Zachary Macaulay

Zachary Macaulay

Zachary Macaulay (2 May 1768 – 13 May 1838), was a colonial governor, slavery abolitionist and campaigner.

Early life

Macaulay was born in Inveraray, Scotland, the son of John Macaulay (1768–1789), a minister of the Church of Scotland and Margaret Campbell. Receiving only a rudimentary education, he eventually taught himself Greek and Latin, and read the English classics. Having worked in a merchant’s office in Glasgow, he fell into bad company and began to indulge in excessive drinking.


In late 1784, at the age of sixteen, in order to get his life into some kind of order, Macaulay emigrated to Jamaica, where he worked as an assistant manager at a sugar plantation. He was at first deeply affected by the horrific violence of the slavery which surrounded him, but eventually became hardened to the plight of the slaves (by his own admission “callous and indifferent”). He was a good worker, had successfully moderated his drinking, and proved himself to be a model bookkeeper. He also, eventually, began to take an interest in the slaves and their welfare.

In 1789 Macaulay returned to Britain and secured a position in London. His sister Jean had married Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, a country gentleman and ardent evangelical, and soon after Macaulay went to stay with them he began to come under their influence. He underwent what he described as a conversion experience, and soon became to know Babington’s associates, among whom were William Wilberforce and Henry Thornton.

ierra Leone

Partly because of his experiences in Jamaica, in 1790 Macaulay was invited to visit Sierra Leone, the west African colony originally founded by Granville Sharp to provide a home for emancipated slaves from the United States who came to Sierra Leone via Nova Scotia.

Returning to the colony in 1792 as one of the council members, he was promoted to governor in 1794, administering the colony throughout a crucial period of its history. He remained governor until 1799, having successfully repelled an invasion by French revolutionary naval forces.

Macaulay married Selina Mills of Bristol (to whom he had been introduced by Hannah More) on 26 August 1799, and they settled in Clapham, Surrey. They had several children, including the historian, poet and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay.


Macaulay became a member of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, working closely with William Wilberforce, and soon becoming a leading figure in the parliamentary campaign against the slave trade. He later became secretary of the committee, which became known as the African Institution.

His major contribution was to work on the collection and collating of the huge volume of evidence and drafting of reports – a role to which he was ideally suited as a skilled statistician with a meticulous approach and an exceptional head for figures.

He also became a member of the so-called Clapham Sect of evangelical Christian reformers, together with Wilberforce, Henry Thornton and Edward Eliot, and edited their magazine, the "Christian Observer", from 1802 to 1816.

In the 1820s Macaulay turned his attention towards securing the total abolition of slavery itself. He helped found the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery (later the Anti-Slavery Society) in 1823, and was editor of its publication, the "Anti-Slavery Reporter". Through his incessant hard work and reasoned argument, he helped to lay the foundation for the eventual abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.

A fellow of the Royal Society, he was also an active supporter of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society.

Last days

Ater a period of ill health, Macaulay died in London on 13 May 1838. A memorial to him was erected in Westminster Abbey, depicting the figure of a kneeling slave with the motto ‘Am I not a Man and a Brother?’


*Carey, Brycchan. "British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment, and Slavery, 1760-1807" (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)
*Hochschild, Adam. "Bury the Chains, The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery" (Basingstoke: Pan Macmillan, 2005)
*Oldfield, J.R. "Thomas Macaulay" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: University Press, 2006)
*Stephen, Leslie. "Zachary Macaulay" in The Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: University Press, 1893)
*Stott, Anne. "Hannah More – The First Victorian" (Oxford: University Press, 2003)

External links

* [ Macaulay genealogy forum message]
* [ Macaulay genealogy forum message]
* Article Macaulay, Zachary (and Macaulay, Aulay) in the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology (Edinburgh, 1993) ISBN 0-567-09650-5
* [;idno=03819202;view=image;seq=1 Negro slavery] By Zachary Macaulay. Published in 1824. Cornell University Library Samuel J. May Anti-Slavery Collection. {Reprinted by} [ Cornell University Library Digital Collections]

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