New Church Influences on the British Antislavery Movement

insurrection2.jpg“The greater part of [the slaves] were women and children. Notwithstanding this, they had been thrown into the sloop as if they had been articles of lumber, and devoid of feeling. Obliged, moreover, from too close a stowage, to lie on the inequalities and protuberances of the bare planks, without being able to change their position they had in the course of only eight days . . . been very materially hurt; for when I saw them brought out of the sloop, they had several contusions on various parts of their bodies, and in others their flesh was severely cut. A poor child in particular, about two years old, had a very deep wound in his side, made in the manner above stated. He lay afterwards, upon being landed, with the wound contiguous to the ground, so that the sand getting into it, put him to exquisite pain. I mention this instance, only to give an idea of what are thought to be rooms of accommodation for slaves, and of that inhumanity, which naturally springs out of the prosecution of this trade” (Carl B. Wadstrom. Observations on the Slave Trade and a Description of Some Part of the Coast of Guinea During a Voyage Made in 1787, and 1788, in Company with Doctor A. Sparrman and Captain Arrhenius. London: James Philips, 1789, 14–15).  

brooks.jpgThis eyewitness observation of the horrors of the African slave trade was made by Carl Bernhard Wadstrom, a Swedish member of the New Church who played an important role in the British antislavery movement. During a return voyage from Africa to Sweden he stopped in London, and was soon introduced to the leading abolitionists of the period—Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp, and William Wilberforce. Between 1789 and 1791 he was asked by them on three different occasions to provide critical testimony before the Privy Council and the House of Commons. He also published engravings, one of which was the famous engraving of the slave ship Brooks (see photo, above).

NewChurchHistory.org is pleased to announce the online publication of Brian D. Henderson’s paper,  “From Antislavery Thought to Antislavery Action: The Impact of the Last Judgment and the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg on the Birth of the Antislavery Movement.” The paper was originally presented at The World Transformed: A Conference Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Last Judgment, held in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, October 5th, 2007. 

A key question when looking at the antislavery movement is this: “What was it, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, that made men turn against an institution which, in one form or another, had existed since time immemorial? Why was slavery attacked then? Why not in the seventeenth century, or the sixteenth? Why, indeed, was it attacked at all?” (Howard Temperley. “The Ideology of Antislavery.” In The Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Origins and Effects in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, edited by Davis Eltis and James Walvin. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1981, 21). Henderson addresses this question in a variety of ways. His paper chronicles the history of the various justifications of slavery, and the emergence of a shift in opinion during the second half of the eighteenth century. He presents some of the theories put forth for this shift, and also looks at the specific influence of the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg on antislavery thought. And finally, he looks at the spiritual implications of the Last Judgment, an event that took place in the spiritual world in 1757, described in Swedenborg’s work The Last Judgment.

Photos: The photograph of a slave ship insurrection is one portion of a larger fold-out titled, “Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship.” The fold-out comes from a 1968 reprint of Carl B. Wadstrom’s book, An Essay on Colonization: Particularly Applied to the Western Coast of Africa, With Some Free Thoughts on Cultivation and Commerce. The work was first published in 1794. The second photograph showing cross sections of the slave ship Brooks is from the same fold-out. 

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March 27, 2008 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact