Born into slavery in North Carolina around 1815, Moses Roper is a significant if understudied figure in Irish studies, Black Atlantic studies, and American studies more generally. His flight to the United Kingdom in 1835 and his subsequent writing and activism fundamentally altered the relationship between the fugitive subject and the cultural and political ground of emancipatory activism across all of what were then the home nations. Roper arrived in the UK at a moment at which, the end of chattel slavery in the empire within sight, British and Irish anti-slavery movements had lost their domestic purpose and were ripe for secondment to the American abolitionist cause. Scholarship has explored aspects of Roper’s work, but his life has not yet had the thorough treatment of better-known contemporaries. [1] Significantly, evidence of a hitherto unknown tour of Dublin and southern Ireland—detailed in the appendix to the third edition, from 1839, of his autobiography—has been completely overlooked. This appendix notes the locations of speaking engagements and the sales figures for his book during the tour, the stated aim of which was “to expose the system of American Slavery, and by the Sale of this Book to provide for the Author the means of obtaining further Education” (“American Slavery,” Dublin Morning Register 1). The now-forgotten tour took place between September and November of 1838, at which point Roper returned to Britain to continue his education and anti-slavery efforts there. [2]

Roper spoke in venues in Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, New Ross, Clonmel, Cork, and Limerick (Roper, A Narrative 193). His arrival in Ireland immediately after the publication of the second edition of his Narrative was finely timed to coincide with a critical historical moment, when freedom was making headlines and British and Irish abolitionist attention could be firmly steered towards American slavery. Roper’s Irish tour occurred immediately in the wake of the end to apprenticeship—the legal term applied to the stage between slavery and full freedom when those enslaved continued to work for their former masters (and “learned” how to be free)—and, for Afro-Caribbeans, the long-awaited legal emancipation that finally arrived in the West Indies on 1 August, 1838. At a meeting on 1 August in the Rotunda in Dublin celebrating the end of apprenticeship and “the triumphant success of the principles of the Anti-Slavery Association,” a speaker told the audience that “it was their bounden duty . . . to throw the weight of their contempt and abhorrence on American slavery, until the Americans were shamed out of their disgraceful tyranny” (“Celebration” 6). Given this context, Roper’s novelty as an American fugitive meant that his public speaking events were significant enough to receive newspaper coverage, allowing his itinerary to be reconstructed and the dates and locations of most of his lectures to be established with certainty.

By the first week of September, Roper was in Dublin selling his Narrative and announcing two lectures scheduled for 11 and 13 September in the Union Chapel Presbyterian Church on Abbey Street (“American Slavery,” Dublin Evening Packet 1). He stayed first at No. 8, Great Ship Street, and the second edition of his book was for sale at his accommodation “or at Mr. J. Robertson, 3, Grafton street” (Advertisement 1). A notice in the Dublin Evening Mail indicated that Roper’s talks “will prove highly instructing,” while the Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent characterised Roper as “a very interesting young man” (“Mr. Moses Roper” 2) and noted, “We are anxious to serve him by every means in our power, and we confidently calculate that all who may know him will feel a similar interest in his behalf” (“American Slavery” 1).

Later in September, however, Roper was courting controversy in Wexford. The Wexford Conservative accused him of “publicly charg[ing] Methodists in the United States with encouraging and supporting the system of slavery, and with attempting to prove it consistent with the Christian profession” (“Slavery in the United States” 3), in a lecture given in the Wexford Assembly Rooms on Monday, 24 September. A report in a rival newspaper, the Wexford Independent, on a speech he gave on Tuesday, 25 September, noted Roper’s emphasis on the brutality of slavery, perpetrated in two cases he described by Methodist ministers “whose principal duty appeared to be that of interpreting the scripture in favour of slavery” and in another by a Baptist deacon who tortured and even murdered slaves (“American Slavery—The Methodists” 3). Listeners were shocked at the idea of “professing christian ministers being not only slaveholders themselves . . . but torturing the scriptures, in favour of the hellish and revolting doctrine, that slavery was consonant to the spirit of divine truth” (“Negro Slavery” 3).

