Ann Yearsley – Poet, Mother, Abolitionist, Classicist

Ann Yearsley was an 18th century milk woman, farmer’s wife and the mother of six children. She was also a poet, an auto-didactic classicists, and a fierce abolitionist.  She was, in other words, completely amazing.

Yearley was born in a poor family in the Bristol and taught to read and write by her parents. While between her work as a milk woman and mother, she also found time to compose extensive amounts of poetry, poetry which eventually gained her the attention of well know abolitionist and social activist Hannah Moore who saw to the publication of many of her works. Yearley became a bit of a cause celebre for a while, while she eventually had a falling out with Moore over money, she was able to greatly improve her economic standing. Along the way she composes a number of poems with extensive classical references, most famously,  “Addressed to Ignorance, Occasioned by a Gentleman’s desiring the Author never to assume a Knowledge of the Ancients” which re-imagines the classical heroes as working class men, and remains surprisingly witty over two hundred years later.

Stout Ajax, the form of a butcher now takes,

But the last he past thro’ was a calf;

Yet no revolution his spirit awakes,

For no Troy is remember’d by Ralph.

I addition to her personal studies in classical literature, Yearsley was also an abolitionist and produced one of the  classic poems from the era of British abolitionism, “A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade”.

What an incredible life, what an incredible woman.

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