Abolitionism in the United Kingdom

Abolitionism in the United Kingdom was the movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to end the practice of slavery, whether formal or informal, in the United Kingdom, the British Empire and the world, including ending the Atlantic slave trade. It was part of a wider abolitionism movement in Western Europe and the Americas.

The buying and selling of slaves was made illegal across the British Empire in 1807, but owning slaves was permitted until it was outlawed completely in 1833, beginning a process where from 1834 slaves became indentured "apprentices" to their former owners until emancipation was achieved for the majority by 1840 and for remaining exceptions by 1843. Former slave owners received formal compensation for their losses from the British government, with the slaves receiving no reparations.

William Murray of Mansfield
Lord Mansfield (1705–1793), whose opinion in Somerset's Case (1772) was widely taken to have held that there was no basis in law for slavery in England.


In the 17th century, English Quakers and evangelical religious groups condemned slavery (by then applied mostly to Africans) as un-Christian; in the 18th century, abolition was part of the message of the First Great Awakening in the Thirteen Colonies; in the same period, rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment criticised it for violating the rights of man. James Edward Oglethorpe was among the first to articulate the Enlightenment case against slavery, banning slavery in the Province of Georgia on humanistic grounds, arguing against it in Parliament and eventually encouraging his friends Granville Sharp and Hannah More vigorously to pursue the cause. Soon after his death in 1785, they joined with William Wilberforce and others in forming the Clapham Sect.[1] Though anti-slavery sentiment was widespread by the late 18th century, the colonies and emerging nation-states that used slave labour continued to do so.

The slave trade had been banned in England in 1102.[2] In a 1569 court case involving Cartwright, who had bought a slave from Russia, the court ruled that English law could not recognise slavery, as it was never established officially. This ruling was overshadowed by later developments. It was upheld in 1700 by Lord Chief Justice Sir John Holt when he ruled that "As soon as a man sets foot on English ground he is free".[3]

English colonists imported slaves to the North American colonies and by the 18th century, traders began to import slaves from Africa, India and East Asia (where they were trading) to London and Edinburgh to work as servants. Men who migrated to the North American colonies often took their East Indian slaves or servants with them, as East Indians have been documented in colonial records.[4][5]

Some of the first freedom suits, court cases in Britain to challenge the legality of slavery, took place in Scotland in 1755 and 1769. The cases were Montgomery v. Sheddan (1755) and Spens v. Dalrymple (1769). Each of the slaves had been baptised in Scotland and challenged the legality of slavery. They set the precedent of legal procedure in British courts that would later lead to success for the plaintiffs. In these cases, deaths of the plaintiff and defendant, respectively, brought an end to the action before a court decision could be rendered.[6]

African slaves were not bought or sold in London itself but were brought by masters from other places. Together with people from other nations, especially non-Christian ones, Africans were considered foreigners and thus ineligible to be English subjects. At the time, England had no naturalisation procedure. The African slaves' legal status was unclear until the 1772 Somersett's Case, when the fugitive slave James Somersett forced a decision by the courts. Somersett had escaped and his master, Charles Steuart, had him captured and imprisoned on board a ship, intending to ship him to Jamaica to be resold into slavery. While in London, Somersett had been baptised and three godparents issued a writ of habeas corpus. As a result, Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the Court of the King's Bench, had to judge whether Somersett's abduction was lawful or not under English Common Law. No legislation had ever been passed to establish slavery in England. The case received national attention and five advocates supported the action on behalf of Somersett.

