(1735 – 1813)
A man of strong views
Granville Sharp lived in London. He had strong views on many topics including support for the reform of Parliament and the abolition of the slave trade. Sharp heard about Jonathan Strong who had been a slave in Barbados. Strong had been brought to England by his owner who then beat him and left him for dead. Sharp arranged for Strong to be treated and, when he had recovered from his injuries, Sharp found the ex-slave a job. Two years later, Strong’s former owner discovered that he was still alive and he arranged for two professional slave hunters to kidnap Strong. Sharp went to court to obtain Strong’s freedom. The court decided that since Strong had committed no crime in London he should be considered a free man.
Sharp to the rescue
Thomas Lewis was another ex-slave who was kidnapped because his former owner wanted to return him to his life as a slave. Sharp received permission from the Lord Mayor of London and three judges to board the ship Lewis had been held on and to free him. Next, Sharp went to court to persuade the judge to declare that no one could be a slave in England. This case was not successful as the judge, Lord Mansfield, did not say that slavery in England was either legal or illegal.
The Somersett case
James Somersett was a slave who was brought to England by his owner but who then escaped. Two years later Somersett was recaptured and his owner tried to take him back to slavery in the West Indies. Sharp paid for lawyers to go to court and persuade the judge, Lord Mansfield, to agree that it was illegal to force a former slave to leave England. They were successful. The success of the Somersett case led some slaves in Britain to leave their owners believing that once they were in this country they were free. One such case involved Joseph Knight who was brought to Scotland by John Wedderburn (see WATCH to find out more about Joseph Knight).