The Forgotten Abolitionist


Warning: This post is going to be a bit longer than usual, but I would love it if you dug in till the end!

Are you ready to meet a world-changer? I call her the “Forgotten Abolitionist”. I recently read a biography on Hannah More called “Fierce Convictions” by Karen Swallow Prior. A must read if you are curious about further studying this abolitionist. I hope you enjoy meeting this charismatic woman as much as I did!

Hannah More was a charming, intelligent and witty woman who stole the hearts of Europe through her literary prowess. Born in 1745, this vivacious creature sprang from the humble home of a poor teacher, into the vortex of London’s literary elite at a young age. From her pen flowed countless poems, playwrights, essays, and more. Hannah was so popular, that her books outsold her famous contemporary, Jane Austen, ten to one!! Why is it that no one remembers this remarkable social butterfly?

Well, the truth is, few people with outstanding popularity can carry both the world and the banner of truth. Though Hannah More thrived in her world of literary giants and actors, her desire to find more caused her to encounter something that would change herself – and the world – radically.

Hannah had always considered herself a “Christian”. To her, it was just a lifestyle rather than something personally vibrant. This all changed when she read John Newton’s autobiographical book, Out of the Depths. In it, she watched Newton turn from the life of worldliness to that of a man with a fulfilling, personal relationship with Christ. Even more intriguing, Hannah saw Newton walk the journey from slave-trader to abolitionist. The daring of such a decision pricked Hannah’s interest. Remember, to thousands of Christians in that age, the atrocity of slavery was as unnoticed as water is to a fish. Hannah eventually met Newton in person and kept up a correspondence with him throughout her life.

It was during this correspondence that Hannah hesitantly turned from the fashionable life of the literary elite. As her convictions strengthened, Hannah gradually disengaged herself from its grasp and reclused in a quiet house of her own. However, she continued to write works that were renowned for their wit, poignancy and above all, moral instruction. Notwithstanding, this young lady’s biggest works were still ahead of her. 

Around 1780, Hannah met the now famous William Wilberforce. A young politician, Wilberforce was fifteen years younger than 36-year-old Hannah. However, the two were instant friends and More was soon exposed to Wilberforce’s two primary goals in life 1) abolition of slavery and 2) social reform.

Hannah, grieved at the state of society around her, and her eyes opened to the vileness of the slave trade, fell wholeheartedly into working alongside Wilberforce and his group called the “Clapham set”. In 1788 she wrote her famous work Slavery: A Poem. Europe rocked with its influence as the misconception of slavery was torn from the eyes of the public. The poem portrayed slaves as what they really were; fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and sweethearts that were cruelly dragged from everything the held dear, into a foreign country that treated them as less than animals.

This was the work Hannah More loved to do. Her pen was changing the world – and it had a tangible, positive result. Now that she had started, she began to turn out books at an alarming rate. In some, she was so bold in her assessment of the world and its need for change, that she remained discreetly anonymous and many attributed the work to a wealthy man!

All the same, the battle for the abolition of slavery would last over three grueling decades. Many other social reforms were passed, but this was a war on a whole other level. However, the Clapham Set never once flinched from pressing into battle on behalf of the unheard. Finally, countless books, poems, pamphlets, sermons, and political motions later,  slavery was thoroughly abolished in the United Kingdom in 1833. It was a tremendous victory! Hannah and Wilberforce had lived just long enough to see its success. They died within the month. Hannah was 88 years old.

Hannah More had lived a life in which she daringly stood apart from the crowd to make a mark on this world. She abandoned the accepted life of a literary queen to take up the cause of the needy. It wasn’t only the slaves, either; Hannah and her four sisters founded countless schools to educate and relieve struggling families across England. Several schools still bear her name. Her vivacity and charm had been channeled into a course that radically changed the world. 

So, how did this woman so effectively tiptoe out of the pages of history books? It is a bit of a mystery, maybe we will never know for certain. However, the result of her life’s work can still be seen even if she herself is hidden.

Okay, so if you actually made it to the end of this post, congratulations! This was really just a tiny peek into the life of Hannah More and if I have in any way wet your interest, please read Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior. Our world could use plenty of women like this – women who are passionate about making a difference for Christ in their life – no matter if they are forgotten or not. I’ll be cheering you on out there!

In Christ, Jenny

It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.
– Corrie ten Boom –