Ep 3: Evangelicalism & British Abolitionism

In our second “big picture” historical context episode of “Women of the Church,” we (your co-hosts Ashley and Mandy) re-introduce ourselves. We then cover the basics of the religious landscape in eighteenth-century Britain and define some key terms. Because we don’t want to throw you to lions (or any other wild animal) here. Then we explain that “evangelicalism” may have older origins than the eighteenth century and define what it meant to be an evangelical in eighteenth-century Great Britain. Towards the end of the episode (we talked for a long time but thanks for hanging in there), we also talk about what factors contributed to the end of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the West Indies, including the Zong massacre. Lastly, we highlight some of the British male abolitionists who worked alongside the women that we will be featuring this season. We also explore an important question: what exactly is a quadrilateral?

Scripture References (ESV) 

Hebrews 11:1; John 13:31-35; Luke 10:25-28; Mark 12:28-31; Matt. 22:35-40

 Featured Women of the Church 

(Preview of Season One)

Lady Margaret Middleton (1730-1792): As the daughter of an upper-class British family, her parents expected her to marry a suitor of their choosing. But Margaret defied her parents and married the man of her choice, even though it meant losing her fortune. Considered one of the most “accomplished women of her time,” she used her connections and considerable influence to push for the first bills for abolition in British Parliament (qtd. in Rendell 45). 

Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810): In addition to raising twelve children, she was a celebrated writer and expert on children’s education. While deeply conservative, Sarah believed that women should speak out in favor of abolition and wrote abolitionist literature to further the aims of the movement. 

Hannah More (1745-1833): After achieving literary success in London as a writer and playwright, Hannah turned her attentions to her personal faith and the welfare of others. In addition to her work as an abolitionist, Hannah sought to reform society through writing educational literature, religious tracts, and political pamphlets. At Hannah’s funeral, the officiating ministerquoted from her famous novel Coelebs in Search of a Wife “to describe her guiding principle in life: 'If it be absurd to expect perfection, it is not unreasonable to expect consistency'” (Skedd). 

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784): With the publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773, she “became the first person of African descent to publish a book of poems in the English language, marking the beginning of an African-American literary tradition” (Gates 31).In her poems, Phillis articulated the truth that God made all humanity, regardless of class, gender, or race, in his image. 

Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831): After the early death of her husband, Elizabeth became a Quaker, eventually advocating for immediate abolitionism at a time when the abolition movement had stagnated. In addition to encouraging women to become abolitionists, she was a passionate activist for animal rights.

Jane Austen (1775-1817): She is one of the most celebrated English novelists of all time. Today, devotees of Austen lovingly call themselves “Janeites.” However, a lot of people don’t know that she was a devout Protestant and grew up surrounded by clergymen.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845): Queen Victoria (1819-1901) supported this Quaker’s philanthropic work, which included prison reform. Due to her contribution to society, the Bank of England featured her on the five-pound note for over a decade. 

Lucy Townsend (1781-1847): She was one of the founders of the first women’s anti-slavery society in Great Britain and the wife of an Anglican clergyman. In addition to her work in abolition, she worked to help the deaf and end practices like bull baiting. (Midgley)

Mary Prince (born in 1788): She was the daughter of slaves and was born in Bermuda.  Mary was “the first black British woman to ‘walk away’ from slavery, claim her freedom, and chronicle her experiences.” Her narrative, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, was published in 1831. (Ferguson)

Priscilla Buxton (1808-1852): She “was involved in organizing the national ladies' anti-slavery petition to parliament: her name…headed the list of 187,000 signatories.” A fellow anti-slavery campaigner noted that Priscilla’s work with her father Sir Charles Buxton, the politician who headed the final parliamentary action against slavery, was an essential contribution to the movement. (Midgley)


 “Here is the takeaway: religion was everywhere in eighteenth-century British life, but many British people increasingly saw the church as a religious institution that informed some of their thinking but did not necessarily change their hearts or actions.” 

“Evangelicalism was a movement, or a group identity, within the Church of England itself but it also permeated existing Protestant denominations (like Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists) and led to the establishment of Methodism. In many ways, evangelicals saw their beliefs as coming out of the Protestant Reformation. As historian Mark Noll has stated, ‘it was a true expression of Christianity that was life-changing’ (Noll 253). Out of their set of beliefs, evangelicals saw that it was necessary to enact social change that reflected their ethics.”

John Wesley in Thoughts on Slavery (1774): “You know [slaves] are procured by a deliberate series of more complicated villainy (of fraud, robbery, and murder) than was ever practiced …Now, it is your money that pays the merchant, and through the captain and the African butchers. You therefore are guilty, yea principally guilty, of all the frauds, robberies, and murders….; therefore, the blood of all these wretches who die before their time, whether in their country or elsewhere, lies upon your head” (qtd. in Noll 249).

Dates to Remember 

1730s-1740s: The period when religious revival spread, which became known as the Great Awakening in the North American colonies and the Evangelical Revival in Great Britain (Noll 18).

1781: The year that the crew of the slave ship Zongthrew 122 slaves overboard for financial gain. Another ten slaves killed themselves. Scholars argue that it was this publicized massacre of African slaves that caused many evangelicals to get involved in British abolitionism. 

