Source 4 - A Negro's Complaint

This poem against the slave trade written by the well known poet William Cowper in 1788. This version has colourful woodcuts as it was probably intended for children to read.

Members of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade were keen to encourage the writers and artists of the day to support their cause. This poem came about when anti-slavery campaigner (and writer of hymns) John Newton asked his friend William Cowper for some verses.

The poem, The Negro's Complaint, was so popular that it spread all over Britain and was sometimes put to music and sung as a ballad.

  • Why was it important to get the artistic and literary establishment to support the campaign against the slave trade?
  • What message is Cowper hoping to convey about the slave trade?
  • How do the illustrations add to your appreciation of the poem?

Taken from: The Negro’s Complaint: a poem. [A children’s book. With coloured woodcuts.]
Author / Creator: William Cowper
Publisher: pp. 22. Harvey & Darton: London, 1826
Date: 1826
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: T.1271(1)