Beatrix Potter’s famous tales are rooted in stories told by enslaved Africans – but she was very quiet about their origins

WOW. Here’s a taste, but this entire article is dynamite:

《Potter knew Harris’s Brer Rabbit folktales as a child, having first encountered them in her father Rupert Potter’s library in their grand London home. Copies of the collections Songs and Sayings and its sequel Night with Uncle Remus were found at her farmhouse home in Sawrey in the Lake District after she died in 1943. Each bore her father’s bookplate.

These stories had not been published in the UK when Beatrix Potter was a child. It is therefore likely that her early contact with the Brer Rabbit tales (in comparison with the rest of the British public) was a result of her family roots in the cotton industry.

Her grandfather, Edmund Potter (1802–1883), was a Manchester cotton mill owner and industrialist. He became wealthy in the calico printing business, a cotton cloth originating from India.

Under the British East India Company (1600-1874), the cotton industry was an exploitative one. Cotton was grown by “peasant cultivators” in India who were heavily taxed. At the same time, the growth of demand in Britain and the development of British weaving techniques destroyed the traditional Indian cotton manufacturing industry.

A black and white photo of three people in front of a house.
Rupert Potter with Beatrix and her brother Walter. Historic Images/Alamy

In Manchester, Edmund Potter introduced precision machinery to his calico printing process. By 1883, his mill employed 350 workers – many of them children, according to Lear’s biography – and was the world’s largest calico printing factory.

A great portion of Edmund Potter’s wealth was passed on to Beatrix’s father, Rupert, a lawyer and photographer. He married a wealthy heiress, Helen Leech, whose family had also made a fortune in Manchester’s cotton industry by owning several cotton-spinning mills. By the early 19th century, the raw cotton used in these mills was sourced from the Americas, including from the Sea Islands region and Charleston in South Carolina.

This was the time of Manchester’s emergence as the world’s “cotton capital”. The city’s economic success was deeply connected to the enslavement of African people. Its industry predominantly involved the production of cloth made from raw cotton that had been picked by enslaved people on plantations in the Caribbean and US.

Many of the dyes such as logwood used in the printing of cotton were also imported from places such as Belize (known then as British Honduras) in the British Caribbean, and would have been harvested by enslaved people.

So, was it the Potter family’s connections with the cotton industry, the US, and the slave trade that brought a plantation Brer Rabbit into the Potter household?》

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