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You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > George Africanus - from rags to riches

George Africanus plaque

George Africanus - from rags to riches

George Africanus was brought to England in slavery aged three, and went on to become Nottingham's first black entrepreneur.

In 2003, after painstaking research, local historians were able to uncover the grave of George Africanus. and arrange for a plaque to be erected in his memory.

He lies buried in the churchyard of St Mary's in Nottingham's Lace Market.

Time had worn away the inscription on his sandstone grave - but it was still found, as a historian had actually mapped the whole graveyard back in 1911.

Historical figure

Nottingham's Lord Mayor, Councillor Des Wilson, has gone on record as saying: "It's very important for people to realise black people have been here since the 18th Century and have played an active role in the economy of this country and this city."

Singer Percy Dread is a big admirer of George Africanus. He says: "This man has been here a long time and has gone through adversity and made good.

"I think we should know about him - just like Robin Hood, we should know about George."

Fashionable present

The George Africanus story starts in 1763 when he was born in Sierra Leone in West Africa.

Black servants were fashionable at the time, and once the young George was brought to England, he was given as a present to wealthy businessman Benjamin Molineux, who lived in Wolverhampton.

Percy Dread

George Africanus admirer Percy Dread

The family gave him his full name George John Scipio Africanus, but his original African name is unknown.

They ensured he grew up able to read and write, and he served his apprenticeship as a brass founder in one of the Molineux family's foundries.

In 1784, George Africanus moved to Nottingham to work as a brass founder.

Four years later he married local woman Esther Shaw and the couple lived on Chandler's Lane in the city centre.

He had won his freedom from slavery long before the Committee for the Abolition of Slave Trade managed to change the law in 1807.

Success in Nottingham

Just after his marriage George and Esther founded the Africanus' Register of Servants, an employment agency which remained a family business for more than 70 years.

George Africanus was also involved in Watch and Ward, a sort of police force responsible for preventing civil disturbances.

In 1829 he became a "freeholder", owning his own family home as well as business premises and accommodation he rented out.

Nottingham City Museums Community Historian Suella Postles said: "Being of a certain property status he was able to vote - something very rare in Nottingham at that time".

But sorrow dogged George and Esther's family life - only one of their seven children survived to adulthood.

Their eldest son, also named George, died aged 14 and is also buried at St Mary's.

George and Esther's second youngest daughter Hannah grew up to marry and have two daughters of her own.

The grave of George Africanus

The grave of George Africanus

George Africanus died in 1834 aged 71, but it was not until the late 20th Century that interest in his life really took off.

Director of Afro-Caribbean Family and Friends (AcFF) Len Garrison ensured he was included in Nottingham Castle's 1993 Black Presence exhibition.

Ray Gale pieced more of the story together from research in Wolverhampton, and the two men were finally able to rediscover the Africanus graves at St Mary's.

Len Garrison died in February 2003, but his friends said he would have been delighted to know a plaque to George Africanus, Nottingham's first black entrepreneur, was unveiled in St Mary's churchyard in April 2003.

Re-dedication

An hour long grave re-dedication service was held at St Mary's church, High Pavement, Nottingham on 25 March 2007 to celebrate the life of George Africanus..

Amongst the multi-faith guests were the Bishop of Jamaica, the Rt Revd Alfred Charles Reid.

last updated: 17/10/2008 at 13:23
created: 01/03/2007

You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > George Africanus - from rags to riches



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