First-hand accounts from slavers

Clergyman John Newton, a former slave ship captain, wrote the hymn 'Amazing Grace', first published in 1779.

In 1780 he was appointed Rector of the Lord Mayor’s Church in London and many came to listen to his famous sermons against slavery.

In 1788, 34 years after he had retired from the slave trade, Newton published a pamphlet called ‘Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade’ in which he described the horrific conditions of the slave ships during the Middle Passage, and apologised for his involvement in it. A copy of the pamphlet was sent to every MP.

Personal accounts from formerly enslaved people

By collecting personal accounts from formerly enslaved people and slave traders as well as gathering information about the trade itself, abolitionists were able to support their arguments against the slave trade.

In 1787, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, who had been enslaved, published a book called 'Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery'.

In Britain a group of people from Africa including Quobna Ottabah Cugnano formed the Sons of Africa. They spoke at abolitionist meetings and started a letter writing campaign.

Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano

One famous member, the formerly enslaved Olaudah Equiano, published his autobiography. 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano' in 1789. The book became a best seller and changed many people’s views of the slave trade.

Mary Prince was a black woman born into slavery in Bermuda. In 1831, she published her autobiography, 'The History of Mary Prince', while living in London.

It was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in Britain and gave first-hand descriptions of the brutalities of enslavement. It was hugely popular and went through three printings in its first year alone.

Other publicity

In 1787, the potter Josiah Wedgewood released a cameo in black and white for abolitionists to wear. The inscription Am I Not a Man and a Brother? became the catchphrase of British and American abolitionists. The design appeared on china and jewellery.

William Cowper wrote a poem to publicise the cause, called 'The Negro's Complaint'. It was so popular that it spread all over Britain and was sometimes put to music and sung as a ballad.