WILLIAM WILBERFORCE (Illustration) Biographies Civil Rights Famous People Film Law and Politics Social Studies Visual Arts World History Ethics Slaves and Slave Owners

This image depicts William Wilberforce’s birthplace, located at 25 High Street in the town of Hull, England. It is online via Hull City Council website.


O be not weary of well doing!
(the vilest that ever saw the sun)
shall vanish away before it.

John Wesley
Letter to William Wilberforce
February 24, 1791

William Wilberforce was a man on an impossible mission. Utterly devoted to his cause, he wanted Britain to end the country's African slave-trade.

He was not always burdened about the plight of slaves. Born in the town of Hull, in 1759, William was part of a wealthy family. He had friends - like the Prime Minister, William Pitt - in high places. His melodic voice, and superb oratory skills, would lead to a special nickname: "Nightingale of the House of Commons."

As a student at St. John's College, Cambridge, Wilberforce was a self-absorbed, seventeen-year-old whose primary goal in life was making a name for himself. He later recalled (see page 20) his initial shock at the non-academic side of university life:

I was introduced on the very first night of my arrival to as licentious a set of men as can well be conceived. They drank hard, and their conversation was even worse than their lives. (Quoted by Edward Gilliat in Heroes of Modern Crusades: True Stories of the Undaunted Chivalry of Champions of the Downtrodden)

He soon fit in however, well-suited to the environment which had once astonished him. Yet, the Rev. T. Gisborne noted Wilberforce was different:

There was no one at all like him for powers of entertainment. Always fond of repartee and discussion, he seemed entirely free from vanity and conceit. (Gilliat, page 20.)

After concluding his university studies, William thought he might do well as a member of the Commons. Aged twenty-one, he was just old enough to attempt election. Successful, he became MP of Hull and Britain's youngest member of Parliament. Before long, he represented all of Yorkshire.

Then, at age twenty-five, something happened which changed his life.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2007

Updated Last Revision: Apr 24, 2015

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