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Mon, 06.18.1804

George Thompson born

George Thompson

*George Thompson was born on this date in 1804.  He was a white-British anti-slavery orator and abolitionist.

George Donisthorpe Thompson was from Liverpool, England and had little formal education, he was largely self-taught. In early adulthood, he began a life of professional activism, starting with his role in founding a mutual improvement society at the age of eighteen, as well as his membership in debate societies. This suggests an early interest in self-betterment and the issues of the day. His father worked aboard a slave trading vessel, and his stories of the horrors of the slave trade planted the issue in the younger Thompson's mind from an early age. He recalled the stories that his father told in some of his later writings, recounting his father's observations of the inhumane treatment of Africans slaves.

Initially Thompson had little knowledge of slavery, though he had gained a reputation as an able orator. He was hired by the society to try to get slavery immediately abolished on moral and religious grounds, a concept called "immediatism." He quickly took up the dissemination of the Society's creed: "To uphold slavery is a crime before God, and the condition must, therefore, be immediately abolished." On January 29, 1831 in Islington, Thompson married Anne Erskine Lorraine Spry. Thompson had several children who survived to adulthood: Louisa Eliza Spry, Amelia Ann Everard, George Herbert and Edith. Another son, named after William, died aged 15. A daughter, Elizabeth Pease, died aged 6.  

In 1832 he traveled to Scotland, where he met William Lloyd Garrison, who would remain a lifelong friend and colleague, as well as Nathaniel Paul, a Black abolitionist. In Glasgow in 1833 he debated with Peter Borthwick, who had been appointed by the West India Association to defend slavery.  Thompson was invited by Garrison to visit New England, and this proposal was not only accepted by his supporters in Glasgow, but the Edinburgh Emancipation Society was formed so that it too could back Thompson's journey.  From 1836 to 1847 he was active in every major anti-slavery debate in Britain, including the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.  In 1847 he was elected to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Tower Hamlets.  

Thompson was also an advocate of East Indian reform, free trade, Chartism, nonresistance, and the peace movement. However, he was most prominent in his work to eliminate slavery at home and abroad, often protesting legislation that offered limited or gradual restriction on slavery. Favoring a quick and decisive emancipation of all slaves, he was ultimately unsatisfied with the British Emancipation Act, because it forced slaves to work as apprentices for six years after their "liberation." He therefore used his position in Parliament to push for additional legislation.Thompson was an active lecturer, and he willingly pointed out the role that America played in the perpetuation of slavery. He first traveled to the United States in 1834, where he attracted the attention of pro-slavery men, and barely escaped being captured by them after one of his lecturing sessions.  The resistance to his platform did not abate, and he was forced to return to Britain, via Tasmania (Australia).  

When the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, Thompson returned to the United States, and he was this time quite popular among proponents of abolitionism, now that the movement had increased in size and influence.  In 1859, with his son-in-law Frederick William Chesson, he founded the London Emancipation Society, which strongly supported the Union side in the American Civil War. During a final visit in 1864, he allied with William Wells Brown in advocating the destruction of slavery. He also met Abraham Lincoln, and both supported and witnessed the final defeat of the Confederacy.  Thompson became ill and traveled back to his home country, where he died on October 7, 1878.  

While his advocacy of abolitionism went relatively unnoticed after his death, his efforts to affect a worldwide abolitionist movement allowed him to make a living by supporting the cause that he cared about, as well as enabling him to make unprecedented steps in freeing enslaved peoples around the world.  


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