In Memory of William Roscoe, Esq. in The Liberator 1831

William Roscoe (8 March 1753 – 30 June 1831), was an English historian and miscellaneous writer.

Born in Liverpool, Roscoe left school at the age of twelve, having learned all that his schoolmaster could teach. He assisted his father in the work of the garden, but spent his leisure time on reading and study. “This mode of life,” he says, “gave health and vigour to my body, and amusement and instruction to my mind; and to this day I well remember the delicious sleep which succeeded my labors, from which I was again called at an early hour. If I were now asked whom I consider to be the happiest of the human race, I should answer, those who cultivate the earth by their own hands.”

At fifteen he began to look for a suitable career. In 1769 he was articled to a solicitor. Although a diligent student of law, he continued to read the classics, and made the acquaintance with the language and literature of Italy which was to dominate his life.

In 1774 he went into business as a lawyer, and in 1781 married Jane, second daughter of William Griffies, a Liverpool tradesman; they had seven sons and three daughters. Roscoe had the courage to denounce the African slave trade in his native town, where much of the wealth came from slavery. Roscoe was a Unitarian and Presbyterian. His outspokenness against the slave trade meant that abolitionism and Presbyterianism were linked together in the public mind.

He wrote a long poem published in two parts called The Wrongs of Africa (1787–1788), and entered into a controversy with an ex-Roman Catholic priest called Fr Raymond Harris, who tried to justify the slave trade through the Bible (and was generously paid for his efforts by Liverpool businessmen involved with the slave trade). Roscoe also wrote a pamphlet in 1788 entitled ‘A General View of the African Slave Trade‘. Roscoe was also a political pamphleteer, and like many other Liberals of the day hailed the promise of liberty in the French Revolution.


With no ordinary feelings of regret, we have to announce the death of our distinguished and philanthropic townsman, William Roscoe, Esq. on Thursday, at his residence, Long-lane, in the 79th year of his age.

Known at a distance as the elegant and enlightened historian and scholar, it was amongst those only who had the high privilege of being his more immediate friends, that his Christian and truly catholic spirit, his enlarged and comprehensive views, his touching simplicity of mind, his charity for all who differed from him, and his firmness and consistency in supporting his own opinions, could be fully known and appreciated. For more than 50 years he was the dauntless and uncompromising advocate of civil and religious liberty, and of all those liberal measures which have since received the sanction of public or legislative approbation.


Publication: The Liberator
Date: August 13, 1831

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