Dr. Anna Foy has received a Sewanee Research Grant to travel to Scotland to examine the extant legal papers of a man named Joseph Knight, an important but mysterious figure from African and Scottish legal history who was granted freedom from enslavement from the Scottish high court in 1788. Born in Guinea, transported as a child to Jamaica, and sold into slavery to John Wedderburn (a Scotsman), Knight eventually met and fell in love with Ann Thompson, a white servant of Wedderburn with whom Knight had a child. After several rounds of appeal, the monumental Knight v. Wedderburn case effectively declared slavery illegal within Scottish borders, even as slavery remained legal in the British colonies. The central goal of Dr. Foy’s project is to examine and transcribe the 40-odd pages of Knight’s legal “memorial” (a kind of autobiographical petition) with an eye to eventual publication. Knight’s case deserves to be better known.
Image from a production based on Joseph Knight's life, Enough of Him, by May Sumbwanyambe.