At the age of about 8 the boy we now know as James Somerset was captured and taken from West Africa by European slavers, to be sold in the Americas. He was purchased by Scottish merchant Charles Steuart (Stewart).
20 years later in 1769, Steuart relocated to England, taking James with him. During their time in England James came in contact with other Black people and white abolitionists, as well as Thomas Walkin, Elizabeth Cade and John Marlow – Quakers who were against slavery. When James was baptized in August of 1771 these three became his godparents.
Less than 2 months later, James Somerset escaped from Steuart and refused to return. On 26 November 1771, following orders from Steuart, James was kidnapped by slave hunters and taken to Captain John Knowles, where he was jailed aboard the Ann and Mary ship, awaiting transportation to Jamaica where Steuart planned to sell him on.
On 3 December, James’ godparents applied to the ‘Court of King’s Bench for a writ of habeas corpus’. That meant Captain Knowles had to bring James to the court. ‘Habeas corpus’ was used to protect against false imprisonment and make sure a prisoner has been afforded due process.