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, England. 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 British Navy, and abolition of slavery in the colonies (except India, where it was part of the indigenous culture) in 1833, with full emancipation completed by 1838.
The first anti-slavery statement by Dutch and German Quakers met at Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1688. English Quakers began to express their official disapproval of the slave trade in 1727 and promote reforms. From the 1750s, a number of Quakers in Britain's American colonies also began to oppose slavery, calling on English Quakers to take action. They encouraged their fellow citizens, including Quaker slave owners, to improve conditions for slaves, educate their slaves in Christianity, reading and writing, and gradually emancipate them.
An informal group of six Quakers pioneered the British abolitionist movement in 1783 when the London Society of Friends' yearly meeting presented its petition against the slave trade to parliament, signed by over 300 Quakers. They subsequently decided to form a small, committed, non-denominational group so as to gain greater Anglican and Parliamentary support.
The new, non-denominational committee formed in 1787 had nine Quaker members and three Anglicans. As Quakers were considered non-conformists and were debarred from standing for Parliament), having Anglican members strengthened the committee's likelihood of influencing Parliament.
Nine of the twelve founding members of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade were Quakers: John Barton (1755–1789); William Dillwyn (1743-1824); George Harrison (1747-1827); Samuel Hoare Jr (1751-1825); Joseph Hooper (1732-1789); John Lloyd; Joseph Woods Sr (1738-1812); James Phillips (1745-1799); and Richard Phillips. Five of the Quakers had been amongst the informal group of six Quakers who had pioneered the movement in 1783, when the first petition against the slave trade was presented to parliament.
Three Anglicans were founding members: Thomas Clarkson, campaigner and author of an influential essay against the slave trade; Granville Sharp who, as a lawyer, had long been involved in the support and prosecution of cases on behalf of enslaved Africans; and Philip Sansom.
Women had increasingly played a larger role in the anti-slavery movement but were not eligible to be represented in Parliament and often, in the manner of the times, had to form their own separate societies. Many women were horrified that, under slavery, women and children were taken away from their families. In 1824, Elizabeth Heyrick published a pamphlet titled Immediate not Gradual Abolition. In this Heyrick urged the immediate emancipation of the slaves. The Anti-Slavery Society had been founded to promote gradual abolition and though dominated by members with this view, who sought to downplay the challenge, a ginger group of members formed to campaign for immediate progress. The Female Society for Birmingham had a network of women's anti-slavery groups and Heyrick's pamphlet was publicized here.
Mission and support
The mission of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was to inform the public of the inhuman and immoral treatment of enslaved Africans committed in the name of slavery, to campaign in favour of a new law to abolish the slave trade and enforce this on the high seas, and to establish areas in West Africa where Africans could live free of the risk of capture and sale into slavery. It pursued these proposals vigorously by writing and publishing anti-slavery books, abolitionist prints, posters and pamphlets, and organizing lecture tours in the towns and cities of England.
Petitions were presented to the House of Commons, anti-slavery rallies held, and a range of anti-slavery medallions, crockery and bronze figurines were made, notably with the support of the Unitarian Josiah Wedgwood whose production of pottery medallions featuring a slave in chains with the simple but effective question: Am I not a man and a brother? was very effective in bringing public attention to abolition. The Wedgwood medallion was the most famous image of a black person in all of 18th-century art. Thomas Clarkson wrote; "ladies wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom".
By educating the public, the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade gained many members. In 1787, Thomas Clarkson's speaking tour of the great ports and cities of England raised public interest. Publication of the African Olaudah Equiano's autobiography heightened public awareness, as the former slave expressed an unanswerable case against slavery in a work of literary merit. In 1789 Clarkson's promoted the Committee's cause by encouraging the sale of Equiano's memoir and inviting the former slave to lecture in British ports linked to the slave trade.
William Wilberforce introduced the first Bill to abolish the slave trade in 1791, which was defeated by 163 votes to 88. As Wilberforce continued to bring the issue of the slave trade before Parliament, Clarkson and others on the Committee traveled, raised funds, lobbied, and wrote anti-slavery works. They conducted a protracted parliamentary campaign, during which Wilberforce introduced a motion in favour of abolition almost every year.
Even with all of this support, it took twenty years of work by the Society, and others - including captive and freed Africans, missionaries and evangelical movements in the colonies - to achieve the first stage of legal emancipation in the colonies. Over the course of this period, the Committee was joined by the Quaker philanthropist William Allen, who worked closely with Wilberforce and with his fellow Quaker Committee members.
In 1807 the British Parliament voted to abolish the international slave trade and enforce this through its maritime power. The following year a separate Act was passed to give greater British protection to Freetown in West Africa (now capital of Sierra Leone), a colony established in 1788 for the resettlement of former slaves and Poor Blacks from London, as well as Black Loyalists who had initially been relocated to Nova Scotia following the American Revolutionary War. The Timni chief Nembana sold a strip of land to British official to establish this colony for freed slaves. When the British Navy later intercepted illegal slave trading ships, its crews frequently resettled the liberated Africans at Freetown.
Abolition was not achieved for many years, following agreements between the Colonial Office and the various semi-autonomous colonial governments. After additional British parliamentary legislation, slaves in all of Britain's colonies were emancipated in 1838. Colonies often established 'replacement' indentured labor schemes that were closely related to the forced labour of slavery. The Society challenged laws related to these with renewed anti-slavery campaigning, since such colonial schemes could be used to thwart emancipation in all but name.
Slavery continued on a large scale in the United States of America, which had become independent of Britain in 1783. After independence, most northern states abolished slavery (some gradually), as they were not as dependent on it in their economies. Slavery flourished in the South and was extended west of the Mississippi River, not being abolished until after the South was defeated in 1865 as a result of the American Civil War.
In 1827 the Sheffield Female Society was the first to call for immediate emancipation. In 1830 the Female society for Birmingham urged the Anti-Slavery Society to support immediate abolition instead of gradual abolition. In 1830 the Anti-Slavery Society finally agreed to support immediate abolition. In Britain the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833.
- Leo D'Anjou (1996). Social Movements and Cultural Change: The First Abolition Campaign. Aldine de Gruyter. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-202-30522-6.
- Did you know? - Josiah WEDGWOOD was a keen advocate of the slavery abolition movement
- "British History - Abolition of the Slave Trade 1807". BBC. Retrieved 2009-04-11. "The Wedgwood medallion was the most famous image of a black person in all of 18th-century art."
- "Wedgwood". Retrieved 2009-07-13. "Thomas Clarkson wrote; ladies wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom."