The Mansfield Case



People are considered slaves when they are compelled to perform involuntary labor for a person or group, usually under conditions that make them socially inferior and deprive them of most of their rights or freedom.


Introduction of the Cases

Slavery has been in existence for thousands of years, there are records of it in early Roman history including well known instances such as the children of Israel in biblical writings. Slavery has been a vehicle to gain wealth and concur. Because it has lasted in various forms throughout history, it is fair to conclude that this practice of placing others in servitude is learned. One of the most obvious characteristics of the practice, is that those in power do not like to surrender their power, wealth, or the privilege of owning slaves. Historically the tools to eradicate this practice have been war and legal changes. In the United States the Civil War along with Lincoln's famous document were the answer, but in England a series of cases stopped slaves from crossing their boarders.


London 1772, during this time the ownership of slaves was considered a status symbol as well as a fashion statement. Ladies "preferred small, plump faced boys whom they dressed exotically and teased as pets. "They brought silver padlocks for them form Matthew Dyler in Duck Lane, who advertised, padlocks for the Blacks or Dogs they named them Pompey and found them far more amusing than lap dogs. The gentlemen clad their black servants in more sober livery, relived by a silver collar, upon which they caused to be engraved the name of the master and slave and sometimes a coat of arms and cypher as well." (1) Given these norms it is not surprising that the dehumanizing treatments of slaves were accepted. Society as a whole at this time had not only accepted slavery, but they made fashion statements to of the practice. The reason why Africans were enslaved so long and treated so inhumanely was because of chattel slavery, it has been argued that mentally dehumanizing slaves enabled them to be be overworked and beaten without normal negative remorse and pity.

In 1765 a slave holder by the name of David Lisle brought his servant Jonathan Strong to England. David Lisle was an exceptionally cruel man who brutally beat Jonathan often. Leslie would beat him with the butt of his pistol. In pain, Jonathan would stumble away from the beatings, but this would only infuriate Leslie and he would continue to beat him. When Jonathan would fall to the ground he was unmercifully kicked.

One day during these incidents, Lisle became so enraged he ordered Jonathan Strong to leave yelling, "get out!" Strong obediently left the premises wondering out into the London streets, critically injured, penniless, and homeless. (2) Strong was discovered by a Good Samaritan who brought him to a physician at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. The brother of the Good Samaritan was a clerk named Granville Sharp, he hired Strong who hated the treatment of slaves and spoke up for their cause. He educated himself in Hebrew, Greek, and the New Testament, this proved to be helpful to him in the Mansfield case. (3)


Calming a Slave

One day David Lisle saw Strong on the street, noticing that he had recovered from the beating that nearly blinded him, he threatened that he had obtained a warrant against his arrest. When Sharp got wind of this, he went directly to Lord Mayor, Sir Robert and would not leave until he obtained a promise that he would intervene. As Sir Robert had given his word, he sent for Strong on September 18, 1767 to come to court to settle the matter. (4)Kite heard the case and allowed Strong to go free because of a lack of evidence. This verdict was not reached because the judge was sympathetic to Strong's position, however it was only because Sharp had previously consulted with the judge. Sharp's government job as a clerk enabled him to have connections with other government offices.



Justice somewhere is injustice everywhere.

Martin Luther King Jr.


When this verdict was read, the captain who was to take Strong to Jamaica yelled out " I seize him as the property of Mr. Keer" ( the one he was sold to). (39 Britain), Then Granville Sharp tapped the man on the shoulder and threatened to charge him with assault. Following this dramatic episode, Sharp was accused of robbery. Despite the charges against him, Sharp fought and sought help in securing the freedom of his friend. When he consulted Sir James Eyre who was an expert in law and the Recorder of London, he quoted for Sharp the law in the similar 1729 case of Yorke and Talbot stating, "We are of the opinion, that a slave coming form the West Indies into Great Britain or Ireland, either with or without his master, does not become free and that his master's right and property in him is not thereby determined or varied."(5) Sharp also learned that Judge Mansfield agreed with this verdict, Mansfield is the judge Sharp knew he would eventually stand before. Lisle did not prosecute Sharp further because of a lack of funding. Lisle was up being charged for a failure to proceed. One would think that this verdict in favor of freeing Strong would please him, however he was even more infuriated when he heard the verdict because it actually eluded the issue of human property in the trafficking and owning slaves, by stating that there was not enough evidence. Sharp's next objective was to influence the law. Case by case can be tried, but soft verdicts like this one was advancing his cause very little. He wanted the law to state that a "as soon as a slave set foot on England, he was free." (6)


Sharp expressed the fact that he believed current laws were stacked against slaves. He decided to fight the law using the weapon of law. He was going to fight fire with fire. Again he studied to find existing laws and cases to assist in his crusade. He started to publish tracks against slavery the first was, "The influences and Dangerous Tendencies of Slavery."


