British Empire
Living in the British empire - North America
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Extracts from reports on the Anderson Case, a court case concerning a slave who had run away from the USA, 1861
(Catalogue ref: TS 25/1134)
  • From the 1600s onwards Britain gradually developed its empire in North America. By the late 1700s Britain controlled the Thirteen Colonies on the east coast of North America, as well as large parts of present day Canada.
  • In 1776 the Thirteen Colonies revolted against British rule and after a long war threw off British control. They became the United States of America.
  • The British kept control of Canada. On the whole, relations between British Canada and the USA were good.
  • However, there were disputes. In 1812 Britain and the USA actually went to war.
  • In 1861 the dispute caused by the judgement in this source led to enormous tension. The event became known as the Anderson Case.
  • John Anderson was a slave who had escaped from the USA and made it to Canada. Slaves who reached Canada were not sent back to the USA because slavery was illegal in the British empire. This made Canada an attractive place for runaways.
  • In the Anderson case, the escaped slave killed a white man who was chasing him when he escaped from Missouri in the USA. The US government demanded the return of Anderson. In the Ashburton Treaty of 1842 Britain and the USA agreed that people accused of murder would be sent back across the border. (This source refers to the Treaty of Washington, which is another name for the Ashburton Treaty.)
  • In this case, Anderson was not seen as a simple murderer. Because he was escaping slavery, the British were unsure whether he counted as a murderer and were unsure whether to send him back.
  • The case was a sensation all over Canada and was in the newspapers for months. A huge swell of public opinion in Canada demanded that Anderson should not be sent back.
  • This source shows the British decision not to send Anderson back. The case caused enormous tension between America and the USA at the time, even getting as far as threats of war.
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