Open Letter To The Press
March 21 2007
With the ‘Amazing Grace’ movie now on general release, there seems to be even more confusion regarding the abolition of slavery. The public seems to have swallowed the myth that William Wilberforce was an anti-slavery pioneer who ended slavery almost single-handedly.
Wilberforce was not an anti-slavery pioneer. For example, despite his efforts in Parliament, which held to the Abolition Of The Slave Trade Act in 1807, in the same year, he published a pamphlet in which he said "it would be wrong to emancipate (the slaves). To grant freedom to them immediately would be to insure not only their masters' ruin, but their own.” Wilberforce is also reported to have voted to send British troops to Haiti to quell Toussaint L’Ouverture’s revolt to free enslaved Africans, and in 1824 he opposed the likes of Elizaeth Heyrick, who argued for the immediate abolition of slavery.
Although he was later persuaded to join the campaign for the immediate abolition of slavery, Wilberforce retired from Parliament in 1825 and did not play a pivotal role in the passing of the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833 – the led to the eventual emancipation of the African slaves.
A large section of the public wrongly believe Britain is commemorating 200 years since slavery was abolished. Sadly, one of the terrible consequences of not abolishing the slave trade and slavery at the same time is the number of Africans who were thrown into the Atlantic Sea between 1807 when the British slave trade was outlawed, and 1833, when slavery was actually abolished. The reason is that after with the passing of the Slave Trade Act, British captains risked a fine of £100 for every slave found onboard. So when they saw the approaching British navy and realised their ships would be searched, captains often ordered the Africans to be thrown overboard to avoid the fines. This situation would have been avoided if slavery and the slave trade had been abolished at the same time.
Whilst the number of slaves brought to the New World may have decreased after 1807, as slavery itself was not abolished, children born to enslaved Africans increased the slave population.
It is a travesty that the Africans from Nana of the Maroons to Ottobah Cuguano and Olaudah Equiano in Britain, Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti, and Sam Sharp in Jamaica, to name a few, and the Quakers, and the likes of Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson are largely overlooked whilst one is promoted in films and the press as almost single-handedly bringing an end to slavery.