Thomas Clarkson

1760 (Wisbech, England) – 1846 (Playford)

In the campaign to abolish slavery in Britain and its colonies, Clarkson (a brilliant advocate for abolition) was as renowned as his close colleague Wilberforce. Wedgwood was a correspondent. Reynolds and Boswell were met over dinner in London. In the Lake District, the Wordsworths and Coleridge became close friends (Clarkson also got to know Southey); Coleridge called him a “moral steam engine”. He was visited by Douglass, and helped Equiano sell his autobiography. A visit from the Lambs was curtailed, probably by a fit of Mary’s madness. Haydon also visited Clarkson, to sketch him for an amusingly awkward group portrait.

John Newton

1725 (London) – 1807 (London)

Newton and Cowper were close friends and neighbours in Olney, where Newton was the parish priest. Newton got Cowper to contribute over 60 hymns to a collection he was preparing; he also took care of Cowper during suicidal bouts of depression. He became a mentor to Wilberforce, whom he’d first met as a child, visiting his aunt, and persuaded him he could achieve more for the abolitionist cause by staying on as a Member of Parliament than by entering the priesthood. Johnson published his thoughts on the slave-trade, while More sought his spiritual advice — he stayed with her at Cowslip Green.

William Wilberforce

1759 (Hull, England) – 1833 (London)

Clarkson and More were among those who persuaded Wilberforce to fight for the abolition of slavery; later, honeymooning, he stayed with More. Wedgwood met and corresponded with Wilberforce, and produced an anti-slavery medallion. Wilberforce visited Owen, who dedicated an influential essay to him, and corresponded about abolitionist issues with Morse. Southey, another correspondent, noted Wilberforce’s liveliness. Travelling in France with close friend William Pitt, Wilberforce met Franklin in Paris. The ex-slave-trader and author of ‘Amazing Grace’, Newton, was a visitor to Wilberforce’s aunt’s house; Wilberforce lived there after his father’s death, and said he revered Newton “like a parent.”