Three descendants of an eighteenth-century anti-slavery campaigner, the Rev James Ramsay (1733-1789), have come forward thanks to an article in an Oxford University magazine. They all live near Oxford.
When Miss Nancy Sandars (right in the photo), aged 92, read an article in Oxford Today about the slavery exhibition in Rhodes House, Oxford, which includes Ramsay’s journal, she contacted the author, John Pinfold (in the photo), who is on the staff of the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, to say that she is Ramsay’s great-great-great granddaughter. Neither the Library where his journal is held, nor the church in Teston, Kent, where John Ramsay was vicar, had known that there were living descendents.
Miss Sandars came along today to Rhodes House to meet John Pinfold and to see her great-great-great grandfather’s original manuscript. With her were two cousins, Mrs Charlotte Thomas (left, Ramsay’s great-great-great-great granddaughter) and Mrs Fenella Tillier (second from left, his great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter). They were fascinated to see Ramsay’s own handwriting in his journal, a highlight of the exhibition. Included in it are some of the questions which Ramsay himself used when giving evidence to a Parliamentary enquiry in 1788. It also contains drafts of several of his publications and copies of some of his correspondence with Wilberforce and others.
James Ramsay was one of a very few abolitionists who had seen slaves at first hand, first as a Royal Navy surgeon, then as a clergyman on St Kitts, and later as a naval chaplain in the West Indies. He came under attack from the planters for criticizing their cruel treatment of their slaves.
From 1781 he became vicar of Teston where he wrote his Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies (1784). Members of Teston church are also visiting the exhibition this week and are planning a special celebration of Ramsay’s life in July, at which the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, will speak.
The three cousins were presented with copies of the Bodleian Library’s recently published book The Slave Trade Debate, to which John Pinfold has contributed an introduction. The book includes part of Ramsay’s journal. Ramsay was to die 18 years before the act abolishing the slave trade came into force.
The exhibition at Rhodes House continues until 4 May 2007, but there is a larger online exhibition at www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/projects/abolition/.