In his judgment of 22 June 1772, Mansfield held,

The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.[7]

Although the legal implications of the judgement are unclear when analysed by lawyers, the judgement was generally taken at the time to have determined that slavery did not exist under English common law and was thus prohibited in England.[8] As a result, by 1774, between 10,000 and 15,000 slaves gained freedom in England.[9] The decision did not apply to British overseas territories; e.g. the American colonies had established slavery by positive laws.[10] Somersett's case became a significant part of the common law of slavery in the English-speaking world and it helped launch the movement to abolish slavery.[11]

After reading about Somersett's Case, Joseph Knight, an enslaved African who had been purchased by his master John Wedderburn in Jamaica and brought to Scotland, left him. Married and with a child, he filed a freedom suit, on the grounds that he could not be held as a slave in Great Britain. In the case of Knight v. Wedderburn (1778), Wedderburn said that Knight owed him "perpetual servitude". The Court of Session of Scotland ruled against him, saying that chattel slavery was not recognised under the law of Scotland, and slaves could seek court protection to leave a master or avoid being forcibly removed from Scotland to be returned to slavery in the colonies.[6]

At this point the plantocracy got nervous, and got organised, setting up the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants to represent their views. From its inception in 1780, the organisation played a major role in resisting the abolition of the slave trade and that of slavery itself. The Society brought together three different groups: British sugar merchants, absentee planters and colonial agents.[12]

First steps

Ignatius Sancho, 1768
Ignatius Sancho (c1729–1780), an escaped slave, gained fame in his time as a man of letters.[13] An active 18th-century British abolitionist and anti-racism campaigner, as "the extraordinary Negro",[14] he also became a symbol of the humanity of Africans. He sold rum, sugar, and tobacco; goods mostly produced by slaves.[14]

Antislavery sentiment may have grown in the British Isles in the first few years after the Somersett case. In 1774, influenced by the case and by the writings of Quaker abolitionist Anthony Benezet, John Wesley, the leader of the Methodist tendency in the Church of England, published Thoughts Upon Slavery, in which he passionately criticized the practice.[15] In his 1776 A Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals, the clergyman Humphry Primatt wrote, "the white man (notwithstanding the barbarity of custom and prejudice), can have no right, by virtue of his colour, to enslave and tyrannize over a black man."[16] In 1781 the Dublin Universal Free Debating Society challenged its members to consider if "enslaving the Negro race [is] justifiable on principles of humanity of [sic] policy?"[17]

Despite the ending of slavery in Great Britain, the West Indian colonies of the British Empire continued to practice it. British banks continued to finance the commodities and shipping industries in the colonies they had earlier established which still relied upon slavery, despite the legal developments in Great Britain.[18] In 1785, the English poet William Cowper wrote,

We have no slaves at home.—Then why abroad?
And they themselves once ferried o'er the wave
That parts us, are emancipate and loos'd.
Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free,
They touch our country and their shackles fall.
That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud
And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then,
And let it circulate through ev'ry vein
Of all your empire. That where Britain's power
Is felt, mankind may feel her mercy too.

(from The Task, Book 2)[19]

In 1783, an anti-slavery movement began among the British population. That year a group of Quakers founded the first British abolitionist organization. The Quakers continued to be influential throughout the lifetime of the movement, in many ways leading the campaign.[20] On 17 June 1783, Sir Cecil Wray (one of the Members of Parliament for Westminster) presented the Quaker petition to parliament. Also in 1783, Dr Beilby Porteus, Bishop of Chester, issued a call to the Church of England to cease its involvement in the slave trade and to formulate a policy to improve the conditions of Afro-Caribbean slaves. The exploration of the African continent by such British groups as the African Association (1788) promoted the abolitionists' cause. Such expeditions highlighted the sophistication of African social organisation; before this, Europeans had considered them 'other' and uncivilized. The African Association had close ties with William Wilberforce, who became known as a prominent figure in the campaign for abolition in the British Empire.[21]

Africans played an important part in the abolition movement. In Britain, Olaudah Equiano, whose autobiography was published in nine editions in his lifetime, campaigned tirelessly against the slave trade. An aspect of the history of abolitionism during this period was the use of images such as the famous Wedgwood medallion of 1787 and the engraving showing the horrific layout of the infamous slave ship, the Brookes.[22]

Growth of the movement

Wilberforce john rising
William Wilberforce (1759–1833), politician and philanthropist who was a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.

