Granville Sharp, who became famous as an anti-slavery campaigner, was the
youngest son of a large family whose father and two elder brothers were churchmen.
He himself left school early and worked as a clerk, In 1765, while visiting
another brother who was a doctor, he met a 17-year-old slave called Jonathan
Strong who had been so badly beaten that he was half-blind and could hardly
walk. He told the two brothers that he had been beaten by his master till he
was nearly dead, and then thrown out as useless.
Sharp and his brother arranged for Strong to go to St Bartholomew's hospital
and paid for his food and clothes until he had recovered. Then they found him
a job as an errand-boy. Two years later his former master caught sight of him,
who had him kidnapped and illegally imprisoned, and then sold him to a Jamaican
planter called James Kerr.
Strong managed to send a letter to Granville Sharp, who went to the prison
the next day and applied to the magistrates for Strong's release. The case
came up before the Lord Mayor, who freed Strong, but Kerr's agent immediately
tried to take the young man away with him. When Sharp prevented this, Kerr
served him with a writ claiming damages for being deprived of his property.
Sharp decided to fight the case himself, and though he knew nothing of the
law he bought books and set about educating himself. After combing through
all the leading cases he came to the conclusion that there was no justification
for slavery under English law. He circulated his findings among various legal
experts, and perhaps because they had learned of his planned arguments his
opponents kept postponing their case against him. Eventually the courts dropped
the case and made Kerr pay triple the costs.
Sharp published his findings on
slavery in 1767 as A Representation of
the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery; or of Admitting
the Least Claim of Private Property in the Persons of Men, in England. He
now devoted himself to opposing slavery, writing dozens of letters to noblemen
and slave-owners, and taking up the cases of several other slaves who had
been kidnapped. He quickly became known as a defender of black freedom, and
was involved in the Somerset case , which was widely seen as establishing the freedom of all slaves in England .