William Wilberforce and the Abolition of the Slave Trade: Christian History Timeline

World Events

1776 American colonies declare independence

1783 William Pitt becomes the British prime minister; war with colonies ends with British defeat at Yorktown

1789 French Revolution begins

1806 185 ships carry 43,755 slaves to America

1807 U.S. abolishes importation of slaves

1811 London becomes first city with more than 1 million; disease, overcrowding, and crime are rife

1815 Wellington defeats Napoleon at Waterloo; France agrees to abolish slave trade; Portugal follows suit

1819 Peterloo Massacre: 11 die in a violent breakup of a mass meeting about parliamentary reform

1820 Spain becomes last major European power to abolish its slave trade

1837 Victoria becomes queen of Great Britain (reigns until 1901)

1845–46 Potato blight leads to famine in Ireland; 1 million people die and thousands emigrate to America

1848 Marx’s Communist Manifesto

1848–49 Revolutions sweep Europe; cholera epidemic kills 14,000 people (10,000 in London) and precipitates municipal sanitation.

1853–56 Britain, France, and Piedmont defeat Russia in the Crimean War

British Reform

1772 Slavery abolished in England

1780 Robert Raikes founds the first Sunday school

1788 Hannah More’s Thoughts on the Manners of the Great

1821 Elizabeth Fry establishes the British Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners

1828–29 Various parliamentary acts open political offices to non-Anglicans

1831 Lord’s Day Observance Society founded

1833 Lord Althrop’s Factory Act mitigates child labor

1842 The Mines Act abolishes all female labor in the mines

1844–47 Factory acts reduce daily work hours to 6 for children and 10 for adults

1860 Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing

1864 Shaftesbury introduces measures to forbid the employment of boys under 10 as chimney sweeps

1867 Thomas Barnardo (1845–1905) opens his first children’s home in London slums

1869 Debtors’ prisons abolished

1870 Foster’s Education Act promotes a national system of elementary education

1871 Removal of religious tests at Oxford and Cambridge allows Nonconformists to attend

1872 Licensing Act controls the sale of alcohol

1875 Artisans Dwellings Act aims to provide better houses for the poor

1878 William Booth (1829–1912) founds the Salvation Army

William Wilberforce

1759 Born in Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire

1768 His father dies; sent to live in Wimbledon with an aunt and uncle

1776 Studies at St. John’s College, Cambridge (until 1780)

1780 Elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Hull

1784–85 Experiences a deep conversion

1784 Becomes MP for Yorkshire

1787 Helps found Society for the Reformation of Manners

1789 Introduces his first bill to abolish the slave trade

1796A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians . . . is published

1797 Marries Barbara Spooner

1804 Helps found the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society

1807 British Parliament abolishes slave trade

1813 Helps convince Parliament to permit missionaries to India

1822 Helps form the anti-Slavery Society

1823 Launches campaign for emancipation of slaves

1825 Retires from the House of Commons

1833 Emancipation Act is passed: all slaves in the British Dominions granted freedom; Wilberforce dies and is buried at Westminster Abbey

By Sarah Williams

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #53 in 1997]

Sarah Williams is a research fellow in the department of theology at the University of Birmingham, England. She is author of the forthcoming, Religious Belief and Popular Culture: 1880—1939 (Oxford).
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