After the formation of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, William Wilberforce led the cause of abolition through the parliamentary campaign. It finally abolished the slave trade in the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act 1807. He continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which he lived to see in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

The Atlantic slave trade, also called Triangle trade, encompassed the trafficking in slaves by British merchants who exported manufactured goods from ports such as Bristol and Liverpool, sold or exchanged these for slaves in West Africa (where the African chieftain hierarchy was tied to slavery), and shipped the slaves to British colonies and other Caribbean countries or the American colonies. There traders sold or exchanged the slaves for rum and sugar (in the Caribbean) and tobacco and rice (in the American South), which they took back to British ports. The merchants traded in three places with each round-trip. Political influence against the inhumanity of the slave trade grew strongly in the late 18th century.

Europeans and Africans worked for abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Well-known abolitionists in Britain included James Ramsay, who had seen the cruelty of the trade at first hand; the Unitarian William Roscoe who courageously campaigned for parliament in the port city of Liverpool for which he was briefly M.P., Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood, who produced the "Am I Not A Man And A Brother?" medallion for the Committee; and other members of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers, as well as Quakers.

Quakers made up most of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and were the first to present a petition against the slave trade to the British Parliament. As Dissenters, Quakers were not eligible to become British MPs in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Anglican evangelist William Wilberforce led the parliamentary campaign. Clarkson became the group's most prominent researcher, gathering vast amounts of data and gaining first-hand accounts by interviewing sailors and former slaves at British ports such as Bristol, Liverpool and London.

Olaudah Equiano - Project Gutenberg eText 15399
Olaudah Equiano (c.1745–1797) was one of the most prominent Africans involved in the British debate for the abolition of the slave trade.

Mainly because of Clarkson's efforts, a network of local abolition groups was established in England. They campaigned through public meetings and the publication of pamphlets and petitions. One of the earliest books promoted by Clarkson and the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was the autobiography of the freed slave Olaudah Equiano. The movement had support from such freed slaves, from many denominational groups such as Swedenborgians, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists and others. They reached out for support from the new industrial workers of the cities in the Midlands and north of England. Even women and children, previously un-politicised groups, became involved in the campaign. At this time, women often had to hold separate meetings as there were social rules against their appearing in public meetings. They could not vote, nor could the majority of the men in Britain at the time.

The abolitionists negotiated with chieftains in West Africa to purchase land to establish 'Freetown' – a settlement for former slaves of the British Empire (the Poor Blacks of London) and the United States. Great Britain had promised freedom to American slaves who left rebel owners to join its cause during the American Revolutionary War. It evacuated thousands of slaves together with its troops and transported 3,000 Black Loyalists to Nova Scotia for resettlement. About a decade later, they were offered a chance to resettle in Freetown and several hundred made the move. Freetown was the first settlement of the colony of Sierra Leone, which was protected under a British Act of Parliament in 1807–08. British influence in West Africa grew through a series of negotiations with local chieftains to end trading in slaves. These included agreements to permit British navy ships to intercept chieftains' ships to ensure their merchants were not carrying slaves.

Blake after John Gabriel Stedman Narrative of a Five Years copy 2 object 2-detail
Blake's "A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows", an illustration to J. G. Stedman's Narrative, of a Five Years' Expedition, against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796).

In 1796, John Gabriel Stedman published the memoirs of his five-year voyage to the Dutch-controlled Surinam in South America as part of a military force sent out to subdue bosnegers, former slaves living in the interior. The book is critical of the treatment of slaves and contains many images by William Blake and Francesco Bartolozzi depicting the cruel treatment of runaway slaves. It was an example of what became a large body of abolitionist literature.

Slave Trade Act 1807

Plate to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

The Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament on 25 March 1807, making the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire. The Act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found aboard a British ship. At a time when Napoleon decided to revive slavery, which had been abolished during the French Revolution and to send his troops to re-enslave the people of Haiti, Guadeloupe and the other French Caribbean possessions, the British took the moral high ground with their prohibition of the slave trade.

