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CONDUCTED BY OLIVER OLDSCHOOL, ESQ.
Various; that the mind
GRANVILLE SHARP, ESQ.
This gentleman was descended from the celebrated archbi. shop of York, who was distinguished, in the reign of James the second, as a zealous advocate for the principles of civil liberty. GRANVILLE SHARP was born at Durham in the year 1735, and was educated there. He commenced his career in London, but soon abandoned trade for other pursuits. He obtained a situation in the ordnance department; which he enjoyed until the year 1775, when he relinquished it in consequence of the opinions he maintained in favour of our resistance against the designs of the British ministry.
His active exertions in the cause of humanity have been described in the interesting narrative of Mr Clarkson, whose language we shall transcribe.
Before the year 1700, planters, merchants, and others, resident in the West Indies, but coming to England, were accustomed to bring with them certain slaves to act as servants with them during their stay. The latter, seeing the freedom and the happiness of servants in this country, and considering what would be their own hard fate on their return to the islands, frequently absconded. Their masters of course made search after them, and often had them seized and carried away by force. It was, however,
thrown out by many on these occasions, that the English laws did not sanc tion such proceedings, for that all persons who were baptised became free. The consequence of this was, that most of the slaves, who came over with their masters prevailed upon some pious clergyman to baptise them. They took of course godfathers of such citizens as had the generosity to espouse their cause. When they were seized they usually sent to thes if they had an opportunity, for their protection. And in the result, their godfathers, maintaining that they had been baptised, and that they were free on this account as well as by the general tenor of the laws of England, dared those, who had taken possession of them, to send them out of the kingdom.
The planters, merchants, and others, being thus circumstanced, knew not what to do. They were afraid of taking their slaves away by force, and they were equally afraid of bringing any of the cases before a public court. In this dilemma, in 1729, they applied to York and Talbot, the attorney and solicitor-general for the time being, and obtained the following strange opinion from them: “We are of opinion, that a slave by coining from the West Indies into Great Britain or Ireland, either with or without bis master, does not becoine free, and that his master's right and property in him is not thereby determined or varied, and that baptism doth not bestow freedom on him, nor make any alteration in his temporal condition in these kingdoms. We are also of opinion, that the master may legally compel him to return again to the plantations."
This cruel and illegal opinion was delivered in the year 1729. The planters, merchants, and others, gave it of course all the publicity in their power. And the consequences were as might easily have been apprehended. In a little time slaves absconding were advertised in the London papers as runaways, and rewards offered for the apprehension of them, in the same brutal manner as we find them advertised in the land of slavery. They were advertised also, in the same papers, to be sold by auction, sometimes by themselves, and at others with horses, chaises, and harness. They were seized also by their inasters, or by persons employed by them, in the very streets, and dragged from thence to the ships: and so unprotected now were these poor slaves, that persons in nowise concerned with them began to institute a trade in their persons, making agreements with captains of ships going to the West Indies to put them on board at a certain price. This last instance shows how far human nature is capable of going, and is an answer to those persons, who have denied that kidnapping in Africa was a source of supplying the Slave-trade. It shows as all history does from the time of Joseph, that, where there is a market for the persons of human beings, all kinds of enormnities will be practised to obtain them.
These circumstances then, as I observed before, did not fail of producing pew coadjutors in the cause. And first they produced that able and indefatigable advocate Mr. Granville Sharp. This gentleman is to be distinguished from those who preceded bim by this particular, that, whereas these were only writers, he was both a writer and an actor in the cause.
In fact, he was the first labourer in it in England. By the words “ actor" and "labourer," I mean that he determined upon a plan of action in behalf of the oppressed Africans, to the accomplishment of which he devoted a considerable portion of his time, talents, and substance. What Mr. Sharp has done to merit the title of coadjutor in this high sense, I shall now explain. The following is a short history of the beginning and of the course of his labours.
In the year 1765, Mr. David Lisle had brought over from Barbadoes Jonathan Strong, an African slave, as bis servant. He used the latter in a barbarous manner at his lodgings in Wapping, but particularly by beating
him over the head with a pistol, which occasioned his head to swell. When the swelling went down, a disorder fell into his eyes, which threatened the loss of them. To this an ague and fever succeeded, and a lameness in both
Jonathan Strong, having been brought into this deplorable situation, and being therefore wholly useless, was left by his master to go whither he pleased. He applied accordingly to Mr. William Sharp the surgeon for his advice, as to one who gave up a portion of his time to the healing of the diseases of the poor. It was here that Mr. Granville Sharp, the brother of the former, saw him. Suffice it to say, that in process of time he was cured. During this time Mr. Granville Sharp, pitying his hard case, supplied him with money, and be afterwards got him a situation in the family of Mr. Brown, an apothecary, to carry out medicines.
