Supporters of Abolitionism, the movement to end slavery, are known as abolitionists of slavery and their services rendered to achieve the objective, are unforgettable. The Abolitionists belonged to different spheres of life, but they were mainly people of law, religion and the Africans with slave ancestors. Historically The Spanish government was the first to pass the law in 1542 to abolish slavery. This law was however not implemented in its true spirit, and it was not before the beginning of the 17th century, that it was enforced properly. In 1772, a slave was freed by the British judiciary in the Somerset case and this served as nucleus for the consequent anti-slavery sentiment, which spread like fire in the colonies.
1. William Murray
William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, was born to the 5th Viscount of Stormont and his wife on March 2, 1705 in Scone Palace, Perth, Scotland and died on March 20, 1793 at the age of 88 years. He received his early education at Perth, Scotland and later on graduated from Oxford. He was a famous barrister, known for his reforming of the English Law. He was noted for his great ‘power of eloquence’ and is remembered for being ‘beyond comparison the best speaker’. The English law was not very clear about slavery until the judgment in the Somerset Case. Somerset was a slave who had escaped and his master Charles Stuart imprisoned him on board a ship after recapturing him and intended to sell him. Lord Chief Justice, Mansfield, held that slavery was unlawful in England.
2. John Holt
Sir John Holt was born to Sir Thomas Holt and Susan on December 23, 1642 in Abingdon, Berkshire and died on March 5, 1710, in London. He attended Abingdon School, Gary’s Inn and Oriental College, Oxford. After the Accession of William III to the throne, he was appointed Lord Chief to the King’s Bench. In the case of Smith V.Gould, in 1701, John Holt held that ‘… By the common law no man can have a property in another…there is no such thing as a slave by the law of England’. In 1705, in the case of Smith V.Brown and Cooper, Chief Justice John Holt remarked ‘as soon as a Negro comes into England, he becomes free; one may be a villain in England, but not a slave’. Actions speak louder than words and by his actions; John Holt was one of the most famous Abolitionists of Slavery.
3. Ignatius Sancho
Ignatius Sancho was born in 1729 in a slave ship and died on December 14, 1780. After the death of his mother, his father committed suicide in preference to living as a slave. In his time, he was known as an extraordinary Negro and was iconic to the antislavery, near the famous abolitionists of his time. He was the first black Briton who had ever voted in the British election. The second Duke of Montagu was impressed by his intellect and very likeable personality, therefore allowed him access to his library, which helped him refine his literary personality. The letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, is an account of the African slaves of the Spanish and English families. It occupies an important place in the abolitionist literature.
4. William Cowper
William Cowper son of John Cowper was born on November 26, 1731 at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England and died on April 25, 1800 at the age of 68. He was one of the most popular poets, admired by the greatest English poets. William Wordsworth admired his poem Yardley-Oak, while Samuel Taylor Coleridge appreciated him as ‘the best modern poet’. He was a noted abolitionist and wrote about slavery ‘We have no slaves at home ‘ Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free, they touch our country, and their shackles fall. That’s noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, and let it circulate through every vein’.
5. The Quakers
The Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, arose from the central doctrine of priesthood of all believers. The movement began in mid-17th century England when the first Quakers, known as the Valliant Sixty broke away from the Church of England. Their distinguishing features included; refusal to participate in war, refusal to swear oaths, use of the pronoun thou, use of plain dress, teetotalism or totally refraining from use of alcoholic drinks and opposing slavery. They had founded many banks, industrial units and social welfare organizations including; Lloyds, Barclays, Cadbury and Rowntree. They made valuable efforts relating to abolitionism to slavery, prison reforms and social reforms.
6. William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce was born to Robert Wilberforce and Elizabeth Bird, in Yorkshire on August 24, 1759 and died in London on July 29, 1833, at the age of 73 years. He was famous abolitionist to slavery and led the movement against slave trade. He was influenced by Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton who played an important role in his becoming a leading English abolitionist. His ceaseless effort against slavery, expanded over a period of 26 years, ultimately resulted in the passage of the 1807 Slave Trade Act. He established Society for the Suppression of Vice, Church Mission Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty on Animals.
7. James Ramsay
James Ramsay was born to William Ramsay and Margaret Ogilvy, on July 25, 1733 at Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and died in July 1789. He was one of the leading abolitionists to slavery in his time. He was educated at King’s College, Aberdeen. In 1757, he joined Navy and served as a surgeon aboard Arundel, under the command of Sir Charles Middleton. In November 1759 Arundel captured a British slave ship and he found more than 100 slaves living in extremely miserable conditions. This event served as an impetus for his antislavery thoughts. He remained committed to end slavery throughout his life. His notable works include; An Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies and An Inquiry into the Effects of Putting a Stop to the African Slave Trade.
8. William Roscoe
William Roscoe was born on March 8, 1753 and died on June 30, 1831. He was one of the most famous abolitionists, and was also known for his poetry for children. He was son of a gardener and in his early childhood enjoyed helping him in gardening. He said, ‘If I were now asked whom I consider to be the happiest of the human race, I should answer, those who cultivate the earth by their own hands’. Knowing that most the wealth in his native town came from slavery, he was courageous enough to oppose it. In 1806, he was elected the member of the parliament for Liverpool and voted in favor of abolitionism to slavery.
9. Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa was born in 1745 and died on March 31, 1797 at the age of 51 years. When eleven years old, he was kidnapped along with his sister and was sold to slave holders. He was transported to the British colony of Virginia and was bought by a Royal Navy Lieutenant, Michael Pascal, who renamed him as Gustavus Vassa. In his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, he revealed the horrible lives of the slaves, telling that house salves were punished by wearing iron devices to prevent them from eating and speaking.
10. Samuel Sharpe
Samuel Sharpe was born in 1801 in Jamaica and died there on May23, 1832. As a slave, he led the Jamaican Baptist War slave rebellion. He is regarded as the National hero of Jamaica. He organized strikes in many Jamaican sugarcane plantations at a critical juncture of history. The Baptist war, also known as the Christmas rebellion started on December 25, 1831 at the Kensington state following the retaliatory actions of the plantation owners. It caused the deaths of hundreds of people including fourteen whites. Samuel Sharpe was hanged for this rebellion and his last words were ‘I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery’.
The first President of the United States, George Washington inherited ten slaves at the age of eleven years and by the time of his death, he owned 123 slaves. He, on one hand signed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1793, which provided the recapture of slaves even in the states that had abolished slavery, and on the other hand, his will provided liberation of his slaves after the death of his widow Martha Washington. He said ‘I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery.’