Slave Trade Felony Act 1811

The 1807 act’s intention was to entirely outlaw the slave trade within the British Empire but the lucrative trade continued through smuggling. Sometimes captains at risk of being caught by the Royal Navy would throw slaves into the sea to reduce their fines. Abolitionist Henry Brougham realized that trading would continue, and so as a new MP successfully introduced the Slave Trade Felony Act 1811. This law at last made slave trading a criminal felony throughout the empire, and for British subjects, throughout the whole world, which proved far more effective and ended the trade in the Empire, as the Royal Navy could and did ruthlessly pursue slave ships. In 1827, Britain defined participation in the slave trade as piracy and punishable by death. Between 1808 and 1860, the Royal Navy’s West Africa Squadron seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard.[23] Britain used its influence to coerce other countries to agree to treaties to end their slave trade and allow the Royal Navy to seize their slave ships.[24][25] Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example, in 1851 it deposed “the usurping King of Lagos”. Britain signed anti-slavery treaties with more than 50 African rulers.[26]

Slavery Abolition Act 1833

illustration from the book: The Black Man's Lament, or, how to make sugar by Amelia Opie. (London, 1826)

After the 1807 Act, slaves could still be held, though not sold, within the British Empire. In the 1820s, the abolitionist movement may have revived the campaign against the institution of slavery. In 1823 the first Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Britain. The Society's members consisted of a union of non-conformist churches and many had previously campaigned against the slave trade.[27] In 1831 the slave Sam Sharpe led the Christmas Rebellion (Baptist War) in Jamaica, an event that catalyzed anti-slavery sentiment. This combination of political pressure and popular uprisings convinced the British government that there was no longer any middle ground between slavery and emancipation.[28]

"To the Friends of Negro Emancipation", an engraving in the West Indies, celebrating the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833.

On 28 August 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act received Royal Assent, paving the way for the abolition of slavery within the British Empire and its colonies. On 1 August 1834, all slaves in the British Empire were emancipated, but they were indentured to their former owners in an apprenticeship system that meant gradual abolition: the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on 1 August 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on 1 August 1840, two years later.[29]

Abolition of Slavery The Glorious 1st of August 1838
A poster advertising a special chapel service in celebration of the Abolition of Slavery in 1838

The apprenticeship system was deeply unpopular with slaves. On 1 August 1834, as the Governor in Port of Spain, Trinidad addressed an audience about the new laws, the mostly elderly, unarmed slaves began chanting: "Pas de six ans. Point de six ans" ("Not six years. No six years"), drowning out his voice. Peaceful protests continued until the government passed a resolution to abolish apprenticeship and the slaves gained de facto freedom. Full emancipation for all slaves was legally granted on 1 August 1838, ahead of schedule, making Trinidad the first British slave society to fully end slavery.[30] The government set aside £20 million for compensation of slave owners for their "property" across the Empire but it did not offer the former slaves compensation or reparations.[31]

Campaigning after the act

The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840 by Benjamin Robert Haydon
"The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840" by Benjamin Haydon (1841).

In 1839, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was formed. At the time, the British economy continued to import cotton and other commodities from the U.S. Deep South, which relied on slavery for cotton production, to fuel the spinning and weaving mills in Manchester and other northern cities. The finished goods furnished Britain's low-wage, export, manufacturing economy with surpluses exported to Europe and India. London merchant-banks made loans throughout the supply-chain to planters, factors, ware-housers, carters, shippers, spinners, weavers, and exporters.[18]

