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Bridgwater’s Petition

There was a time when Bridgwater, as a port, had been more significant than the port of Bristol.  With the boom in the slave trade, Bristol  blossomed whilst Bridgwater wilted.  There was undoubtedly envy and the traders of Bridgwater would have been delighted to see the abolition of slavery at Bristol’s expense. The combination of that bitterness, the hatred of slavery resultant from the handed-down memories of Bridgwater men transported into slavery, and the influence of the local Quakers led to a petition being sent from the townspeople to parliament calling for the abolition of the African slave trade. George White, a local clergyman, and John Chubb had suggested to William Tuckett, the mayor of Bridgwater, that the petition should be raised. The petition (see appendix 2) was drawn up and was presented to Parliament by the town’s two MPs, Lord Ann Poulett and Alexander Hood, Lord Bridport. In Parliament the petition was ordered to “lie on the table”, in other words, unworthy of debate.  Too many people of wealth stood to lose too much if slavery were to be abolished, fearing it would “throw the West India Islands into convulsions and soon complete their utter ruin.”

The petition failed in one respect but succeeded in another.  It proved to be the first of many whose combined effect created a ground-swell of anti-slavery feeling which in 1807 brought an end to British involvement in the trade.

The petition

“The humble petition of the inhabitants of Bridgwater showeth, that your petitioners, reflecting with the deepest sensibility on the deplorable condition of that part of the human species, the African Negros, who by the most flagitious means are reduced to slavery and misery in the British colonies, beg leave to address this honourable house in their behalf, and to express a just abhorrence of a system of oppression, which no prospect of private gain, no consideration of public advantage, no plea of political expediency, can sufficiently justify or excuse.

That, satisfied as your petitioners are that this inhuman system meets with the general execration of mankind, they flatter themselves the day is not far distant when it will be universally abolished. And they most ardently hope to see a British parliament, by the extinction of that sanguinary traffic, extend the blessings of liberty to millions beyond this realm, hold up to an enlightened world a glorious and merciful example, and stand foremost in the defence of the violated rights of human nature.”

Text Copyright © 2008 Roger Evans

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