Somerset v. Stewart (1772): Conference Philadelphia

This year (2022) saw the 250th anniversary of the famous decision by Lord Mansfield in the case of Somerset v. Stewart. It is always worth remembering that Somerset visited Edinburgh and knew Stewart’s relatives in Scotland’s capital. Indeed, Stewart himself is buried in Greyfriars’ Kirkyard.

The anniversary of Mansfield’s decision has passed surprisingly unnoticed, except for an important conference in Philadelphia, held under the auspices of the American Philosophical Society. It was entitled: “Somerset v Steuart @ 250: Facts, Interpretations, and Legacies”. The programme was as follows:

Wednesday, November 30

Virtual Discussion: Somerset v Steuart @ 250: Facts, Interpretations, and Legacies

1:00-2:00pm ET [Zoom webinar]

Alan Taylor (University of Virginia)
Christopher Brown (Columbia University)
Holly Brewer (University of Maryland, College Park) Manisha Sinha (University of Connecticut)

Moderated by David Waldstreicher (Graduate Center, CUNY)


Thursday, December 1

Benjamin Franklin Hall 427 Chestnut St.

8:30-9:00 a.m.: Light breakfast

9:00–9:15 a.m.: Welcome, Patrick Spero, Librarian and Director, Library and Museum, American Philosophical Society


9:15 – 10:30 a.m.: Opening Discussion

The Somerset Case: A Historiographical Overview”

Dana Rabin (University of Illinois)

“Lord Mansfield and the Uses of Historical Myth: An Historiography of the Somerset Case in the 20th century”
Harvey R. Neptune (Temple University)

Discussant: Matthew Mason (Brigham Young University)

10:30-11:00 a.m.: Coffee Break


1:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.: Session 1: Constitutions

“The same indispensable duty operates throughout”: War, Captivity, and the ‘Domestication’ of
Slavery in Somerset v. Steuart”

John Blanton (City College of New York)

“The Lawyers’ Somerset”

Daniel Hulsebosch (New York University)

“”But only positive law:” Somerset and the Nature of Discretion”

Matthew Crow (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)

Discussant: Michael Meranze (University of California Los Angeles)


12:15 – 1:00 p.m.: Lunch

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.: Session 2: Boston

Somerset, the Bible, & the End of Hereditary Slavery in Massachusetts”

Nicholas Wood (Spring Hill College)

“Somerset in Boston”

Grant Stanton (University of Pennsylvania)

Discussant: Kathleen Brown (University of Pennsylvania)


2:15 – 3:15 p.m.: Session 3: News

“Before Somerset: How British Slaves Shared News of Emancipation and Rebellion in the Eighteenth Century”

Justin Pope (Missouri University of Science and Technology)

“Somerset v. Steuart: Who Knew What, When, and How?”

Helena Yoo Roth (Graduate Center, CUNY)

Discussant: Asheesh Kapur Siddique (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

3:15-3:30 p.m.: Break


3:30 – 4:45 p.m.: Session 4: Fugitives

“Property in Mobile People: Captivity, Forced Migrations, and Enslavement in the Eighteenth

Century British Empire”

Scott Heerman (University of Miami)

“From slavery to servitude to freedom: the gradual end of slavery in England in the wake of the Somerset decision”

Simon Newman (University of Wisconsin)

“ Jacob Duryee, the Somerset Case, the Book of Negroes, and the British Evacuation of New York City in 1783”

Marcus Daniel (University of Hawai’i at Manoa)

Discussant: Richard Blackett (Vanderbilt University)


Friday, December 2

Benjamin Franklin Hall 427 Chestnut St.