The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society campaigned to outlaw slavery in other countries and pressured the British government to do more to enforce the suppression of the slave trade, by declaring slave traders to be pirates and pursuing them as such. It is in operation today as Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest international human rights organisation.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Wilson, Thomas, The Oglethorpe Plan, 201-206
  2. ^ http://www.historyireland.com/medieval-history-pre-1500/the-viking-slave-trade-entrepreneurs-or-heathen-slavers/
  3. ^ V.C.D. Mtubani, "African Slaves and English Law", PULA Botswana Journal of African Studies, Vol 3 No 2 November 1983, Retrieved 24 February 2011
  4. ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, 1999–2005, "WEAVER FAMILY: Three members of the Weaver family, probably brothers, were called "East Indians" in Lancaster County,[VA] [court records] between 1707 and 1711."; "'The indenture of Indians (Native Americans) as servants was not common in Maryland ... the indenture of East Indian servants was more common.", Retrieved 15 February 2008
  5. ^ Francis C. Assisi, "First Indian-American Identified: Mary Fisher, Born 1680 in Maryland" Archived 2011-05-15 at the Wayback Machine, IndoLink, Quote: "Documents available from American archival sources of the colonial period now confirm the presence of indentured servants or slaves who were brought from the Indian subcontinent, via England, to work for their European American masters.", Retrieved 20 April 2010
  6. ^ a b "Slavery, freedom or perpetual servitude? – the Joseph Knight case". National Archives of Scotland. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  7. ^ Frederick Charles Moncreiff (2006). The Wit and Wisdom of the Bench and Bar, pp.85–86. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.,
  8. ^ Mowat, Robert Balmain, History of the English-Speaking Peoples (Oxford University Press, 1943), p. 162
  9. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=DdgWAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA119&lpg=PA119&dq=1774+somerset+10,000+slaves+free+england&source=bl&ots=PCuEHxUrnI&sig=B-lP7R0IWATp74wKXZFFjzl0V8A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj4st3dp5jTAhVFaRQKHZOtAtkQ6AEINTAE#v=onepage&q=1774%20somerset%2010%2C000%20slaves%20free%20england&f=false</>
  10. ^ MacEwen, Martin, Housing, Race and Law: The British Experience (Routledge, 2002), p. 39
  11. ^ Peter P. Hinks, John R. McKivigan, R. Owen Williams, Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007), p. 643
  12. ^ Butler, Kathleen Mary (1995). The Economics of Emancipation: Jamaica & Barbados, 1823-1843. Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books. p. 8.
  13. ^ Walvin, James (1997). "Ignatius Sancho: The Man and His Times". In King, Reyahn. Ignatius Sancho: an African Man of Letters. London, UK: National Portrait Gallery. p. 96.
  14. ^ a b Carey, Brycchan. "Ignatius Sancho: African Man of Letters". Brycchan Carey. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  15. ^ Carey, Brycchan (2002). "John Wesley (1703-1791)". Brycchan Carey. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  16. ^ Primatt, Humphry (1776). A Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals. London: R. Hett. p. 11.
  17. ^ Higgins, Padhraig (2010). A Nation of Politicians: Gender, Patriotism, and Political Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century Ireland. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press. p. 10.
  18. ^ a b Christopher Hollis: Two Nations: A Financial Study of English History
  19. ^ Cowper, William, The task: a poem, in six books. By William Cowper, ... (London: printed for J. Johnson, 1785), p. 47. Online at "Eighteenth Century Texts Online"
  20. ^ Tomkins, Stephen (22 March 2007). "BBC NEWS | Magazine | Keeping it under their hats". BBC. Archived from the original on 2 January 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2008.
  21. ^ Hague, William, "William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner"(HarperCollins, 2008), p. 327
  22. ^ The Slave in European Art: From Renaissance Trophy to Abolitionist Emblem, ed Elizabeth Mcgrath and Jean Michel Massing, London 2012
  23. ^ Jo Loosemore, "Sailing against slavery", BBC, 20 March 2007
  24. ^ Falola, Toyin; Warnock, Amanda (2007). Encyclopedia of the middle passage. Greenwood Press. pp. xxi, xxxiii–xxxiv. ISBN 9780313334801.
  25. ^ "The legal and diplomatic background to the seizure of foreign vessels by the Royal Navy".
  26. ^ "The West African Squadron and slave trade"
  27. ^ 'Why Was Slavery Finally Abolished in the British Empire' (2009) The Abolition Project [online]. Norwich: MLA East of England.
  28. ^ Drescer, S. (2000) 'Abolitionist Expectations'. In Slavery and Abolition, 21:2, pp. 41-66 (p.53).
  29. ^ Oldfield, Dr John (February 17, 2011). "British Anti-slavery". BBC History. BBC. Retrieved January 2, 2017. the new legislation called for the gradual abolition of slavery. Everyone over the age of six on August 1, 1834, when the law went into effect, was required to serve an apprenticeship of four years in the case of domestics and six years in the case of field hands
  30. ^ Dryden, John. 1992 "Pas de Six Ans!", In: Seven Slaves & Slavery: Trinidad 1777–1838, by Anthony de Verteuil, Port of Spain, pp. 371–379.
  31. ^ "Slavery Abolition Act 1833". 28 August 1833. Archived from the original on 24 May 2008. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
  32. ^ Anti-Slavery International UNESCO. Retrieved 2011-10-11

