Barbados Heritage

Trapped In Slavery? – The Jonathan Strong Story

This account highlights the cruelty towards and suffering of Jonathan Strong and gives a glimpse into the workings of the British system of enslavement. This story, documenting his horrific experience is only but one such incidence that would be foundational to exposing the cruelty and dehumanization of the system of trafficking in humans for financial enrichment. The fight waged in the courts against the status quo would ultimately result in this becoming a pivotal case in British slave history, which would prove to be the beginning of the challenge to the very existence of the enslavement in Britain and across the British slave world.

Jonathan Strong was a strong, young, enslaved man, who was born in Barbados and owned by David Lisle, a British enslaver and lawyer. In 1765 Strong was taken to London by Lisle. While there he was severely pistoled-whipped by Lisle and left for dead on the streets of London. By the intervention of fate, Jonathan Strong was able to make his way to the offices of Dr. William Sharp on Mincing Lane. In his practice Dr. Sharp liberally granted his services free of charge to the poor of London.

Mincing Lane, London.
1765 – Dr. William Sharp’s medical practice was located on this street.
Credit: Wikipedia

On that fateful day in 1765, Granville Sharp, the brother of Dr. Sharp, was visiting his brother at his Mincing Lane offices, when Jonathan Strong came in for medical attention.

Granville Sharp and his first encounter with Jonathan Strong
Credit: Look and Learn

The brothers, being so horrified by his condition, were committed to his care and recovery. Dr. Sharpe had him admitted to hospital, where he remained for a number of months, after which they attended to his maintenance and care for four months until he was fit to find work. He would then be employed as an errand boy with a Quaker apothecary on Fenchurch Street, who was a friend of the Sharp brothers.

His worst fears were realized two years later in 1767, when David Lisle saw Jonathan on the streets of London and organized to have him kidnapped and thrown in prison. Having accomplished this, Lisle promptly sold Strong off to a
James Kerr, a Jamaican planter. Consequently, Jonathan languished in jail waiting to be transported back to the West Indies, to a life of enslavement. However, Jonathan got word to Granville Sharp regarding his situation and Sharp swiftly
went to his aid.

Granville Sharp visits Jonathan Strong in jail
Credit: Universal History Archive

Despite being threatened by both Lisle and Kerr, Sharpe would present his case before the Lord Mayor of London, seeking Jonathan’s release, arguing that there had been no wrong-doing on the part of the young man. Lisle would however argue that as his property, he was well within his right to do with Jonathan as he pleased. However, the Lord Mayor agreed that Strong had committed no crime and should be set free.

Granville Sharp and Jonathan Strong in a court room scene
Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

Jonathan strong would win his release but his health being permanently impaired from the beating he was subjected to from Lisle, he would succumb five years later, dying at the age of twenty-five years.

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