Edward Rushton was undoubtedly a heroic figure who should be given a place in Liverpool's history of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
He was a poet, a tireless campaigner against slavery and the press gangs, a revolutionary republican, supporter of both the American and French revolutions, and founder of the worlds first blind school.
Edward Rushton was born on the 18 November 1756, in John Street, Liverpool, the son of Thomas Rushton, who had been a hairdresses before becoming a wine merchant and a freeman of the city, at the age of six the young Edward was sent to the Liverpool Free School, where he was educated until he was eleven. Before his eleventh birthday he was apprenticed to Watt and Gregson, as a seaman.
At the age of sixteen Rushton was promoted to second mate following an act of heroism, when during a storm out in the Mersey Estuary the captain and crew wanted to abandon the ship, despite his young years Rushton took control of the helm and guided the ship back to port.
Several years later he was second mate on a ship to Guinea, during which he became friends with a young negro boy named Quamina, tragedy struck during a routine trip to the shore when the small boat they were in capsized. Rushton was struggling in the water, when Quamina who was holding onto a water-barrel, pushed the barrel to Rushton, Quamina was never seen again.
This selfless act of bravery and self sacrifice was to have a lasting affect on Rushton.
Later that year Rushton was second mate on a slaver bound for Dominica, when he was charged with mutiny after he argued with the captian at the treatment meted out to the slaves by the members of the crew.
It was during this voyage the human cargo contracted "Contagious Ophthalmia" a disease which leads to blindness. (Malignant Ophthalmia causes the eyelids to become red and swollen, and from between them issues a dangerous discharge which causes the lids to stick together and imprisons the malignant fluid. This, in the course of a few days, works irreparable damage to the eyes.)
A disease Rushton was to contract himself when he was the only member of the crew who took pity on the slaves and tried to ease their suffering. Rushton's left eye was completely destroyed, while his right eye was so badly damaged, he became blind.
On his arrival home Rushton met with several leading Phycisians of the day in an effort to restore the sight in his right eye, without success.
He was also homeless as his father had remarried and his stepmother did not like the blind Rushton around, so he went to live with an aunt.
During this time he studied politics, philosophy, literature including poetry.
In 1782, he had his first published poem, "The Dismembered Empire."
Not long after this he and his sister opened a tavern at 19 Crooked Lane, however, Rushton couldn't take to the work and he left to become the editor of the Liverpool Herald.
In 1787, he published his series of poems dealing with the slave trade, The West Indian Eclogues.
He left the Herald the following year, after refusing to print a retraction for a series of articles he had written condemning the brutality of the Press-Gang system, his poem "Will Clawline" denounces the brutality of the Press-Gangs.
In 1990 Rushton along with several other noted individuals proposed establishing a school for the blind.
One year later on the 10 January 1791, the blind institution (The first of its kind in the world) was opened.
Despite the time spent on establishing the school Rushton was still involved in the abolition movement, in 1797 he sent a letter to the American President George Washington denouncing him for his ownership of slaves.
(It will generally be admitted, Sir, and perhaps with justice, that the great family of mankind were nevermore benefited by the military abilities of any individual, than by those which you displayed during the American contest. . . . By the flame which you have kindled every oppressed nation will be enabled to perceive its fetters. . . . But it is not to the commander in chief of the American forces, nor to the president of the United States, that I have ought to address. My business is with George Washington of Mount Vernon in Virginia, a man who not withstanding his hatred of oppression and his ardent love of liberty holds at this moment hundreds of his fellow being in a state of abject bondage--Yes: you who conquered under the banners of freedom--you who are now the first magistrate of a free people are (strange to relate) a slave holder. . . . Shame! Shame! That man should be deemed the property of man or that the name of Washington should be found among the list of such proprietors. . . . Ages to come will read with Astonishment that the man who was foremost to wrench the rights of America from the tyrannical grasp of Britain was among the last to relinquish his own oppressive hold of poor unoffending Negro’s. In the name of justice what can induce you thus to tarnish your own well-earned celebrity and to impair the fair features of American liberty with so foul and indelible a blot).
Washington never repilied.
In 1807, after an operation by Doctor Benjamin Gibson, Rushton regained some of his sight enabling him to see for the first time in 33 years.
William Rushton died on the 22 November 1814 of Paralysis, and was buried in St James Cemetery, Liverpool.