Further reading

  • Bader-Zaar, Birgitta: Abolitionism in the Atlantic World: The Organization and Interaction of Anti-Slavery Movements in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History, 2010, retrieved: June 14, 2012.
  • Brown, Christopher Leslie. Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (2006)
  • Davis, David Brion, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823 (1999); The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1988)
  • Drescher, Seymour. Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (2009)
  • Finkelman, Paul, ed. Encyclopedia of Slavery (1999)
  • Gould, Philip. Barbaric Traffic: Commerce and Antislavery in the 18th-century Atlantic World (2003)
  • Hinks, Peter, and John McKivigan, eds. Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition (2 vol. 2006) ISBN 0-313-33142-1; 846pp; 300 articles by experts
  • Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains, Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves (2005)
  • Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America (2008)
  • Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. "Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World" (2007)
  • Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery (1997)
  • Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution (London: BBC Books, 2005) (New York: Ecco, 2006 )
  • Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440–1870 (2006)
African Institution

The African Institution was founded in 1807 after British abolitionists succeeded in ending the slave trade based in the United Kingdom. The Institution was formed to succeed where the former Sierra Leone Company had failed—to create a viable, civilized refuge for freed slaves in Sierra Leone, Africa.

Amazing Grace (2006 film)

Amazing Grace is a 2006 British-American biographical drama film directed by Michael Apted, about the campaign against the slave trade in the British Empire, led by William Wilberforce, who was responsible for steering anti-slave trade legislation through the British parliament. The title is a reference to the hymn "Amazing Grace". The film also recounts the experiences of John Newton as a crewman on a slave ship and subsequent religious conversion, which inspired his writing of the poem later used in the hymn. Newton is portrayed as a major influence on Wilberforce and the abolition movement.

The film premiered on 16 September 2006 at the Toronto International Film Festival, followed by showings at the Heartland Film Festival, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and the European Film Market, before opening in wide US release on 23 February 2007, which coincided with the 200th anniversary of the date the British parliament voted to ban the slave trade.

Anti-Slavery International

Anti-Slavery International is an international non-governmental organization, registered charity and a lobby group, based in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1839, it is the world's oldest international human rights organization. It works exclusively against slavery and related abuses.It owes its origins to the radical element of an older Anti-Slavery Society, known as the "Agency Committee of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions", which had substantially achieved abolition of slavery in the British Empire. A successor organisation, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was then created to campaign against the practice of slavery in other countries. In 1990 it was relaunched as "Anti-Slavery International", which works to combat slavery and related abuse.

Anti-Slavery Society

The Anti-Slavery Society was the everyday name of two different British organisations.

The first was founded in 1823 and was committed to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Its official name was the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions. This objective was substantially achieved in 1838 under the terms of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

A successor organisation, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, was formed in 1839 to fight for global abolition. After the end of slavery in the United States, the British organisation re-focussed. Through mergers and name changes, it is now known as Anti-Slavery International.

Buxton Memorial Fountain

The Buxton Memorial Fountain is a memorial and drinking fountain in London, the United Kingdom, that commemorates the emancipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834.

It was commissioned by Charles Buxton MP, and was dedicated to his father Thomas Fowell Buxton along with William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Henry Brougham and Stephen Lushington, all of whom were involved in the abolition. It was designed by Charles Buxton, who was himself an amateur architect, in collaboration with the neo-Gothic architect Samuel Sanders Teulon (1812–1873) in 1865, coincidentally with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which effectively ended the western slave trade. The memorial was completed in February 1866.It was originally constructed in Parliament Square, erected at a cost of £1,200. As part of the postwar redesign of the square it was removed in 1949 and not reinstated in its present position in Victoria Tower Gardens until 1957.

