Letters opening with phrases like ‘For God’s sake read this & pity me’ get fairly short shrift at the Gazette. But one such from a solicitor caught our eye. The writer was not on the steps of the SDT but in the backwoods of Maryland, where he had been sold into slavery.

We should add that the letter, discovered by the Law Society’s librarians in an historic collection, dates from 1775.

According to the letter, Sam Freeman got up in London in the morning of 21 October 1774 and being ‘not thoro sensible’ and ‘very near distracted’ took ship to Maryland aboard the Sophia. After an eight-week voyage during which he was ‘treated very genteely’ by the captain, he was ‘contrary to my expectation’ sold to a planter for £30. ‘Where I am treated more like a dog than a Christian.’

Freeman claims his duties include felling large trees and planting Indian corn until the sun sets, then ‘because I am a person of small learning’ teaching in a school for three hours in the evening. To his unknown friend in England he writes: ‘In a strange country, almost starv’d, nak’d, no refreshment and not one single farthing to help one, God knows miserable indeed, but in great hopes that you will use your endeavour and relieve me. I hope you and Spouse are pretty well, should be very glad of my admission as an attorney which is of no use to anybody but myself, but without freedom nothing will be any use.’

For all this, Freeman is optimistic about his future in the colonies. ‘If I had my freedom I could soon get enough to live genteely… as here is a fine opportunity for a young person of my profession.’

The original letter was apparently written in gunpowder and water on paper torn from a book. A typewritten copy appears in a collection known as ‘Richard’s Roll’ compiled by a Portsmouth solicitor a century ago.

Our librarians reckon Freeman was sold into indentured servitude, but have no idea what happened to him afterwards. Any clues? Obiter wonders if there might be a screenplay in the story.