This is a list of important people in the anti-slavery (abolitionist) movement.
Not all the people necessarily shared the same views on the immediate emancipation of slaves. But, they played differing roles in bringing an end to the practice of slavery. I have listed these people in chronological order.
Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) Although a slave owner himself, he sought to outlaw slavery at different stages. In 1784, he proposed federal legislation banning slavery, but it failed to pass by one vote. As President, Jefferson sought to make slavery a crime and in 1807, passed the Act prohibiting the import of slaves.
Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) Although Franklin initially owned slaves himself. He became opposed to the institution. In 1785, he became president of an abolitionist group in Pennsylvania, originally formed by the Quakers.
Tom Paine (1737 – 1809) Paine was an English-American writer and political activist. He is credited with writing “African Slavery in America” (1776) one of first published works to call for the emancipation of black slaves.
John Jay (1745 – 1829 ) A son of a New York slave owner, Jay sought to abolish slavery in his state of New York and became one of leading advocates of manumission – the process where slaves are given their freedom. Jay also advocated the provision of education for former slaves.
Sojourner Truth (1797 – 1883) African-American abolitionist and women’s rights campaigner. A former slave who gave powerful speeches on the inhumanity of slavery and the justification for equal rights.
Nat Turner (1800 – 1831) African-American born into slavery. Turner led slaves and free blacks in an uprising against slavery. For two days, they killed slave owners and took matters into their own hands. He was later captured and executed.
John Brown (1800-1859) – A fervent abolitionist who believed in armed insurrection against the institution of slavery. In 1859, he led an armed uprising in Harpers Ferry, Virginia aiming to free slaves and end the practice. He was executed for his attempted uprising.
William Lloyd Garrison (1805 – 1879) – A prominent anti-slavery campaigner, Garrison founded the journal ‘The Liberator’ and made the radical call for immediate emancipation of slaves. Garrison often faced threats of physical violence and imprisonment for the radical force of his views.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) President of US during the American civil war. Lincoln made the famous Emancipation Proclamation (1863) – declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” – This proclamation was followed by the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution (1865) outlawing slavery.
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 – 1869) – US Campaigner against slavery. Her influential novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ (1852) helped challenge attitudes on slavery within America.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902 ) – Stanton was a vocal critic of slavery, campaigning for NY Anti-slavery society. She also helped the underground railroad, a movement helping black people to escape slavery.
Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) – Susan Anthony was an active member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. She met fierce hostility but continued to press for an amendment to the US Constitution to outlaw slavery. Also, prominent women’s right activist.
Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895) A former slave, Douglass became a leading figurehead in the anti-slavery movement. One of the most prominent African American leaders of the Nineteenth Century. His autobiography of life as a slave, and his speeches denouncing slavery – were influential in changing public opinion.
Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913) A former slave who escaped and then returned to lead other slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. She served in the Civil War as spy and guide. She became a well-known speaker on the experiences of slavery.
Sam Sharpe led the Christmas Rebellion in Jamaica (1831) – an event that catalysed anti-slavery sentiment. The event was also known as the Jamaican Baptist War. The Jamaican government’s severe reprisals was a factor in the UK (1833) Slavery Abolition Act.
Lord Mansfield (1705 – 1793) Judge whose opinion in Somerset’s Case (1772) set an important precedent that slavery was illegal in England.
James Ramsay (1733 – 1789) Ramsay was one of the first Anglican vicars to write extensively on the slave trade. His first-hand descriptions of the mistreatment of slaves was very influential in galvanising the anti-slavery movement in England.
Quakers. Quakers were amongst the first white people to denounce slavery. Many of the early anti-slavery societies in US and UK were created by Quakers.
Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795) A prominent anti-slavery campaigner. He is remembered for his medallion “Am I Not a Man And a Brother?” anti-slavery medallion.
William Wilberforce (1759 – 1833) – Campaigned against slavery, helping to outlaw slavery in Great Britain. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, was passed three days after his death.
Olaudah Equiano (1745 – 1797) – The first black African slave to write about his experience as a slave. His book ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano‘ played a pivotal role in turning public opinion in Britain against slavery.
Ignatius Sancho (1729 – 1780) – Former slave, who escaped and gained his freedom. His writings about his experiences provided a vivid first-hand account of the cruelty of slavery and also the humanity and personality of former slaves.
Thomas Clarkson (1760 – 1846) – English abolitionist and leading campaigner against the slave trade. Clarkson (at great personal cost) uncovered as much detail and knowledge about the slave trade as possible. His evidence was important in passing anti-slave bills.
David Livingstone (1813 – 1872) Livingstone was a popular Victorian missionary who explored the continent of Africa. He was also active in the anti-slave movement within Africa.
Baron de Montesquieu (1689 – 1755) Montesquieu was a key figure in the Enlightenment, writing on democratic principles. Though his opinions were mixed, in “The Spirit of the Laws”, he states slavery went against the natural order of things. His views influenced both American and European thought.
Maximilien Robespierre (1758 – 1794) Robespierre was one of the foremost figures of the French revolution. Robespierre signed the bill, when the New French Republic abolished slavery on 4 February 1794.
Jacques Pierre Brissot (1754 – 1793) Founded the Society of the Friends of the Blacks (Société des Amis des Noirs) to work for the abolition of slavery.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “People in the anti-slavery movement”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net Published 1st December 2013. Page last updated 15th February 2018.
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