Quakers and the Abolition of the Slave Trade: Nine Quakers

The nine Quakers who helped form the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Because of their status as dissenters, Quakers were largely excluded from the professions in the eighteenth century. The individuals who led the campaign against the slave trade were, therefore, in the main independent businessmen with a strong social conscience. With their initiative and organisational abilities, along with the Quakers’ extensive contacts across the country, they were able to ensure the Society became a highly effective campaigning body.

John Barton (1754-1789): born in Cumbria; his father Bernard had moved to Carlisle, where he established a bleaching business, and when Bernard died his son took over the family business. John Barton fell in love with a young Quaker woman called Maria Done, and converted to Quakerism as part of his effort to woo Maria and win her parents’ approval for the match. Barton’s efforts for the Society were cut short by his early death at the age of 34.


William Dillwyn (1743-1825): a plump, ruddy-cheeked Quaker businessman from Pennsylvania, back in 1774 Dillwyn had carried a letter from Antoine Bénézet to Granville Sharp. After he moved to England, Dillwyn was the key member in helping the committee to understand the North American aspect of the slavery question.

George Harrison (1747-1827): the son of a shoemaker and contemporary of Samuel Hoare at a Quaker boarding school. A banker, Harrison helped re-energise the abolition movement after 1803.

Samuel Hoare (1751-1825): a London-based banker, and the Society’s treasurer.

Joseph Hooper (1732-1789): surgeon and apothecary, and the father of at least seven children. His death soon after the formation of the Society limited the contribution he made.

John Lloyd (1750-1811): the third son of a wealthy merchant and banker based in Birmingham. Lloyd himself went into the tobacco trade and travelled on business to the American Colonies in 1775-77. His encounters with slavery there made him a convinced abolitionist. Lloyd was, along with Dillwyn, the author of a pamphlet published in 1783 entitled The Case of our Fellow Creatures, the oppressed Africans, respectfully recommended to the serious Consideration of the Legislature of Great Britain by the people called Quakers.

James Phillips (1745-99): from Cornwall, where his family was engaged in the copper trade. He had moved to London and ran a printing and publishing business, which produced most of the Quaker and Abolitionist literature in the 1780s and 1790s. Phillips was at the centre of the informal network of abolitionists, and used his connections to obtain muster rolls at the Liverpool Customhouse – a vital information source, given the major role in the slave trade played by the port of Liverpool.

Richard Phillips (1756-1836): the cousin of James Phillips and a lawyer. A memoir of Richard’s life was written by his daughter Mary, and published in 1841. Thomas Clarkson said of Richard “In him I found much sympathy, and a willingness to co-operate with me. When dull and disconsolate, he encouraged me; when in spirits, he stimulated me further.”

Joseph Woods (1738-1812): a woollen merchant and brother-in-law of George Harrison, who had written a pamphlet in 1784 on “Thoughts on the Slavery of Negroes.” Woods agreed with the basic strategic decision to focus initially on the abolition of the slave trade, rather than on the institution of slavery.