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By Matthew Seys-Llewellyn
While racial discrimination is by no means a new phenomenon, you might naturally expect lawyers of the 18th Century to be immune from these concerns, but this is precisely the reason why a recently rediscovered letter from a lawyer sold into slavery around 1775 comes as a double surprise.
Having languished in the archives of The Law Society, interest in the recent BAFTA winning movie Twelve Years a Slave brought the remarkable letter to light last month. Written by a man called Sam Freeman, he claims to be an attorney who had been sold into slavery on Boxing Day in America by the captain who was taking him from London to Baltimore “contrary to my expectations”:
“[sold] to a Planter in the Country ab’t 14 miles from any Town for 4 years for £30 for my Passage, where I am treated more like a dog than a Christian…[to do] work to which I am an entire Stranger my poor hands are blistd [sic] in such a manner and my shoulders so bruis’d with carryg [sic] heavy burdens that life is Troublesome to me.”
As an educated man, Sam was also forced to spend his evenings tutoring his master’s children and other slaves for two hours in the evening. He explains, “this paper I was obliged to Steal out of a Book and my Ink is only Gunpowder and Water”. Deprived of legal assistance, he wrote to his friends in England to ask for help in buying back his freedom.
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