Sharp, Granville (DNB00)
|←Sharp, Cuthbert||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51
SHARP, GRANVILLE (1735–1813), philanthropist, pamphleteer, and scholar, born at Durham on 10 Nov. 1735 (old style), was ninth and youngest son of Thomas Sharp (1693–1758) [q. v.] and grandson of John Sharp [q. v.], archbishop of York. He was educated at Durham grammar school, but his father, though archdeacon of Northumberland, was possessed of small means and a large family, and in May 1750 Granville was apprenticed to one Halsey, a quaker linendraper of Tower Hill, London. He served successively under a quaker, a presbyterian, an Irish Roman catholic, and an atheist. During his scanty leisure he taught himself Greek and Hebrew, and in August 1757 he became a freeman of the city of London as a member of the Fishmongers' Company. In June 1758 he obtained a post in the ordnance department, and in 1764 was appointed a clerk in ordinary, being removed to the minuting branch. In the following year he published ‘Remarks’ on Benjamin Kennicott's ‘Catalogue of the Sacred Vessels restored by Cyrus,’ &c., defending ‘the present text of the old Testament’ against the charge of corruption in the matter of proper names and numbers; a second edition of Sharp's work was published in 1775. This was followed in 1767 by a ‘Short Treatise on the English Tongue’ (two editions), and in 1768 by ‘Remarks on several very important Prophecies, in five parts’ (2nd ed. 1775). In 1767 his uncle, Granville Wheler, offered him the living of Great Leek, Nottinghamshire, but Sharp refused to take orders.
Meanwhile he had become involved in the struggle for the liberation of slaves in England. In 1765 he befriended a negro, Jonathan Strong, whom he found in a destitute condition in the streets, where he had been abandoned by his master, one David Lisle. Two years later Lisle threw Strong into prison as a runaway slave, but Sharp procured his release and prosecuted Lisle for assault and battery. An action was then brought against Sharp for unlawfully detaining the property of another; his legal advisers said they were not prepared to resist it in face of the declaration of Yorke and Talbot in 1729, affirming that masters had property in their slaves even when in England. Mansfield also declared against him, and Blackstone lent the weight of his authority to the same opinion. For the next two years Sharp devoted his leisure to researches into the law of personal liberty in England. His results were published in 1769 as ‘A Representation of the Injustice … of tolerating Slavery,’ to which he added an ‘Appendix’ in 1772. Meanwhile Sharp interested himself in other cases similar to Strong's, and the struggle was fought out in the law courts with varying success for three years longer. It was finally decided by the famous case of James Sommersett (see Hargrave, An Argument in the Case of J. Sommersett, 1772; Clarkson, Hist. of the Rise … of the Movement for the Abolition of Slavery, 1808, i. 66–78; and tracts in British Museum Library catalogued under ‘Sommersett, James’). After three hearings the judges laid down the momentous principle ‘that as soon as any slave sets his foot upon English territory, he becomes free.’ This first great victory in the struggle for the emancipation of slaves was entirely due to Sharp, who, ‘though poor and dependent and immersed in the duties of a toilsome calling, supplied the money, the leisure, the perseverance, and the learning required for this great controversy’ (Sir James Stephen, Essays in Eccl. Biogr. 1860, p. 540).
This question did not exhaust Sharp's benevolent energies. In addition to his researches in early English constitutional history and other studies, he spent much time and labour in searching for documents to prove the claim of Henry Willoughby, then a tradesman, to the barony of Willoughby of Parham, a claim which was established by resolution of the House of Lords on 27 March 1767. He took part in the opposition to the attempt to rob the Duke of Portland of the forest of Inglewood and castle of Carlisle, and published in 1779 a tract ‘Concerning the Doctrine of Nullum tempus occurrit Regi,’ on which the crown proceedings were based [see Lowther, James, Earl of Lonsdale; Bentinck, William Henry Cavendish, third Duke of Portland]. He also agitated vehemently against the reported determination of the government to extirpate the aboriginal Carribees in the West Indies, pressing his views in person on Lord Dartmouth, the secretary of state. His sympathies were easily enlisted on behalf of the American colonies, and in 1774 he published ‘A Declaration of the People's Natural Right to a Share in the Legislature.’ When the rupture became complete, he resigned his office in the ordnance department (31 July 1776) rather than assist in despatching war material to the colonies. He was now left without means, having spent his small patrimony in the cause of emancipation; but his brothers, William and James, who were then in a prosperous position, made provision for him.
