Slaves bound by chains, the sounds of creaking ship masts, and the barter of human flesh all seem alien to our impressions of eighteenth-century Buckinghamshire. Yet Christians of Olney played an important role in the long campaign to abolish the Atlantic slave trade. Though they sometimes made their most dramatic impact upon English laws and society after leaving the county, their tranquil refuge by the Ouse nurtured contemplation and conviction and led to a profound change in all of England and even all the world. Regard for Olney’s curate, Rev. John Newton, led the great Parliamentary leader William Wilberforce (1759-1833) to take up the antislavery cause. A successor curate in Olney to Newton, Rev. Thomas Scott, had as profound an impact on Wilberforce and also on a young Baptist intern at Olney, William Carey, who would become a pioneer missionary to the far reaches of the globe. Carey’s Baptist mentor, John Sutcliff, spent 39 years as a pastor in Olney, and led the Northamptonshire Baptist Association of churches to bear united witness against the enslavement of Africans. Poet William Cowper, a friend of Newton and Scott and of Sutcliff, was acknowledged by famed Quaker abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to be ‘much admired…and a great co-adjutor’ in the cause.1 Together these men endow Olney with a just claim to fame. John Newton (1725-1807), curate of Olney from 1764 to 1780, was a spiritual father to Anglican antislavery activists. He helped convince Wilberforce to persevere in his calling to elected office when the MP was tempted to exchange it for the Christian ministry. Newton published eyewitness accounts of the African slave trade and even testified before Parliamentary and royal fact-finding commissions in the efforts to end it.2 Before John Newton became an advocate for the abolitionist cause in his later ministry, such a role for him seemed highly unlikely. Born in London, the son of a naval captain, Newton shared crowded slave ship decks with white men of foul lips and hard hearts. He once became a virtual slave of the black mistress to a slave trader on an island off the coast of west Africa, later describing himself as a ‘servant of slaves’. Ultimately freed by the interposition of a family friend he sailed thrice as captain of a slave ship. He later become a priest through the patronage of the Earl of Dartmouth, who had read the autobiographical letters of Newton published in 1764 as An Authentic Narrative of Some Remarkable and Interesting Particulars in the Life of [John Newton].3 The Earl arranged for him to settle in Olney as curate the same year. When he had first begun to experience conviction of his sin John Newton had put blasphemy, not involvement in the slave trade, at the head of the list of sins which convicted him. He sought to reform his life and to understand better the Word of God. As Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh has written, ‘participation in the cruelty of the slave trade did not yet seem even to trouble his conscience’.4 Newton wrote of the experience: ‘For the space of about six years the Lord was pleased to lead me in a secret way. I had learnt something of the evil of my heart. I had read the Bible over and over, with several good books, and had a general view of gospel truth. But my conceptions were in many respects confused, not having in all this time met with one acquaintance who could assist my inquiries’.5 Newton again wrote in 1763: The reader may perhaps wonder, as I now do myself, that, knowing the state of this vile traffic . . . I did not at the time [recoil] with horror at my own employment as an agent in promoting it. Custom, example, and [self-]interest had blinded my eyes. I did it ignorantly, for I am sure [that] had I thought of the slave trade then as I have thought of it since, no considerations would have induced me to continue in it. Though my religious views were not very clear, my conscience was very tender, and I [would not have dared to displease] God by acting against the light of my mind. . . . I should have been overwhelmed with distress and terror, if I had known or even suspected, that I was acting wrongly. I felt greatly the disagreeableness of the business. The office of a gaoler, and the restraints under which I was obliged to keep my prisoners, were not suitable to my feelings; but I considered it as the line of life which God in His providence had allotted me, and as a cross which I ought to bear with patience and thankfulness till he should be pleased to deliver me from it.6 Three decades later, reflecting