In 1808, Thomas Clarkson published his two-volume text, The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament, after the prolonged campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. Within this text, Clarkson inserted his own map of the path to abolition, consisting of the efforts by prominent intellectuals, politicians, and religious organizations. This essay will argue that Clarkson’s map neglects the informal abolition activities that coincided with the official abolition campaign both within and outside the map’s timeframe; it in fact ends twenty years before the passage of abolition legislation in 1807. This argument will also examine the role of marginalized groups, including women, blacks, and public opinion, in the non-informal activities involved in the crusade to abolish slavery. Recent scholarship and some primary texts will be utilized to posit that various informal activities are absent from Clarkson’s map and need to be examined for their contributions to the crusade. The map examines the activities and individuals missing from the current timeframe, ending in the year 1787, and so this study will explore the post-1787 activities that should have been included on the map.
A point of conflict on the map is the twenty year gap between 1787 and 1807, arguably a critical period on the eve of abolition. The map fails to display the contributions that finally provoked Parliament to pass legislation to abolish the slave trade. Within this gap, Clarkson additionally neglects the important contributions made by marginalized groups to abolition. Historians have steered away from traditional scholarship of the abolition of the Trade to focus on the government and politics and concentrated attention on the dynamics of “popular abolitionism.” In fact, since the 1950s and 1960s, scholars extended the British anti-slavery crusade to include a wider scope of other groups involved in the campaign. Recent scholarship by J.R. Oldfield, Seymour Drescher, and others examines the critical role of public opinion as an important variable in the passage of the abolition legislation. Additionally, Editha Jacobs, Clare Midgley, and others convey the critical role of women in the crusade. The recent scholarship by Jeffrey Gunn and Victor Mtubani highlights the importance of the black abolitionists demonstrating that former enslaved people were involved in abolition efforts.
One theory why Clarkson fails to include various abolition activities after 1787 was because he temporary retired from abolition between 1792 and 1804. He ends the abolition of the slave trade map at 1788, therefore it inherently neglects the informal activities after this date that coincided with formal efforts made by the government.
Ignatius Sancho was a vital asset for the abolition crusade but is absent from Clarkson’s map. He was the first published black figure who spoke out against...