Writing at a Gallop

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Passion is the heart of story. No good writer has ever existed without him being thoroughly interested in what he is writing about – as an essay by a young English man over two hundred years ago teaches us.

While we don’t know much about the childhood education of Thomas Clarkson, we do have a very detailed account of how he wrote his award-winning, life-altering essay on “Is it right to make slaves of others against their will?”, an essay that would catapult him into the fight against the British Slave Trade. Here, in his own words he tells us how he “began to prepare myself for the question.”

In the spring of 1785, a grand prize was offered for the best Latin dissertation questioning the moral rightness of slavery. With this incentive, Thomas set about studying this subject of slavery that he had no previous knowledge of.

“I was wholly ignorant of the subject; and, what was unfortunate, a few weeks time only was allowed for the composition.”

This race against time did not stop him though. Starting with the inkling of knowledge he had available he began a tenacious search for more. Then Thomas saw an advertisement for a book about the journeys of man with first-hand knowledge of the Slave Trade, left the spot, and purchased the book. At last! In this book he struck gold. So armed Thomas begin writing. But the more Thomas thought on his topic, the more the truth produced a heart change in the young man until it “became now not so much a trial for academical reputation, as for the production of a work, which might be useful to injured Africa.” Glory was now not his motivation; it was liberty.



So diligent did Thomas become that he “always slept with a candle in my room, that I might rise out of bed and put down such thoughts as might occur to me in the night, if I judged them valuable, conceiving that no arguments of any moment should be lost to so great a cause.” After finishing his essay to satisfaction, he submitted his work and was honored with the first prize award.

This would prove to be only the beginning of a long path for Thomas. Within two years he would be galloping across England securing information on the trade to be presented before Parliament until his health was nearly broken with the efforts. But his passion never died and eventually saw victory – a victory he himself recorded for future generations in his “Rise and Progress” account of the event.

So now we ask: are our children being trained to write about what stirs their hearts and not only when there is a school assignment to be done? Are they being taught to research until they can write about it intelligently as well as passionately? If you’re not sure where to start, tell them the story about Thomas Clarkson and his fight for freedom. Then…start watching for what noble causes drive them.


Kenzi Knapp is a follower of Christ, homeschool graduate and student of history. A fourth generation Missourian she enjoys writing about daily life enrolled in Gods great course of faith and His story throughout the ages at her blog, Honey Rock Hills.


Source: The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade by Thomas Clarkson, 1808

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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).