Home Work and Community
* *
Relationships and Religion *
Servants, Ayahs and Alternative Employment *
Fighting for the Empire *
On the High Seas *
The Black Poor *
The Wealthy Few *
Black Loyalists *
Indian boy *

Relationships and Religion


Community

Black people were an integral part of 18th-century British society. They worked in a wide variety of occupations, reacted to atrocities, campaigned to end slavery, became political activists, and had a lively social life.

A strong support network existed among the Black population. For example, in June 1772 the Public Advertiser reported that 'a great number of Negroes, in and about the Metropolis', had raised a subscription to thank Lord Mansfield, believing that slaves in Britain had been emancipated by his ruling in the Somerset case. This legal victory was celebrated by a ball held at a Westminster pub, which attracted nearly 200 Black revellers.

 

Passenger list of the Belisarius, 16 Feb 1787 - opens new window
Mixed Marriages in
the Eighteenth Century (133KB)
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There was also, apparently, a Black-only pub in Fleet Street, where in 1764 some 57 people 'supped, drank and entertained themselves with dancing and music'. Generally, Black people appear to have been free to go to pubs and late-night parties, and to travel around inner cities and the countryside.

If planters in the colonies readily denigrated 'the Negro', the relationship between Black people and their masters/employers in England appeared more complex. Some employers willed money to their Black and Asian workers. One master elevated his servant, Mingo, to the position of lighthouse keeper in his will. But these were exceptional relationships. Life was hard and opportunities limited for all members of the labouring classes at this period - Black or White, male or female.

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Connections

Given time, Black and White people began to make relationships. Some of the first connections were made between servants. We can read of Mary Prince, an elderly Black maid, who in 1830, fell ill and was unable to work in the wash house. An empathetic English washerwoman did Prince's duties, saving her job in the process. Relationships were not limited to the workplace either: Magistrate Baker's Black servant, Jack Beef, sat in the gallery seats with several White maids to watch actor David Garrick perform.

Black and White people were also getting married. A report in 1578 declared 'I myself have seene an Ethiopian as black as cole...taking a faire English woman as wife [they] begat a sonne in all respects as blacke as the father.' James Albert Gronniosaw (an African prince, enslaved at 15, who served in the British army and later wrote his memoirs) married an English weaver and settled in Colchester. Glossary - opens new windowEquiano himself married a Cambridgeshire woman, Susanna Cullen, from Soham, in 1792; and we know that in 1731 Englishman Warren Hull married Maria Sambo in Earls Colne.

However, 'mixed' marriages were not accepted by all. In 1773, one outraged correspondent wrote to the London Chronicle begging the public to 'save the natural beauty of Britons' from contamination.

Engraving on paper, "Noon" from Hogarth's Times of the Day, 1738 - opens new window
Noon by William Hogarth
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Religion

One of the most complex areas of social interaction was Christianity. Elizabeth I's 1596 proclamation declared that 'blackamoors have no understanding of Christ or His Gospel', but by the 17th century more references to Black people can be found in church records. One example of a good Christian was reported by the Bristol Journal, when a 'blackamoor' maid named Frances joined the Baptist church in Broadmead in the 1640s. As time passed, baptisms occurred all over the country, from the remotest local parish churches to the great cathedrals. In 1687, John Moore, a black man, was christened in York Minster. From the late 18th century, parish records contain numerous references to 'black', 'negro' and 'blackamoor'.

 

Ordination of a Black preacher in Exeter - opens new window
Ordination of the
First Black British Preacher?
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Article on club for 'Blacks or Negro servants' - opens new window
'Blacks Only' Party
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There was a perception among Black people that conversion automatically gave full freedom. While this was not the case, Christianity certainly provided Black people a new kind of acceptance in English society. After conversion, Africans were generally given an English Christian name. Bible names such as John Baptist were popular, and in 1759 Glossary - opens new windowEquiano was baptised Gustavus Vassa at St Margaret's, Westminster.

In 1765, the Gentleman's Magazine reported on a Black man being ordained in Exeter, suggesting that some may have been preachers. In 1787, while collecting evidence in Manchester for the anti-slavery campaign, Thomas Clarkson was astonished to find a 'great crowd of black people standing round the pulpit. There might be forty or fifty of them.'

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But parish registers do not always reflect the true picture. Indian people were commonly referred to as 'black'. Also, many Asians had strong ties to the Hindu and Muslim faiths, as did some Africans. As a result, they appear less frequently in the records, although they may well have been present in large numbers in Britain.

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References and Further Reading

Gerzina, G. H., Black London: Life before Emancipation, New Jersey, 1995

Myers, N., Reconstructing the Black Past: Blacks in Britain 1780-1830, London, 1996

Shyllon, F., Black People in Britain 1555-1833, London, New York and Ibadan, 1977

Walvin, J., Black and White: The Negro and English Society 1555-1945, London, 1973

For more about James Albert Gronniosaw, see:
http://www.blacknet.co.uk/history/Gronniosaw.html


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