Thomas Charles and friends get Granville Sharp on board, Part 9 of the Mary Jones story

Posted in Blog, Mary Jones

My wife, Sheila, and I are looking forward to attending the opening of Mary Jones World at Llanycil, Bala, north Wales, on Sunday 5 October 2014 – the bicentenary of the death of Thomas Charles from whom Mary received her Bible at the end of her long walk across Welsh mountains. Mary Jones World is the realisation of a dream Bible Society has been praying for – to see the story of Mary Jones and Thomas Charles told to a new generation. A new state-of-the-art visitor and education centre will give residents of Bala, Gwynedd and Wales the chance to learn about the Bible’s impact not only on the Welsh nation but the world. For a wider audience the centre will celebrate the birth of Bible Society which has grown from its roots in the foothills of the majestic Snowdonia National Park to nearly 150 Bible Societies around the world.

Here, then, is the ninth instalment of the story of how Mary Jones and Thomas Charles triggered a mission to the world.

In February 1804, the RTS committee decided to hold a public meeting at the London Tavern in Bishopsgate Street at noon on Thursday 1 March – this date was later put back by six days. 

 The planning team produced a “circular address” entitled “The importance of a further Distribution of Bibles” summarising the key points of a paper Joseph Hughes had written on The Excellency of the Holy Scriptures: an Argument for their more general Dispersion. The address said that the new society would be called “The British and Foreign Bible Society” and concluded by summarising its objectives as follows:

 Its object – to promote the circulation of the Scriptures in some of the principal living languages.

     The sphere of its activity – First, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the European Continent: afterwards, remoter regions, as the state of the finances may admit, and the urgency of particular cases may require.

     The object and the sphere of such a Society, considered in their union, distinguish it from all existing Societies.

     The Bible Society distributes the Scriptures only, but confines its distributions to the Army and Navy.

     The distribution of Bibles in other Societies forms only a part of their plan; and, with a very few exceptions, the exertions of those Societies are limited to Britain.

The projected Society, not refusing to cooperate on the same ground, would traverse scenes which other Societies are, by their regulations, forbidden to occupy; and, presenting nothing but the inspired volume, would be sure to circulate truth, and truth alone; hereby avoiding the occasions of controversy, and opening a channel into which every Christian of every name might, without scruple, pour their charitable contributions.

     Several persons have expressed much solicitude on the subject, and, together with those whom it has chiefly interested, look cheerfully forward to the time when a Society, founded on so extensive and liberal principle, shall be able to announce in a very public manner, its ample patronage, and its beneficent exertions.


 GRANVILLE SHARP                        RICHARD LEA

WILLIAM ALERS                               ALEXANDER MAITLAND

JOSEPH BENWELL                          SAMUEL MILLS

HENRY BOASE                                  JOSEPH REYNER

ROBERT COWIE                               HERMAN SCHROEDER



 The planners asked Granville Sharp to be prepared to chair the public meeting. Sharp was the grandson of an Archbishop of York. He had written and published the first major work of anti-slavery by a British author. The book amassed many legal arguments against slavery and brought Sharp into contact with people in America and at home, including John Wesley, who were beginning informally to campaign against slavery. Sharp had devised a plan to establish in 1787 a colony of freed slaves on the west coast of Africa. Eventually he arranged for over a quarter of a million acres of land, including an excellent harbour (St. George’s Bay), to be purchased from an African chief. Out of gratitude for “their original protector and friend” the colonists named their first settlement Granvilletown.  The name was later changed to Freetown.  In spite of many struggles with slave-traders and disease, the little colony grew and became established

Sharp continued to play an active role in what was by now the burgeoning abolition movement. He was one of the committee of people, mostly Quakers, who set up the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade – and which is famously associated with the name of Wilberforce.  Seen by the committee as “the father of the movement”, Sharp was appointed chairman – although he always hated chairing meetings.  However he continued as an active campaigner, working closely with Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce, and personally lobbying both William Pitt, the Prime Minister, and Charles James Fox, the leader of the opposition.  

When a copy of the circular address about the proposed new society arrived at the home in Fulham of John Owen, chaplain to the Bishop of London, he noticed the name of his friend Granville Sharp, at the top of the list of signatures, remembered the two copies of the Hughes paper that were sent him the previous summer, and decided to attend the meeting.

You can read Part 10 of this story on this blog tomorrow