A subsequent meeting on Tuesday, 2 October at the Courthouse in New Ross, County Wexford, at which “40-50 people were present” proved even more contentious, with the Wexford Conservative of 6 October reporting that, although Roper was professedly there to speak to the question of American slavery, “his object evidently appeared to be, more to calumniate the Methodists and Baptists of America . . . as cruel canting hypocrites, and their religious meetings as scenes of wickedness.” So heated did the meeting become that a Mr. R. French proposed that “unless Mr. Roper confined himself to his proposed object of exposing Slavery, without vilifying any religious body, the meeting should adjourn” (“Moses Roper in New Ross” 3). Inadvertently or otherwise, Roper’s speeches in Wexford provoked religious sensitivities particular to the local context, with the political tensions that underlay them playing out in the pages of the Wexford Conservative (“Slavery, Both Foreign and Domestic”) and the Wexford Independent (“The Saints—Increase of Popery”).

Lectures in Cork and Limerick were more successful. No date for Roper’s first lecture in Cork at the Independent Chapel has yet been found, but the Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier of 27 October announced the “second and last” of Roper’s Cork speeches as scheduled for the Theatre Royal on the evening of 29 October (“American Slavery” 2). One of his Cork audience, a Miss M. B. Tuckey from Ferney, Cork, was inspired to write a 92-line poem which she either handed to Roper or had sent on to where he was staying. [3] Roper appended the poem to a letter he wrote on 11 November from 1, Catherine Street, Limerick to the editor of the Limerick Chronicle. [4] The newspaper published both the letter and Tuckey’s poem under the banner “American Slavery” on 17 November, 1838. “I am desirous of doing all I can to aid the cause of Negro emancipation, by diffusing information on th[at] subject with which I have been so painfully [experienced?]” Roper wrote, adding later, “W[ith] reference to the same object, I have already sent to America to some of my former masters copies of my book” (4; italics in original).

Roper’s letter to the editor of the Limerick Chronicle is of some historical and literary significance. It is the first he is currently known to have penned and one of only a handful that have survived. Additionally, the Limerick letter provides the first trace of fugitive slave writing in Irish print culture and therefore marks the moment at which a fugitive presence establishes itself on Irish literary ground.

Interest in Roper and what he had to say was considerable. On 17 November, 1838, a separate column in the Limerick Chronicle advertised a public meeting on the 19 November at the Independent Chapel, Bedford Row, to which, “To prevent the inconvenience attending an overcrowded audience, admission will be by a limited number of tickets” (“American Slavery” 4). The Narrative was for sale in the city from “Mr. Goggins, 34 George St. and at the Tract Shop, No 2 Thomas St,” and tickets from the event were available from three locations. Roper reportedly “gave an interesting description of the anti-Christian slave system that still prevails in some of the States in America, and too truly verified in the person of the narrator, who had been upwards of ten years in bondage there. Many of the society of friends were in attendance” (Dublin Morning Register 4). The Narrative indicates that he spoke at “Meetings” in Clonmel and Waterford, and the book sold strongly there as elsewhere on the tour (193). As no trace of these has yet been found, the references may be to closed meetings of religious societies. The lecture in Limerick is the last location listed in the Narrative, and we find no further mentions of him in the Irish press.

It is somewhat surprising that scholars have overlooked this first lecture tour of Ireland by a fugitive since the evidence was available in the appendix of his Narrative, of which he sold 719 copies in this three-month period. But Moses Roper has long dwelt in the shadow of Frederick Douglass. Unlike Douglass, with his stable family life and ascent to the heights of political influence, Roper remained rootless. In the 1880s he was lecturing in New England for ten cents a ticket, sometimes failing to draw a crowd at all, eventually earning his keep as a farm labourer when he was around seventy, until he died in a Boston hospital in 1891, wife and children long since gone, accompanied only by his faithful dog, Pete (“Taitsville”; “North Montpelier”; “Was Once a Slave”). However, Roper’s 1838 visit to Ireland and his work in Britain are formative, for they paved the way for later tours by Charles Lennox Remond, Douglass, and others. Roper’s mixed reception—practically chased from the hall in Wexford by indignant Methodists, yet forced to limit ticket sales for a lecture in Limerick due to his popularity—suggests the need to understand the local contexts of abolitionist tours better. This is something that underpins the wider remit of our current research project, which aims to rediscover and unfold Roper’s story by retracing his life, writing, and his tours of “remote places” in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England (Roper, Letter 136).