9:15 – 10:30 a.m.: Session 5: Actors/Biography

“Somerset v. Steuart  as an American Case: Reconstructing James Somerset’s Colonial Networks”

Kirsten Sword (Indiana University, Bloomington)

“The ‘Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray’ in the Wake of Somerset v. Steuart””

Jennifer Germann (Ithaca College)

“Mansfieldism: How the Mason-Dixon Line Contributed to the Somerset Decision”

Henry Buehner (Jefferson University)

Discussant: Rachel Shelden (Penn State University)


10:30 – 10:45 a.m.: Coffee Break

10:45 – 12:00 p.m.: Session 6: Proslavery

“Somerset and the Birth of Racial Capitalism in the West Indies”

Trevor Burnard (University of Hull)

“”Free White Persons”: Slaveholder Citizenship Politics in the Early United States”

Paddy Riley (Reed College)

“‘A Law Totally different from that Which Exists in Virginia’: The Somerset Decision’s Effects on British and and Virginian Abolition Debates”

Adam Thomas (Western Carolina University)

Discussant: Paul Finkelman (Gustavus Adolphus College)


12:00 – 1:00 p.m.: Lunch
1:00 p.m – 2:00 p.m.: Session 7: Antislavery

“Subjection, Protection, and Sovereignty: Another Somerset Principle in American Abolitionism”

Evan Turiano (Queens College, CUNY)

“”Somerset’ by Inches: Fugitives form Slavery, Enslaved Travelers, and etc steady Accumulation of Free Soil”
Jordan Grant (American University)

Discussant: Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania) 2:00 – 2:15 p.m.: Break

2:15 – 3:00 p.m. Wrap-up/Final Thoughts

Graduation, 25 November 2022: Research in Legal History

The Centre is always delighted when its research students graduate. On 22 November, Mr Brandon Clydesdale, currently studying of the degree of Ph.D., graduated with the degree of LL.M. by Research with a thesis entitled “President Montesquieu, Hon. Charles Yorke, and Sir John Dalrymple: legal science, feudal law, and law reform in the age of Enlightenment.” Mr Clydesdale’s doctoral research builds on this work.

“Actors, lives and networks: biographies in the global circulation of knowledge” QMUL May 2023

Call for Papers





Queen Mary, University of London 11th & 12th May 2023

Scholarship that retraces the lives of transnational historical actors has flourished in recent years. It usually finds that when actors moved internationally, their ideas moved too. Shaped by new experiences, individuals often pushed intellectual, political, and legal debates in new directions. Those who did not travel spread knowledge overseas via letter writing, building activist networks, and so on. Individuals’ life stories thus offer a way of understanding how, when, and why new ideas developed around the world, as well as their impact on others.

This workshop will contribute to the growing interest in studying highly mobile and influential global actors by bringing together a diverse array of papers and case studies in order to generate a collective discussion about theoretical and methodological questions which arise in related research, such as:

Who, or which actors, can be classified as suitable subjects in the mobile history of ideas, political history, and legal history?
What mechanisms were used by individuals to disseminate new ideas internationally?
What are the challenges faced by recounting the life of an individual moving between contexts, such as the local and the transnational, the metropolitan and the imperial?

How can scholars recount a biography that weaves together (potentially very different) national histories, contexts, and social or political processes?


A wide variety of topics are welcome; they include, but are not limited to:

the lives of individuals who influenced intellectual, political, and legal debates without necessarily being professional philosophers, statesmen, or lawyers;
actors travelling within and across nations and empires;
the circulation of knowledge produced by transnational life experiences;

‘unexceptional’ lives and their historical relevance;
family networks, social lives, and socialisation;
lives of members of collective bodies such as commissions, lobbies, and associations;
biographies of women that engaged with philosophy, politics, and the law;
non-European actors including representatives of conquered, colonized, and enslaved peoples who influenced and/or resisted political and legal processes.


Please submit a 250 word abstract along with a 1-page CV to by 15 December 2022.

Researchers at all stages of their career are welcome, especially those who have not engaged with biography or life writing and those at the early points of their career.


The workshop is organised by Victoria Barnes, Matilde Cazzola, and Atlanta Rae Neudorf.


Dicey 100 + : Some Scottish Material

Albert Venn Dicy died at his home in Oxford on 7 April, 1922. Born in 1835, he had suffered from muscular weakness, apparently due to problems with his birth, but he had a long and active life, in the course of which, from 1882, he had held the Vinerian Chair of English Law at Oxford for twenty-seven years. His father was a newspaper proprietor, and his mother, with the revealing surname “Stephen”, was from the Victorian “intellectual aristocracy”.

