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Explore John Wesley's thoughts on Slavery and Abolition

John Wesley was by no means the leading voice calling for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century, but he made an important contribution to the campaign. From his time in America in the 1730s, he witnessed, along with his brother Charles, the cruelties of slavery. He began to collect evidence and was particularly influenced by the writings of Olaudah Equiano and Antoine Benezet.

Wesley published his own book – Thoughts Upon Slavery – in 1774. It was read widely in Britain and America. He became more vocal in his opposition to the slave trade.

In 1788 he spoke in support of abolition from the pulpit of the New Room. The chapel was packed and as he spoke, the congregation rioted, such was the power and controversy of his subject, especially in Bristol. Later he wrote in his diary: “The people rushed upon each other with the utmost violence; the benches were broke in pieces, and nine-tenths of the congregation appeared to be struck with the same panic.

In about six minutes the storm ceased; almost as suddenly as it rose, and, all being calm, I went on without the least interruption. It was the strangest incident of the kind I ever remember.”

The last letter that John Wesley wrote, just before he died in 1791, was to MP William Wilberforce, who was working hard to get abolition laws agreed in Parliament. In the letter, he called slavery an “execrable villainy” and urged Wilberforce to carry on the fight.
“O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”

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