Black Tudors: The Somerset Case
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Black Tudors: The Untold Story
“The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it’s so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.”
Another instance was the Scottish case of Joseph Knight in 1778. Knight had read about the Somerset Case and as a result claimed his freedom, leading to the ruling that one could not be a slave within Scots Law. Despite these cases however, slavery did not end in England after the Somerset case. The ruling was not enforced in any wider sense, or even in more specific cases relating to enforced transportation. Only a year later, the London Chronicle reported that an African had shot himself to avoid forced transportation back to the colonies. Lord Mansfield and Dido Elizabeth Belle“He had received a letter from his Uncle Sommerset acquainting him that Lord Mansfield had given them their freedom & he was determined to leave”
Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray, attrib. Johann Zoffany ©Public Domain An intriguing insight into encounters between the English ruling classes and African men and women in the eighteenth century can be found in Lord Justice Mansfield’s own household. Dido Elizabeth Belle born in 1761 was the daughter of an enslaved African woman from the West Indies and a British Naval Officer. She was brought up in the household of Lord Mansfield, her father’s uncle. Accounts from the time report that she was educated, accepted as a member of the family, and at times assisted Lord Mansfield with clerical tasks. After the death of Lord Mansfield she received a generous annuity, married and had several children, before her own death in 1805. While the stories of James Somerset and Dido Elizabeth Belle belong to the eighteenth century, the Somerset case indicates the continued influence of the ideas of ‘Free Soil’ from two centuries before.
Black Tudors: The Untold Story
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