There were eight decorative figures of British rulers on it, but four were stolen in 1960 and four in 1971. They were replaced by fibreglass figures in 1980. By 2005 these were missing, and the fountain was no longer working. Between autumn 2006 and February 2007 restoration works were carried out. The restored fountain was unveiled on 27 March 2007 as part of the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the act to abolish the slave trade.A memorial plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Anti-Slavery Society was added in 1989.

Free Villages

Free Villages is the term used for Caribbean settlements, particularly in Jamaica, founded in the 1830s and 1840s with land for freedmen independent of the control of plantation owners and other major estates. The concept was initiated by English Baptist missionaries in Jamaica, who raised funds in Great Britain to buy land to be granted to freedmen after emancipation. The planters had vowed not to sell any land to freedmen after slavery was finally abolished in the Empire in 1838; they wanted to retain freedmen as agricultural workers. The Free Villages were often founded around a Baptist church, and missionaries worked to found schools as well in these settlements.

Glasgow Emancipation Society

The Glasgow Emancipation Society was a group of Glaswegians who formed an anti-slavery abolitionist group. Prominent members included James McCune Smith, John Murray, William Smeal, Ralph Wardlaw, Anthony Wigham and Hugh Heugh.

There was also a Glasgow Ladies' Emancipation Society and in 1833 there was an Edinburgh Emancipation Society and in time an Edinburgh Ladies' Emancipation Society.

The British and American abolitionist movements split over with the beliefs of William Lloyd Garrison who advocated the immediate release of American slaves. This society like Bristol, Edinburgh, Dublin, Bristol, and Clifton were strong supporters whilst other groups favoured a managed move away from slavery.


Inchture is a village in Scotland between Dundee and Perth on the northern side of the Firth of Tay. It is approximately nine miles (14 km) from Dundee city centre and 13 miles (21 km) from Perth. The village is bypassed by on the A90 trunk road road and benefits from a flyover (grade-separated) junction onto the road making it popular with commuters working in Dundee and further afield.

Inchture is a prosperous village with expensive houses. The village comprises a post office, small shop, a new Spar store, hotel, a primary school and a church. There are approximately 100 original houses in the village although an additional 130 homes are currently being constructed by Muir Homes and Barratt Homes.

Inchture is situated within the Carse of Gowrie.Inchture is twinned with the village of Fléac near Angoulême in France.

At the east end of the village is a lodge and avenue that formerly led to the mansion of Rossie Priory, now cut off by the modern A90. This avenue is lined on both sides by giant redwood trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum). These were planted in 1853, and are the first known examples of the species successfully cultivated outside North America.

Near Inchture is Ballindean House, significant for its association with John Wedderburn of Ballendean (NB spelling) and his slave Joseph Knight and thus with the cause of abolitionism in the United Kingdom.

Louis Celeste Lecesne

Louis Celeste Lecesne (c. 1796 or 1798 – 22 November 1847), also known as Lewis Celeste Lecesne, was an anti-slavery activist from the Caribbean islands.

Lecesne was on a committee to improve the rights of free men of colour. He was arrested twice, and transported for life from Jamaica with John Escoffery. Their case was taken up by Dr. Stephen Lushington. Lecesne was compensated after successfully having the case reversed by the British government.Lecesne became an activist against slavery and attended the world's first anti-slavery convention. He named his son after the British Member of Parliament who had fought for his case. Lecesne was a supporter when the 1839 Anti-Slavery Society was formed.