In this new situation, when Strong had become healthy and robust in his appearance, his master happened to see bim. The latter immediately formed the design of possessing him again. Accordingly, when he had found out his residence, he procured John Ross keeper of the Poultrycompter, and William Miller an officer under the lord mayor, to kidnap him. This was done by sending for him to a public house in Fenchurchstreet, and then seizing bim. By these he was conveyed, without any warrant, to the Poultry-compter, where he was sold by his master, to John Kert, for thirty pounds.
Strong, in this situation, sent, as was usual, to his godfathers, John London and Stephen Nail, for their protection. They went, but were refused admittance to him. At length he sent for Mr. Granville Sharp. The latter went, but they still refused access to the prisoner. He insisted, however, upon seeing him, and charged the keeper of the prison at his peril to deliver him up till he had been carried before a magistrate.
Mr. Sharp, immediately upon this, waited upon Sir Robert Kito, the then lord mayor, and intreated him to send for Strong, and to hear his case. А day was accordingly appointed. Mr. Sharp attended, and also William M'Bean, a notary public, and David Laird, captain of the ship Thames, which was to have conveyed Strong to Jamaica, in behalf of the purchaser, John Kerr. A long conversation ensued, in which the opinion of York and Talbot was quoted. Mr. Sharp made his observations. Certain lawyers, who were present, seemed to be staggered at the case, but inclined rather to re-commit the prisoner. The lord mayor, however, discharged Strong, as he had been taken up without a warrant.
As soon as this determination was made known, the parties began to move off. Captain Laird, however, who kept close to Strong, laid hold of him before he had quitted the room, and said aloud, “ Then I now seize him as my slave.” Upon this, Mr. Sharp put his hand upon Laird's shoulder, and pronounced these words: “Icharge you in the name of the king, with an assault upon the person of Jonathau Strong, and all these are my witnesses.” Laird was greatly intimidated by this charge, made in the presence of the lord mayor and others, and fearing a prosecution, let his prisoner go, leaving him to be conveyed away by Mr. Sharp,
Mr. Sharp, having been greatly affected by this case, and foreseeing how much he might be engaged in others of a similar nature, thought it time that the law of the land should be known upon this subject. He applied therefore to Doctor Blackstone, afterwards Judge Blackstone, for his opinion upon it. He was, however, not satisfied with it, when he receiv. ed it; nor could he obtain any satisfactory answer from several other lawyers, to whom he afterwards applied. The truth is, that the opinion of York and Talbot, which had been made public and acted upon by the
planters, merchants, and others, was considered of high authority, and scarcely any one dared to question the legality of it. In this situation, Mr. Sharp saw no means of help but in his own industry, and he determined immediately to give up two or three years to the study of the English law, that he might the better advocate the cause of these miserable people. The result of these studies was the publication of a book in the year 1769, which he called “A Representation of the Injustice and dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery in England.” In this work he refuted, in the clearest manner, the opinion of York and Talbot. He produced against it the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice Holt, who many years before had determined that every slave coming into England became free. He attacked and refuted it again by a learned and laborious inquiry into all the principles of Villanage. He refuted it again, by showing it to be an axiom in the British constitution, “ that every man in England was free to sue for and defend his rights, and that force could not be used without a legal process,” leaving it to the judges to determine, whether an African was a man. He attacked, also, the opinion of Judge Blackstone, and showed where his error lay. This valuable book, containing these and other kinds of arguments on the subject, he distributed; but particularly among the lawyers, giving them an opportunity of refuting or acknowledging the doctrines it contained.
While Mr. Sharp was engaged in this work, another case offered, in which he took a part. This was in the year 1768. Hylas, an African slave, prosecuted a person of the name of Newton for having kidnapped his wife, and sent her to the West Indies. The result of the trial was, that damages to the amount of a shilling were given, and the defendant was bound to bring back the woman, either by the first ship, or in six months from this decision of the court.
