Monday, 9 February 2009

The American Civil War, cotton and the Manchester Famine

This is one of the "Other Random Stuff" posts.

Ann has related the stories of her Fitzhenry forebears being in the midst of the fighting in the American Civil War, but just as in current day global markets the effects of the war were not confined to the US.

Last week I came upon a Victorian book of instructional short stories. The first was about the Cotton Famine. Thinking that this was about the Southern States during the Civil War, I was amazed to read that it was about Manchester England.

In 1862, the lack of raw cotton from America caused the prosperous industrial city of Manchester to be brought to its financial knees. The cotton spinning mills shut and there was mass unemployment. Without social support many families were destitute and starving.

A very good and moving account of the Manchester Cotton Famine can be found here on Wikipedia. Despite their dire circumstances, the Manchester cotton workers sent a message of support to President Lincoln in his bid to abolish the slavery that had kept the cotton fields productive and the Manchester mills working.

The were no Fitzhenrys in Manchester at the time of the 1861 census, but there were a few Fitzhenry families of recent Irish descent in Liverpool, maybe prompted to leave their homeland by the potato famine a couple of decades before. Liverpool and Manchester were financially, geographically and industrially intertwined so it is likely that the Manchester cotton famine had widespread effects throughout the North-East of England.

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