On February 24, 1791 at age 88, six days before his death, this last letter was addressed to William Wilberforce. Wesley had spoken out forcibly against slavery his whole life. In 1774, he wrote the influential Thoughts Upon Slavery.
Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, was active at the time in the unsuccessful attempt to pass abolition. Debate continued for several years and in 1807 the abolition of the slave trade was effected throughout the British Empire.
The text of the letter is given below. The “tract” to which Wesley refers was written by a former slave, Gustavus Vassa who was born in 1745 in Africa, kidnapped and sold as a slave in Barbados. In 1757 he was sent to England and was converted to Christianity.
Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in our Colonies that the OATH of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!
That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,
Your affectionate servant,