The recent Dicey 100+ conference held at Oxford, should produce a multi-authored volume to be published next year.

Dicey was a prolific author. His law books are well known. Indeed, his work on Conflict of Laws is still being edited, updated, and used. Your blogger remembers it well, in its iteration of Dicey and Morris, from when he studied Private International Law in the mid-1970s. Though this is often regarded by legal scholars as his best work, he is generally much better known for his work on Constitutional Law, which derived from lectures at Oxford, Lectures Introductory to the Law of the Constitution (1886), usually referred to as Law of the Constitution. He set out an attractive Whiggish (in a good sense) account of constitutional law and development, in which he developed powerful ideas that are still crucial to British constitutional thinking, such as those of the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty.

As well as such works, he wrote very extensively on political issues in magazines, pamphlets, and books. He was notably worried about Irish Home Rule, and frequently wrote  on it from a strongly unionist perspective. He was intellectually always engaged, and his correspondence reveals an extraordinary energy and, indeed, one might even say obsession. He was keen to ensure the general dissemination of his political ideas. Thus, he wanted his thoughts on Home Rule to be available to the general public in simplified versions in station book shops. He wished to have an impact on public opinion. Much of this can be traced through his correspondence with the publishers, John Murray, held in the National Library of Scotland, as well as in his correspondence with A. D. Elliott in the same repository. 

One obvious effect of his physical weakness, which is all too evident to those who work on his papers, is his appalling handwriting. A letter to the publisher John Murray, for example, evidently caused the recipient huge problems, and he started to decipher it painfully in pencil, trying laboriously to work out its meaning. Fortunately, Dicey frequently used an amanuensis, and some of his later letters are typed; were it otherwise, those who study him would often be sorely perplexed.

One cannot say that Dicey is a witty and amusing correspondent, or, at least he certainly is not in the correspondence I have seen. He was no David Hume. There are nonetheless occasional flashes of humour in letters to correspondents with whom he felt comfortable, such as the youthful Arthur Berriedale Keith, whom he always addressed informally as “Dear Keith” or “My Dear Keith”. Perhaps, of course, the difference in ages was significant here. Thus, when he started to write to the publisher John Murray IV, he was addressed as “Dear Murray”, while his father (John Murray III) had always been formally addressed by Dicey as “Dear Mr Murray”.

There survives in Edinburgh an extensive set of notebooks that study shows relate to the preparation of the edition of Conflict of Laws edited with Keith in 1922. Keith went on to edit two further editions. These are not formally included in the collection of Arthur Berriedale Keith papers in the University Library in Edinburgh, but were presumably gifted to the Library by Keith or his heirs. Further examination is necessary, but it looks like material that Dicey sent to Keith. Some of the notebooks have the  inscription “A.V. Dicey All Souls” on a fly leaf or the reverse of the front board; one has pasted to the reverse of the front board a book plate bearing Dicey’s name and coat of arms. The note books are miscellaneous in nature, but many contain organized lists of relevant cases. There are sometimes observations or brief accounts of the cases, with occasional notes from secondary works. one notebook contains a detailed analysis of Story’s work. Some note books have dated entries, and it is possible to see Dicey working through material creating a kind of specialised common-place book. Questions are posed and discussed. The material has been dictated by Dicey to an amanuensis, who has, for example, at one stage understood “incidents” as “incidence”. Pasted into one notebook is the corrected proof of a note by Dicey for Pollock’s L.Q.R. Some of the collections of cases start to include cuttings of reports from newspapers and journals; Keith obviously continued to use these for subsequent editions, as some of the cuttings are from after Dicey’s death. One volume, in a spring-back binder, contains the manuscript index of cases of the third edition. The binder is a prudent re-use; pasted on it front board his a typed (deleted) note stating it contains “Lectures on the Relation Between Law and Public Opinion”. As Dicey was working with Keith, he was also working with Robert S. Rait, Professor of Scottish History and literature in Glasgow, on their joint volume, Thoughts on the Union between England and Scotland (1920). Some typed pages from this book have been reused, with the typing scored through and new text on the back.

