Sunday, September 15, 2013

Unfortunately, a majority of my relatives had slaves and fought for the South in the Civil War.  Sadly the best they did in their wills, other than break up of little slave families, was to try to keep them in the extended family.  However, one relative stipulated in her will that her slaves would get to choose which of her descendants they would want to live with.  Fortunately, I also discovered another who was in the forefront of England's battle against slavery.  Granville Sharp was known as the Father of the Abolitionist Movement in England...

The Sharp brothers

Like many London nights, the fog tried to curtain the filth of the street, but the stench was still oppressive.  Granville Sharp walked along with his face covered with a woolen muffler and his head full of the remembering a debate he had in the linen-drapers shop.  He didn't know which was more difficult, trying to  reveal Scripture to an atheist, a universalist or a Jew.  Their discussions were always lively, often heated, but Granville tried not to push them over the top.  The men had to be able to still work together day after day with  no hard feelings. He was so earnest in his desire to reveal the Scriptures that he taught himself to read Greek and Hebrew so that he could exlain it more accurately to his workmates.  That had lead to further studies in theology.  Later he received an appointment as a clerk at the Ordnance Department in the Tower of London.  Still, Granville spent his evenings studying, writing, and publishing works of theology and other topics.

As usual, he was deep in thought when suddenly, the man tripped and nearly fell over a dark bundle curled up on the cobblestones.  He was about to kick it out of his way, when he heard a moan.    Granville stopped, swallowing his complaint.  Was this pitiful pile of rags human? 

"Excuse me, are you hurt?"  He could barely see in the dusk and fog as he bent over cringing to  pull back a tattered hood as a wounded boy put up his arm as if to fend off a blow.  "Don't worry I won't hurt you.  I say, that's a ghastly amount of blood you're losing.  I need to get you to someone who can help you."

The figure huddled before him couldn't be much more that a lad.  "It looks like someone caned you something fierce."

The injured boy tried to look up at him, but his eyes were nearly swollen shut.  Still, Granville could see the whites of his eyes as they rolled back and the boy passed out again."

Granville called out, "Over here, driver.  I need a carriage."  The man picked up the young black man in his arms as gently as Christ would a lamb.  It was a good thing that he had forgotten to take off his work apron as now it was beginning to be soaked with blood as well.  His clothes might never get a stain out like that.  "Driver, take us to the hospital.  I don't know if this boy will make it, so hurry.  Someone as good as left him dead.  Take me to Mincing Lane, to Dr. William Harper's."

In the carriage, the young lad moaned as they bumped over the busy cobblestone streets fading in and out of consciousness.  One time, Granville could tell the injured boy was trying to focus on his face so he took the opportunity to ask, "Who did this to you?"

"My master.  He pistol whipped me."

"What is your name lad?"

"Jonathan sir."  He spoke with great effort. "Jonathan Strong."

I'm taking you to the best doctor in London, my brother, and he will help you live up to your name, you'll see.  Hang on a little longer."

The boy did not hear.  He had passed out again with his breath coming in a desperate rattle.

Granville was furious at the utter cruelty toward one so young.  His hatred of slavery was at a white heat.  He muttered under his breath, "We must fight this evil and purge it from our midst."  His quick mind thought of how he should study the law in order to bring justice to the beaten pulp of a boy hanging onto life in his lap.  He decided then and there, he would devote his life to abolishing slavery.

Granville had to push back hard at those who weren't  happy to have this slave laid in the nice clean sheets on the hospital bed.  "Dr. Sharp, will take him as a special case like he often does for the poor.  I will raise the money to pay for his care.  There are many we know who would be happy to take up his cause." 

Fortunately, his brother found them in the midst of the commotion and immediately began his ministrations never hesitating at the color of his patient.  His brother quietly told him the little he knew of his situation. 

"You did the right thing bringing the lad here.  He would not have lasted another hour on the street.  Leave him with me and go visit your friends to drum up support and prayer.  The first thing we must do is preserve his life.   I trust that God led your paths to cross and has a plan for his life."

The Granville brothers prayed quietly over the still form who was barely breathing.  Then the rescuer
had to leave him to the skilled hands of his brother who was also the surgeon for the King.

Granville Sharp spent the foggy night knocking on doors of those who would be sympathetic.  Then, till the wee hours of the morning, he poured over books of the law to find out where they would stand.  As best he could tell, the law did not protect a slave from the viciousness of a master.  Public sympathy, however, had even sent a rare case to the gallows for their extreme cruelty taking advantage of the relationship of a master and slave.  Granville decided that it would be worth the fight, before the jury of public sympathy, if the boy lived.

