THE ADVOCATE 301
VOL. 77 PART 2 MARCH 2019
positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion,
and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is
so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.
Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision
Mansfield may have been referring to the commercial practice of slave
trading to which Knowles had pointed, I cannot say this case is allowed
or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black man must be
Chief Justice Cameron found Somerset and the other authorities on which
Cary relied to be compelling. The British Colonist’s report of Charles
Mitchell’s case noted that Chief Justice Cameron “decided that the law was
clear; that no man could be held as a slave on British soil; that there was no
doubt about the jurisdiction of the Court in this case; and that the arrest by
Capt. Fleming was illegal; and that he therefore ordered that Charles be
forthwith set at liberty”.
The decision, which the newspaper described as a “righteous” one, “was
met by considerable applause and a few hisses”. A daybook at the Victoria
jail recorded the event as “a negro set at liberty”.
Once news of the events reached him in Olympia, Tilton sent a letter of
protest to Acting Governor McGill requesting that he “bring the case before
our Government at Washington City, to the end that the owner of the slave
may have justice and the flag of our country be vindicated and relieved
from the assumption of right of search, thus made and enforced in this
case”. McGill did in turn write to the Secretary of State, though nothing
seems to have come of the matter in the diplomatic realm.
Various newspapers did, however, weigh in. Olympia’s indignant Pioneer
and Democrat suggested that Charles was not in fact a slave, referred to the
events surrounding his release as an “act of British aggression” and noted
that “had there been a United States vessel of war there at the time, the
affair would not have so terminated”. Another U.S. newspaper used the
opportunity to criticize not only the British but also “the Northern States of
Such conduct on the part of Her Majesty’s subjects of Victoria is not
neighborly, to say the least of it; but John Bull probably thinks that as the
system of stealing niggers from the South is so often practised and tolerated
in the Northern States of the Union, there is no reason why he
should not practice it here, when opportunity offers. Those who contemplate
bringing darkies here from the South will therefore take warning.
Our proximity to the British Possessions on this coast affords the same
facilities to an underground railroad that the Canadas do on the Atlantic.
On October 4, De Cosmos’s British Colonist published a vigorous rebuttal
to the Pioneer and Democrat and noted among other things that “luckily