It was an ill-treated black servant in England who sparked the beginning of the campaign to end slavery. In 1765 a lawyer by the name of Lisle turned a half-blind slave out on to the London streets. He had bought the man, known as Jonathan Strong because of his physique and capacity for hard work at a Barbados auction and brought him home to England to show off to his acquaintances. Loving to flog and humiliate his servant, he so wrecked Jonathan's health that the man proved incapable of any further work whatsoever, and so was discarded.
Seen queing at a surgery for free medical treatment, Jonathan was approached by a civil servant, Granville Sharp, who sent him to hospital and later found him a job.
Recovering, Jonathan was seen in the street by his former master, who at once seized him and sold him to a plantation-owner shortly to depart for the West Indies. Lisle committed Jonathan to prison to await embarkation, but Jonathan got a message out to Sharp, who had him released from custody only to be sued for damages by Lisle and the plantation-owner.
Sharp was advised by all his legal contacts to pay up and drop the case. But 'I cannot believe' declared Sharp, 'that the law of England is so injurious to natural rights as so many great lawyers are pleased, for political reasons, to assert.'
He fought the case on his own, and finally his opponents dropped the charges. The results of his two years of legal studies were published under the title of The Injustice and dangerous Tendency of tolerating slavery in England, and in 1772 Lord Mansfield, though in general no great humanitarian, ruled that in law a slave who set foot on English territory was thereupon free.
An Illustrated History of England by John Burke
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