Faithful Heroes: Wilbur Wilberforce

If you have seen the movie Amazing Grace then you may remember the story of William Wilberforce. He championed for the abolition of slavery in early 19th Century England.

William Wilberforce was born on August 24, 1759 in Yorkshire, England. He was the only son of Robert and Elizabeth Bird Wilberforce.

Wilbur Wilberforce portrait by John Rising

His father, a wealthy merchant, died when he was nine. He was sent to live with an aunt and uncle and attended a boarding school, where he discovered evangelical Christianity. His Church of England mother brought him home three years later, disagreeing with his upbringing.

The deaths of his grandfather and uncle left him independently wealthy and more interested in the social scene rather than his education.

He became interested in politics and at the age of 21 was elected as a Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull, while still a student.

In October 1784, he accompanied his mother and sister on a trip to France. Sometime around then he gave his life to Christ and began to change his ways. He began to debate whether he should stay in politics or not. He sought the counsel of John Newton who encouraged him to remain in politics. He began to advocate for reform, but many did not trust his conservative ideals.

His desire for reform moved on to the abolition of the slave trade, which Britain had been involved in for over two centuries. He fought fearlessly and tirelessly to have the laws changed for over four decades on this matter.

On May 30, 1797 he married Barbara Ann Spooner. The couple would have six children over he next ten years.

unfinished portrait of Wilbur Wilberforce

Wilburforce continued to fight not only for the abolition of slavery, but also to improve morals, education and religious beliefs and norms of the time.

He is said to be generous with his time and money, giving much away to the poor, paying off the debts of others, helping with food shortages, supporting education and missions and assisting needy ministers, the sick and many others in need.

His health began to fail and by 1825, he was forced to resign his parliament seat. He made is final anti-slavery speech in April 1833.

On July 26, 1833, he heard that the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery would be passed. Three days later he took his final breath on earth.

A month later, the House of Lords passed the Slavery Abolition Act.

Both Houses of Parliament urged he be honored with a burial in Westminster Abbey and the family agreed.

Five years later, two of his sons published a five volume biography of their father and later a collection of his letters. In 1840, a seated statue of him was erected in Westminster Abbey. A statue of him was also erected in his home town of Hull, England.

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