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William Wilberforce

Family Man and Personal Life

Wilberforce Family History

The Wilberfoss family moved from the village of Wilberfoss, near York, to Beverley in the mid-sixteenth century. William’s grandfather, also called William, moved from Beverley to Hull in the late seventeenth century and changed the spelling to Wilberforce.

The Wilberforce family were merchants by trade. William (William Wilberforce's grandfather) had been an apprentice to John Thornton, the merchant who had previously owned 25 High Street ( Wilberforce House) and bought the house after John Thornton’s death. The Wilberforce family were involved in importing goods and timber form Latvia and Russia, and iron ore from Sweden. They also exported a whole variety of Yorkshire produce including Sheffield Steel Cutlery. William’s father, Robert, was a partner in the business.

The Wilberforce Family

In April 1797 aged 37, William Wilberforce met Barbara Spooner, a 20 year old woman who shared Wilberforce’s deeply held Christian beliefs. He immediately fell in love and only eight days later he proposed to her and they were married a month later. William and Barbara were devoted to each other and had six children: William, Robert, Samuel, Henry and two daughters both named Elizabeth, the elder Eliazbeth later died. Wilberforce dearly loved his family and often spent hours playing with his children, taking them out or reading to them.

Wilberforce’s eldest son was born in 1798 and was also called William. Wilberforce's second son, Robert Issac, was born in 1802 and went on to become Archdeacon of the East Riding. William’s third son, Samuel, was born in 1807. He was also a very religious man and a great public speaker. He later became Bishop of Oxford and was a member of the House of Lords. Wilberforce's youngest son, Henry William, was also born in 1807. He also followed a career in the church and became a Reverend. Elizabeth was born in 1799, but died in 1821, aged 32. The younger, Elizabeth, was born in 1801.

Wilberforce often found himself split between his personal beliefs and loyalty to his friends and family, especially when in 1827, Wilberforce’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, fell in love with Charles Pinney. The Pinney family were Bristol merchants whose wealth came from slavery. Wilberforce agonised over whether or not to allow his daughter to marry into a family that was associated with slavery. Following many letters between the Pinney family and Wilberforce, Wilberforce decided to take Elizabeth away from Bath. She later married Reverend J James.

Throughout his life, Wilberforce wrote many letters and also kept a daily journal or diary. Many of the letters he wrote were to his family and friends and his diary contains his thoughts and feelings on his personal and political life.

Living descendants

The Wilberforce family still lives on in William Wilberforce's descendants, one of whom is Sebastian Wilberforce and another a London based artist, Rachel Wilberforce.

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

Comment on this page

  • Posted by Rosemary Horea on 12/08/2011

    I talked to my daughter last night about William Wilberforce and decided to research more on the human being that deserves more respect.

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