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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.

From Wisbech, England, Clarkson was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and ordained as a deacon. In 1785, 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 of the committee were Quakers. Influential figures such as John Wesley and Josiah Wedgwood supported the campaign.  Later they persuaded William Wilberforce, the MP for Hull, to be their spokesman in the House of Commons.

Thomas Clarkson was responsible for 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 slaves’ jaws and branding irons.

Later that year, he published his pamphlet, A Summary View of the Slave Trade and 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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