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The Anti-Slavery Society or ASS was the everyday name of two different Britishmarker organizations.

The first was founded in 1823 and was committed to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Its official name was the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions. This objective was achieved in 1838 under the terms of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

In 1839, a successor organisation was formed, committed to worldwide abolition. Its official name was The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. This continues today as Anti-Slavery International.


The elimination of slavery throughout the world was frequently in the mind of early abolitionists, but it was not the objective of the earliest organised British movements. The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which established the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain in 1787. The committee campaigned for an end to the Transatlantic slave trade from Western Africa to the New World, which Britain dominated.

The Slave Trade Act 1807 made the slave trade illegal in the British Empire. Following this, British abolitionists turned their attention to abolishing slavery itself, first in British colonies, and later in the USA and the colonies of other European powers (e.g. in south America), and parts of the world where it had long been legal, such as in the Middle East, Africa, and China.

The Anti-Slavery Society of 1823

The first British organisation to refer to itself as the Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Britain in 1823. Founding members included William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson. Its official name was the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions.

Its work included supporting the first account of slavery to be published by a Black woman, Mary Prince. She ran away when her master brought her to England and Thomas Pringle, Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society 1827-34, gave her employment. In 1831 Pringle arranged for her to publish her influential book, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave (1831). The publishers were sued by the family she had escaped from, but it was much sought after, the book running into three editions in the year of its publication.

A wide range of views emerged between the members. Broadly there were abolitionists who insisted on the full working out of the gradual process of abolition and amelioration (which had its successes); and the generally younger, more radical members, whose moral outlook regarded slavery as a mortal sin to be ended forthwith.

The latter group sought a public campaign, campaigning throughout the cities of Britain by Joseph Sturge and many others. The idea was to engender public pressure for a new Parliamentary Act to outlaw slavery, rather than continue the gradualism of Whitehall's negotiations, mainly with colonial governments. In 1831 George Stephen and Joseph Sturge formed a ginger group within the Anti-slavery Society, the Agency Committee, to campaign for this new Act of Parliament. This campaign, and public pressure, led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, though it contained compromises which they disliked.

The indentured labour schemes were particularly opposed by Sturge and the Agency Committee supporter; and the full working out of the Act would take several years, with slavery eventually being abolished throughout the British West Indies on 1 August 1838. In response to the new legislation, other members of the 'Anti-Slavery Society' considered their work was over. The original purpose, as reflected in the name of the society (abolition in the British dominions), had, they thought, been achieved.

The Anti-Slavery Society of 1839

The Agency Committee of the Anti-slavery Society considered there was as much reason for abolitionists to continue, as before. Moreover, that a society was now needed to tackle worldwide slavery, extending its campaigns to beyond the British Empire. The committee duly formed a new society, The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society on 17 April 1840 whose aim was to campaign against slavery worldwide. It became widely known as the Anti-Slavery Society, as had the earlier society.

It sought worldwide emancipation, campaigning for abolition in French colonies, the United Statesmarker (which was achieved in the 1860s after the American Civil War), in Zanzibarmarker where the slave trade continued much longer, and many other countries. This society, 'The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society' is still in existence today, though under a new name Anti-Slavery International. It is tackling modern slavery, which is a worldwide phenomenon that exists on a large scale, in many different forms, albeit no longer legal.

To help distinguish it as a new, worldwide, anti-slavery organisation, the society has always strictly dated its origins to 1839. Its first Secretary was John Harfield Tredgold; and its first Treasurer the Quaker abolitionist, George William Alexander of Stoke Newingtonmarker. Along with the founding Committee, which included the Anglican Thomas Fowell Buxton, the Quaker William Allen, the Congregationalist Josiah Conder, and the Baptist Rev. Dr Thomas Price, they organised the first World Anti-slavery Convention, in 1840. This was held in London, and attracted people from all over the world, the largest overseas contingent coming from the USA.

This first international anti-slavery convention had been planned as an all-male meeting but its London-based organisers quickly discovered as the conference opened, that this was not the approach being taken in the USA, from where female delegates had arrived. They could not fully participate, and prominent female abolitionists such as Anne Knight were outraged. She went on to form her own society.

In the 1850s, under Louis Chamerovzow, the Society helped, John Brown write and publish his autobiography a decade before the American Civil War ended such slavery in the USA.

The second paid Secretary of the Anti-slavery Society, appointed under the honorary secretaries Joseph Cooper and Edmund Sturge, was the Rev. Aaron Buzacott (1829-81), the son of a South Seas missionary also named Aaron Buzacott. With American slavey abolished, Aaron Buzacott worked closely with Joseph Cooper in researching and publishing work designed to help abolish slavery in elsewhere, particularly in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa.

The society continued until 1909 when it merged with the Aborigines' Protection Society to form the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines' Protection Society. In 1990 the society's name was changed to Anti-Slavery International.

Other anti-slavery societies

Besides the original London-based Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and anti-slavery societies for women, others were formed in various countries, such as the USA's American Anti-Slavery Society and later, the Anti-slavery Society of Canada that was formed predominantly to assist slaves that escaped into British territory from the United States, their work being developed by Samuel Ringgold Ward.

There is also a second, contemporary Anti-Slavery Society. This is an autonomous organization, though allied to Anti-Slavery International and 'Free the Slaves' that forms partnerships to rescue children from slavery and provide social reintegration. It is composed of two entities: the American Anti-Slavery Society (a new organization founded in 1995 with the same name as the old American Anti-Slavery Society founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison) and the Australian Anti-Slavery Society.

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