“…a wretch like me”*

*from third line of “Amazing Grace”, a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written in 1772 by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725–1807). He was pressed (conscripted) into service in the Royal Navy. After leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severely that he called out to God for mercy. This moment marked his spiritual conversion but he continued slave trading until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether. He began studying Christian theology and later became an abolitionist.

From Wikipedia:

William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833)[1] was a British politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. A native of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, he began his political career in 1780, eventually becoming an independent Member of Parliament (MP) for Yorkshire (1784–1812). In 1785, he became an evangelical Christian, which resulted in major changes to his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform.

In 1787, he came into contact with Thomas Clarkson and a group of anti-slave-trade activists, including Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton. They persuaded Wilberforce to take on the cause of abolition, and he soon became one of the leading English abolitionists. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

…On 26 July 1833, Wilberforce heard of government concessions that guaranteed the passing of the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery. The following day he grew much weaker, and he died early on the morning of 29 July at his cousin’s house in Cadogan Place London. One month later, the House of Lords passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire from August 1834. They voted plantation owners £20 million in compensation, giving full emancipation to children younger than six, and instituting a system of apprenticeship requiring other enslaved peoples to work for their former masters for four to six years in the British West Indies, South Africa, Mauritius, British Honduras and Canada. Nearly 800,000 African slaves were freed, the vast majority in the Caribbean.”

David R Fisher writes on the website The History of Parliament:

“…(Wilberforce) toured Yorkshire in 1827, when Sydney Smith told Holland that he ‘looks like a little spirit running about without a body, or in a kind of undress without a body’…

…he ‘preserved his faculties to the very last, and his cheerfulness almost to the very last’. He died, hoping for eternal salvation and aware that the government’s bill for the abolition of slavery was certain to become law, in the London house of his cousin Lucy Smith at 44 Cadogan Place (see image) in July 1833. Tom Macaulay, to whom he had shown great kindness in his early political career, told his sister that on his death bed Wilberforce

owned that he enjoyed life much, and that he had a great desire to live longer. Strange in a man who had, I should have said, so little to attach him to this world, and so firm a belief in another – in a man with a ruined fortune, a weak spine, a worn out stomach, a vixen wife, and a reprobate son … Yesterday evening [30 July] I called at the house in Cadogan Place where the body is lying. It was deserted. Mrs. Wilberforce had gone into the country. Henry was out. Samuel was not yet come. And this great man, so popular, so much worshipped, was left to strangers and servants within thirty-six hours after his death.

…Wilberforce’s eldest son William (1798-1879) was Conservative Member for Hull, 1837-8, and unsuccessfully contested Bradford and Taunton in 1841. The three younger, Robert Isaac (1802-57), Samuel (1805-73) and Henry William (1807-73) made careers in the church, with ‘Soapy Sam’ becoming bishop of Oxford and Winchester. He was the only one to remain in the Church of England, for his three brothers converted to Roman Catholicism in the 1850s…”

From Wikipedia:

“Barbara Ann Wilberforce (née Spooner; 24 December 1777, Birches Green, Erdington, Warwickshire – 21 April 1847, The Vicarage, East Farleigh, Kent) was the spouse of abolitionist and MP William Wilberforce.

She was the eldest daughter and third child of Isaac Spooner of Elmdon Hall, Warwickshire, a banker of Birmingham, and his wife, Barbara Gough-Calthorpe, the sister of the first Lord Calthorpe. On 15 April 1797, while at Bath, she met her future husband, William Wilberforce, to whom she had been recommended by Wilberforce’s friend, Thomas Babington. The couple were married at St Swithins Church, Walcot, Bath on 30 May 1797.

She nearly died following an attack of typhoid in 1800, after which her health was never strong. Nevertheless, she bore six children, all of whom survived to adulthood. The children were William (July 1798), Barbara (1799), Elizabeth (1801), Robert (1802), Samuel (1805), and Henry (1807). Her daughters predeceased her, Barbara dying in 1821 and Elizabeth in 1832.

Following her husband’s death in 1833, Barbara Wilberforce spent her time with her sons, Robert and Samuel, or with her sister Ann Neale in Taplow in Buckinghamshire. She is buried next to East Farleigh church, Kent, her son Robert Wilberforce’s first living, and where her son Henry would minister a decade later.

In the 2006 film Amazing Grace, about her husband’s involvement in the movement to eliminate the slave trade, she was portrayed by actress Romola Garai.”


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