Boy for Sale!

Alan Greening

No, not “Oliver”, but a rather unpleasant item culled from the Minutes of the Hertford Borough Months Court meeting of 7 December 1768:-

”Memorandum. The Corporation Seal was put to a Bill of Sale dated 12th October 1768 (in the presence of the Mayor) from James Baillie and Mary his Wife to Alexander Bell of a Mulatto Boy Slave name Howard Son of a Negro Woman named Flora the property of the said Eliz: Baillie [sic] then living in the Island of Jamaica.”

Presumably the unfortunate boy, or at least the Baillies, were living in Hertford at the time, but why was it necessary for the bill to receive the Corporation Seal? By this date Blackstone had already given his opinion that slavery could not exist in English Law, but it was not until 1772 that Lord Justice Mansfield gave his decision in the famous Somerset Case – albeit with some reluctance – that slavery was odious and unknown to Common Law. If young Howard was still in England then, he should have benefited from that decision, but if he had been shipped back to America or the West Indies then he probably remained a slave for the rest of his life.

This page was added on 02/01/2022.

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