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James Phillips


  1. An essay on the impolicy of the African slave trade. In two parts, by the Rev. T. Clarkson has translation publisher
  2. An essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African, translated from a Latin dissertation has translation publisher



Quaker publisher and abolitionist based at 2 George Yard, Lombard Street from 1775–1800 whose business was carried on by his son William (1775–1828). During the height of the slave-trade controversy, he published the highest number of abolitionist works in Britain.

Phillips, the son of a Cornish merchant engaged in the copper and iron trade, was educated in a Quaker school in Rochester before moving to London. He entered the publishing business in 1775 after buying out a relative, the widow Mary Hinde who ran her husband's stationers business, which also published and sold books for the Quakers, as well as educational and other works.

Phillips worked closely with the first (Quaker) association formed in Britain in 1783 for the abolition of slavery, which presented Parliament with the first ever petition for the abolition of the slave trade. On 22 May 1787, he became a founding member of the London Abolition Committee, including Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, and his cousin, Richard Phillips. An active member until his death in 1799, he hosted meetings in his home above his business, acted as a key contact with individuals within the movement, played a key role as the publisher of the Committee's own publications as well as other works that promoted the abolitionist cause (often with Martha Gurney), and was the Committee's main liaison with abolitionists in France. His contacts across the UK were invaluable in creating a channel through which the Committee could publicize the cause through pamphlets, reports and letters intended to mobilize public opinion against the slave trade.

He became a close friend of Jacques-Pierre Brissot and acted as his bookseller in London. In 1787, he provided Brissot with detailed notes on Chastellux's misrepresentations of the Quakers, which were intended for a projected second edition of his 'Examen critique des voyages de M. Ie Marquis de Chastellux'. He also assisted Brissot in making useful contacts with the anti-slavery movement in America when Brissot travelled there in 1788, and he later drew Brissot's attention to the injustice done to Quakers by the French constitution which made registration to bear arms a requirement of active citizenship. Phillips became the catalyst at the center of a triangular relationship which linked the British and French Friends with the political faction clustered around Brissot who, according to Clarkson, was himself generally known as "The Quaker", in recognition of his support and the manner in which he conducted his life.

For more on Phillips, see David Clover, "The British Abolitionist Movement and print culture: James Phillips, activist, printer and bookseller", in Society for Caribbean Studies (UK) Annual Conference (2013), 3-5 July 2013, Warwick University (Unpublished). https://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/5164/.

See also J.R. Oldfield, 'Transatlantic Abolitionism in the Age of Revolution. An International History of Anti-slavery, c.1787–1820 (2013, CUP); Brycchan Carey, Markman Ellis and Sara Salih, eds., 'Discourses of Slavery and Abolition. Britain and its Colonies, 1760–1838' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); and Judith Jennings, 'The Business of Abolishing the British Slave Trade, 1783–1807' (Frank Cass, 1997).