Threw out history it has been clear that it often takes many cases to build up to a recognized standard in law. Sharp had friends in the court system and he was notified when a cases he would be interested in would come up. He waited five years until another case was tried that he felt he could influence. The year was 1772 and the case was the Somersett v. Knowles. In this case the slave Somersett, was brought to England just as Granville Strong had been, afterwards he ran away from his master. Again, when he was captured he was to be sent to Jamaica. Somersett was taken to a ship and kept in irons.(7) Some of the slaves knew that if they were in London,the laws were in England, the laws were different and they ha a chance to escape. When they got to England, they would sometimes run and attempt to life a free life. The ships were popular because they would take slaves to Jamaica where it would be much more difficult for them to run. An island is much harder to escape and hide from than a continent, so the slaves were almost helpless in escaping form there.

Argument of Plaintiff

The argument of the plaintiff was that every man in England should be entitled to liberty and have the right to govern himself as an individual. He was subject to the laws in England while in England, the laws of his homeland did not apply.

A advocate of the plaintiffs, Mr. Sergeant Davey said that "no man to this day is or can be, a slave in England" (41) He proclaimed that the laws of England alone ruled in England. The laws of Virginia, he said, had no more validity in England than those of Japan" (8)

This was an interesting argument the plaintiffs had. Essentially they were saying that the Somersett was to be "submissive to the laws of England", this again places the slave in submissive position. Although they argue for his freedom, they do it in a way that is constant with language of bondage, taking Somersett from under the rule of a master and placing him under the rule of England. Because of the roles and status of blacks at this time, the plaintiffs may have believed that this language in their argument was in their best interest and it would go over better with the judge and be more acceptable as a precedent. (9)


Argument of Defendant

Mr. Sergeann Davey said that it was ignorant and absurd to take away a man's rightful property. This argument is ironic because it is asserting the freedom of denying another man his freedom. This case is very similar to the Dred Scott case

The defense also protested that the case held him up form doing his law-abiding business, this business happened to go threw England. The defense was upset because they knew that the owning and trafficking of slaves was legal in other places, but not practiced as much in England. They wanted the law of other countries to apply wherever they carried their human cargo.

There was also the argument for the necessity of the master slave relationship, tracing biblical justifications for this claim.

Continuing the Fight

In protesting against the courts, Sharp risked losing his government Job. Sharp wrote Prime Minister Lord North, on February 18, 1772, "Presuming that information concerning every question of a public nature, must of course be agreeable to Your Lordship, I venture to lay before you a little tract against tolerating slavery in England. Sharp also accused the defendants as lawyers for going against the very law they had been sworn to protect. The argument of loyalty to England and its traditions was very prevalent on behalf of the plaintiffs. (10)

Relevant Cases

The Cartwright was about a slave from Russia who was beat, and when he went to court the judge said, "England was too pure an air for slaves to breathe in" (11). This case was in Queen Elizabeth's reign in the eleventh century.

The Dunning case of 1776 proclaimed that "no man can be legally detained as slave in England.

Judge Powell said "The law makes no notice of a Negro". (12)

In 1674 Sir Leoline Jenkins said there " is no such thing as a slave in England.



The Judgment was finally issued in June of 1772. The case had been recessed and adjourned several times. The judgment was as follows:

"…The cause returned is, the slave absented himself and departed form his master's service, and refused to return and serve him during his stay in England: whereupon, by his master's orders, he was put on board the ship by force, and there detained in secure custody, to be carried out of the kingdom and sold. So high and act of dominion must derive its authority, if any such it had, from the law of the kingdom where executed. A foreigner cannot be imprisoned here on the authority of any law existing in his won country. The power of a master over his servant is different in all countries, more or less limited or extensive, of the exercise of it therefore must always be regulated by the laws of the place where exercised. The power claimed by this return never was in use here. The state of slavery is so odious that nothing can e suffered to support it but positive law. We cannot say that the cause set forth by this return, is allowed or approved by the laws of the kingdom and therefore the man must be discharged" .( 13)

These cases are all instrumental in the abolition of slavery. They were sited and looked upon in ending slavery in America years latter. They are also looked at in regards to human rights issues. At the time they may have been looked upon as small victories by some abolitioners and blacks, by slave holders and those who enjoyed benefiting form the institution it was definitely a negative thing. Nevertheless the most noticeable and effect line in the judgment is that, "slavery must take its rise form positive law...the claim of slavery can never be supported...and therefore must be discharged.


 Purpose of Slavery / Various Links /  Middlepassage

Zong Slave Ship / Anti-Slavery


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