Passage of the Slave Trade Act

For roughly 200 years, from the middle of the 17th century to 1807, Britain was heavily involved in the trade of slaves from Africa to its colonies in the Caribbean and America. During this time, British slave traders transported approximately 3.1 million Africans to the Caribbean and Americas, 2.7 million of whom survived the gruesome middle passage. The 18th century abolition movement in Britain, a popular response to atrocities of the slave trade, was based on the same Enlightenment and Protestant principles that informed discussion of reform of the English poor laws.

The movement emerged in the 18th century with such early abolitionists as Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, and Josiah Wedgewood, and gained momentum towards the end of the century. Many of those who supported the movement at its height were white women, including Mary Birkett, Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as many working and middle-class women. Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who had bought his freedom, published an autobiography which described the horrors he had endured as a slave. This autobiography brought more attention to the abolitionist movement, as did the involvement and contributions of other Africans.

The Abolition of Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807 and officially banned involvement of any British ship in the trade of slaves. Scholars argue British Enlightenment thought and Protestant religious values, by inspiring widespread critiques of slavery, drove the abolitionist movement in Britain. Quakers, Evangelists, and Rational Dissenters are cited as the most vocal religious groups in the movement.

Page, Anthony. “Rational Dissent, Enlightenment, and Abolition of the British Slave Trade.” The Historical Journal 54, no. 3 (2011): 741-72.

“Abolition of Slavery.” The National Archives. (Accessed January 20th, 2018)

Ali, Linda, and Siblon, John. “Abolition of the Slave Trade.” Black Presence: Asian and Black History in Britian, 1500-1850. The National Archives. (Accessed January 20th, 2018)

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