History of William Wilberforce: British Emancipation Act

William Wilberforce

Early Life

Born in Hull in Yorkshire, upon his father’s death in 1768 he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Wimbledon. While there, he came into contact with the great evangelist George Whitefield. He was also influenced by the former slave-trading sea captain, pastor John Newton. However, his mother and grandfather wanted him away from Newton’s influence, which they thought was too evangelical and “Methodist,” much too enthusiastic for respectable Anglicans, and returned him to Hull.

Dramatic Change

What was the source of his motivation? At the age of 25, he heard very clearly the Gospel of Christ and converted in a way that changed his life. He would rise early in the morning to read his Bible, pray, and keep a journal. Within two years, he determined to serve God by serving the lowest and most ill-treated. But what of his blossoming career in Parliamentary politics? At this point, he decided to visit his old preacher, John Newton, who was now an influential Anglican clergyman installed as rector of St Mary Woolnothin London. Wilberforce considered retiring from public life to engage fully in the spiritual life.


When in 1797 he settled in Clapham, he became a member of the so-called “Clapham Sect,” a group of devout Christians dedicated to correcting social ills. Wilberforce was himself dedicated to and helped found numerous parachurch groups like the Society for Bettering the Cause of the Poor, the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Antislavery Society, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He championed the cause of chimney sweeps, single mothers, Sunday schools, orphans, and juvenile delinquents. In total, he supported 69 philanthropic causes, giving one forth of his annual income to the poor.

Writer and technologist. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, and pop culture. billpetro.com @billpetro

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