You’ve got (Extraordinary) Mail – Posting yourself to Freedom
We’ve all heard stories of refugees stowing away on boats or in aeroplanes (usually in the landing gear), to get to freedom but here is a truly inspirational story published over 150 years ago in the London Times :A fugitive slave who sent himself to freedom in the post.
It must be remembered that in 1850 although slavery had been abolished by Britain for over 20 years, in the United States it would still take another 15 years to take effect, after the disastrous civil war of 1861-65.
The London Times, November 6, 1850
So When did Britain Abolish Slavery?
In 1807 Britain abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was still legal to own and keep slaves until 1833. The Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833 which emancipated all slaves in the British Empire.
Although it is true that the Slave Trade Act of 1807 legally abolished the slave trade, and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 legally abolished slavery in Britain there was, in fact, no slave ownership or trade happening in Britain at the time of these Acts of Parliament. In terms of emancipation both acts were pre-dated by a legal case brought in 1772, pre-dating even the American Revolution.
James Somersett, a slave owned by an north American colonist from Boston, MA, had been brought to England as a personal servant. But, as Mr Somersett had not been purchased or sold in England he absconded and sued for his own freedom. The subsequent judgment found that slavery did not exist in England, so Mr Somersett kept his freedom. The case emancipated thousands (10,000+) who had been brought into the country as domestic servants of traders.
The subsequent Acts of Parliament were merely formalities to clear up any legal grey areas. Unlike much of the rest of Europe slavery had no legal standing in Britain since the middle-ages.
Whilst it is true that the mother country had abolished slavery that didn’t mean that there wasn’t slavery in the rest of the British Empire. Indeed the sugar plantations in the West Indies along with the cotton & tobacco plantations in the pre-revolutionary American colonies owed their commercial success to slavery.
Following the 1807 British abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade the Royal Navy was actively directed to stop and seize all slavers still transporting slaves from Africa to the U.S.