James Somerset, a runaway slave
Slave James Somerset was brought to London from Jamaica by his owner, Charles Stewart of Boston, in 1769. In 1771, James ran away but was re-captured and put on a ship bound for Jamaica.
Granville Sharp took the case to court. After a month of consideration, judge Lord Justice Mansfield ruled that James should be set free, He called the case "odious" and said that "the claim of slavery can never be supported". This was hailed as a great victory by James and his supporters. It set an important precedent, and was widely taken to mean that when a slave sets foot on English soil, he becomes free.
Extracts from Granville Sharp's diary about the case of James Somerset, 1772 [D3549 13/4/2 book G]
- "January 13th James Somerset, a negro from Virginia, called on me this morning...to complain of Mr Charles Stewart - I gave him the best advice I could.
- "January 14th Mr Cadew called on me on favour of James Somerset
- "January 29th Gave cash £6 to retain 2 counsel on the case of Somerset
- "June 22 James Somerset came to tell me that judgement was this day given in his favour"
To download a video file of this document being read by an actor playing Granville Sharp, see the link. This file may take a few moments to download.