Sharp was a leading British abolitionist and instigator of the first settlement of freed African slaves in Sierra Leone.
Granville Sharp was born on 10 November 1735 in Durham. He was one of eight children and his father was a clergyman. At 15, Sharp was apprenticed to a London linen draper and then went to work as a civil servant. He had a variety of interests, including theology, for which he taught himself Greek and Latin, and music. He and his brothers and sisters often gave concerts together.
His interest in slavery began in 1765 after he befriended Jonathan Strong, a slave who had been badly beaten by his master. When Strong's former owner attempted to sell him back into slavery in the Caribbean, Sharp took a successful case to the lord mayor and Strong was freed. Sharp then devoted his time to forcing a definitive legal ruling on the question of whether a slave could be compelled to leave Britain. He was involved in securing the famous 1772 ruling by Lord Chief Justice William Mansfield, which reluctantly concluded that slave owners could not legally force slaves to return to the colonies once they were in Britain. This was regarded by many as effectively abolishing slavery within Britain.
As well as his campaign for the abolition of slavery, Sharp held other radical political opinions, supporting parliamentary reform and better wages for labourers. In 1776, he resigned his civil service position in disagreement with the British government's war with its American colonists.
In the mid-1780s, Sharp became a supporter of the Sierra Leone resettlement project, which encouraged former slaves, first from Britain and then from Canada, to settle in west Africa. In 1787, Sharp and his friend Thomas Clarkson were instrumental in forming the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Although Sharp and Clarkson were Anglicans, most of the other founding members were Quakers. They later persuaded the MP, William Wilberforce, to become their spokesman in parliament.
After the slave trade was abolished in 1807, Sharp and Clarkson continued to work for the complete abolition of slavery. Sharp died in London on 6 July 1813.
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