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Thomas Clarkson papers

 Collection — Box: 1-4
Identifier: 0000-0000-0000-0031

Scope and contents

Thomas Clarkson (b. 1760 d. 1846) was a renowned English abolitionist who spent his adult life fighting to end slavery. As a leader in the British anti-slavery society, Clarkson was instrumental in getting the English Parliament to ban the slave trade in 1807 and to abolish the institution of slaver in 1833.

The majority of this small collection is comprised of correspondence from Thomas Clarkson and his wife, Catherine, to her father, William Buck. These letters deal mainly with personal family concerns. Other letters refer to historical events and meetings. A noteworthy letter dated October 11, 1818 from Clarkson to his wife refers to an interview between him and "the Emperor" [Alexander I of Russia] and alludes to "Christophe" [Henri Christophe (1767 - 1820), a Haitian revolutionary and first King of Haiti] and "Owen," [Robert Owen (1771-1858), a wealthy Welsh factory owner who fought for social reform in England and America]. Clarkson expressed hope that the Emperor may influence the French against an invasion of Haiti.

Notable writings by Clarkson include the original essay An Liceat Nolentes In Servitutom Dare? [Is It Lawful to Make Slaves of Others Against Their Will?]. This essay, written in Latin, won the Chancellor's Prize at Cambridge College, England in 1785 and served as the basis for the expanded work, Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African published in 1786. Another item of interest is a handwritten journal dated August 1789 recounting Clarkson's trip to France and his observations in Paris of French Revolutionary activity, particularly the fallen Bastille. There is a copy of the New Testament with extensive marginalia written by Clarkson and inscribed to his grandson, Thomas Clarkson III.

The collection includes two medallions. The metal medallion was designed for the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society convention held in London in 1840. The front side of the medallion is a raised portrait of Thomas Clarkson, then president of the Society. The reverse side is the rendering of an African kneeling, shackled in wrist chains, with the inscription "Am I not a man and a brother". The second medallion is a cameo rendering of the "Am I not a man and a brother" design produced by Wedgewood Potteries, Staffordshire, England. Other items include a lock of Clarkson's hair, his autograph, and silhouette portraits of him and his grandson, Thomas III.

Related only tangentially is a collection of letters written by Clarkson's daughter-in-law, Mary Dickinson. These letters describe festivities of the household of Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Queen Victoria at Sandringham Palace from 1863 to 1871.

The Thomas Clarkson Papers were purchased from the Clarkson family by the Phelps-Stokes Fund. The Thomas Clarkson Papers were presented as a gift to Atlanta University at the dedication service for the Trevor Arnett Library in April 1932.


  • 1785-1871


Access restrictions

Do not circulate Fragile Items. Preservation Photocopies have been made accessible for research use, and can be found in other series.

Use restrictions

Due to the age and condition of many of the materials in the collection, preservation photocopies have been made for research use. In most cases, the originals have been placed in Mylar and are filed with the photocopies and can be viewed. The most fragile items have been removed and restricted. In such instances only the photocopies are available for research use.

Rights statement

All materials in this collection are either protected by copyright and/or are the property of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc., and/or the copyright holder as appropriate. For more information, please contact

Biographical note

References for bigraphical sketch: Wilson, Ellen G. (1990). Thomas Clarkson, A biography.New York: St. Martin's Press.
1760 March 28
Thomas Clarkson born in Cambridgeshire, England
1785 June
Essay entitles An Liceat Nolentes In Servitutom Dare? [Is It Lawful to Make Slaves of Others Against Their Will?] won Chancellor's prize at Cambridge College
1786 June
Prize essay was expanded and published in England, entitled Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African
Clarkson sought French abolition of slavery during a visit to Paris
1796 January 21
Married Catherine Buck
1796 October 19
Son Thomas born
1807 March 25
English Parliament banned slave trade
1808 May
Clarkson published History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-trade by the British Parliament
Clarkson traveled to France to influence opinion on anti-slavery measures
The English anti-slavery campaign to outlaw the entire institution of slavery began
Emancipation Act, freeing slaves in England, was passed
Son Thomas died in accident
Presided at anti-slavery convention in London
1846 September 26
Died in Suffolk, England


2 Linear feet

2 Linear feet

Language of Materials



The Collection is arranged into five series: 1. Writings by Clarkson; 2. Personal Memorabilia; 3. Sandringham Letters; 4. Fragile Items; and 5. Correspondence.

Related archival collections

For additional archival related materials about the Thomas Clarkson Papers, see also the Thomas Clarkson vertical file; Clarkson, Thomas Papers, Howard University, Moorland Spingarn Research Center; Inventory of the Thomas Clarkson Papers, Huntington Library, Manuscripts Department and Thomas Clarkson Correspondence, Pennsylvania State University, University Libraries, Historical Collections and Labor Archives.
Thomas Clarkson papers, 1785-1871
Finding aid prepared by Alexander Bernet, 2002 April.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, Inc. Repository

111 James P. Brawley Drive, SW
Atlanta 30314 USA
404-978-2109 (Fax)