But soon after the work just mentioned was out, and when Mr. Sharp was better prepared, a third case occurred. This ppened in the year 1770. Robert Stapylton, who lived at Chelsea, in conjunction with John Malony and Edward Armstrong, two watermen, seized the person of Thoinas Lewis, an African slave, in a dark night, and dragged him to a boat lying in the Thames; they then gagged him, and tied him with a cord, and rowed him down to a ship, and put him on board to be sold as a slave in Jamaica. This base action took place near the garden of Mrs. Banks, the mother of the present Sir Joseph Banks. Lewis, it appears, on being seized, screamed violently. The servants of Mrs. Banks, who heard his cries, ran to his assistance, but the boat was gone. On informing their mistress of what had happened, she sent for Mr. Sharp, who began now to be known as the friends of the helpless Africans, and professed her willingness to incur the expense of bringing the delinquents to justice. Mr. Sharp, with some difficulty, procured a habeas corpus, in consequence of which Lewis was brought from Gravesend just as the vessel was on the point of sailing. An action was then commenced against Stapylton, who defended himself, on the plea, " That Lewis belonged to him as his slave." In the course of the trial, Mr. Dunning, who was counsel for Lewis, paid Mr. Sharp a handsome compliment, for he held in his hand Mr. Sharp's book on the injustice and dangerous tendency of tolerating slavery in England, while he was pleading; and in his address to the jury he spoke and acted thus: “I shall submit to you,” says Mr. Dunning, “ what my ideas are upon such evidence, reserving to myself an opportunity of discussing it more particularly, and reserving to myself a right to insist upon a position, which I will maintain (and here he held up the book to the notice of those present) in any place and in any court of the kingdom, that our laws ad
mit of no such property."* . The result of the trial was, that the jury pronounced the plaintiff not to have been the property of the defendant, several of them crying out “No property, no property.”
After this, one or two other trials came on, in which the oppressor was defeated, and several cases occurred, in which poor slaves were liberated from the holds of vessels, and other places of confinement, by the exertions of Mr. Sharp. One of these cases was singular. The vessel on board which a poor African bad been dragged and confined had reached the Downs, and had actually got under weigh for the West Indies. In two or three hours she would have been out of sight: but just at this critical moment the writ of habeas corpus was carried on board. The officer, who served it on the captain, saw the miserable African chained to the mainmast, bathed in tears, and casting a last mournful look on the land of freedom, which was fast receding from his sight. The captain, on receiving the writ, became outrageous; but, knowing the serious consequences of resisting the law of the land, he gave up his prisoner, whom the officer carried safe, but now crying for joy, to the shore.
But though the injured Africans, whose causes had been tried, escaped slavery, and though many, who had been forcibly carried into dungeons, ready to be transported into the Colonies, had been delivered out of them, Mr. Sharp was not easy in his mind. Not one of the cases had yet been pleaded on the broad ground, " Whether an African slave coming into England became free?” This great question had been hitherto studiously avoided. It was still, therefore, left in doubt. Mr. Sharp was almost daily acting as if it had been determined, and as if he had been following the known law of the land. He wished therefore that the next cause might be argued upon this principle. Lord Mansfield too, who had been biassed by the opinion of York and Talbot, began to waver in consequence of the different pleadings he had heard on this subject. He saw also no end of trials like these, till the law should be ascertained, and he was anxious for a deci. sion on the same basis as Mr. Sharp. In this situation the following case ofered, which was agreed upon for the determination of this important question.
James Somerset, an African slave, had been brought to England by his master, Charles Stewart, in November, 1769. Somerset, in process of time, left him. Stewart took an opportunity of seizing him, and had him conveyed on board the Ann and Mary, captain Knowles, to be carried out of the kingdom, and sold as a slave in Jamaica. The question was, “Whether a slave, by coming into England, became free?"
In order that time might be given for ascertaining the law fully on this head, the case was argued at three different sittings. First, in January, 1772; secondly, in February, 1772; and thirdly, in May, 1772. And that no decision otherwise than what the law warranted might be given, the opinion of the judges was taken upon the pleadings. The great and glorious result of the trial was, That as soon as ever any slave set his foot upon English territory, he became free.
Thus ended the great case of Somerset, which, having been determined after so deliberate an investigation of the law, can never be reversed while the British constitution remains. The eloquence displayed in it by those who were engaged on the side of liberty, was perhaps never exceeded on any occasion; and the names of the counsellors. Davy, Glynn, Hargrave, Mansfield, and Alleyne, ought always to be remembered with gratitude by the friends of this great cause. For when we consider in how many crowded courts they pleaded, and the number of individuals in these, whose
* It is lamentable to think, that the same Mr. Dunning, in a cause of this kind, which came on afterwards, took the opposite side of the question.