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Posts Tagged ‘Abolition of slavery’

(In honor of Women’s History Month)

 

Hannah More (1745-1833)

 

The odds were stacked against her.

Like all young women of eighteenth century Britain, Hannah More would have to choose between marriage and a select few occupations for females. Universities did not accept women, most professions were closed to them, they couldn’t serve in government or even vote.

Yet the case has been made that Hannah More wielded strong influence in important arenas of her time. How could that be? God paved the way.

 

 

First, he gave Hannah a quick mind and a schoolteacher father who taught his five daughters at home. As the girls grew into womanhood Mr. More helped two of the older sisters open a boarding school for girls in nearby Bristol. Hannah attended for a while, but at age eighteen, became one of the teachers.

In addition to the ability to teach, God gave Hannah a gift for writing. Even at an early age she was composing poems and essays. Later she began to write plays for her students—dramas that included life lessons.

In her early twenties, Hannah became engaged to neighboring landowner, William Turner. Three times the wedding date was set; three times he backed out. The third time Hannah broke the engagement. To assuage his guilt, William gave her a monthly stipend, enabling Hannah to move to London and focus on her writing.

 

(www.azquotes.com/author/10363-Hannah_More)

 

God also provided opportunities for Hannah to meet people of influence. With her intelligence, wit, and charm, she was often invited to dinner parties and became a member of high society.

Meanwhile she made the acquaintance of John Newton, the slave-ship captain turned preacher who wrote Amazing Grace. They enjoyed a life-long friendship.

 

 

Newton was a member of the Clapham Sect, a group of passionate Christians, eager to release people from the oppression of poverty and slavery. One of the sect members served in Parliament, William Wilberforce. He, his wife Barbara, and Hannah also became friends for life.

 

     

William and Barbara Wilberforce

 

Hannah already despised the slave trade and joined the Clapham community. Their strong commitment to Christ greatly influenced Hannah and the practice of her faith took on greater importance.

At the suggestion of Wilburforce, Hannah wrote a poem to raise awareness about the treatment of slaves. It was published in 1788. One passage described the capture of Africans:

 

The burning village, and the blazing town:

See the dire victim torn from social life,

See the sacred infant, hear the shrieking wife!

She, wretch forlorn! Is dragged by hostile hands,

To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands.

 

As a result of reading Hannah’s impassioned account, thousands of people signed petitions demanding an end to the slave trade. The next year, Wilburforce used her poem in a Parliamentary debate concerning slavery.

Hannah helped the cause in other ways also. She encouraged a sugar boycott, since slaves provided the workforce on the British plantations of the Caribbean.

 

 

She even used her influence at dinner parties. Among people dressed in finery and focused on pleasure, Hannah would engage in cheerful banter, then pull out a folded piece of paper from her reticule, a drawstring purse.

“Have you ever seen the likes of this?” she might ask while spreading a print flat on the dining table—a diagram of the cargo hold inside a slave ship with Africans packed tightly together. The startling image helped garner more support for the cause.

 

 

Even as she campaigned for the abolition of slavery, Hannah took on another endeavor: education for the poor. She and her younger sister Martha established Sunday Schools since many of their students worked Monday through Saturday. (Child labor wasn’t prohibited in Britain until 1880.) They taught the three R’s and Bible lessons.

Soon three hundred children attended. Then adults were included and job placement provided. Within ten years, the sisters had opened sixteen schools, three of which still functioned into the twentieth century. Hannah involved herself in these schools for thirty years.

 

(Hannah More Academy, built 1834; closed 1974)

 

And of course, Hannah continued to write. She produced numerous pamphlets, plays of Bible stories that missionaries used around the world, as well as Christian novels and nonfiction. Her books outsold Jane Austen’s.

At age eighty-eight Hannah died peacefully in her sleep, just weeks after Parliament abolished slavery. The battle had taken forty years.

Even after her death Hannah’s positive influence lived on. She left the proceeds of her books, 30,000 pounds, for distribution to the poor—the equivalent of three million dollars today.

Hannah wrote in Practical Piety (1811):

 

“We must, while we keep our hearts humble,

keep our aims high . . . As God is unlimited in goodness,

He should have our unlimited love.

The best we can offer is poor, but let us not withhold that best.”

 

No one can say Hannah More did not give her best. May we follow her example.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/hannah-more/
  2. https://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-26-number-1/hannah-more-1745-%E2%80%93-1833
  3. https://www.str.org/w/hannah-more-guided-by-christian-convictions
  4. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/march/hannah-more-powerhouse-in-petticoat.html
  5. https://religionnews.com/2014/11/05/hannah-karen-prior-evangelical/
  6. https://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/the-power-of-a-poem-hannah-more-and-the-abolition-of-the-slave-trade.html.
  7. https://mylordkatie.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/hannah-more-a-heart-for-the-poor/
  8. https://www.citieschurch.com/journal/culture-shaping-faith
  9. http://christianwomenonline.net/2020/02/18/hannah-more-changing-the-world-with-a-pen/

 

Art & photo credits: http://www.picryl.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.org (3).