on his years in the slave trade, he wrote: Perhaps what I have said of myself may be applicable to the nation at large. The slave trade was always unjustifiable; but inattention and interest prevented for a time the evil from being perceived. It is otherwise at present; the mischiefs and evils connected with it have been, of late years, represented with such undeniable evidence, and are now so generally known, that I suppose there is hardly an objection can be made to the wish of thousands, perhaps of millions, for the suppression of this trade, but upon the ground of political expedience.7 Newton initially left the slave trade principally because of his health. He spent years in Liverpool employed at the port, all the while teaching himself theology and foreign languages before soliciting episcopal ordination in the Church of England. Life sometimes is filled with paradoxes. In 1793 he wrote: I think my heart was never more warm and fixed, than during my two last voyages to Africa, though I was engaged in a traffic, which I now see was unlawful and abominable.8 On his own initiative in 1788, to expose mistreatment of slaves, he published his recollections of ‘unmerciful whippings’ and ‘torture [of slaves by] the thumbscrews’.9 A mate of a ship in a long-boat purchased a young woman with a fine child of about a year old in her arms. In the night, the child cried much, and disturbed his sleep. He rose up in great anger, and swore that if the child did not cease making such a noise he would presently silence it. The child continued to cry. At length he rose up a second time, tore the child from the mother, and threw it into the sea.10 The eighteenth century was a time of great cruelty in many areas of society. Criminals were kept in insanitary prisons with the insane and debtors, child labour was commonplace, and animal mistreatment was not only ignored but sometimes even celebrated. For a time there seems to have been a widespread cultural deafness to matters which today we would find appalling. Newton’s repentance of his former ways grew to such total loathing that he was unwilling to accept any credit for his antislavery activity later in life, even though his proved to be vital opposition to the slave trade. In a 1792 letter he wrote to a friend in Edinburgh: I have been hurt by two or three letters directed to Dr. Newton. I beg you to inform my friends in Scotland as they come in your way, that after a little time, if any letters come to me, addressed to Dr. Newton, I shall be obliged to send them back unopened. I know no such person, I never shall, I never will, by the grace of God…. My youthful years were spent in Africa, and I ought to take my degrees (if I take any) from thence. Shall such a compound of misery and mischief, as I then was, be called DOCTOR? Surely not.11 Thomas Scott (1747-1821), curate of Olney from 1781 to 1785, helped shape public opinion and encouraged both William Cowper and William Carey in the antislavery cause. While in Olney he led Carey to his evangelical faith, and after leaving Olney he wrote a Bible Commentary which contained important antislavery sentiments and became the most widely read in nineteenth-century America. Scott also had a profound influence on English society. In 1807 he wrote: I feel [proud now] that [more than] twenty years ago I withstood with all my energy [the recommendation of one] who advised Mr. W[ilberforce] to retire from public life. Had that counsel been followed, the slave trade might have been continued to future generations.12 Wilberforce knew Thomas Scott for 35 years, heard his preaching regularly in London, and wrote of …[his] extensive acquaintance with scripture, [his] accurate knowledge of the human heart, and [his] vehement and powerful appeals to the conscience, with which all his sermons abounded to a greater degree than those of any other minister I ever attended.13 In 1807 Scott received a ‘mark of esteem and regard’ from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Because of his Commentary on the Whole Bible Dickinson College awarded him the degree of DD14, no doubt also in part because of his fearless anti-slavery stand. Scott’s Commentary had a widespread influence and from 1808 to 1819 more than 25,000 copies and eight editions were printed in the United States.15 One unfriendly critic had to admit that by 1864 it was the most popular Bible commentary in America.16 John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, was a devoted reader of Scott’s Commentary. [Adams] had been minister to five different European courts, senator