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Slavery in Gloucestershire
The ownership of enslaved Africans was widespread in Gloucestershire. Headstones and historical document give us clues about these people's lives both before abolition and later as free men.
The ownership of enslaved Africans was still common in Gloucestershire during latter half of the 18th century. Baptism and burial records from the period using terms such as 'black slave' and 'a black negroe' have been found from Sherborne, Twyning, Stroud, Nympsfield, Tidenham and Littledean.
A gravestone inscription at Newent dated 7 October 1829 remembers Thomas Bloomsbury 'a native of Africa and for...55 years a faithful servant to the late Samuel Richardson Esq'.
And even at the turn of the century, records suggest that new servants – in some cases of a very young age - were still arriving from Africa. In Stroud on 7 May 1801 William Ellis, son of Qualquay Assedew, 'a Negro of Guinea', aged 12 years, was baptised.
However some were also acquiring skills and going into professions. A testimonial from Richard Raikes dated 5 July 1815 is supporting the application of John Hart, Writing Master, to the post of master at Bisley Blue Coat School.
Nevertheless, he still states: 'Unfortunately he is a Mulatto, a native of the West Indies...where so dark a complexion is not objected to, he would make a very valuable Schoolmaster...’
Mixed race relationships were also known. In Tetbury on 10 March 1827 Mary Ann Elding, 'about 40 years old', was buried. Records state that she was 'a travelling woman, the wife of a man of colour'.
Many former slaves experienced hardship, some turning to crime. At Littledean on 24 March 1849 John Collins, a sailor, native of Antigua, aged 19, was sentenced to two months' hard labour for larceny. The goal register states that he 'left his home 10 years ago. Since then has been at sea in a merchant ship'.
Also at Littledean on 6 September 1867 'Henry Dyson, 20, Antigua; David Hunt, 25, W. Indies; Emmanuel Davidson, 22, W. Indies; all Men of Colour together with James Kear, 24, W. Indies, Mulatto; Mariners; jointly charged with stealing a wooden bottle and a quantity of bread & cheese & cider'. They were remanded overnight.
There are well-documented details of the lives, achievements and contributions made to British society by an array of people of African descent born, brought to or living in Britain from the early 19th century. They cover almost every field of endeavour, from politics and medicine to sport and entertainment.
These include William Cuffay, a leading member of the Chartists; Mary Seacole, the Jamaican nurse who made her way out to the Crimea; the renowned Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge; the talented composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Britain’s first black mayor, John Archer.
Ex-slaves who wrote and spoke of their lives as slaves, such as Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, were key figures in the British movement for the abolition of the slave trade.
The African population in rural areas such as Gloucestershire was relatively small and began to diminish soon after the end of slavery.
The reduction in the numbers arriving, the death of those living here, and the likely inter-racial marriages meant that, within a few generations, black people were rarely seen in the county.
The very first known record in Gloucestershire relates to John Davies ‘ye black’ who was buried in the parish of Bisley on 22 November 1603. Many were registered as 'servants' and 'slaves', although there is very little else known about them.
Others are merely recorded as persons 'of colour' or 'negro'. Their owners may have owned estates in the Caribbean and brought them over to Britain, or purchased them by auction at a slave port such as nearby in Bristol. Some were most obviously free, even before the abolition of slavery in 1834.
James Turtle of the Gloucestershire County Records Office compiled a list of references over a number of years. At Driffield on 5 June 1687 Jacob, the servant of George Hanger Esqire, 'a moore' was baptised and at Newnham-on-Severn in the Easter 1715 John Prince 'a black boy lately bought into England' was apprenticed to John Trigge, an Attorney at Law.
Owners had the frequent habit of giving their slaves Anglo-Saxon names - notably in Gloucester in August 1731 when 'John Prince a black boy lately brought into England was baptised'.
Others simply had the name of the village in which they lived. William Frocester, an 11-year old from Barbados, was baptised in Frocester in 1790. Elsewhere names such as Mingo (Cheltenham 1817) and Dido (Tidenham 1805) were probably thought by their owners to be the sort of names they may have had 'back home'.
A more detailed reference gives light on the way the slaves and former slaves were treated and referred to. A record from Gloucester dated 24 August 1731 states:
"Charles Powell, a lusty, black fellow, said to be born in Monmouth. Ran away the 16th inst. from the service of Mr Viney of the City of Gloucester, with a blue Livery lined with yellow… and a dark brown wig: These are therefore to caution all Gentlemen and others from hiring him…"
However until the mid-18th century there is only occasional mention of 'blacks'. This may be because of the rural nature of the county. Also it was very difficult to trace these people from the records unless specific mention is made of their race.
Britain’s involvement in the colonisation of the Caribbean and America from the early 1600s led to the enslavement of millions of Africans who were forced to work on the tobacco, cotton and sugar plantations.
The enormous profits made by British slave merchants were spent on buying land and building great houses. Much of the money was then invested in industry and business, fuelling the Industrial Revolution.
In March 1807 that Parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, making it illegal to buy and sell slaves in Britain's colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, North America and India.
However, it would not be until 1834 that slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. Even then, immediate freedom was granted only to slaves under the age of six. Older slaves had to serve an apprenticeship of between four and six years.
A major catalyst for the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was the Somerset court case of 1772. Initiated by the self-taught lawyer Granville Sharp, the case crippled the slave trade in Britain when the court ruled against a master who attempted to kidnap his runaway slave, Jonathan Strong, and forcibly return him to the Caribbean.
Enslaved Africans were also exported to Britain, where they often served as domestic servants. Portraits from the time show them posing alongside their wealthy owners like pets. Besides their obvious practical uses, slaves were also valued as fashion accessories.
last updated: 01/04/2008 at 11:47