William Wilberforce was born on August 24, 1759 into a wealthy family in the city of Hull. Interestingly, the port of Hull was the only one that did not engage in the slave trade.
A small, sickly child, Wilberforce was the third of four children. He experienced tragedy at an early age with the deaths of his elder sister and father, and the near death of his mother. Following these troubles, Wilberforce was sent to live with his Uncle William and Aunt Hannah in Wimbledon. Wilberforce grew very close to his Aunt and Uncle and stated, “I loved them as if they had been my parents.”
It was at Wimbledon he began to have spiritual thoughts, and exposure to an evangelical Christian movement, Methodism. His Aunt and Uncle were very close to Preacher George Whitefield who was at the center of the Great Awakening, and John Newton, a former slave ship captain who converted to Christianity and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
His mother and grandfather brought him home after two years, worried that he was becoming too religious. With their encouragement, he drifted away from his early spiritual interests, finished boarding school and went off to Cambridge at the age of seventeen.
Image from A Journey Through the Life of William Wilberforce.