Clapham Sect

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The Clapham Sect or Clapham Saints were a group of influential like-minded Church of England social reformers based in Clapham, London at the beginning of the nineteenth century (active c. 1790 – 1830). They are described by the historian Stephen Tomkins as "a network of friends and families in England, with William Wilberforce as its centre of gravity, who were powerfully bound together by their shared moral and spiritual values, by their religious mission and social activism, by their love for each other, and by marriage".[1]


Campaigns and successes

Its members were chiefly prominent and wealthy evangelical Anglicans who shared common political views concerning the liberation of slaves, the abolition of the slave trade and the reform of the penal system.

The group's name originates from Clapham, then a village south of London (today part of south-west London), where both Wilberforce and Thornton, the sect's two most influential leaders, resided and where many of the group's meetings were held. They were supported by Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, who sympathised with many of their aims.

They founded Freetown in Sierra Leone, the first major British colony in Africa, whose purpose in Thomas Clarkson's words was "the abolition of the slave trade, the civilization of Africa, and the introduction of the gospel there".[2]

After many decades of work both in British society and in Parliament, the group saw their efforts rewarded with the final passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, banning the trade throughout the British Empire and, after many further years of campaigning, the total emancipation of British slaves with the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. They also campaigned vigorously for Britain to use its influence to eradicate slavery throughout the world.

Lampooned in their day as "the saints", the group published a journal, the Christian Observer, edited by Zachary Macaulay and were also credited with the foundation of several missionary and tract societies, including the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society.

Other societies that they founded or were involved with included: the Anti-Slavery Society, the Abolition Society, the Proclamation Society, the Sunday School Society, the Bettering Society, and the Small Debt Society.

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