Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1
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CHAPTER VI. - Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1 
The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, 2 vols. (London: L. Taylor, 1808). Vol. 1.
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Observations on the three classes already introduced—Coincidence of extraordinary circumstances—Individuals in each of these classes, who seem to have had an education as it were to qualify them for promoting the cause of the abolition—Sharp and Ramsay in the first—Dillwyn in the second—Pemberton and Rush in the third—These, with their respective classes, acted on motives of their own, and independently of each other—and yet, from circumstances neither foreseen nor known by them, they were in the way of being easily united in 1787—William Dillwyn, the great medium of connection between them all.
If the reader will refer to his recollection, he will find, that I have given the history of three of the classes of the forerunners and coadjutors in the great cause of the abolition of the Slave-trade up to the time proposed. He will of course expect that I should proceed with the history of the fourth. But, as I foresee that, by making certain observations upon the classes already introduced in the present rather than in any future place, I shall be able to give him clearer views on the subject, I shall postpone the history of the romaining class to the next chapter.
The account, which I shall now give, will exhibit a concurrence of extraordinary and important circumstances. It will show, first, that in each of the three classes now introduced, there were individuals in the year 1787, who had been educated as it were for the purpose of becoming peculiarly qualified to act together for the promotion of the abolition of the Slave-trade. It will show, secondly, that these, with their respective classes, acted upon their own principles, distinctly and independently of each other. And, lastly, that by means of circumstances, which they themselves had neither foreseen nor contrived, a junction between them was rendered easily practicable, and that it was beginning to take place at the period assigned.
The first class of forerunners and coadjutors consisted principally, as it has appeared, of persons in England of various descriptions. These, I may observe, had no communication with each other as to any plan for the abolition of the Slave-trade. There were two individuals, however, among them, who were more conspicuous than the rest, namely, Granville Sharp, the first labourer, and Mr. Ramsay, the first controversial writer, in the cause.
That Granville Sharp received an education as if to become qualified to unite with others, in the year 1787, for this important object, must have appeared from the history of his labours, as detailed in several of the preceding pages. The same may be said of Mr. Ramsay; for it has already appeared that he lived in the island of St. Christopher, where he made his observations, and studied the laws, relative to the treatment of slaves, for nineteen years.
That Granville Sharp acted on grounds distinct from those in any of the other classes is certain. For he knew nothing at this time either of the Quakers in England or of those in America, any more than that they existed by name. Had it not been for the case of Jonathan Strong, he might never have attached himself to the cause. A similar account may be given of Mr. Ramsay; for, if it had not been for what he had seen in the island of St. Christopher, he had never embarked in it. It was from scenes, which he had witnessed there, that he began to feel on the subject. These feelings he communicated to others on his return to England, and these urged him into action.
With respect to the second class, the reader will recollect that it consisted of the Quakers in England: first, of George Fox; then of the Quakers as a body; then of individuals belonging to that body, who formed themselves into a committee, independently of it, for the promotion of the object in question. This committee, it may be remembered, consisted of six persons, of whom one was William Dillwyn.
That William Dillwyn became fitted for the station, which he was afterwards to take, will be seen shortly. He was born in America, and was a pupil of the venerable Benezet, who took pains very early to interest his feelings on this great subject. Benezet employed him occasionally, I mean in a friendly manner, as his amanuensis, to copy his manuscripts for publication, as well as several of his letters written in behalf of the cause. This gave his scholar an insight into the subject, who, living besides in the land where both the Slave-trade and slavery were established, obtained an additional knowledge of them, so as to be able to refute many of those objections, to which others for want of local observation could never have replied.
In the year 1772 Anthony Benezet introduced William Dillwyn by letter to several of the principal people of Carolina, with whom he had himself before corresponded on the sufferings of the poor Africans, and desired him to have interviews with them on the subject. He charged him also to be very particular in making observations as to what he should see there. This journey was of great use to the latter in fixing him as the friend of these oppressed people, for he saw so much of their cruel treatment in the course of it, that he felt an anxiety ever afterwards, amounting to a duty, to do every thing in his power for their relief.
