Manchester and Liverpool in the American Civil War

Submitted by Matthew on 8 May, 2011 - 8:04

Just off Albert Square in Manchester stands a statue of Abraham Lincoln, the inscription expressing gratitude to the Lancashire cotton workers for their support of the Northern Union forces against the Southern Confederate slaveholders in the American Civil War of 1861-65. The background was told in Radio 4’s Manchester and Liverpool: Britain's American Civil War, presented by TV historian and Labour MP Tristram Hunt.

Liverpool and Manchester both had links with the antebellum American South. Manchester and the surrounding Lancashire textile towns imported 80% of their raw cotton from the Southern plantations through the port of Liverpool. Liverpool’s growth as a city in the eighteenth century was as a slave port. Liverpool ships transported a third of a million slaves across the Atlantic from West Africa to the Americas between 1783 and 1793 with the last slave ship leaving Liverpool in 1807.

Liverpool played a part in supporting the Confederacy during the American Civil War. A number of Confederate warships were built on Merseyside, including the Alabama at Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead (after the Civil War, the British government paid the United States £3 million compensation for the losses these cruisers inflicted on Northern shipping). The city’s St George’s Hall also hosted a bazaar to raise money for Confederate prisoners of war.

It was in Manchester however that an inspiring act of solidarity with the North occurred. Despite the Northern naval blockade of the Confederacy ending the supply of cotton and leaving thousands of Lancashire textile workers on the brink of starvation, they assembled on 31st December 1862 at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall and sent a letter to Lincoln expressing their “hope that every stain on your freedom will shortly be removed, and that the erasure of that foul blot on civilisation and Christianity - chattel slavery - during your presidency, will cause the name of Abraham Lincoln to be honoured and revered by posterity.”

No more auction block for me

This song of African slaves is still performed today. The song is deceptively simple. But the story of oppression it tells is complex — from the deaths of so many on the slave ships bound for America (“many thousand gone”) to a life of unimaginable cruelty and hardship on US southern plantations. Like all slave songs, this is a work song, but like many it contains a highly political message. It dates from the American Civil War. What is the meaning of “no more auction block for me”? An expectation of the ending of slavery or a statement of rebellious intention?

No more auction block for me, no more, no more,

No more auction block for me, many thousand gone.

No more peck ‘o corn for me, no more no more,

No more peck ‘o corn for me, many thousand gone.

No more driver’s lash for me, no more, no more,

No more driver’s lash for me, many thousand gone.

No more pint of salt for me, no more, no more,

No more pint of salt for me, many thousand gone.

No more hundred lash for me, no more, no more,

No more hundred lash for me, many thousand gone.

No more mistress’ call for me, no more, no more,

No more mistress’ call for me, many thousand gone.

No more auction block for me, no more, no more,

No more auction block for me, many thousand gone.

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