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[–]Tom_Bombadil[S] 1 insightful - 1 fun1 insightful - 0 fun2 insightful - 1 fun -  (0 children)

In 1772, after countless deliberations, the British Lord Chief Justice Mansfield finally ruled in favor of Sommerset. Mansfield said “the exercise of power of a master over his slave must be supported by the laws of particular countries; but no foreigner can in England claim such a right over a man; such a claim is not known to the laws of England?the Man must be discharged.”

Word spread like wildfire throughout the slave communities in America that Britain was freeing slaves. This was simply not the case as Lord Mansfield went to great lengths to try to stress the importance of this particular case and not a judgment of slavery overall. But *the interpretation was broad and the perception was that freedom was more likely to be with the British than with the American colonists."

Shortly after the Sommerset decision, the American Revolutionary War against the British began in 1775. As the British were beginning to lose battles in the North early in 1775, they began to look to the South. The British knew, however, that the plantation owners in the South were nervous about the slave rebellions elsewhere and about possible insurrections on their own turf. They wanted to make them feel even more nervous. In light of that, somewhat like the Spanish, Lord Dunsmore issued a proclamation offering enslaved Africans freedom and land if they left the plantations and joined the British in battle. Dunsmore’s decision backfired. But first some statistics.

Schama states that it is estimated that after Dunsmore’s call some 30,000 slaves had left Virginia; it is also estimated that two-thirds of all slaves in South Carolina had escaped. Schama notes that some of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence that stated “all men are born free and equal” and who lost slaves were: Thomas Jefferson (lost 30 slaves); James Madison, Benjamin Harrison (lost 20 slaves), Arthur Middleton (lost 50 slaves), Edward Rutledge (the youngest signatory who lost slaves as well). Then there was General George Washington. “?while George Washington was encamped in early 1776 on Cambridge Common, wrestling with arguments, pro and con, about the desirability of recruiting blacks, his own slave, Henry Washington, born in West Africa, was finding his way to the king’s lines. In exile with other black loyalists in Birchtown, Nova Scotia, Washington would describe himself, movingly, as a “farmer”, but it was the Union Jack that protected his forty acres and his freedom.”

Not all of the escaped slaves fought for the British, and some fought for the Patriots, but they clearly left the plantations in droves.

Schama states that Dunsmore’s strategy backfired in the North, “as it did throughout the South. Instead of being cowed by the threat of a British armed liberation of the blacks, the slaveholding population mobilized to resist. Innumerable whites, especially those in the habitually loyal backcountry of Virginia, had been hitherto skeptical of following the more hot-headed of their Patriot leaders. But the news that the British troops would liberate their blacks, then give them weapons and their blessing to use them on their masters, persuaded many into thinking that perhaps the militant patriots were right?It is not too much, then, to say that in the summer and autumn of 1775 the revolution in the South crystallized around this one immense, terrifying issue. However intoxicating the heady rhetoric of ‘rights’ and ‘liberty’ emanating from Patriot orators and journalists, for the majority of farmers, merchants and townsmen in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia (the vast majority of whom owned between one and five negroes), all-out war and separation now turned from an ideological flourish to a social necessity. Theirs was a revolution, first and foremost, to protect slavery. Edward Rutledge, one of the leading South Carolina Patriots, was right when he described the British strategy of arming free slaves as tending ‘more effectively to work an eternal separation between Great Britain and the colonies than any other expedient could possibly be thought of.’”.