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CHURCH NOTES: The long journey to the abolition of the slave trade

church notes slave trade
William Wilberforce Picture: Wikipedia

A slave: “a person legally owned by another for whom he/ she has to work without freedom, pay or rights.”

In 1102, Bishop Anselm obtained a resolution against the buying and selling of slaves. Sadly, this had little lasting effect.

While trading was not allowed in Britain, trading abroad in the colonies was still legal.

John Woolman, born in 1720, was a Quaker living in New Jersey. One day he was asked by his employer to draw up a bill for the sale of a black slave woman who” belonged” to the family.

He was taken by surprise and reluctantly completed the document, meanwhile explaining that he believed slave-keeping to be inconsistent with Christianity. This incident proved to be a turning point in his life.

He began travelling, making notes on slave ownership. He wrote an essay,Some Considerations on Slave Keeping. It was written as a sincere and courageous thinker rather than an agitator, and as a result, the large Quaker Meeting in Philadelphia published their own pamphlet and, by 1758, there was a ban on the buying and selling of slaves.

In retrospect, it is astonishing that friends living in Pennsylvania – named after Quaker William Penn – could, in all conscience, think that keeping slaves in any way acceptable.

In 1783, Quakers petitioned Parliament, and became Britain’s first anti-slavery organisation. Quakers were not allowed tertiary education, they were certainly not allowed to sit in Parliament. Thus their case was somewhat weakened.

Josiah Wedgwood designed a striking medallion for the organisation. It depicted a black slave, pleading, in chains, on one knee. The banner beneath read “Am I not a Man and a Brother?”

William Wilberforce gave his amazing three-hour speech to Parliament in 1789, and finally, in 1791, he presented a Bill to the House of Commons to abolish the slave trade.

It is sad that there are still human beings that believe they have the right to “own” others.

We read and hear continuously, through various media, of human trafficking: forced labour, children made to fight and kill (one-in-four slaves are children); three quarters are women and girls.

Next week: Benjamin Lay, the very first Quaker anti-slavery revolutionist.

Paula Seddon from Wokingham Quakers, writing on behalf of Churches Together in Wokingham

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