Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cropper, James

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CROPPER, JAMES (1773–1840), philanthropist, the son of Thomas and Rebecca Cropper (his mother's maiden name was Winstanley), was born in 1773 at Winstanley in Lancashire, where his family for many generations had been ‘statesmen.’ The Cropper family had belonged to the quaker body from the very early days of its history. Cropper was intended by his father for his own business, but he had no taste for agricultural pursuits, which offered a prospect far too limited for a lad of his energetic character. At the age of seventeen, therefore, he left home and entered as an apprentice the house of Rathbone Brothers, at that time the first American merchants in Liverpool. Here he developed great business power, and rising by gradual steps he became the founder of the well-known mercantile house of Cropper, Benson, & Co. His commercial undertakings prospered, and he acquired a considerable fortune, which he regarded as a trust to be expended in the promotion of the temporal and spiritual advantage of his fellow-men. He took a lively interest in many religious and philanthropic enterprises, but he chiefly devoted the energies of his best years to the abolition of negro slavery in the West India islands. At a very early period he threw himself into the movement of which Wilberforce and Clarkson had been the recognised earlier leaders, and in 1821 was writing pamphlets addressed to the former of these urging not only the inhumanity and injustice of West Indian slavery, but also its financial impolicy. The heavy protective duties imposed on sugar from the East Indies or from foreign nations, with the view of maintaining the interests of the West India slaveowners, were the object of his earnest and incessant attacks, under the conviction that if once this artificial protection was removed the institution of slave labour must speedily fall. But the emancipation of the negro did not absorb his whole energies. The unhappy state of the impoverished population of Ireland affected Cropper very deeply, and in 1824 he came forward with a well-considered plan for its amelioration. Not content with schemes on paper, he paid a long series of visits to Ireland, and established cotton-mills in which the people might obtain remunerative employment. He studied political economy as a thoroughly practical matter; took a prominent part in every undertaking for the advancement of the trade of Liverpool and the improvement of its port; and, with others, laboured with indefatigable industry for the repeal of the orders of council which, previous to 1811, by restricting the commerce of England with America, had inflicted a serious blow on the Liverpool trade. Success attended these efforts, and the country at large acknowledged the value of his exertions. Cropper was among the first promoters of railway communication in England, and was one of the most active directors of the railway between Liverpool and Manchester on its first commencement in 1830. In pursuance of his philanthropic views in 1833 Cropper determined to start an industrial agricultural school for boys, and after a lengthened tour in Germany and Switzerland to obtain information on the subject, he built a school and orphan-house on his estate at Fearnhead, near Warrington, together with a house for himself in order that he might exercise constant personal supervision over the undertaking. Here he resided until his death, occupying himself chiefly in his school. His pen, however, was not idle, and he published many pamphlets on the condition of the West Indies, especially the negro apprenticeship system, and on the sugar bounties and other protective duties of which in every form he was a most determined opponent. He died in 1841, and was buried in the quakers' burial-ground at Liverpool by the side of his wife, whom he had married in 1796, and who died two years before him. No monument marks his grave, but the house in which he lived and died at Fearnhead bears the following inscription: ‘In this house lived James Cropper, one, and he not the least, of that small but noble band of christian men who, after years of labour and through much opposition, accomplished the abolition of West Indian slavery; and thus having lived the life of the righteous, he died in the full assurance of faith on the 26th of Feby. 1840.’ By his wife, whose maiden name was Mary Brinsmead, he had two sons, John and Edward, who survived him, and one daughter, who married Joseph Sturge [q. v.], the quaker philanthropist of Birmingham, and died in giving birth to her first child.

Cropper's largest publications (all published at Liverpool) were: 1. ‘Letters to William Wilberforce, M.P., recommending the cultivation of sugar in our dominions in the East Indies,’ 1822. 2. ‘The Correspondence between John Gladstone, Esq., M.P., and James Cropper, Esq., on the present state of slavery,’ 1824. 3. ‘Present State of Ireland,’ 1825 (for a fuller list see Smith, Friends' Books, i. 492–3).

[Private information.]

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