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James Ramsay


1733 - 1789

Naval surgeon and abolitionist. Born in Fraserburgh, Ramsay became an apprentice surgeon in the town before completing his medical education at King's College, Aberdeen (1750-55). Here he was greatly influenced by Thomas Reid (1710-96), Professor of Moral Philosophy. After two years in London he became a naval surgeon. He left the navy following a disabling injury and settled on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts as a parish minister, but continued to practise medicine. His parish was supported by the income from sugar plantations, which were worked by slaves. This disturbed Ramsay, who welcomed slaves into the church and worked to improve their conditions across the island. This soon brought him into conflict with white plantation owners, who resented his interference.

He returned to Britain in 1781 and was given a parish in Kent (England) through the influence of Sir Charles Middleton, who had commanded Ramsay's first ship. Ramsay spoke against the slave trade, writing several publications on the subject, most notably his Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies (1784), which described his personal experience of the horrors of slavery. This successfully raised the profile of the debate and Ramsay was at the centre of a group which campaigned for abolition. He greatly influenced Prime Minister William Pitt and particularly politician William Wilberforce, who led the campaign in parliament, introducing several bills and motions until the Slave Trade Act eventually passed in 1807.

He was buried in Teston (Kent). Although he did not live to see the success of his campaign, he is remembered as probably the most influential figure in the abolition of the British slave trade.


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