May 22, 1787:  Twelve men founded The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in London. The first members (largely Quakers) choose Granville Sharp as president and Thomas Clarkson as secretary. 

Terms to Know

Anglican: The term used to describe the people, institutions, and churches of the Church of England.

Disssenters or Non-conformists: This term referred to the individuals who failed to conform to Anglican doctrine, as expressed in the Acts of Uniformity (1559, 1662), which established the English church (Melnyk 33).

Church: Primarily used to refer to Anglican houses of worship (Melnyk 182). 

Chapel: Primarily used to refer to dissenting houses of worship but also referred to any private space of worship (Melnyk 182). 

Puritanism: A religious movement in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Puritans stressed the need for “strong preaching for conversion, the search for personal godliness, and a devotion to lay study of Scripture.” These beliefs were held by Christians in England and the North American colonies. (Noll 55) 

Moravians: A denomination that was influenced byContinental Pietism.  Like the Puritans, “they saw themselves in a line of continuity stretching back to the Reformation, and, before that, the Early Church” (Noll 60; Knight and Mason 122). Emphasized things like the need for the individual believer to undergo a conversion and focused on the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ (Noll 60). 

Age of Enlightenment/Age of Reason: The spirit of the Age of Reason was nothing less than an intellectual revolution, a whole new way of looking at God, the world, and one’s self. It was the birth of secularism.” In the God-centered world order of the Protestant Reformation, “reason served faith” with “Man’s basic concern in this life was his preparation for the next.” Whereas the Age of Reason articulated a human-centered world order: “Man’s primary concern was not the next life, but happiness and fulfillment in this world” and man’s intellectual reason trumped faith. (Shelly 312)

Deism: Enlightenment thinkers espoused this type of theology. “God created the world as a watchmaker makes a watch, and then wound it up and let it run…Deists rejected anything that seemed to be an interference of God with the world, such as miracles or a special revelation of the Bible” (Shelley 316).

Evangelicalism: Historian David Bebbington’s definition of the movement is a helpful place to start. Conversionism, or the need to turn away from your sins and to Jesus Christ in faith (5); Activism, or to quote Hannah More: “Action is the life of virtue and the world is theatre of action” (12); Biblicism, or a “belief that all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages” (12); Crucicentrism, or the doctrine of atonement: “Jesus Christ died as the [perfect] substitute for sinful mankind” (15).

Quadrilateral: A four-sided figure (dictionary.com). So, apparently this does work for the “Bebbington Quadrilateral” but we still think “Bebbington Square” is the more obvious choice.

Scripture Memory

 “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” (Psalm 111:4).

Ashley’s Sources

Melnyk, Julie. Victorian Religion: Faith and Life in Britain. Praeger, 2008.

Knight, Mark, and Emma Mason. Nineteenth-Century Religion and Literature: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2006.

 Definition of “Liturgy.” https://www.churchofenglandglossary.co.uk/dictionary/definition/liturgy    

 Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Thomas Nelson, 2008.

 Noll, Mark. The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys. InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Rack, Henry D. “Wesley, John (1703–1791).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford University Press, 2004. 

 “Benjamin Franklin on Rev. George Whitefield 1739.” National Humanities Center. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/ideas/text2/franklinwhitefield.pdf

Bebbington, David. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. Allen & Unwin, 1989.

Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves. Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

Brown, Christopher Leslie. Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism. University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Paley, Ruth. "Somerset, James (b. c. 1741, d. in or after 1772), slave." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 3 January 2008. https://www-oxforddnb-com

Walvin, James. “Murdering Men.” Black Ivory: Slavery in the British Empire. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2001. Print.

Metaxas, Eric. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. Harper San Francisco, 2007.

Ditchfield, G. M. "Sharp, Granville (1735–1813), author and slavery abolitionist," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 4October 2012, https://www.oxforddnb-com.  Accessed 16 May. 2019. Dictionary of National Biography, 3 January 2008. https://www-oxforddnb-com

Fryer, P. Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, London, 1984.

Shyllon, F., Black People in Britain 1555-1833, London, New York and Ibadan, 1977.

Walvin, J., Black and White: The Negro and English Society 1555-1945, Aylesbury, 1973.

Mustakeem, Sowande’ M. Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage. University of Illinois Press, 2016.

Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. Viking, 2007.

Gates, Henry Louis. The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers. Basic Civitas Books, 2010.

Rendell, Mike. Trailblazing women of the Georgian era: the eighteenth-century struggle for female success in a man's world. Pen & Sword History, 2018.

Ferguson, Moira. “Prince [married name James], Mary (b. c. 1788).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. 

Skedd S.J. "More, Hannah (1745–1833), writer and philanthropist." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2014. 

Midgley, Clare. “Townsend [née Jesse], Lucy (1781–1847), slavery abolitionist.”  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004. 

Midgley, Clare. “Buxton [married name Johnston], Priscilla (1808–1852), slavery abolitionist.”  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004. 

JW Painting Source: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/john-wesley-preaching-from-the-steps-of-a-market-cross-133589

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