Rait eventually became Principal of the University of Glasgow. In that University’s special collections are to be found a MS Lecture “Is History a guide in Politics?” attributed to Dicey, as well as a miscellaneous set of correspondence, most donated by Rait’s widow. It is, as the catalogue states, an “artificial” collection. It is nonetheless very interesting, and contains much reflecting Dicey’s intellectual interests, though some letters are more personal.  Many of the most interesting are written from Cambridge by his distinguished cousin, John Venn. But it is interesting to note lighter matters such as his acceptance of a gift of a cake, and his trip to a music hall with his nephew Edgar Bonham Carter.



London Legal History Seminar, 7 Dec. 2022: Francis Goldsmid

A London Legal History Seminar

Jewish Emancipation in Nineteenth Century Britain : Francis Goldsmid

A talk by Dr Andrew Watson, Sheffield Hallam University

Wednesday 7th December, 6pm
In-Person at UCL’s Faculty of Law

About the course

Francis Goldsmid was the first professing Jewish barrister in 1833 and the first to be appointed as a Queen’s Counsel a quarter of a century later. His early life, education, Call to the Bar and time as a barrister is described. Civil and political disabilities faced by Jews in Nineteenth Century Britain are explained: Francis Goldsmid’s important role in their ultimate removal is set out. His career as a Liberal Member of Parliament, during the 1860s and 1870s, is considered, particularly his stances on significant reforms of English law and procedure and his concern for the human rights of his co-religionists and others abroad. Goldsmid’s contribution to religious reform and his generous support, financial and otherwise, to causes and campaigns is recounted.

About the speaker

Andrew Watson is a Senior Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University and has written recently about the historical depiction of Jewish people in art and the history of Jews in Argentina. He is researching the history of the Barristers’ Cab Rule, changes in court advocacy through the centuries and legal education in Nineteenth Century Britain.

About London Legal History Seminars

The London Legal History Seminar is a long-running inter-collegiate seminar series at the University of London, devoted to promoting recent research in the field. The Seminar is run by Dr David Foster (UCL), Prof Mark Lunney (KCL), and Prof Catharine MacMillan (KCL). For more details on LLHS events, please contact Prof. MacMillan ( to be added to our email list.


Knight v. Wedderburn: “Enough of Him”

The Scottish case of Knight v. Wedderburn (1778) has in recent years gained some publicity. It is discussed in the Oxford Companion to Black British History (2007), while Joseph Knight has gained an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Of course, legal records are fascinating, but do not tell us all. It is an obvious deduction that there was much at stake emotionally in the litigation, as in the English case of Somerset v. Stewart. Enough detail is known, however, to allow for plausible imaginative recreations. Thus, James Robertson published his novel Joseph Knight in 2003, winning a Saltire Award.

A play by May Sumbwanyambe, based on the Knight story, premiered recently at the Pitlochry Theatre, before starting a tour with the National Theatre of Scotland. It is entitled “Enough of Him”. Excellently staged and directed, it focuses on the emotional connections and struggles of the main characters. It is ultimately very moving. The review in The Times on 24 October rightly described it as “[p]oignant and powerful”. The play is currently touring Scotland. The text is available, published by Methuen in its Drama series.

London Legal History Seminar 7 Dec. 2022

Following the successful re-launch of the London Legal History Seminars on 26 October, we have a second seminar this term on Wednesday, 7 December at 6 PM. Dr Andrew Watson will speak on ‘Jewish Emancipation in Nineteenth Century Britain : Francis Goldsmid; Barrister; Legislator; Human Rights Campaigner; Religious Reformer and Philanthropist’. His talk will be held in the Moot Court at Bentham House, UCL.

