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The British West Indies were islands that were colonized by Great Britain, stretching across the

Caribbean from Jamaica through the Lesser Antilles to British Guiana. The colonies became
important to Britain as sugar became king and in order for sugar production to be successful
slaves were essential. The abolition of slavery in the British West Indies in the 19 century came
about largely through the influence and work of individuals and groups who held strong religious
One of the first groups to engage in anti-slavery activities was the Quakers .Founded in 1652 by
George Fox, under the official name Religious Society of Friends, but nicknamed the Quakers by
their detractors, they were against the ill-treatment of slaves. In 1671 Fox encouraged his
followers in Barbados to treat their slaves well and free them after years of servitude. Seventeen
years later, the Quakers decided it was equally wrong owning and trading slaves and as a result
encouraged members to stop owning slaves.
The Quakers were apart of the committee for the abolition of the slave trade which also included
Baptists, Methodists Moravian, and other evangelical Christians. One of the most dynamic
leaders in the early stage of the campaign was Granville Sharp. He was an early activist for the
abolition of slavery; he aided Jonathon strong and James Somerset, both slaves who had been illtreated by their respective masters, to obtain their freedom in England. He was an abolitionist
who was instrumental in getting the Mansfield Judgment of 1772, which settled the question of
slavery in England and therefore abolitionist could focus their attention on the abolition of
slavery in the British colonies.
The Clapham Sect was a group of Christian abolitionists who met at the church of the Rev. John
Venn at Clapham in South England and their opponents disrespectfully referred to them as
Saints. The Clapham Sect represented men and women who came from different social,
economic and political backgrounds but who were united by their religious convictions.
Their major contribution was to advance the arguments that all men are created equal in the sight

of God. This inspired one of the mottos of the anti-slavery campaign: AM I NOT A MAN AND A
Persons such as John Newton who had been a slave captain until he had been converted to
Christianity and became a clergyman. Newton also provided evidence against slavery, this was
when he joined Wilberforce in the campaign for abolition .In 1871 he wrote a tract supporting the
campaign, thoughts upon the African Slave Trade. Among his greatest contribution to history
was encouraging Wilberforce to stay in parliament and serve God where he was rather than enter
the ministry. He wrote the hymns Amazing Grace among others. James Ramsey , a medical
doctor served on a warship bound for St .Kitts, on one voyage he was called to an epidemic on
the slave ship and never forgot the horrors he saw in the middle decks .He became an Anglican
priest and served in St Kitts for fourteen years, making outspoken attacks on slavery. In 1781 he
returned to England and joined the abolitionist movement. He provided information about the
mortality occasioned by the slave trade among the sailors and also the mortality occasioned
among the slaves being overworked on the plantations. In addition to providing information for
the abolitionist he also provided evidence to the British government relating to the treatment of
the slaves on the middle passage and on the plantation and the mortality of white sailors .William
Wilberforce, also a convert of the religious revival, a wealthy politician and vocal abolitionist ,
used his position as a member of the British Parliament to get support for the campaign against
slavery. Because of his conversion to Christianity this helped him to see how immoral slavery
really was. Through the work of Granville Sharp the abolitionists achieved a major victory in
1772 when the Chief Justice of England, Lord Mansfield gave a ruling in the Somerset Case
which stated that their was no law supporting slavery in England . This in effect meant the end of
slavery in England. Encouraged by this ruling, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave
Trade turned its attention to the fight against the Atlantic slave trade. Using the evidence collected
by Thomas Clarkson from slave ships and crew members.

The anti-slavery group used many methods to win the support of the British population. These
included official protests in the House of Commons, public meetings, poetry and illustrations,
Anti-slavery leaflets in which it spread information about the slavers and the trade. Gradually the
movement gained support within British society, including the sympathy of Prime Minister,
William Pitt who was also a good friend of William Wilberforce and who had encouraged
Wilberforce to become involved in the abolition movement.
A great deal of the fight against slavery had a lot to do with religion; at the root of it, people
against slavery thought that the practice of slavery was contrary to the will of God that
suppression and enslavement of one race by another violated the principle of the equality of man.
Another reason for the fight against slavery was that when the missionaries tried to expose the
slaves to Christianity, they were discouraged and also endured being harassed for what they were
doing by the slave owners.

