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William Wilberforce was born on this date in 1759. He was a white-British abolitionist.
He was born in Hull, England, the son of a wealthy merchant. His father died when he was young and an uncle and aunt raised him. At 17, Wilberforce was sent to St. John's College, Cambridge. Wilberforce was shocked by the behavior of his fellow students and later wrote: "I was introduced on the very first night of my arrival to as shameless a set of men as can well be conceived. They drank hard, and their conversation was even worse than their lives." One of his friends at university was William Pitt, who was later to become Britain's youngest-ever prime minister and served in Parliament from 1780 to 1825.
A turning point in his religious life was a tour of Europe. He read a copy of William Law's book, “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.” He then embarked on a lifelong program of setting aside Sundays and an interval each morning on arising for prayer and religious reading. He considered his career choices, including the clergy, and was persuaded by Christian friends that his calling was to serve God through politics.
Wilberforce is best known, however, for his commitment to the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. He introduced his first anti-slavery motion in the House of Commons in 1788, in a three-and-a-half-hour oration. The motion was defeated.
Wilberforce brought it up again every year for 18 years until the slave trade was finally abolished on March 25, 1806. He continued the campaign against slavery itself, and the bill for the abolition of all slavery in British territories passed its crucial vote just four days before his death on July 29, 1833. A year later, on August 1, 1834, 800,000 slaves, chiefly in the British West Indies, were set free.
Wilberforce University in Ohio is named to honor this British Abolitionist.
Kingston University, London
Penrhyn Road Centre (map)
Kingston upon Thames
Surrey, KT1 2EE