Made in Dundee
Fanny Wright's House
You are now walking past the birthplace of Fanny Wright. Stop outside.
Can you see the plaque? There are quite a few dedicated to her.
Fanny Wright was born in Dundee but she spent a great deal of her life in America. She was known for her radical views, which made her stand out in the early 1800s. She opposed organised religion, believed in female equality and universal education, and campaigned for the rights of the working classes and against slavery.
She was one of the first female public speakers in America and the first woman in America to take action against slavery.
She was known as the 'red harlot of infidelity' and her opponents believed she would 'turn the world into one vast immeasurable brothel' with her support for sex outside marriage and birth control.
One plaque describes her as an 'Owenite'. Robert Owen was famous for attempting to set up a Utopian socialist community. Wright was inspired by his example to establish the Nashoba commune made up of whites, free blacks and slaves. The slaves would be prepared for freedom by being trained in a trade. Scandal engulfed the community when one of the men published diary extracts which described his relationship with one of the slave women. The commune collapsed.
Fanny took the former slaves to the black republic of Haiti where they were placed under the President's direct supervision. She lost half of her personal wealth thanks to the failure of the Nashoba Commune.
Although she spent little time in Dundee the city had an impact on her, chiefly through the wealth she inherited from her father. This allowed her to travel widely and make the acquaintance of people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, as well as embark upon projects like the Nashoba Commune. There is an irony in this – Fanny's father Thomas was a linen merchant in Dundee. Before the days of jute, Dundee's main industry was linen. This linen was of very poor quality, almost like sacking, and it did not find a market in Europe.
Ok, Keep walking up the street in the same direction while I tell you the rest.
Instead they started exporting it to America where it was used to clothe slaves. In 1821 Dundee sent 1 million yards of linen to the port of Charleston alone. Dundee had a virtual monopoly on slave clothing.
Perhaps surprisingly, James himself had radical views – he was considered such a revolutionary that he was placed under observation. On one occasion he only escaped arrest for owning radical literature by dumping his books in the River Tay in the middle of the night. He was a correspondent of US Founding Father Thomas Paine. James arranged for a cheap version of Thomas Paine's 'Age of Reason' to be printed. More than 1 in 23 people in Dundee bought a copy.
Paine opposed the slave trade and called it a "height of outrage against humanity and justice". So perhaps there is reason to suspect that James Wright would have been pleased his daughter freed slaves using the money he had made from selling slave clothes.