Slave's 'freedom book' features in $1m Bonhams auction

A rare first edition book that records a slave's historic bid for freedom is coming to auction, as part of Bonhams' $1m-valued Law Books: Property of the LA Law Library sale on March 5 in London.

James Sommersett book
James Sommersett eventually gained his freedom after the judge ruled slavery to be 'odious'



Elaborately titled, "An Argument in the Case of James Sommersett, a Negro Laterly Determined by the Court of King's Bench. Wherein it is Attempted to Demonstate the Present Unlawfulness of Domestic Slavery in England", the 1772-published book is valued at just £400-600 ($668-$1,002).

It records a significant moment in the anti-slavery movement in Great Britain, in which a slave who had moved to England with his "owner" filed an application to be declared legally free.

James Sommersett moved from the US with Charles Stewart, but soon escaped. Upon his recapture, an application for a hearing at court was made by three people that identified themselves as Sommersett's godparents from his Christian baptism.

Among those defending Sommersett was James Philpott Curran, a famed lawyer who was widely quoted by abolitionists in the US in later years.

The case was decided when Judge Lord Mansfield described slavery as "so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law". Sommersett was awarded his freedom, despite Stewart's protestations that he was bought in a colony that permitted slavery and that his property rights were paramount.

The UK abolished slavery in 1833.

The Los Angeles County Law Library is the second largest of its kind in the US, next to the Law Library of Congress. This is the first sale it has held in the 21st century, which is designed to free up resources for new acquisitions.

Paul Fraser Collectibles has fantastic rare books and manuscripts for sale.


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