of the United States, appointed to the Supreme [Court], had been eight years Secretary of State, and four years President. His opportunities were great, his advantages rare, his natural abilities strong.17 A professor at Harvard University from 1806 until 1809, he must have noticed republication in 1809 in Cambridge, Massachusetts (where Harvard is located) of an edition of Scott’s Essays on the Most Important Subjects in Religion, written in Olney and published first in Britain in 1785. In one of those essays Scott asks: What then shall we think of the accursed slave trade, which will surely bring vengeance on this nation, if much longer tolerated! Even laws . . . [protect] the persons concerned in this enormous guilt; and they, who should punish the murderer and yet suffer him to escape, will be numbered among the abettors of his crime at God’s tribunal.18 After a year as President, Adams, a regular student of Thomas Scott’s works, wrote in his diary for 31 December 1825, I rise usually between five and six – that is, at this time of the year, from an hour and a half to two hours before sun. I walk by the light of the moon or stars, or none, about four miles, usually returning home in time to see the sun rise from the eastern chamber of the House. I then make my fire, and read three chapters of the Bible, with Scott’s and Hewlett’s Commentaries.19 His family and political supporters discouraged Adams from any involvement in the slavery debates, but Adams had a conscience no doubt sensitized by his daily reading of the Bible and Thomas Scott’s Commentary. In his last years he was urged to represent a group of helpless black Africans who after being rescued from a Spanish slave ship, the Amistad, which had made its way to the coast of Connecticut, yet were threatened with deportation to forced labour in the Spanish Caribbean plantations. The case of their liberation by the United States Supreme Court became an American landmark in jurisprudence.20 Adams made the following entry in his diary for March 29, 1841: I am yet to revise for publication my argument in the case of the Amistad Africans; and . . . I find impulses of duty upon my own conscience which I cannot resist, while on the other hand are the magnitude, the danger, the insurmountable burden of labor to be encountered in the undertaking to touch upon the slave-trade. No one else will undertake it; no one but a spirit unconquerable by man, woman or fiend can undertake it but with the heart of martyrdom. The world, the flesh, and all the devils in hell are arrayed against any man who now in this North American Union shall dare to join the standard of Almighty God to put down the African slave-trade; and what can I, upon the verge of my seventy-fourth birthday, with a shaking hand, a darkening eye, a drowsy brain, and with all my faculties dropping from me one by one, as the teeth are dropping from my head – what can I do for the cause of God and man, for the progress of human emancipation, for the suppression of the African slave-trade? Yet my conscience presses me on; let me but die upon the breach.21 The impact of Thomas Scott of Olney upon John Quincy Adams profoundly affected the course of American jurisprudence. John Sutcliff (1752-1814), a minister of the Baptist church in Olney from 1775 to 1814, was Carey’s mentor and a leader in the Northamptonshire Baptist Association, the fraternal fellowship of churches which financially supported London’s Antislavery Committee. A letter from Sutcliff’s church in 1792 to fellow-Baptists gave expression to his views: …we tenderly feel for those who are groaning under the scourge of tyranny, or suffering in the cause of liberty; while we reprobate the conduct of those who are engaged in the wicked business of enslaving others, and sympathize with such as fall into their merciless hands.22 After Sutcliff came to Olney in 1775 he assumed shared leadership not only of the local Baptist congregation but also of the larger body. It was the practice of the Baptist Association to receive annual letters from member churches which were read at Association meetings, and then printed in a ‘Circular Letter’. The 1787 Circular Letter mentions that it was Agreed, …That as we are informed of an intended application to parliament for an abolition of the slave trade, we will use all lawful means for the promoting of so just and humane a design.23 The 1791 Circular Letter records that for the 6 a.m. Thursday morning meeting, after prayer and the reading of reports, the meeting attended to the business of the Association fund, and It