History Book: The bog mummy, and William Wilberforce


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, July 29th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Thirty five years ago, Englishmen uncover a “bog mummy” buried for more than 25 centuries. Plus, remembering William Wilberforce.

EICHER: But up first, 400 years ago this week, an American governing milestone, as 22 representatives gather for the first time to set laws for themselves. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today on July 30th, 1619, in Jamestown, Virginia. The governor convenes the first general assembly. Each of the 11 Virginia settlements elect two delegates to the meeting. The representatives are called “burgesses”—an old English word for “citizen.”

COOKE: That first general assembly was not only the ancestor to today’s general assembly, but the ancestor of the 49 states, the Congress of the United States…

Former Speaker of the Virginia House, John Warren Cooke, from a 1980 educational film.

The burgesses meet in the newly constructed Jamestown church. Over the week-long assembly, the delegates write and pass dozens of laws. 

One calls for peace with the native Americans living nearby. Another outlaws “idleness, gaming, drunkenness, and excessive apparel.” Church attendance is mandatory, as is showing up armed with swords and shot. Swearing is a punishable offense. All ministers are to keep detailed christening, marriage, and death records—submitting them once a year to the governor. 

AUDIO: [Sound of General Assembly coming to order] 

The General Assembly of Virginia is the oldest and longest running representative governing body in America. Nearly 10-thousand delegates have served over its 400 years of history.

MUSIC: [Something About Virginia]

Next, July 29th, 1833: English abolitionist William Wilberforce dies at age 73. 

Wilberforce was born in East Yorkshire, where his father and grandfather were wealthy merchants. They were also devout Anglicans. When William was 11, his father died, so he moved in with a non-conformist uncle—who introduced him to Methodism. 

After his grandfather died, Wilberforce inherited a great fortune. As a young man, he lived a lavish lifestyle, full of gambling, drinking, and other excesses. At age 21 he was elected as a Member of Parliament. He was a gifted orator, and chose to remain independent from any party. 

In 1785, while enjoying all the pleasures of the French Riviera, Wilberforce began reading “The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul” by Philip Doddridge. He remembered the evangelical faith of his uncle. Wilberforce began reading the Bible and praying and experienced a dramatic conversion. 

METAXAS: When he accepted the gospel, it changed everything…

Biographer Eric Metaxas from a 2012 lecture:

METAXAS:, And by the grace of Jesus Christ the gospel comes in through the Methodists, and touches Wilberforce and “boom” it spreads and everything changes…

Wilberforce begins tackling many social ills: advocating for prison reform, challenging excessive punishments, and lobbying to improve conditions for chimney-sweeps and other manual laborers. 

But he’s best remembered for his life-long campaign against the slave trade. At times he argued against it head on, and at others, he used cunning political tactics to win the day. 

In 1807, by a vote of 283 to 16, Britain outlawed the slave trade. Wilberforce wept openly in the chamber. Twenty five years later, on July 26th, 1833, the House of Commons outlawed slavery itself. Wilberforce died three days later, having seen his life’s work accomplished.

 MUSIC: [Amazing Grace]

And finally, August 1st, 1984:

QED: I shouted down that we’d found something there. He took it out, and chucked it over…

Workers discover a foot and lower leg while processing peat at Lindow Moss, near Cheshire, England. Rick Turner, was county archeologist. Audio here from a QED documentary

QED: And what I did was walk along this edge of peat and saw what turned out to be a flap of skin protruding from very near the bottom. 

They dig a little deeper and uncover the torso. It’s the first “bog mummy” found in Britain. The human remains are thought to be more than 2,500 years old. The anaerobic conditions in the soil, prevent decomposition—preserving the hair and turning the skin to leather.

Coroners nick-name the young man: Pete Marsh. They find evidence of a violent death. The killing and burial appear to be ceremonial from before the time of the Romans. 

THAMES TV: The Lindow Man as Pete Marsh is also known, will be unveiled to the public tomorrow…

Lindow Man was eventually freeze dried, and put into a temperature controlled display at the British Museum. His discovery and public exhibition spark debate about the proper treatment of human remains. The museum argues for the ongoing educational value of the find, while others lobby for bringing Pete home for reburial. 

Almost 35 years later, that might be difficult. The Cheshire East Council recently approved plans for a housing development at the site.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book. I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/Warwick Fairfax, Crucible Leadership)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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