In the year 1773 William Dillwyn, in conjunction with Richard Smith and Daniel Wells, two of his own Society, wrote a pamphlet in answer to arguments then prevailing, that the manumission of slaves would be injurious. This pamphlet,—which was entitled, Brief Considerations on Slavery, and the Expediency of its Abolition; with some Hints on the Means whereby it may be gradually effected,—proved that in lieu of the usual security required, certain sums paid at the several periods of manumission would amply secure the public, as well as the owners of the slaves, from any future burthens. In the same year also, when the Society, joined by several hundreds of others in New Jersey, presented a petition to the legislature, (as mentioned in the former chapter,) to obtain an act of assembly for the more equitable manumission of slaves in that province, William Dillwyn was one of a deputation, which was heard at the bar of the assembly for that purpose.
In 1774 he came to England, but his attention was still kept alive to the subject. For he was the person, by whom Anthony Benezet sent his letter to the Countess of Huntingdon, as before related. He was also the person, to whom the same venerable defender of the African race sent his letter, before spoken of, to be forwarded to the Queen.
That William Dillwyn and those of his own class in England acted upon motives very distinct from those of the former class may be said with truth, for they acted upon the constitutional principles of their own Society, as incorporated into its discipline, which principles would always have incited them to the subversion of slavery, as far as they themselves were concerned, whether any other persons had abolished it or not. To which it may be added, as a further proof of the originality of their motives, that the Quakers have had ever since their institution as a religious body, but little intercourse with the world.
The third class, to which I now come, consisted, as we have seen, first, of the Quakers in America; and secondly, of an union of these with others on the same continent. The principal individuals concerned in this union were James Pemberton and Dr. Rush. The former of these, having taken an active part in several of the yearly meetings of his own Society relative to the oppressed Africans, and having been in habits of intimacy and friendship with John Woolman and Anthony Benezet, with the result of whose labours he was acquainted, may be supposed to have become qualified to take a leading station in the promotion of their cause. Dr. Rush also had shown himself, as has appeared, an able advocate, and had even sustained a controversy in their favour. That the two last mentioned acted also on motives of their own, or independently of those belonging to the other two classes, when they formed their association in Pennsylvania, will be obvious from these circumstances; first, that most of those of the first class, who contributed to throw the greatest light and odium upon the Slave-trade, had not then made their public appearance in the world. And, with respect to the second class, the little committee belonging to it had neither been formed nor thought of.
And as the individuals in each of the three classes, who have now been mentioned, had an education as it were to qualify them for acting together in this great cause, and had moved independently of each other, so it will appear that, by means of circumstances which they themselves had neither foreseen nor contrived, a junction between them was rendered easily practicable, and that it was beginning to take place at the period assigned.
To show this, I must first remind the reader that Anthony Benezet, as soon as he heard of the result of the case of Somerset, opened a correspondence with Granville Sharp, which was kept up to the encouragement of both. In the year 1774, when he learned that William Dillwyn was going to England, he gave him letters to that gentleman. Thus one of the most conspicuous of the second class was introduced, accidentally as it were, to one of the most conspicuous of the first. In the year 1775 William Dillwyn went back to America, but, on his return to England to settle, he renewed his visits to Granville Sharp. Thus the connection was continued. To these observations I may now add; that Samuel Hoare, of the same class as William Dillwyn, had, in consequence of the Bishop of Chester’s sermon, begun a correspondence in 1784, as before mentioned, with Mr. Ramsay, who was of the same class as Mr. Sharp. Thus four individuals of the two first classes were in the way of an union with one another.
But circumstances equally natural contributed to render an union between the members of the second and the third classes easily practicable also. For what was more natural than that William Dillwyn, who was born and who had resided long in America, should have connections there? He had long cultivated a friendship (not then knowing to what it would lead) with James Pemberton. His intimacy with him was like that of a family connection. They corresponded together. They corresponded also as kindred hearts, relative to the Slave-trade. Thus two members of the second and third classes had opened an intercourse on the subject, and thus was William Dillwyn the great medium, through whom the members of the two classes now mentioned, as well as the members of all the three might be easily united also, if a fit occasion should offer.