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Eastern Illinois University

African American Studies

Faculty Research & Creative Activity

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Full-Text Articles in European History

‘Unkle Sommerset's’ Freedom: Liberty In England For Black Sailors, Charles R. Foy May 2011

‘Unkle Sommerset's’ Freedom: Liberty In England For Black Sailors, Charles R. Foy

Faculty Research & Creative Activity

With his 1772 decree in Somerset v. Steuart that slavery was ‘so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it [in England] but positive law’, Lord Mansfield altered the legal landscape regarding black rights in England. While earlier judicial decisions had implied that slaves who came to England were free, prior to the Somerset decision there was no judicial consensus on the issue. The Somerset decision did not decree that slavery was illegal in England. Yet many blacks believed it ‘emancipated’ any slave who reached the shores of England. This understanding, combined with the British military welcoming runaways into ...