An activist against the slave trade: Who is Granville Sharp?

What is the Zong Massacre: Granville Sharp was born in Durham on November 10, 1735. He was one of eight children and his father was a clergyman. Alongside his campaign for the abolition of slavery, Sharp also carried other radical political views, supporting parliamentary reform and better wages for workers.

By William James Published on 5 Temmuz 2024 : 15:09.
An activist against the slave trade: Who is Granville Sharp?

His interest in slavery began in 1765 after he befriended Jonathan Strong, a slave who had been badly beaten by his master. Strong's previous owner wanted to sell him again in the Caribbean. Sharp filed a successful lawsuit and Strong was released.

Sharp later devoted his time to efforts to outlaw the slave trade.

Alongside his campaign for the abolition of slavery, Sharp also carried other radical political views, supporting parliamentary reform and better wages for workers.

In the mid-1780s, Sharp became a supporter of the project to encourage former slaves, first from England and then from Canada, to settle in West Africa. Sierra Leone was opened to settlement for this purpose.

Granville Sharp (10 November 1735 – 6 July 1813) was a British scholar, devout Christian, philanthropist and one of the first campaigners for the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. Born in Durham, he initially worked as a civil servant in the Board of Ordnance. His involvement in abolitionism began in 1767 when he defended a severely injured slave from Barbados in a legal case against his master. Increasingly devoted to the cause, he continually sought test cases against the legal justifications for slavery, and in 1769 he published the first tract in England that explicitly attacked the concept of slavery.

In 1787, Sharp and his friend Thomas Clarkson were instrumental in forming the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Although Sharp and Clarkson were Anglican, most of the other founding members were Quakers. They then persuaded MP William Wilberforce to become their spokesman in parliament.

After the slave trade was abolished in 1807, Sharp and Clarkson continued to work towards the complete abolition of slavery. Sharp died in London on 6 July 1813.

Zong Massacre: The lowest form of humanity

Exactly 238 years ago, on September 6, 1781, a ship from Africa set out west towards the Caribbean. The ship is owned by the Liverpool Shipowners' Union, which includes merchants William Gregson and George Case, both of whom were mayors of the city of Liverpool. The ship was engaged in “Blackbird Hunting”, the name given to the slave trade at that time. Merchants from Bristol and Liverpool in particular made fortunes from this vile, disgusting trade. Zong is actually a Dutch ship and its name is Zorg. Care is a Dutch word meaning care. It was captured by a British patrol ship while engaged in the slave trade and was subsequently purchased by William Gregson on behalf of the syndicate.

The captain of the ship, which set off with 442 black slaves on board, is not a sailor but a medical man. Luke Collingwood was made a captain while working on slave ships as a surgeon. As a surgeon, his duty is not to heal people, but to check the health of captured African slaves and determine their "commercial value". People he finds commercially worthless are immediately killed by African slave hunters in his presence. This is it, The Zong, under the management of a captain who did not know much about the sea, set sail from the coast of today's Ghana on September 6, 1781. According to British law of the time, slaves were commercial cargo. An insurance company from Liverpool insures the ship, or rather the slaves, for 8000 pounds. That is, about half of their market value.

The slaves were naked and handcuffed to each other in pairs, right foot left foot and right hand left hand. Two people are kept in a one-man area, they urinate and defecate on the spot, and seawater is poured on them every morning. In these bad conditions, 60 of the slaves in Zong die. According to the insurance agreement, the insurance company will not pay anything for slaves who die from neglect or disease. This situation is mentioned in the agreement as cargo mismanagement. However, if the cargo is lost, that is, falls into the sea alive, 30 pounds per "head" will be paid. Zong is blindly overloaded with his love of excessive profit. While the rule on British slave ships in the 1780s was to carry 1.75 slaves per ton of ship, the Zong had 4 slaves per ton.

The ship reaches the Caribbean two months later. Food and water stocks have decreased. They see Tobago on November 18, but for some reason, they do not stop there and get enough water and supplies. On November 27, they also see Jamaica, their destination port, but they think the island behind is Hispaniola, that is, the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which is now Haiti, and they continue on their way.

On November 29, 54 women and children African "slaves" were killed by throwing them into the sea, using the excuse of food and water shortages. One of the African captives asked them not to throw themselves into the sea because they did not want food or water, but this was not accepted. On December 1, 42 men and 36 more men and women were thrown into the ocean alive in the following days. 10 Africans escape from the oppressors and jump into the water themselves. However, on December 1, it rained all day long, and six barrels of water were collected. There is enough water.

After 300 miles they realize they have passed Jamaica. They will need to return 12-13 days away. On December 22, Zong reaches Jamaica. When he arrived at the port, it was recorded that there were 1900 liters of water in his tanks. 142 people were killed unnecessarily. The remaining 208 captives were sold for an average of 36 pounds per “head”. It's like nothing happened. Humanity is exhausted, finished, and disgusting, but nothing important has happened for another humanity. Money and profit have no morality. Can it get any lower than this? In the place we call humanity, ship owners demand the compensation of the people who were murdered and brutally murdered by the insurance company. The insurance company refuses and goes to court.

The subject of the court, which was moved to London in 1783, was whether the insurance company should compensate the ship owners for the murdered people. It is not to take account of the brutal massacre. The matter comes before Lord Mansfield, who corresponds to today's justice minister, and he convenes a jury for the verdict. He addresses the jury as follows: “For the decision you must make, you must consider the slaves thrown into the sea just like the horses thrown into the sea. The question is, was it absolutely necessary to take this action to save others?” British law accepted that, if necessary, the cargo could be disposed of as ballast and that this should be compensated by insurance.

The insurance company, on the other hand, defends that the captain's maritime knowledge is not good and that if it arrives in Jamaica on time, the cargo will not need to be disposed of as ballast. British justice does not care about the people who were murdered by being thrown alive into a shark-infested sea. They are called cargo during the case. The decision is in favor of the ship owners and the insurance company makes the payment.

Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave, tells the inside story as much as he can to Granville Sharp, an activist against the slave trade, in order to raise public opinion. The story of the captain killing 142 people by throwing them overboard in three expeditions is published in a newspaper. An opportunity arises to try the captain and crew for murder. A second trial is indeed held. It turns out that in the first case where it rained all day on December 1, 1781, this was not reported as evidence. In other words, there is no water shortage, people were killed for no reason. The cargo was not well managed and the decision in the second case was that the insurance company was not liable for compensation. The murder of 142 people remains in the air, but no one is accused of murder.

Granville Sharp does not give up the fight and appeals to newspapers, members of parliament, and clergy to bring the murderers to trial. Those who committed the ZONG MASSACRE remained unpunished, but this most despicable situation of humanity continued to scratch the public conscience and became a cornerstone in the fight against slavery. In 1807 the slave trade was banned. In 2007, during the 200th anniversary celebrations of this law, a ship called Zong, similar to the original Zong, was passed under the Tower Bridge in London. But the waters of the Thames cannot cleanse the collective conscience.