Abolitionist Medal

Image courtesy of National Maritime Museum



The Abolition Movement in Britain

The British Anti-Slavery Society was supported in Parliament by William Wilberforce and Prime Minister William Pitt. In 1789, support among parliamentarians for abolition was low. The opposition won the initial debate by arguing that the trade was too profitable to abolish.

By 1792 the Anti-Slavery Society sponsored 15 ships sailing from Halifax to Sierra Leone to establish a British colony of Africans who had regained their freedom in Britain.

With inspiration from the anti-slavery movement and the beginnings of the industrial revolution, a business case was developed and delivered to Parliament by MP James Stephen, arguing that the continuation of trade in enslaved Africans was against long-term economic interests.

In addition, the introduction of ‘new’ Africans to the colonies had provoked continuous and costly uprisings, and the population of the colonies was reaching its limit. Crude breeding programmes to supply the slave market had developed, and plantation owners were trying to ‘stock up’ in light of the coming changes.

In 1807 a new Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, supervised the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which gained Royal Assent from King George III.

Even so, in the two years after the Abolition Act of 1807, at least 36 illegal slaving expeditions were suspected to have left Liverpool docks.

Other European states continued to trade until similar abolitions took effect. In 1850, Brazil finally refused new Africans, having gained independence from Portugal.

Wilberforce stamp

Royal Mail’s Abolition Bicentenary Commemorative 1st Class Stamp - William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833)

Encouraged by Clarkson and a strong Quaker contingent, Wilberforce, MP for Kingston upon Hull, became leader of the parliamentary campaign, the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

Commemorative Print for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1808

Image courtesy of National Maritime Museum, London


Local Abolitionists

Walsall Against Slavery

In 1814 Mr Thomas Clarkson had sent instruction to Walsall on how to write and organise petitions to both Houses. The Walsall branch of the Anti-Slavery Society wasted no time in sending anti-slavery petitions to the Houses of Parliament, along with petitions from other parts of the United Kingdom.

In 1825 the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Association was established in Birmingham. Walsall residents attended, including Mrs Vaughan Barbar, Miss Foster, Mrs Fletcher, Miss Foster, Mr Richard Jesson, Mrs Mills, Mrs Stronitham, Mrs H Windle, Mrs Barbar, Miss James, Mrs Jones and Mrs Read, among others.

The Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Association was established because women were not allowed to vote or sign petitions to the House of Parliament. The women made embroideries, bags to carry donations in, badges and placards for marches and demonstrations. It was reported in the Staffordshire Advertiser on 8th December 1832 that at a political march in Stafford a banner was carried which read, “Abolition of Slavery and Liberty to the World”.

In 1832 George Attwood presented an abolition stance in his election leaflet, which was questioned by the opposition.

The Walsall branch of the Anti-Slavery Society wrote, via Mr Peter Potter, an Agent for the Earl of Bradford, listing issues for his attention regarding the abolition of slavery in a letter dated 6th December 1830. Their demands were:

To cease the traffic of new slaves

To enable existing slaves to buy their freedom at a reasonable rate

That education and religious instruction be available on plantations

Freedom to worship on Sundays and to tend gardens

To keep families together when sold on

Freedom to marry

Children born after the passing of the Act should be free.


(Letter from Peter Potter to the Earl of Bradford. D1287/12/21, Staffordshire Record Office)

At a meeting here in Walsall, at the Wesleyan Chapel on Ablewell St (now Central Hall), reported in the Staffordshire Advertiser in 1833, Mr C Forster M.P. from the Walsall branch spoke and delivered a petition to both Houses on behalf of the Borough of Walsall.

Another meeting in Burslem held a heated debate.

A poem written on 18th July 1834, by Mr John O’Neil Higginson, called ‘Liberty of Slavery’.

In August 1833, the Slave Emancipation Act was passed, giving all slaves in the British Empire their freedom. However, they were required to work for free for a further five years. Plantation owners received compensation of £20,000,000.


Street map diagram


Newspaper scan of meeting


The Church on Ablewell st. Walsall.



Election Poster and extract of Questions to... Poster



First Report Cover