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.[1] 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It later was superseded by development of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, which worked to abolish the institution of slavery throughout the British colonies.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.


The first anti-slavery statement was written by Dutch and German Quakers, who 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, and called on English Quakers to take action with parliament. 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 (free) 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 were also influenced by publicity that year about the Zong massacre, as the ship owners were litigating a claim for insurance against losses due to more than 132 slaves having been killed on their ship.

The Quakers decided to form a small, committed, non-denominational group so as to gain greater Church of England and Parliamentary support. The new, non-denominational committee formed in 1787 had nine Quaker members and three Anglicans. As Quakers were not prepared to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England, they were not permitted to serve as Members of 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.[2] 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.[2]

Mission and supportEdit

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.

"Am I Not A Man And A Brother?" medallion created as part of anti-slavery campaign by Josiah Wedgwood, 1787

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.[3] The Wedgwood medallion was the most famous image of a black person in all of 18th-century art.[4] 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".[5]

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.

Related societiesEdit

The Sons of Africa abolitionist society had a membership of educated Londoners, mostly African former slaves. It was closely connected to the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Women had increasingly played a larger role in the anti-slavery movement[6] but could not take a direct role in Parliament. They sometimes formed their own anti-slavery 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 which she urged the immediate emancipation of slaves in the British colonies.

Despite the little influence they carried, many female abolitionists made a big impact on the abolition of the slave trade. An important campaigner was Anne Knight. She was born into a Quaker family in Essex and took active roles in the anti-slavery campaigns. Knight formed the Chelmsford Female Anti-Slavery Society. She also toured France, giving lectures on the immorality of slavery.[citation needed]

Expansion of abolition movementEdit

The Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1823 to promote gradual abolition. A ginger group of members formed to campaign for immediate abolition. The Female Society for Birmingham had a network of women's anti-slavery groups and Heyrick's pamphlet was publicized here.


Gradual abolitionEdit

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 Royal Navy later intercepted illegal slave trading ships, its crews frequently resettled the liberated Africans at Freetown.

From 1823, the Anti-Slavery Society became the primary organized group working for legislation to abolish slavery. The Society and supporters, including captive and freed Africans, missionaries and evangelical movements in the colonies, worked to achieve the first stage of legal emancipation in the colonies. It also supported abolitionists in the United States. Many British supported lecture tours by American abolitionists in Britain who were raising funds for efforts in the United States. Such supporters sometimes provided refuge to Americans who had escaped from slavery and helped raise money to buy their freedom, as for Frederick Douglass.

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 labour 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.

Slavery abolishedEdit

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.


The reverberations from what happened on this spot, on the late afternoon of May 22, 1787, eventually caught the attention of millions of people around the world, including the first and greatest student of what today we call civil society. The result of the series of events begun that afternoon in London, wrote Alexis de Tocqueville decades later, was "absolutely without precedent...If you pore over the histories of all peoples, I doubt that you will find anything more extraordinary." The building that once stood at 2 George Yard was a bookstore and printing shop. The proprietor was James Phillips, publisher and printer for Britain's small community of Quakers. On that May afternoon, after the pressmen and typesetters had gone home for the day, 12 men filed through his doors. They formed themselves into a committee with what seemed to their fellow Londoners a hopelessly idealistic and impractical aim: ending first the slave trade and then slavery itself in the most powerful empire on Earth." -- Los Angeles Times:The Idea That Brought Slavery to Its Knees[7]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit


  1. ^ Hochschild, Adam (2005). Bury the Chains. London: Pan Books.
  2. ^ a b Leo D'Anjou (1996). Social Movements and Cultural Change: The First Abolition Campaign. Aldine de Gruyter. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-202-30522-6.
  3. ^ Did you know? - Josiah WEDGWOOD was a keen advocate of the slavery abolition movement
  4. ^ "British History - Abolition of the Slave Trade 1807". BBC. Retrieved 11 April 2009. The Wedgwood medallion was the most famous image of a black person in all of 18th-century art.
  5. ^ "Wedgwood". Archived from the original on 8 July 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 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.
  6. ^ Sussman, Charlotte (2000). Consuming Anxieties. Consumer Protest, Gender, and British Slavery, 1713-1833. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  7. ^ The Idea That Brought Slavery to Its Knees In 1787, British abolitionists saw a link among all humankind, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2005.

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