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Anti Slavery Campaigner
Rushton was undoubtedly 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 world’s first blind school. He was born on the 18 November 1756, in John Street, Liverpool, the son of Thomas Rushton, who had been a hairdresser 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. It was during one of his voyages he 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 was 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. 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."
He became the editor of the Liverpool Herald. In 1787, he published his series of poems dealing with the slave trade, The West Indian Eclogues.
In 1790 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. Washington never replied.
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.
He died on the 22 November 1814 of Paralysis, and was buried in St James Cemetery, Liverpool.