from 'The West Indies', James Montgomery, 1809

  • Proclaims that MAN was born for liberty:
    She flourishes where'er the sun-beams play
    O'er living fountains, sallying into day;
    She withers where the waters cease to roll,
    And night and winter stagnate round the pole:
    Man too, where freedom's beams and fountains rise,
    Springs from the dust, and blossoms to the skies;
    Dead to the joys of light and life, the slave
    Clings to the clod; his root is in the grave;
    Bondage is winter, darkness, death, despair,
    Freedom the sun, the sea, the mountains, and the air!

Sheffield University Library holds the 'Montgomery Manuscripts' - letters, poems, illustrations and personal recollections of Montgomery and his friends as well as 'The Negro's Album of the Sheffield Anti-Slavery Society' from 1820.

Montgomery was born in Ayrshire in 1771 and educated near Leeds. He left school to become apprenticed to a shopkeeper in Wath-on-Dearne, and tried his hand at several occupations before settling in Sheffield as a newspaper clerk.

Montgomery Hall, Sheffield

Montgomery Hall on Surrey Street in Sheffield

The Sheffield Register and Iris

Montgomery became editor of the Sheffield Register in 1796 but spent two sentences for libel in York Prison for strongly political articles for which he was held responsible.

He changed the name of the paper to the Sheffield Iris and adopted a more moderate political line, but it remained a political paper. In Seymour Drescher's article 'Whose Abolition?', he writes:

"The militantly abolitionist Sheffield Iris characteristically went furthest along the [abolitionist] line. Reflecting on the bill's landslide victory...the editors of the Iris linked the abolition bill, the anticipated reformation of the poor law and the 'revolution' of Scottish court procedures as marking a milestone in natural history."

Montgomery lived in Sheffield for 62 of his 83 years and later in life was thought a local hero. Montgomery's other works include 'The Wanderer of Switzerland' (1806) and numerous religious hymns.

last updated: 22/04/2008 at 15:36
created: 02/03/2007

You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Abolition > James Montgomery and 'The West Indies'

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