Robert Wedderburn was born in Jamaica in 1762. His father was White Scottish, and his mother a slave. His family life was not one that involved a loving home. His father sold his mother to Lady Douglass, whilst she was pregnant with Robert. He did stipulate that when the child was born, he should be free.
Robert was raised by his maternal Grandmother. He then ran away to join the Navy. He came to England in 1778. Living in the slum areas frequented by immigrants and outlaws he made a meagre living as a journeyman Taylor.
Robert Wedderburn and the Spenceans
In the late 1780’s he became interested in religion. He met Thomas Spence and joined the Society of Spencean Philanthropists. He first began to make a name for himself when the leader of the Spenceans, Thomas Evans was jailed for High Treason in 1817. Robert Wedderburn brought out a periodical called “The Forlorn Hope, or a call to the Supine, To rouse from Indolence and assert Public Rights”. With this he hoped to establish a free Press.
Police spies were always watching him. From their records we can see that Wedderburn opened a public meeting house in Hopkins St, Soho. Apparently his sermons were attended by around 200 hundred people each Sunday. He taught theology, morality, natural philosophy and politics.
Wedderburn was arrested for sedition. He was defending a slaves rights to rise up and kill his master. He was placed in Newgate Jail until a bail of £ 200 was raised. Shortly after the Peterloo Massacre took place. Wedderburns group declared it an act of murder committed by the magistrates and the Yeoman.
Wedderburn was also an anti Slavery campaigner. He sent the first revolutionary papers from England to the West Indies. This was called ‘The axe laid to the root , or “A fatal blow to oppressions, being an address to the planters and Negroes of the island of Jamaica“.
For this Wedderburn was arrested and found guilty of ‘Blasphemous libel’. He served 2 years in Carlisle jail. When he was released, he wrote his autobiography entitled “The Horrors of Slavery”.