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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Campaigners from history

Highlights from history: some of the people who shaped the movement

On a visit to the West Indies in the autumn of 2007, the Archbishop reflected and noted the ex-slaves whom we should commemorate. This follows:
Though gracious towards British Christians and appreciative of the good things of their Anglican inheritance, the real heroes of the anti-slavery movement for many West Indian Christians remain their own forebears. Names of Sam Sharpe, James Knight, Scott, Nichols, Roach, Roberts, Walcott, Seymour, Marson, Campbell, Bennett, Olauda Equiano all come to mind.

Together with these heroes, we are relieved, humbled and grateful, that the evil of legalised Transatlantic Slave Trade in Africans has been identified, exposed and ended – at least in Britain and its former colonies. We must remember that history does not flow in straight lines – it is curved with twists and turns, ironies and surprises. It records that the campaign to end the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Africans and slavery itself began among the very people who started the trade and had the most to lose from its abolition. It records as well that yesterday's criminals, slaves who were hanged for making the system not work, are today's heroes.

The Archbishop has commented that we do well to hear the voices of the children of the traders – Wedgwood, Wilberforce, Clarkson with the voices of the children of the traded – Equiano, Scott, Sharpe as well as the cries of nameless others on both sides of the Atlantic.

The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 was achieved by a mass movement that brought together many different sections of society, including enslaved Africans who resisted and rebelled against slavery, and African anti-slavery campaigners, as well as British abolitionists and ordinary members of the public. The fight for freedom campaign aims to revitalise the abolitionist spirit of 200 years ago. Anti-slavery campaigners from the movement against the slave trade, down through history to the present day, can inspire and inform our efforts. Over the course of the campaign we will be highlighting the contribution of a variety of campaigners from the anti-slavery movement. Some of these people who shaped the movement follow...

Olaudah EquianoOlaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano published his autobiography himself and used it as a campaigning tool. He spent some five years travelling the country promoting the book and his anti-slavery message. He was an astute campaigner who knew how to win support from both the general public and decision makers alike. A newspaper at the time reported that Equiano was "well known in England as the champion and advocate for procuring a suppression of the Slave Trade."

Granville Sharp

Granville Sharp was an early abolitionist and defender of slaves. He argued it was illegal to hold people as slaves in Britain, successfully freeing numerous slaves and protecting Africans in Britain from capture.

Toussaint L'Overture

Toussaint L'Overture was born into slavery in 1743 as François Dominique Toussaint Bréda in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), Toussaint eventually rose to become the leader of the Haitian revolution, the most influential slave rebellion in the world.

William Wilberforce MP

William Wilberforce MP became the parliamentary spokesperson for the movement for the abolition of the slave trade. He first tabled his Bill to abolish the slave trade in 1789. It was easily defeated but Wilberforce continued to push for Parliamentary abolition of the slave trade, leading the campaign in the House of Commons that ended in victory with the passage of the Act in 1807. 

The Archbishop of York unveiled a bronze figure statue of William Wilberforce at Pocklington school in September 2007.  William Wilberforce was a pupil at Pocklington School between 1771 and 1776 and the statue created by Sally Arnup depicts him aged 15. 


Samuel Sharpe

Samuel Sharpe, a respected Baptist deacon, triggered a rebellion of thousands of slaves in Jamaica in 1831 by reportedly telling them that they had been freed and that they should stop work and claim their freedom. Before his own execution Sharpe said "I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery".

Thomas Clarkson

Thomas Clarkson was a pivotal figure in the campaigns against the slave trade and then slavery. His research into the conditions and treatment African slaves were forced to endure, revealed the horror of the slave trade to the public. He was a pioneering campaigner, travelling thousands of miles around the country, to raise awareness and seek support for the abolitionist cause.

Elizabeth Heyrick

Elizabeth Heyrick was one of those more radical voices who did much to maintain and revitalize the anti-slavery movement through the 1820s. She sympathised with slave insurrections; campaigned for a sugar boycott which included the shops that sold slave produced goods and not just the products; and inspired the setting up of 70 women's anti-slavery societies.