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William Wilberforce

British Abolitionists


Wilberforce worked closely with or was influenced by many abolitionists during the campaign to end slavery.

Granville Sharp (1735-1813)

As well as Thomas Clarkson, there were several other key figures involved in the abolition movement, one of these was the co-founder of the abolition society, Granville Sharp. Sharp's interest in slavery began in 1765 when he met a former slave, Jonathan Strong. Strong had been badly treated by his owner and when his owner tried to sell Stong back into slavery, Sharp took the case to the Lord Mayor who fought on Strong's behalf and as a result, Strong was freed. The success of his actions prompted Sharp to devote his efforts into whether it was lawful for a slave to be made to leave Britain and secured a ruling in 1772 by the Lord Chief Justice, which decided that slave owners could not legally force slaves to return to the colonies once they had come to Britain. This was regarded by many as a huge step forward in securing British involvement in the slave trade. Sharp is also known for engineering a resettlement project in Sierra Leone, west Africa, during the 1780s, and persuaded former slaves to move there.

Hannah More (1745-1833)

Hannah More was the most influential female figure within the Abolition Society. She was a writer and playwright but became dissillusioned with the theatre and turned her attention to the Abolition movement. She was friends
with John Newton, Sir Charles and Lady Margaret Middleton, James Ramsay and Thomas Clarkson. In 1787 she met Wilberforce and this was the start of a long and sucessful friendship and her involvement in the abolition movement and also with the 'Clapham Sect'. She wrote many religious themed pieces and poems including "The Sorrows of Yamba" (or, The Negro

Woman's Lamentation) in 1795 and a novel in 1809 entitled, "Coelebs in Search of a Wife".


James Stephen (1758 - 1832)

Another abolition activist was James Stephen. Stephen had studied law in Britain but was tempted by the prospect of making his fortune in the West Indies and moved there in 1783. On arrival in Barbados, he was asked to attended the trial of several slaves who had been wrongly accused of murder. They were all found guilty and sentenced to death. Stephen felt horrified at such a blatent miscarriage of justice and vowed never to own slaves himself. He began taking action by sending information and evidence back to the abolitionists in Britain about the inhumane treatment of slaves who worked on plantations. Stephen later returned to Britain and became active in the abolition movement. It was Stephen who instigated the 1806 ban by parliament on British ships carrying slaves to French owned territories and this act

was partly responsible for the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807. Stephen later became an MP and campaigned against slavery for the rest of his life.


James Ramsey (1733 - 1789)

James Ramsey was a naval doctor who was asked to treat a case of dysentery which had already killed many people on board a slave ship in 1759. Ramsey was so shocked by the conditions on board that it led him to leave the navy and he became an Anglican minister on the Caribbean island of St Kitts. As a clergyman, Ramsey preached to the slaves who worked on the plantations much to the anger of the plantation owners. Ramsey returned to Britain ten years later and became Rector at the local church of Sir Charles and Lady Middleton and he also became their close friend. During his time in the Abolition Movement, Ramsay wrote several books based on his experiences of slavery and the slave trade. Because of his unique experiences of the Transatlantic slave trade and life on the plantations, he was asked to give evidence to parliament and worked closely with Wilberforce and the Abolition Committee.


Elizabeth Heyrick (d. 1831)

Heyrick was a Quaker who was responsible for publishing a very sucessful booklet entitled "Immediate, not Gradual Abolition", in 1824. She felt impatient at the length of time taken to end the slave trade and campaigned for its immediate abolition and was publicly criticised for sympathising with slaves who had undertaken revolt on the plantations in the West Indies. Her booklet helped to start more than 70 British women's anti-slavery societies and she was a key figure in the sugar boycott.

Look at this map to find out here where Sierra Leone, West Africa is, where Granville Sharpe started a resettlement project.»

Document icon Learning article provided by: Wilberforce House, Hull | 

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