Slavery Cases , Lord Mansfield and the Story of Francis Barber

So in my last blog I discussed the issue of slavery in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. I mentioned the ground breaking case Lord Mansfield ruled over regarding the slave James Somerset. Another important case he ruled over was the Zong case. The Zong was a ship bound for Jamaica in 1781 when 133 slaves were thrown overbroad. It seemed they were worth more in an insurance claim under British law. However, the insurers brought as legal case against the ships’ owners. This was murder after all. Lord Mansfield heard the case. When abolitionist Granville Sharp found out, he tried to have the ship’s captain tried for murder. Lord Mansfield ordered a re-trail, but the trail never took place. The massacre was shocking and disgusting to the public; it was a turning point in the campaign to end slavery.

One other important matter was that of Francis Barber who became the heir to Samual Johnson. Barber died on 13th January 1801 and was buried in Stafford. He started his life as a slave in Jamaica and was brought to England by Samual Johnson until Johnson died in 1784. He left Barber £70 pounds a year (that’s like £9,000 now !) which he opened a drapers shop with and married a local women. A very unusual outcome for salve indeed. One of the happier endings, but I don’t think it takes away from the dreadful practice that was slavery.

The following video is a great source of information about his life.

Read more in the following book;

Bundock, Michael. The Fortune of Francis barber. The True Story of the Jamaican Slave Who Became Samuel Johnson’s Heir.  Yale University Press. 2015

I will be discussing Frederick Douglas in another post…..

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