Ottobah Cugoano

Ottobah Cugoano, also known as John Stuart (c. 1757 – after 1791), was an African abolitionist and natural rights philosopher from Ghana who was active in England in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Captured in present-day Ghana and sold into slavery at the age of 13, he was shipped to Grenada in the Lesser Antilles, where he worked on a plantation. In 1772 he was purchased by an English merchant who took him to England, where he was taught to read and write, and was freed following the ruling in the Somersett Case (1772). Later working for artists Richard and Maria Cosway, he became acquainted with British political and cultural figures. He joined the Sons of Africa, African abolitionists in England.

Slave Trade Act 1807

The Slave Trade Act 1807, officially An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom prohibiting the slave trade in the British Empire. Although it did not abolish the practice of slavery, it did encourage British action to press other nation states to abolish their own slave trades.

Many of the supporters thought the Act would lead to the end of slavery. Slavery on English soil was unsupported in English law and that position was confirmed in Somersett's Case in 1772, but it remained legal in most of the British Empire until the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

Slave Trade Act 1824

The Slave Trade Act 1824 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to "amend and consolidate the Laws relating to the Abolition of the Slave Trade."

Section 9 of this Act created a death penalty. It was reduced to transportation for life by section 1 of the Punishment of Offences Act 1837.

Slave Trade Act 1843

The Slave Trade Act 1843 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom "for the more effectual Suppression of the Slave Trade."

Slave Trade Act 1873

The Slave Trade Act 1873 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom "for consolidating with Amendments the Acts for carrying into effect Treaties for the more effectual Suppression of the Slave Trade, and for other purposes connected with the Slave Trade."

Slave Trade Felony Act 1811

The Slave Trade Felony Act 1811 (51 Geo. III, c. 23) was a piece of British legislation that made engagement in the slave trade a felony. The earlier Slave Trade Act 1807 merely imposed fines that were insufficient to deter entrepreneurs from engaging in such a profitable business. The contexts in which it could be applied and how these sat within international criminal law gave rise to controversy. Henry Brougham was the principal proponent of the act.The first case brought under the act was that of Samuel Samo, who was tried by Chief Justice Robert Thorpe at the Vice-Admiralty Court in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The case was heard from 8 April to 11 April 1812.

Slavery in the British Virgin Islands

In common with most Caribbean countries, slavery in the British Virgin Islands forms a major part of the history of the Territory. One commentator has gone so far as to say: "One of the most important aspects of the History of the British Virgin Islands is slavery."In 1563, before there had been any European settlement in the British Virgin Islands, Sir John Hawkins visited the islands with a cargo of slaves bound for Hispaniola.

In 1665 the Dutch settlers on Tortola were attacked by a British privateer, John Wentworth, who is recorded as capturing 67 slaves which were removed to Bermuda. This is the first record of slaves actually being kept on Tortola.

The first Dutch settlers also built slave pens at Port Purcell and on Scrub Island. In 1690 the Brandenburgers built slave pens on Peter Island, however, they later abandoned them in favour of an agreement with the Danes to set up a trading outpost on St. Thomas. The Brandenburgers and Dutch were both expelled by the British (although the remains of the pens can still be seen in Great Harbour, Peter Island and on Scrub Island).

Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade

The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade (or The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade) was a British abolitionist group, formed on 22 May 1787, by twelve men who gathered together at a printing shop in London. The Society worked to educate the public about the abuses of the slave trade; it achieved abolition of the international slave trade in 1807, enforced by the Royal Navy. The United States also prohibited the African slave trade that year, to take effect in 1808.

It later was superseded by development of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, which worked to abolish the institution of slavery throughout the British colonies. Abolition was passed by parliament in 1833 (except in India, where it was part of the indigenous culture); with emancipation completed by 1838. The ASS continued to work for abolition of slavery in the United States and other nations.

Sons of Africa

Sons of Africa was a late 18th-century British group that campaigned to end slavery. Its members were educated Africans in London, freed slaves who included Ottobah Cugoano, Olaudah Equiano and other leading members of London's black community. It was closely connected to the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, a non-denominational group founded in 1787, whose members included Thomas Clarkson.

West Calder Slave Trade Petition

The West Calder Slave Trade Petition was a 1792 petition, against the slave-trade, created in West Calder, West Lothian, Scotland.

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