Sharing our research

In recent months Susanne and I have attended a number of conferences to give presentations on the Global Cotton Connections project. This year’s aptly-themed RGS-IBG Annual Conference concerned with ‘Geographies of Co-Production’ offered us the opportunity to reflect on the collaborative element of our project, while two very different conferences on i) the ‘Business of Slavery‘ (17-19 September 2014, University of Nottingham) and ii) the ‘Industrial Revolution‘ (3-4 October 2014, Cromford Mill) allowed us to present on some of our research, a summary of which we give below:

Cotton Spinning and Entanglements with Slavery: Tracing the Slavery Connections of the Strutts

At the Business of Slavery conference, Susanne and I took the opportunity to present our research during a poster session. The materials below are reproduced from the poster:

The Strutts at Belper, Derbyshirebelper mills

By the early 19th century the Strutts were the leading cotton thread spinners in Britain with their main cotton spinning mills at Belper in the Derwent Valley. How far did this business depend on systems of slavery?

Slavery and Raw Cotton Supplies

While the Strutts were not slave traders or plantation owners, in the early years of operation their mills relied heavily on raw cotton produced by enslaved African people in the Americas. From 1794-1817 their main sources of raw cotton came from Brazil, the West Indies, Guyana and Suriname, with smaller amounts from the southern United States and India.


Origins of raw cotton supplies bought by the Strutts, 1794-1817

Slave Cotton Plantations & the Slave Trade

A 1799 account shows that the Strutts dealt with Liverpool merchants who were well-known slave traders, including the Boltons, Earles and Tarletons who also owned slave-worked plantations. In supplying the Strutts, Thomas Tarleton likely drew on raw cotton from his 509 acre Mount Pleasant plantation on Carriacou, worked by 227 enslaved Africans in 1790.

Picking cotton on a Georgia plantation

‘Picking cotton on a Georgia plantation’, 1858. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Hosiery and Lace Goods

Nottingham was one of six key areas in Britain supplied by cotton thread from the Strutts’ Belper mills. Leading Nottingham lace manufacturers and more significantly hosiers (including Heard & Hurst, Hine & Mundella and Morley & Co) were key customers who supplied local, national and international markets, including the Americas, with their goods.

Key sources

  • Chapman, S (2006) ‘Industry and trade, 1750-1900’ in Beckett, J V (ed) Centenary History of Nottingham.
  • Fitton, R S and Wadsworth, A P (1958) The Strutts and the Arkwrights 1758-1830.
  • LBS Database :
  • Ryden, D B (2013) ‘An analysis of C18th Carriacou’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 43(4) 539-70.
  • Strutt archives: DRO D6948/2/5, 66-68.
  • TAST Database: database/search.faces

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