Artifacts of this early date quality related to Wilberforce abolitionism are scarce. Additional connections linking Wilberforce to American slavery in the South and the American revolution make this an exceptional item.
Wilberforce had only aligned himself with the abolitionist cause in 1787. It was in April of the same year as the present letter that he made his first proposal for the abolition of the slave trade in Parliament. A fascinating glimpse into the early phases and work of the abolitionist cause in England.
Just four years into the work, Wilberforce raises funds and organizes mass movement of freed black slaves from America. In this extensive 4pp ALS, he describes the plight of the ex-slaves from the "southern states" of America who had sided with the British in the Revolutionary War. They had abandoned their American plantation owners, took refuge with British troops, and now that the war was over were "obnoxious" to the Americans.
And there were thousands and thousands of the so-called "black loyalists." After the British defeat, some were transported to London, others to the Caribbean, and around 3,000 were sent to Nova Scotia, where they were refugees, no promised land grants ever materializing.
As a result of Wilberforce's efforts, fifteen ships, the first fleet to bring Free blacks to Africa, left Halifax Harbour on January 15, 1792, and arrived in Sierra Leone between February 28 and March 9, 1792. The group became known as the "Nova Scotia Negroes,"
Dated December 3, 1791 and written at Yoxall Lodge while at the residence of fellow Clapham Sect member and co-abolitionist, Rev. Thomas Gisborne.
Conceiving you would feel interested about the settlement now forming on the Coast Africa, I lately desired a copy of the Report of the Directors of the Sierra Leone Company to the Court of Proprietors might be transmitted to you from London: this will best explain to you the nature & objects of the Institution, & I hardly need add anything to what it contains except that since its publication has been resolved to raise the Capital of £150,000—and that the accounts we have received from our agent both of the number & qualities of the Nova Scotia Negroes are extremely pleasing. You must not misconceive me to be canvassing for subscribers; we are likely to have as many as we want; but thinking you & any friends you should recommend to me would be proper Members of our Body, I should feel myself wanting in friendly regard to you if I were not to give you the opportunity of engaging, in what I must think a truly splendid project: if you desire to subscribe or any of your family or friends (let me desire you by a proper explanation to guard against the misconception I have suggested) I shall be glad to have letters properly subscribed sent to me at this place as to be here if possible by Saturday or Sunday next, that I may forward them as to be in London by the day, too early anone, appointed for receiving proposals a further day will be afterwards allowed. I am not sorry to have this opportunity of asking after you & yours, and shall be sincerely glad to have a good amount of you, your household & your whole circle.
Present my best respects to Mrs. W & all friends & believe me,
Yours very sincerely,
p.s. My eyes are but indifferent, though I am pretty well in other respects, & therefore write to you by another hand. When I dictated the sentence respecting the Nova Scotia negroes, I thought an account of them had been given in the Report: but as, in since glancing my eye over the pages I see no mention of it, it may be proper to be a little more particular. The Negroes here referred to formerly inhabited the southern provinces of the United States, & having sided with us during the war, & being consequently obnoxious to the Americans, they were, as a reward to their Loyalty, transported to the genial climate of Nova Scotia, where they have been ever since in a most deplorable way: besides the rigours of a Climate so ill adapted to their constitutions, they were very ill treated in other respects, the land promised them was not given, &c &c. Sir H. Clinton spoke to me himself concerning them, and bore testimony to their claim on the protection & good offices of this country. These poor people hearing a confused report of an intended settlement on the coast of Africa, sent one of their number about a year ago to London to inquire into the truth of it, and to request, if it should seem expedient to him, that government would transport them thither. We took up the cause, & administration sent out orders accordingly. We expect about 700 men, women, & children will come over to Sierra Leone, with our agent this or the next month; and there is every reason to hope they will form a most valuable acquisition: you understand they are all free people."