was unanimously voted that five guineas should be sent up to the Treasurer of the Society for procuring [John Newton’s] Abolition of the Slave Trade, that we might shew our hearty abhorrence of that wicked and detestable merchandize; the reception of which sum has been since acknowledged in the most obliging manner, by Granville Sharp, Esq. Chairman of the Committee; who assures us, that the Committee ‘are now more animated, if possible, than ever, against the iniquitous and disgraceful practices of Slave-dealers and Slave-holders, and are firmly determined (as by an indispensible [sic] duty to God and man) to persevere in their endeavours, by all legal means, to effect the abolition of such enormities’.24 In 1792 another five guineas were ‘[v]oted for the Committee [f]or the repeal of the slave trade’ by the Association ‘to be transmitted by the moderator, to the Chairman of the Committee for procuring the abolition of the inhuman and ungodly Trade in the persons of Men’. 25 The anti-slavery expenditure was the largest single contribution made. At the very meeting when a call for missionaries to the utmost corners of the earth was made, the messengers voted also to send substantial financial contributions to the Anti-Slavery Committee, headed by Anglican Granville Sharp, as evidence of the Baptists’ commitment to the cause. The Baptists viewed both anti-slavery efforts and foreign mission work as their responsibilities, and John Sutcliff led them. William Carey (1761-1834), whose family came from Olney and who served from 1785 to 1787 as an intern pastor and member of the Baptist Church in Olney, was an ardent abolitionist. With his tract, An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, he inspired a veritable army of linguists, teachers, and physicians who went to the ends of the earth, almost as a penance for the evils of the slave trade. Often called the father of the modern missionary movement, Carey also was a ‘whole-souled Emancipationist’.26 The name Carey appears 60 times in the Olney parish register during the century before his birth.27 Carey studied under John Sutcliff in Olney for two years and afterwards was called to Leicester. A deacon of the Baptist church in Leicester once said he ‘never heard Carey pray without remembrance of the slaves’.28 It was part of Carey’s ‘own response to the slave trade . . . to abandon the use of sugar that he might cleanse his hands of blood’29. William Cowper’s poem, ‘Pity for Poor Africans’, exclaimed sarcastically: I pity them greatly, but I must be mum For how could we do without sugar and rum? Especially sugar, so needful we see? What! give up our desserts, our coffee and tea?30 Carey once wrote from the Serampore mission in India: ‘If there be any thing of the work of God in my soul, I owe much of it to [Thomas Scott’s] preaching, when I first set out in the ways of the Lord.’31 In 1791 William Carey composed An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens – one hundred pages which changed the world. Permeated with antislavery sentiment and fired with the missionary spirit, he wrote: ‘Is it not the duty of Christians to attempt to do something toward spreading the Gospel in the heathen world?’ The Northampton Baptist Association had requested him to draw up an essay on the need for prayer, the needs of the heathen around the world, and the need to consider the times. One of Carey’s arguments for missionary endeavour was this: ‘have not English traders, for the sake of gain, surmounted all those things which have generally been counted insurmountable obstacles in the way of preaching the gospel? Witness . . . even the accursed Slave-Trade on the coasts of Africa. Men can insinuate themselves into the favour of the most barbarous clans, and uncultivated tribes, for the sake of gain; and how different soever the circumstances of trading and preaching are, yet this will prove the possibility of ministers being introduced there.’32 If slaves could be imported, why could not the gospel be exported? The Northamptonshire Baptist Association resolved to send William Carey to establish schools in India, translate the Bible into its native languages, and plant a beachhead which remains even to the present day. In his Enquiry Carey remarks that a noble effort has been made to abolish the inhuman Slave-Trade, and though at present it has not been so successful as might be wished, yet it is to be hoped it will be persevered in, till it is accomplished. In the meantime it is a satisfaction to consider that the late defeat of the abolition of the Slave-Trade has