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Wesley’s Britain in the 1700s - Slavery



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

John Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery and the language of the heart – Brycchan Carey

John Wesley was a lifelong opponent of slavery… ‘Ever since I heard of it first’ he wrote to Granville Sharp in October 1787, ‘I felt a perfect detestation of the horrid slave trade’….Wesley actively opposed the slave trade from the early 1770s onwards.  Scholars of both Methodism and of abolitionism have often noted in passing his contributions to the accelerating abolition movement, which have survived in the form of a pamphlet, a group of letters and a number of Journal entries.

Wesley’s life coincided with the height of the transatlantic slave trade.  Britain had been a minor participant in the trade since the late 16th century.  In 1660, Charles II had given the trade systematic government support and British involvement grew at a sharp rate over the following years. 

John Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery and the language of the heart – Brycchan Carey

Wesley did not operate in a vacuum and his antislavery ideas, in advance of the general view though they may have been, nevertheless plainly emerged from existing discourses about slavery

They also come about from his time in America (1736-37).  Wesley spent most of his time in the colony of Georgia, where slavery was illegal until 1751, however, the law was not always enforced.  He also visited South Carolina.  Another source was a book by a Quaker – Some historical account of Guineau.  The author Anthony Benezet in a letter to a publisher said “my friend John Wesley promises he will consult with thee about the expediency of some weekly publication in the newspapers on the origin, nature and dreadful effects of the slave trade”.

In 1774, Wesley wrote a 53 page pamphlet with the title Thoughts upon slavery. 

Hundreds of publications opposing both slavery and the slave trade were printed and distributed between 1785 and 1795.  The Abolition Society was formed in 1787.  The campaign was not immediately successful but, following a ten year lull, the slave trade was abolished in 1807.

Although it is the work of the later Society and men such as Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce of whom we hear most, Benezet, Sharp and Wesley were certainly one of the most significant groupings in the early campaign against slavery.  A beacon to guide those who followed.

The source of the experience

Wesley, John

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps