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24 September 2014

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Bicentenary of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act

Hannah More (Noel Collection)
Hannah More

Hannah More

By contributor Tom Mayberry
The County Museum's Tom Mayberry talks about the Somerset writer and social reformer's role in the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

Tom spoke to BBC Somerset Sound's Jo Phillips on Thursday, 22 March, 2007 about Hannah More. Click on the audio link below to listen to the interview:

audio Interview: Tom Mayberry >
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Among those who supported the movement for the abolition of the British transatlantic slave trade, Hannah More (1745-1833) has an honoured place.

She was born at Fishponds, near Bristol, and gained early fame in London as a dramatist. 

She became the friend of David Garrick, Joshua Reynolds and Samuel Johnson, and was a key member of the group of women intellectuals called the Bluestockings. 

It was in 1787 that Hannah More first met William Wilberforce, the 28-year-old MP for Hull.

They soon established a firm friendship, based not least on their shared commitment to evangelical Christianity and a belief that the slave trade was a corruption at the heart of the nation's life. 

Together with other key abolitionists, including Thomas Clarkson, James Ramsay and Sir Charles Middleton, they would gather at Middleton's estate in Teston, Kent and had a crucial role in giving the cause of abolition an urgent and public voice.

A will to succeed

In January 1788, Hannah More wrote her poem Slavery as part of Wilberforce's parliamentary campaign to achieve abolition. 

Tom Mayberry
Tom Mayberry

In the event, Wilberforce waited a further 19 years before he saw the bill to end the slave trade finally passed into law.

But throughout those long years, his friendship with Hannah More remained strong, and her support for the cause of abolition never wavered.

It was in 1789, during a visit that Wilberforce made to Hannah More at her home near Wrington, that they visited the village of Cheddar and were deeply shocked by the terrible poverty they found.

Wilberforce encouraged More to set up a school in Cheddar where poor children could be taught to read, and soon she and her sisters had established similar schools throughout the Mendip villages.

Her efforts met fierce opposition, but her will to succeed was stronger.

Remembrance and gratitude

Both Hannah More and William Wilberforce died in 1833, surviving just long enough to know that the act finally abolishing slavery in the British empire had been passed.

She was buried next to her four sisters in the churchyard at Wrington, not far from their old home at Barley Wood, and a great procession of Mendip children followed her to her grave.

Hannah More was a women of her time whose social conservatism has often made her seem an unattractive figure to later generations.

But her practical achievements as a social reformer, and the moral influence she exerted through her writings, were extraordinary.

Two hundred years after the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act she deserves our remembrance and our gratitude.

last updated: 23/03/07
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Abolition - 1807

Abolition - 1807

History: Abolition 1807 »

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