[1] See, for instance, Cutter.

[2] In her recent Black Abolitionists in Ireland, Christine Kinealy claims “there is no evidence that Roper visited Ireland during his first stay in the United Kingdom” between 1835 and 1846. Similarly, Hannah-Rose Murray asserts that Roper “avoided the south of Ireland almost entirely” (529). For the list of 1838 speaking locations in Ireland, see Roper, A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper (193) and “American Slavery,” Dublin Morning Register (1).

[3] Mary B. Tuckey had established herself as an antislavery poet earlier that year when she published The Wrongs of Africa: A tribute to the anti-slavery cause (1838).

[4] Slater’s Munster Directory lists James Meehan, Mineral Water Manufacturers and Wine and Spirit merchants at this address in 1846 (275, 278). In the early 1920s, 1, Catherine Street in Limerick was a pub run for a time by John Higgins, father of Uachtarán Michael D. Higgins; it may have been an inn of some sort in the 1830s (McGreevy).


Works Cited

Advertisement. Dublin Evening Mail, 5 Sept. 1838, p. 1.

“American Slavery.” Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent, 6 Sept. 1838, p. 1.

“American Slavery.” Dublin Morning Register, 11 Sept. 1838, p. 1.

“American Slavery.” Cork Southern Reporter, 27 Oct. 1838, p. 2.

“American Slavery.” Limerick Chronicle, 17 Nov. 1838, p. 4.

“American Slavery—The Methodists,” Wexford Independent, 29 Sept. 1838, p. 3.

“Celebration of Negro Freedom.” The Warder, 4 Aug. 1838, p. 6.

Cutter, Martha J. The Illustrated Slave: Empathy, Graphic Narrative, and the Visual Culture of the Transatlantic Abolition Movement, 1800-1852. U of Georgia P, 2017.

Dublin Evening Mail, 5 Sept. 1838, p. 1

Dublin Morning Register, 23 Nov. 1838, p. 4.

Kinealy, Christine. Black Abolitionists in Ireland. Routledge, 2020. Google Books, Accessed July 2020.

McGreevy, Ronan. “Stories of the Revolution: President relives painful struggle.” Irish Times, 11 Dec. 2015,

“Moses Roper in New Ross.” Wexford Conservative, 6 Oct. 1838, p. 3.

“Mr. Moses Roper.” The Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent, 6 Sept. 1838, p. 2.

Murray, Hannah-Rose. “‘With almost electric speed’: Mapping African American Abolitionists in Britain and Ireland, 1838-1847.” Slavery and Abolition, vol. 40, no. 3, 2019, pp. 522-42.

“Negro Slavery.” Wexford Independent, 29 Sept. 1838, p. 3.

“North Montpelier.” Vermont Watchman and State Journal, 10 Oct. 1883, p. 1.

Roper, Moses. “American Slavery.” Limerick Chronicle, 17 Nov. 1838, p. 4.

—. Letter to the Committee of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 9 May, 1844. The Black Abolitionist Papers: The British Isles, 1830-1865, edited by C. Peter Ripley, vol. 1, U of North Carolina P, 1985, pp. 134-36.

—. A Narrative of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper, from American Slavery, with a Preface, by the Rev. T. Price, D.D. 3rd ed., London, Harvey and Darton, 1839.

Slater’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland. Manchester, I. Slater, 1846.

“Slavery, Both Foreign and Domestic.” Wexford Conservative, 3 Oct. 1838, p. 2.

“Slavery in the United States.” Wexford Conservative, 26 Sept. 1838.

“Taitsville.” Spirit of the Age, 23 Aug. 1882, p. 3.

“The Saints—Increase of Popery.” Wexford Independent, 10 Oct. 1838, p. 2.

Tuckey, Mary B. The Wrongs of Africa: A tribute to the anti-slavery cause, Glasgow, G. Gallie for the Glasgow Ladies’ Emancipation Society, 1838.

“Was Once a Slave.” Fall River Daily Herald, 16 Apr. 1891, p. 3.