Guided Readings: Slavery and Abolition

Sid Lapidus Collection: Liberty and the American Revolution


The campaign to end slavery was a prolonged struggle. In England and in America in the eighteenth century, some authors such as Daniel Defoe and Samuel Johnson in England depicted slavery as ugly and immoral. In the 1750s, Quaker groups in the colonies began taking public positions against slavery, yet they remained a minority as few colonists spoke out against slavery on religious grounds. In 1776 most white Americans either accepted slavery or actually owned slaves, while others participated in the slave trade.


  • John Newton, Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade (London, 1788).
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    John Henry Newton (1725–1807), was involved with the slave trade as a young man. After experiencing a religious conversion, he became a minister, hymn-writer, and later a dedicated supporter of the abolition of slavery. He was the author of many hymns, including "Amazing Grace."
  • Description of a Slave Ship (London, 1789).
    The deck plan of the British slave ship Brookes illustrates the inhuman method of transporting slaves, effectively making them human cargo. This book illustration, based on a broadside published by the British Abolitionist Society in 1789, was a highly effective propaganda tool for the anti-slavery movement.