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Fri, 03.28.1760

Thomas Clarkson, Abolitionist born

Thomas Clarkson

*The birth of Thomas Clarkson in 1760 is celebrated on this date. He was a white-European abolitionist.

Clarkson, from Wisbech, England, educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and ordained as a deacon. In 1785, while at Cambridge University, he entered an essay competition with a paper entitled: "Is it rights to make men slaves against their wills?" Clarkson won first prize and was asked to read his essay to the University Senate. On his way home to London he had a spiritual experience. He later described how he had "a direct revelation from God ordering me to devote my life to abolishing the trade." Clarkson found Granville Sharp, who had already started a campaign to end the slave trade.

In 1787 Clarkson and Sharp formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  Nine of the twelve members on the committee were Quakers. Influential figures such as John Wesley and Josiah Wedgwood gave their support to the campaign.  Later they persuaded William Wilberforce, the MP for Hull, to be their spokesman in the House of Commons. Thomas Clarkson was given the responsibility of collecting information to support the abolition of the slave trade. This included interviewing 20,000 sailors and obtaining equipment used on the slave-ships, such as iron handcuffs, leg-shackles, thumbscrews, and instruments for forcing open slave’s jaws and branding irons.

Later that year he published his pamphlet, A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of Its Abolition. Clarkson was a brilliant writer and, after the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, Clarkson published his book History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade.  He was unsatisfied with the measures passed by Parliament and joined with Thomas Fowell Buxton to form the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery.  However, Clarkson had to wait until 1833 before Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act that gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom. Thomas Clarkson retired to Ipswich, Suffolk where he died on September 26, 1846.


The World Book Encyclopedia. Copyright 1996, World Book, Inc.
ISBN 0-7166-0096-X

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