 

 

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Granville Sharp

(b. November 10, 1735)

Never had thirty-year old Granville Sharp seen such injuries: large swellings about the neck and head, gaping wounds, and a face hideously swollen, streaked with trails of dried blood.

The victim: Jonathan Strong, a young slave who’d been pistol-whipped by his master and left to die on the streets of London, 1765. Somehow Jonathan made his way to the house of Granville’s brother, William, a doctor. And there he sat, waiting in line outside William’s office, when Granville stopped by the house.

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The encounter would change Granville’s life forever.

His heart went out to the slave; they became acquainted. Jonathan’s story horrified Granville. To make matters worse, when Jonathan recovered, the master demanded he be returned. Granville determined to help Jonathan, even though he’d “never opened a law-book except the Bible in [his] life” (1).

Those defending the slave owner were evidently intimidated by the case Granville put forth. After a two-year legal battle, they never brought Jonathan’s case to trial.

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Sharp helped other slaves win their cases against tyrant owners, becoming more and more involved in the abolition of slavery. One case in particular, that of James Somerset, helped to set an important precedent in England.

Somerset had escaped his master, been recaptured, and was about to be shipped to a Jamaican plantation when Granville and others became involved.  They helped the slave win his freedom, arguing that “no master ever was allowed here (in England) to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he deserted his service…therefore the man must be discharged” (2).

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Granville remained active in the abolition movement his entire life. He wrote frequent letters to many leaders in America and Britain, influencing their thinking about slavery and earning their respect. Among them: Dr. Benjamin Rush (signer of the Declaration), John Jay (first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams in America; John Wesley, William Wilberforce, the Archbishop of Canterbury in England; and General Lafayette of France.

But that was only one of his passionate pursuits. Another concern was the illegal treatment of the colonists in America. He published books and pamphlets to help their cause, catching the attention of Ben Franklin during one of his visits to England.

Granville gave Mr. Franklin 250 copies of his pamphlet about people’s natural rights as supported by the British constitution. Franklin sent them to America where several presses reprinted the booklet.

Sharp’s pamphlet influenced Thomas Jefferson as he drafted the Declaration of Independence, evidenced by at least several similarities in both documents.

In 1775, when war broke out in the colonies Granville was employed in the ordnance office (handling all matters concerning weaponry). He wanted nothing to do with the war, so he wrote to his employer: “I cannot return to my ordnance duty whilst a bloody war is carried on, unjustly as I conceive, against my fellow-subjects” (3).

Granville’s brothers agreed to support him, enabling him to pursue his studies, causes, and writing. In fact, beginning with his first book in 1765, Sharp published a new work, sometimes more than one, almost annually for the rest of his life (5).

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One of those books (with a thirty-six word title!) is now known as “Sharp’s rule” (1777). With his self-taught knowledge of ancient Greek, Granville demonstrated how eight passages of the New Testament had been mistranslated by some Bible scholars, leaving the reader to surmise that God the Father and God the Son were separate Beings. Sharp presented a thorough explanation that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One, according to the original Greek texts (4).

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Yet Granville accomplished still more. In the mid-1780s, Sharp teamed with a Mr. Smeathman to establish a colony for freed English slaves on the west coast of Africa. (Many of them were homeless, subsisting on the streets of London with no hope of improving their lives.) But Smeathman died shortly after he and Granville established their partnership. Sharp continued the work nevertheless.

In April of 1787, the dream for that African colony became a reality with the founding of Sierra Leone. The colonists named the first settlement, Granvilletown.

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Sharp accomplished even more, as he served on a number of boards and societies, in support of mission efforts and philanthropic concerns.

Yet he did not see the fulfillment of his greatest dream—the abolition of slavery. The battle he began with the case of Jonathan Strong in 1765 finally ended in 1833, when slavery was completely abolished in the British Empire.

Sharp died in 1813.

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His chief biographer, Prince Hoare, said that as he began to study Sharp he intended to “draw a veil over peculiarities of Mr. Sharp’s character,” out of respect for the dead. But when he finished his careful and comprehensive research, he realized Sharp’s “character to be of that high and dignified nature, to leave no necessity for such a precaution…I see nothing to veil.” (6).

Like many other forgotten heroes, Granville Sharp is among that great cloud of witnesses who fixed their eyes on Jesus and ran the race marked out for them (Hebrews 12:1-2a).

May his example and that of others–their faith, integrity, perseverance, and passion–push us along in the race marked for us.

______________________________

  1. history.ac.uk
  2. national.archives.gov.uk
  3. Dr. Daniel Wallace, www.bible.org
  4. christianity.com
  5. brycchancarey.com
  6. Dr. Daniel Wallace, http://www.bible.org

(Art & photo credits:  www.bbc.co.uk; izquotes.com; http://www.virtualtourist.com; http://www.collections.vam.ac.uk; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.en.wikipedia.org; )

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