Further details – and the necessary advance registration – can be found at:

London Legal History Seminar 26 Oct. 2022

As meetings start to be in person again, it is worth noting the following meeting o the London legal history seminar

On 26 October 2022, at 18.00, Professor Han-Ru Zhou, Université de Montréal, will speak on ‘Power, Money and Merits: Legacies Abroad of A Century and A Half of The Case Method’. This talk examines the case method and pieces together the story of how Langdell’s brainchild was brought to the rest of the common law world in treading the momentous events and geopolitics of the last century and a half, and reflects on the lessons from this global experiment for the present and future of the case method.

The seminar will be held at IALS. Attendance is, of course, free but please do register on the IALS website –

Liberated Enslaved and St Helena

On 7 September, The Times reported the reburial of 325 enslaved Africans on St Helena. It is a story that can be traced through The Times. In the nineteenth century, St Helena was vital as a shipping station for the British Navy and Merchant Marine. The British Navy tried to intercept slaving ships taking enslaved Africans from the African continent, mainly to Brazil. Those liberated were taken to St Helena, and quarantined, where weak and distressed, many died. There was a Vice-Admiralty Court there that tried the (mainly Portuguese) slavers. Those liberated slaves who survived were relocated as free labourers, although some remained on the island. As individuals they came form all over Africa, but such genomic research as proved possible suggests that many of these men and women came from Mozambique and Angola, which is perhaps to be expected. See an Article in Nature. 

The European Society for Comparative Legal History’s Seventh Biennial Conference, 21 – 23 June 2023, University of Augsburg, Germany

The European Society for Comparative Legal History’s Seventh Biennial Conference, 21 – 23 June 2023, University of Augsburg, Germany.

The Organising Committee and the Executive Council of the European Society for Comparative Legal History are pleased to call for papers for the upcoming Society’s Seventh Biennial Conference to be held from 21 to 23 June 2023 at the University of Augsburg, Germany.
A conference in 2023 will be a change to our normal timing. We began in Valencia (2010), followed by Amsterdam (2012), Macerata (2014), Gda?sk (2016), Paris (2018), and most recently, after a delay caused by Covid, we enjoyed the event in Lisboa (2022). However, not only does that mean we did not have a conference for four years. Covid has also moved some other large international conferences now to even-numbered years. To avoid collision with these other conferences, the ESCHL conferences would after 2023 continue at two-year intervals moving them to uneven-numbered years. The offer from Augsburg was made some years ago, but kindly deferred and the Executive Council is delighted to be able to take it up now.
For the Augsburg event in 2023, there is no general conference theme. Rather, the organisers hope that the sessions will reflect – in terms of covered topics, time periods, and regions – the full breadth of international research in comparative legal history. The Organising Committee does so in the believe that the Society’s Biennial Conference should foremost be a platform for researchers to present their most recent research in comparative legal. Papers should address and explore doctrinal, theoretical, cultural, or methodological aspects of comparative legal history. Papers should also be comparative, covering at least two legal systems, as well as historical.
To offer a paper, please send an abstract of up to 400 words by 15 November 2022. Papers, and abstracts, should be in English. The abstract should give the title of your paper and your personal data (full name, email address, work affiliation). Please also send a short CV (no more than 4 pag-es). Everyone, at whatever stage in their research career can offer a paper. The application should be sent to: Abstracts will be assessed against: (1) the aim to have a diverse conference; (2) the novelty of the work; (3) the evidence of scholarly rigour and promise of a fully researched and referenced paper; (4) in order to allow as many people as possible to speak at the conference, a person may normally offer only one paper.
It is also possible to submit a proposal for a complete panel. Panels normally consist of three pa-pers. A panel proposal should – in addition to the abstracts and CVs of those who wish to present a paper in that panel – include an abstract for the entire panel as well as a CV of the panel organizer.

Applicants will be informed by 15 December 2022 whether their paper has been accepted. The conference programme will be published on 31 December 2022 on the conference website[, which] will also contain information on the attendance fee for those who are not members of the ESCLH, on transport to and from Augsburg, [and] on accommodation in Augsburg. [Registration will open, on the conference website, on 15 December 2022.] Finally, the conference will be preceded by an additional PhD-workshop on 21 June 2023. Further information about the workshop will also be published on 15 December 2022.

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