proved the occasion of a praiseworthy effort to introduce a free settlement, at Sierra Leona, on the coast of Africa; an effort which, if succeeded with a divine blessing, not only promises to open a way for honourable commerce with that extensive country, and for the civilization of its inhabitants, but may prove the happy means of introducing amongst them the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.33 In Carey’s view, the abolition of the slave trade was a motivation for the missionary calling, and was clearly tied to its purpose at its very inception. Carey from his conversion was fierce against [slavery]. His sisters never heard him pray without reference to this traffic ‘so inhuman and accursed.’ Under the influence of Cowper he watched the collaboration of Clarkson, Wilberforce, Macaulay, and Sharp; the Commons faced with the question; Fox’s stand for abolition; Wilberforce’s superb effort in the House in 1789, and the [sub]sequent mitigation of the transport atrocities; then, alas, in 1791, the Trade’s smashing triumph, [in] spite of Wesley’s dying entreaty, through Parliament’s reaction [to] the turbulence of France.34 Upon passage of the emancipation law in 1833, news travelled quickly to India. The introduction of steamboats meant that news from London to Calcutta, via Egypt, could then travel in a mere 64 days! In those last months of Carey’s life, a Danish physician at the Serampore mission read to him a letter which had been mailed from London. It reported that ‘the cabinet meant to . . . emancipate the West Indian slaves.’ ‘This…news’, says J.C.Marshman, ‘has rejoiced us all, but especially Carey. For many years, in his every prayer, he has been pleading for the destruction of slavery. In no public question has he taken a deeper interest. When the particulars of the measure were [read], with tears in his eyes he thanked God.’35 William Cowper (1731-1800), who lived in Olney 18 years (1768-1786), took up writing poetry while there and became one of the greatest poets England has produced. His work was a precursor to the dawning of the Romantic movement and he ‘was one of the most prolific and influential antislavery poets of the eighteenth century…. During the 1780s [he] introduced powerful antislavery passages into his long meditative poems and published shorter abolitionist lyrics in newspapers and magazines.’36 Cowper ‘was one of the earliest, if not the first [to have] expressed their detestation of the diabolical [slave] traffic’.37 Cowper showed great versatility in writing poems and songs to suit different eyes and ears combatting slavery…. [He] used his influence with his old [friends from London] to promote the anti-slavery cause, and he was careful to solicit the attention of his Whig relations who had still an important voice in the affairs of the nation.38 The important Quaker abolitionist leader Thomas Clarkson warmly acknowledged Cowper’s contribution to his cause. Clarkson wrote: The last of the necessary forerunners and coadjutors of this class, whom I am to mention, was our much admired poet Cowper; and a great co-adjutor he was, when we consider what value was put upon his sentiments, and the extraordinary circulation of his works.39 When it was rumoured that Cowper had refused to sign an anti-slavery petition because he had changed his mind, he denounced the report vehemently. In a letter from ‘Oulney’ dated 16 February, 1788, he stated: ‘I have already borne my testimony in favour of our Black Brethren, […] I was one of the earliest, if not the first of those who have in the present day, expressed their detestation of the diabolical traffic in question[…]. On all these accounts I judged it best to be silent, and especially because I cannot doubt that some effectual measures will now be taken to alleviate the miseries of their condition, the whole nation being in possession of the case, and it being impossible also to alledge an argument in behalf of Man-merchandize that can deserve a hearing.40 Later, in 1792, he wrote to a minister friend, ‘I think it would be better the negroes should have eaten one another than that we should carry them to market.’41 Cowper had no good reason for being optimistic in 1788. Not until 20 years later would the slave trade be outlawed and not for another 25 years after that would emancipation finally be achieved. However, he was right in his judgment that poetry has a faculty to change the heart even more than the preached word. He once wrote, ‘It is a noble thing to be a poet; it makes all the world so lively. I might have preached more sermons than ever Tillotson did, and better, and the world would have been still fast asleep; but a volume of verse is a fiddle that puts the universe in motion.’42 In one of his most widely admired poems, Cowper described African slavery with great sadness: I would not have a slave to till my ground, To carry me, to fan me while I sleep, And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth That sinews bought and sold have ever earn’d. No: dear as freedom is, and in my heart’s Just estimation priz’d above all price, I had much rather be myself the slave And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him. We have no slaves at home.