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Series Two: Papers of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) and related slavery and anti-slavery materials from Wilberforce House, Hull

These papers are now made available to a wider audience in this microfilm edition.

Pride of place must go to the Diary, 1814-1823, which provides a daily record of Wilberforce’s activities during a period which witnessed the Luddite riots, the Peterloo massacre, Burdett’s failed bill to introduce universal suffrage, Lord John Russell’s reform proposals, the death of King George III and the coronation of the Prince Regent, and the Cato Street Conspiracy. Wilberforce was also busy trying to build on the 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, in attempting to outlaw slavery in the colonies. This eventually came to pass in 1833.

Significant correspondence held at Wilberforce House includes 179 letters, 1792-1832, by William Wilberforce. Some 45 of these are to Thomas Fowell Buxton, fellow abolitionist and MP. Topics include American affairs, Madame de Stal’s exile, the importance of peace in Europe, the case of a coloured Trinidadian, Brougham and Buxton’s place at the head of the anti-slavery movement, the scandal of Mauritius, and French slave trading.

The second largest sequence of letters from Wilberforce is a group of 44 letters, 1818-1832, to his son, Henry Wilberforce. In addition to family matters, topics include education, Peel and the Catholic question, Henry and Mr Newman, Christianity among the lower classes, the power of the West India Interest, and failures of treaties limiting the slave trade. There are also letters from Wilberforce to Lord Bathurst, J Butterworth, Zachary Macaulay and Granville Sharp.

Letters to Wilberforce (51 in total) include items by Lord Bathurst, Lord Castlereagh, Rev Dr Thomas Coke, Lafayette, Hannah More and William Windham.

There is also a Letter Book marked ‘Slavery’, complete with a contemporary index and running to 316 pages, containing abstracts of Wilberforce’s letters on this subject, 1832-1833.

Additional material relating directly to William Wilberforce is contained in four substantial boxes of manuscript and ephemeral material. These concern:

Wilberforce Miscellanea - including a letter copy book of Wilberforce, dated c1707; Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s "Epistle to William Wilberforce on the Rejection of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade."; indentures; cuttings; and other material.
1807 Election Ephemera - including Election posters, song sheets, handbills and polling records recording his great parliametary battle with Lord Milton and Henry Lascelles.

Wilberforce and Slavery - including The case of Andrew and Jeronimy Clifford, Planters, Surinam, 1698; an Account of Jamaica, 1779; the Act establishing the Sierra Leone Company, 1791; the Act concerning the shipping and carrying of slaves on British vessels, 1793; an account of the voyage to the Western coast of Africa by the sloop Favourite, 1805; the Record kept by the Chief Commissioner of Police of Mauritius, 1812-1820; Proceedings before the Privy Council on the Compulsory Manumission of the Colonies of Demerara and Berbice, 1827-1828; and the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the state of the colony of Sierra Leone, 1827.

Wilberforce Government Papers and Slavery cuttings - including correspondence with the Principal Secretary of State for the colonies concerning apprenticeship, feeding, clothing and wages; manuscript reports on events in Demerara; annotated parliamentary papers regarding abolition together with voting records; correspondence from Downing Street about the introduction of field labourers in British Guiana, and laws for improving the conditions of slaves; and British, American and Dutch newspaper cuttings.

A considerable collection of slavery ephemera, c1730-1860, is contained in four further boxes of material. There are numerous bills of sale for slaves in America and the West Indies, adverts for runaway slaves, slave lists, illustrations and accounts of slave capture and plantation life, pro- and anti-slavery pamphlets, posters, songs, poems, speeches, claims for compensation post abolition, and cuttings regarding key abolitionists.

Other individual items of importance for the history of slavery are:
A Royal African Company broadsheet, c1700
Letters of instruction to the captain of the slave ship Nancy, c1760
A Slave Trader’s Log book, 1764
Original slave receipts and punishment records
the famous model of the slave ship Brookes
An Inventory of the Valley Plantation, St John’s, Jamaica, 1787

Correspondence of other leading abolitionists , 1792- 1862, features letters by George Troutner to Granville Sharp (on plantations), Esther Copley to William Hone (on a History of Slavery which she was preparing) and Samuel Gurney to John Scoble (on the actions of the Liverpool Anti-Slavery Committee).

The final substantial section of material at Wilberforce House consists of original plantation records.

Firstly, there is the correspondence of Thomas King, J A Williamson and J Wells, 1786-1840, concerning King’s initial voyage to Barbados, the establishment and running of his estates in Berbice and Demerara, the sale of sugar, the introduction of an apprenticeship system and compensation for the release of slaves.

Secondly, there are the West Indian Plantation Journals of ‘Hope and Experiment’, 1812; ‘Gendragt and Monrepos’, 1825; ‘Friendship’, 1828-1829 (together with punishment records); ‘Good Success’, 1830-1831 (also with punishment records); ‘Bacolet’, 1832-1843; ‘Schepmoed’, 1835-1840; and ‘Good Intent’, 1837-1844 (together with pay lists). There are also the punishment records for ‘Sarah’ plantation, 1827-1830.

These records can be usefully compared with the papers relating to the Butler Plantations in Georgia (see page 3) to examine the similarities and differences in slave management in the West Indies and the Southern States of America.

The Wilberforce House Collections will be of great interest to all those studying slavery and the campaign against the slave trade, providing details of the capture, sale and use of slaves, as well as to scholars of African Studies, the Caribbean and World History. There is particularly important material on the abolition crusade, with special emphasis on the role of William Wilberforce.

Digital Guide
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