Sharp's philanthropic activity now redoubled; in October General James Edward Oglethorpe [q. v.] sought his acquaintance, and Sharp joined in Oglethorpe's crusade against the press-gang. He wrote an introduction to the general's ‘Sailor's Advocate,’ and ‘moved all the powers of his age, political and intellectual, to abolish the impressment of seamen’ (ib. pp. 538–9; Hoare, pp. 168–70). In 1778 he published an ‘Address to the People,’ denouncing the arbitrary conduct of Lord North's ministry, and he vigorously supported the cause of political reform in England and legislative freedom in Ireland. On the close of the American war he started a movement for the introduction of episcopacy into the now independent states, in the course of which he corresponded with Franklin, Jay, and Adams. He was aided by Thomas Secker [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, and his efforts were crowned with success by the consecration of the bishops of New York and Pennsylvania by Secker in 1787. For his efforts in this cause he was made an honorary LL.D. by Harvard University, Providence College, Rhode Island, and William and Mary College, Williamsburg.
But the abolition of slavery was still the main object of Sharp's life. In 1776 he published no less than five tracts on the subject, and in 1779 he began corresponding with many bishops with a view to establishing a society for the abolition of slavery. It was founded in 1787, the original members being all quakers except two, and Sharp as ‘father of the movement in England’ was appointed chairman. He took an active part in the movement, frequently interviewing Pitt, and after the French revolution broke out corresponded with La Fayette and Brissot, the leaders of a similar movement in France. Meanwhile the number of liberated slaves in England became a source of serious embarrassment, and as early as 1783 Sharp had conceived the idea of establishing a colony of freed slaves on the coast of Africa; Sierra Leone was finally selected as the site, and in 1786 Sharp published a ‘Short Sketch of the Temporary Regulations for the intended Settlement near Sierra Leona’ [sic], which reached a third edition in 1788; after some assistance had been obtained from the government, the first cargo of freed slaves sailed on 8 April 1787. In 1789 a company called the St. George's company was formed to manage the settlement, and Sharp was one of the original directors, but after experiencing many difficulties it surrendered to the crown on 1 Jan. 1808 [see Macaulay, Zachary].
During the last years of his life Sharp took a prominent part in founding the British and Foreign Bible Society [see Shore, John, Lord Teignmouth], and was chosen chairman at the inaugural meetings in May 1804 (Owen, Hist. Brit. and For. Bible Soc.) He helped to found the African institution in 1807 and the Society for the Conversion of the Jews in 1808. He had been since 1785 a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and in 1813 was first chairman of the Protestant Union designed to oppose catholic emancipation. But his chief work in later years was an important contribution to New Testament scholarship in the shape of ‘Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament,’ Durham, 1798 (2nd ed. 1802; 3rd ed. 1803). ‘Granville Sharp's canon,’ as the rule here laid down has since been known, is that ‘when two personal nouns of the same case are connected by the copulate καὶ, if the former has the definite article and the latter has not, they both belong to the same person,’ e.g. in τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Xριστοῦ, ‘our God and Lord Jesus Christ,’ ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ are one and the same person. The canon is a crucial one in connection with the unitarian controversy; it was attacked by Gregory Blunt in 1803, and Calvin Winstanley in 1805, and defended by Christopher Wordsworth (1774–1846) [q. v.] in ‘Six Letters to Granville Sharp,’ 1802, by Thomas Burgess [q. v.], bishop of St. Davids, in 1810, and by Thomas Fanshaw Middleton [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Calcutta, in his ‘Doctrine of the Greek Article,’ 1808 (cf. Alford, Greek Testament, iii. 419–20).