- Then why abroad? And they themselves once ferried o’er the wave That parts us, are emancipate and loos’d. Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs Receive our air, that moment they are free, They touch our country and their shackles fall. That’s noble, and bespeaks a nation proud And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through ev’ry vein Of all your empire. That where Britain’s power Is felt, mankind may feel her mercy too.43 Hon. Thomas E. Martin, Jr, BA, JD [The author is Magisterial District Judge, District Court 15-4-04, Avondale, Pennsylvania, USA.] References 1 Clarkson, Thomas, History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishments of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, London, 1808, p.109. 2 Colquhoun, John Campbell, Wilberforce: His Friends and His Times, Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, London, 2d ed., 1867, pp.100-102. 3 republished in, inter alia, Cecil, Richard, The Life of the Rev. John Newton, Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, London. Written by Himself to A.D. 1763, and Continued to his Death in 1807, American Tract Society, New York, n.d.. 4 Hindmarsh, D.Bruce, John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition, William B. Eerdmans Pub.Co., Grand Rapids (Michigan), 2001, at p.58. 5 quoted in Bull, Josiah, John Newton of Olney and St. Mary Woolnoth: An Autobiography and Narrative Compiled Chiefly From His Diary and Other Unpublished Documents, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1998, at p.58. 6 quoted in Bull, Josiah, op.cit., pp.60-61 7 Newton, John, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade, reprinted in, inter alia, The Posthumous Works of the Late Rev. John Newton, Philadelphia, W.W. Woodward, 1809, vol. ii, p.231. 8 Newton, John, Letters and Conversational Remarks of the Rev. John Newton during the last eighteen years of his life [addressed to and] edited by the Rev. John Campbell, (hereinafter cited as Letters and Conversational Remarks) London, Religious Tract Society, n.d. (1808), Letter xi, p 18. 9 Newton, John, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade, p. 236. Written to provide the public with understanding of the slave trade, the essay, Newton told Cowper, had been written ‘without solicitation’. Martin, Bernard and Spurrell, M. (eds.), The Journal of a Slave Trader, John Newton (1750-1754), Epworth Press, London, 1962, p. xv. 10 Newton, John, Thoughts on the African Slave Trade, p. 238. 11 Newton, John, Letters and Conversational Remarks, Letter iv, pp. 5-6. 12 Scott, John, Life of Thomas Scott, D.D., W.W. Woodward, Philadelphia, 1823, p. 387. 13 Scott, John, op.cit., pp. 564-566. 14 Scott, John, op.cit., p. 274. 15 Wilson, Daniel, Two Sermons Occasioned by the Death of the Rev. Thomas Scott, London, 1821, p. 28. 16 Hopkins, John Henry, A Scriptural,Ecclesiastical ,and Historical View of Slavery ,From the Days of the Patriarch Abraham, to the Nineteenth Century. Addressed to the Right Rev. Alonzo Potter, D.D., Negro Universities Press, New York, 1969, p. 142. 17 Blaine, James G., Twenty Years of Congress from Lincoln to Garfield, with a review of the political events which led to the Revolution of 1860, Norwich, Henry Bill Publishing Co., 1884, vol. i, p. 69. 18 Scott, Thomas, Essays on the Most Important Subjects in Religion, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (2d Amer. ed.) 1809, pp. 66-67. 19 Nevins, Allan, ed., Diary of John Quincy Adams (1794-1845), Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1951, New York, p. 354. 20 United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, 40 U.S. 518 (1841). Ironically, Amistad is Spanish for ‘Friendship’! 21 Nevins, Allan, ed., op.cit., p. 519. 22 Letter from the Baptist Church at Olney to the Northamptonshire Baptist Association dated 29 May 1792; preserved in the Northamptonshire Public Record Office. Northampton, England. 