Thomas Clarkson on abolition

Portrait of Thomas Clarkson, seated with quill pen

Thomas Clarkson with his treasure chest of samples of African produce. Painting by AE Chalon. Courtesy of the Wilberforce House Museum, Hull.

Thomas Clarkson was a founding member of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787.

Listen to his description of some of his experiences as an abolitionist by following the link below, or read the transcript on this page.

"The town's talk of Liverpool was much of the same nature as that of Bristol on the subject of (the slave) trade. Horrible facts concerning it were in everybody's mouth. The people too at Liverpool seemed to be more hardened, or they related them with more coldness or less feeling.

I began to perceive that I was known in Liverpool as well as the object for which I came. They who came to see me always started the abolition of the slave trade as the subject for conversation. Many entered into the justification of this trade with great warmth, as if to ruffle my temper... Others said they had heard of a person turned mad, who had conceived the thought of destroying Liverpool and all its glory. The temper of many of the interested people of Liverpool had now become still more irritable and their hostility more apparent than before. I received anonymous letters entreating me to leave it or I should otherwise never leave it alive. The only effect which this advice had upon me was to make me more vigilant when I went out at night.

There was a certain time when I had reason to believe that I had a narrow escape. I was one day on the pier head with many others looking at some little boats below at the time of a heavy gale. I had seen all I wanted to see and was departing when I noticed eight or nine persons making towards me. I was then only about eight or nine yards from the precipice of the pier, but going from it. I expected that they would have divided to let me through them; instead of which they closed upon me that they had a design to throw me over the pier head. Vigorous on account of the danger, I darted forward. One of them against whom pushed myself, fell down. Their ranks were broken and I escaped not without blows amidst their imprecations and abuse."