Sharp's irrepressible enthusiasm led him into many eccentric opinions. During his latter years he wrote a number of tracts to prove the approaching fulfilment of scripture prophecies. On one occasion he attempted to convince Fox that Napoleon was the ‘Little Horn’ mentioned by Daniel. At a public meeting presided over by the Duke of Gloucester, he proposed to cure all ills in Sierra Leone by introducing King Alfred's system of frankpledge, and suggested that the soldiers in the Peninsula should be provided with portable bales of wool, which would form an impregnable rampart against the enemy in case of attack. Nevertheless Sir James Stephen attributes to Sharp ‘the most inflexible of human wills united to the gentlest of human hearts,’ and declares that ‘as long as Granville Sharp survived it was too soon to proclaim that the age of chivalry was gone’ (Eccl. Biogr. 1860, p. 538).
Sharp, who was unmarried, chiefly lived in rooms in Garden Court, Temple. He died at Fulham on 6 July 1813, at the house of his sister-in-law, Mrs. William Sharp. He was buried in the family vault in Fulham churchyard, where there is an inscription to his memory; another memorial, with an inscription and medallion portrait to him, was placed by the African Institution in the Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey (engraved in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1818, ii. 489). A portrait drawn by George Dance, R.A., and engraved by Henry Meyer, is prefixed to Prince Hoare's ‘Memoirs of Granville Sharp,’ 1820.
Hoare's ‘Memoirs’ (pp. 487–96) contains a complete list of Sharp's works, numbering sixty-one. The more important, besides those already mentioned, are: 1. ‘Remarks on the Opinions of the most celebrated Writers on Crown Law …,’ 1773. 2. ‘The Law of Retribution, or a Serious Warning to Great Britain and her Colonies … of God's Temporal Vengeance against Tyrants, Slaveholders, and Oppressors,’ 1776. 3. ‘The just Limitation of Slavery in the Laws of God,’ 1776, in reply to Thomas Thompson (fl. 1758–1772) [q. v.] 4. ‘An Essay on Slavery,’ 1776. 5. ‘The Law of Liberty or Royal Law,’ 1776. 6. ‘The Law of Passive Obedience,’ 1776. 7. ‘A Defence … of the Right of the People to elect Representatives for every Session of Parliament,’ 1780 (5th ed. same year). 8. ‘An Account of the Ancient Division of the English People into Hundreds and Tithings,’ 1784. 9. ‘An Account of the Constitutional English Polity of Congregational Courts, and more particularly of … the View of Frankpledge,’ 1786. 10. ‘An English Alphabet for the Use of Foreigners,’ 1786. 11. ‘A General Plan for laying out Towns and Townships on the new-acquired Lands in the East Indies, America, or elsewhere,’ 1794 (2nd ed. 1804). 12. ‘Serious Reflections on the Slave Trade and Slavery,’ 1805. 13. ‘Extract of a Letter on the proposed Catholic Emancipation,’ 1805. 14. ‘A Dissertation on the Supreme Divine Right of the Messiah,’ 1806. 15. ‘A Letter in Answer to some of the leading Principles of the People called Quakers,’ 1807. The following tracts are of some note: ‘On the Law of Nature’ (1777; 2nd ed. 1809); ‘The Ancient and only True Legal Means of National Defence by a free Militia’ (3rd ed. 1782); ‘On Duelling’ (1790); ‘Three Tracts on the Syntax and Pronunciation of the Hebrew Tongue’ (1804), and on ‘The System of Colonial Law’ (1807).[The Memoirs of Granville Sharp by Prince Hoare, 1820, 4to, were compiled from Sharp's manuscripts; the publication of a selection of his letters was projected but not carried out; see also Gent. Mag. 1813 ii. 89–90, 1814 ii. 431, 1818 ii. 489; Georgian Era, iii. 552; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century; Sir James Stephen's Essays in Eccl. Biogr.; Wordsworth's Eccl. Biogr. 1818, pref.; Fleming's Papacy, 1848, p. 43; Faulkner's Fulham; Stanley's Memorials of Westminster Abbey, pp. 248, 280, 316; Clarkson's History of the Abolition of Slavery, i. 66–78; Catalogue of Devonshire House Portraits; Trevelyan's Life of Macaulay, i. 11; works in British Museum Library.]