23 Circular Letter from Baptist Ministers and Messengers, preserved in Northamptonshire Public Record Office, Northampton, England. 24 Circular Letter from Baptist Ministers and Messengers, preserved in Northamptonshire Public Record Office, Northampton, England. 25 Minutes of Northamptonshire Baptist Association Meeting, 1792, preserved in Northamptonshire Public Record Office, Northampton, England. 26 Carey, S.Pearce, William Carey D.D., Fellow of Linnean Society, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., London, 1923, at p. 8. 27 Carey, S.Pearce, op.cit., p. 17. 28 Carey, S.Pearce, op.cit., p. 63. 29 Carey, S.Pearce, op.cit., p. 8. 30 Fladeland, Betty, Men and Brothers: Anglo-American Anti-Slavery Cooperation, Urbana (Illinois), University of Illinois Press, 1972, p. 61. 31 Scott, John, op.cit., p. 172. Scott moved from Olney the same year that Carey was admitted to membership in the Olney Baptist Church. However, as a friend Carey must have heard Scott in at least one of his ‘irregular’ services in private homes or halls, or perhaps at the 1782 Northamptonshire Baptist Association meeting which was held at Olney. 32 Internet 4/12/04; http://www.grace.org.uk/mission/enquiry1.html 33 Internet 4/12/04; http://www.grace.org.uk/mission/enquiry5.html 34 Carey, S.Pearce, op.cit., p. 8. 35 Carey, S.Pearce, op.cit., p. 383. 36 Basker, James G., Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery, 1660-1810, Yale University Press, New Haven (Connecticut), 2002, p. 294. 37 King, James and Ryskamp, Charles, eds., The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982, vol. III, p.103; cited in Ella, George, William Cowper: The Man of God’s Stamp, Joshua Press, Dundas, Ontario, 2000, at p.118. 38 Ella, George, op.cit., p. 118. 39 Clarkson, Thomas, History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishments of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, p. 109. 40 King, James et al, op.cit., vol. III, p. 103, cited with minor variations in Ella, op.cit., p.118. The Clarendon Press edition includes this footnote: ‘C[owper] is referring to lines 137-243 from ‘Charity’, and to sentiments such as these (lines 137-140): “But, ah! what wish can prosper, or what pray’r,/ For merchants, rich in cargoes of despair,/ Who drive a loathsome traffic, gage, and span,/ And buy, the muscles and the bones of man?”’ fn 2, p.103, vol. III. 41 Fladeland, op.cit., p.61, citing Cowper’s letter to Rev. J. Jekyll Rye dated Apr. 16, 1792, printed in Wright, Thomas, ed., The Correspondence of William Cowper, 4 vols., London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1904, vol. IV, pp. 189-191. 42 Verney, Margaret, Bucks Biographies, pp. 177-178. 43 Cowper, William, The Task, Book ii, 1785.
Slaves bound by chains, the sounds of creaking ship masts, and the barter of human flesh all seem alien to our impressions of eighteenth-century Buckinghamshire. Yet Christians of Olney played an important role in the long campaign to abolish the Atlantic slave trade. Though they sometimes made their most dramatic impact upon English laws and society after leaving the county, their tranquil refuge by the Ouse nurtured contemplation and conviction and led to a profound change in all of England and even all the world. Regard for Olney’s curate, Rev. John Newton, led the great Parliamentary leader William Wilberforce (1759-1833) to take up the antislavery cause. A successor curate in Olney to Newton, Rev. Thomas Scott, had as profound an impact on Wilberforce and also on a young Baptist intern at Olney, William Carey, who would become a pioneer missionary to the far reaches of the globe. Carey’s Baptist mentor, John Sutcliff, spent 39 years as a pastor in Olney, and led the Northamptonshire Baptist Association of churches to bear united witness against the enslavement of Africans. Poet William Cowper, a friend of Newton and Scott and of Sutcliff, was acknowledged by famed Quaker abolitionist Thomas Clarkson to be ‘much admired…and a great co-adjutor’ in the cause.1 Together these men endow Olney with a just claim to fame. John Newton (1725-1807), curate of Olney from 1764 to 1780, was a spiritual father to Anglican antislavery activists. He helped convince Wilberforce to persevere in his calling to elected office when the MP was tempted to exchange it for the Christian ministry. Newton published eyewitness accounts of the African slave trade and even testified before Parliamentary and royal fact-finding commissions in the efforts to end it.2 Before John Newton became an advocate for the abolitionist cause in his later ministry, such a