The anti-slavery movement also had allies in the form of non-conformist missionaries. They
represented Christian denominations which emerged from the religious revival which swept
Britain in late 18century. They broke away from the Anglican Churchs modes and methods of
worship in the late 18th century and included the Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists
(Wesleyans). They came to the West Indies as missionaries to teach the gospel to the slave
population. These missionaries were victimized by the planters who recognized that their
message of equality and brotherly love was essentially discouraging the slave society and the
basis of slavery. Most missionaries discouraged their congregation from rebelling against slavery
by violent means; they instead encouraged patient endurance while they waited for Gods
deliverance, mainly through the work of abolitionists in Britain.

The work of the missionaries was hostilely disregarded by the planters. The missionaries were
seen as outsiders because they did not have the same status as the planter even though they were
of the same race still the planters gave them a hard time because the planters thought the
missionaries were undermining authority. Access was a problem for missionaries not just getting
to the slave s but the missionaries also had to get licenses which were sometimes practically
useless because of the stringent conditions attached in order to set up on the planters private
property or use estate building. Also they would have to get planters permission for slaves to
congregate as this was against the law in British colonies. One of the main reasons missionaries
were persecuted and blamed by the planters was because they thought the missionaries were aids
in the revolts against the planters. The actions planters took against the missionaries were by:
A. not permitting any communication between the slaves and missionaries
B. wrongfully accusing and incarcerating them
C. burning down their churches / chapels
Two Examples of missionaries who were victims of planter injustice were:
John Smith the Congregationalist missionary in Demerara was implicated in a case of slave
protest and imprisoned on a charge of inciting slaves to rebel. Even though he was found not
guilty he was kept in prison. While in prison, he died. The Society for Effecting the Abolition of
The Slave Trade and the missionaries were outraged at what happened and used this incident to
prove that slavery could not be reformed but had to be abolished.
William Shrewsbury was a missionary in Barbados who was accused of being an accessory to
the revolt and was punished by burning down his church and running him out of the country.
Their message of salvation was accepted by many slaves who converted to Christianity. One
example of such slave was Samuel Sharpe who was a Baptist deacon and who was motivated by
his religious convictions that slavery was a sin against God. One eyewitness at his trial after the
Christmas Revolt of 1831 describes Sharpes performance: He referred to the manifold evils
and injustice of slavery; asserted the natural equality of man with regard to freedom; and referring

to the Holy scriptures as his authority, denied that the white man had any more right to hold the
blacks in bondage than the blacks had to enslave the whites 1. Hart, R. (1985) , p.253.
Although the missionaries tried to dissuade slaves from resorting to violence they became victims
of violence and resentment on the part of the planter .the slave- owners considered them as
enemies of the existing social order and a threat to the economic stability of the colonies. After
the Sam Sharpe rebellion in 1831 planters in Jamaica formed the colonial church union, this was
formed to defend the Anglican Church and the institute of slavery. When reports reached England
about the abuse of the missionaries, the parent missionaries spoke out.
This helped in strengthening the movement. It was in fact the persecution of the missionaries
which made the abolitionists turn their efforts towards the abolition of slavery in 1823.
The early abolitionists were largely inspired by their religious convictions, but as the fight against
slavery progressed, they were joined by humanitarians who had different views but were fighting
for the same cause. The slaves themselves by their refusal to accept slavery played a major part in
their own emancipation. The changing economic situation in which slave labour was no longer
seen as a profitable way of producing sugar helped to convince industrialists and other business
men to join the fight against slavery. All these factors combined to end slavery in 1834.