“Did He Ever Hear of Egypt or Carthage?” Moses Roper’s Literary and Oratorical Activism in the British Isles


  • Hannah-Rose Murray


Moses Roper was one of the first African Americans to conduct an extensive lecturing tour of Britain and Ireland, and he published an autobiographical narrative there in 1837. He was a groundbreaking force in his use of literary, oratorical, and visual forms to expose slavery’s brutalities, and throughout his speeches, he resolved to tell the truth about his experiences no matter the cost to his personal and financial circumstances. Despite his radicalism on the transatlantic stage, Roper has been cast to the sidelines of abolitionist history and is overshadowed by figures such as Frederick Douglass, whose antislavery lecturing tour in Britain and Ireland between 1845 and 1847 electrified audiences. Throughout his life, Roper used the mediums of oratory and print to simultaneously expose slavery’s brutalities and ensure his voice and life-story were not rendered invisible by dominant white power structures. At the heart of his speeches, countless editions of his slave narrative, newspaper advertisements, and letters to the press was a pioneering emphasis on authorship and literary resistance against slavery. In this article, I shed new light on the relationship Roper established between performance and print culture and for the first time explore previously unpublished stories related to his life in Britain and the United States. In doing so, I provide a fresh examination of Roper’s transatlantic activism: in context with other Black international visitors, his visit has received scant attention, and the radicalism of his speeches, together with his relationship with print culture, has been overlooked.