Late the next morning, after a few hours of sleep, he sought out his brother to find out his assessment of his patient.  "What are his chances of survival?"  He knew the boy was sleeping under sedation and would not hear them.

"He would not have much except for the hand of God, but I am not giving up on him."

"Thank you,Willliam.  I have contacted many in our circle who are willing to help the cost.  They are outraged that anyone would do this to another human being."

"Thank the Lord for the milk of human kindness from our fellow Christians." 

"And for your skilled hands and your willing heart to care for this outcast of society as well as the King himself."

"I know many are not happy with his stay here.  As soon as he is stabilized, he will have to be moved to a room with a private nurse outside the hospital."

"You find the nurse and I'll find the room."

"Let's get him stable first."

"I've decided to devote my life to fighting to abolish slavery.  I have aways felt it was a terrible wrong, but I can no longer look aside.  It will have to be fought and won in the courts.  I'm going to study law."

His brother clapped his shoulder.  Well done, brother.  I would be willing to help support you in the cause.  I have no doubt you are capable.  Your talents have been buried first the tailor shop and now as a clerk.  Just remember, "The pen is mightier than the sword." I feel certain that God can bless and use you.  Just as it was the hand of God upon my life to put me forward to serve as the King's surgeon, I believe he put this unfortunate in your path for a reason."

A moan of pain interrupted the brothers.  While the doctor administered medicine, the other humbly prayed.

The young man recouperated so well, and his case was published convincingly in the papers, that the master came to claim him back. 

Sheer terror was on the face of the patient.  Granville stepped between them protectively.  He felt responsible for him, and the bond between them was strong.

"Don't let him take me, Mister Sharp.  He'll kill me sure!"

Granville stood firmly in front of Jonathan Strong facing the man's wrath with a shield of faith.  "The boy stays here."

"If you think you can steal my slave, I'll have the law on you.  I know my rights as a slave owner.  I have the paperwork to prove he belongs to me.  I'll take him home now that he's back on his feet and squeeze a little more work out of him."

"You may do no such thing.  We will see you in the courts, but you, sir, should concern yourself in how you will stand before the Judge of all the earth," Granville entreated him.

The man's evil laughter filled the quiet hospital but his eyes gleamed with hatred, however he did leave.

"Thank you, sir.  I'm afeared for my life if he takes me."

"We will do everything we can to not allow that to happen.  What you can do is pray, young man.  God is the ultimate judge and you are safe in His hands."

Before they could meet in court, his master David Lisle put his slave, young Jonathan, in jail as a runaway.  Granville was able to get him out, but not before Lisle sold the young man to a James Kerr to send to his plantation in the Caribbean.  Again, Granville interceded.  Kerr wanted to sue Granville.  Lisle demanded a duel with Sharp.  Granville managed to sidestep both threats and instead took it to the court of pubic opinion by writing a pamphlet saying things like, "The comparing of a man to a beast, at any rate, is unnatural and unjust as well as seizing and detaining him as such, is dangerous to the pretended proprietors."  In fact, Granville went on to write the first major work of anti-slavery by a British author, "A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Admitting the Legal Claim of Private Property in the Persons of Men in England." He worked furiously against slavery with John Wesley as one of the only other public figures writing against it, until Wilberforce was convinced by them to take up the cause in Parliament.

The papers took it up as well, and those in the city who saw the horror of slavery more clearly now, rejoiced with every victory Granville Sharp won in court.  It was a huge step towards the goal of abolishing slavery in England.  More slaves implored Granville Sharp to represent them as their lawyer for the tide had turned in England's attitude toward slavery.  He fought against the kidnapping of former slaves who were then sent to the New World as slaves.   Granville also worked with the French abolitionists, "Les Amis des Noirs."  He gave up his post in the Ordnance Department because he was opposed to England sending weapons to fight the colonists in the war.  He was supported by his wealthier brothers though he had chosen a life of relative poverty for his principles. 

But Jonathan Strong's life at age 25 as well as Granville's were cut too short.  Neither lived to see the hard earned victory freeing England from the evil of slavery.  Wilberforce himself only lived three days after winning the victory in Parliament.

"If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed."
John 8:36

This is a family portrait of the Sharp family who owned a barge and gave concerts from it every two weeks.  Granville is in the center in the green coat, his brother Dr. William Sharp is at top with the flag, another is an archbishop in the foreground, another is Dr. John Sharp, and James Sharp and their sisters.  I wish I could have heard them play together!

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