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Joseph Knight

Gretchen Gerzina explores the stories of runaway slaves in Scotland - including Joseph Knight, who took his owner to court.

Professor Gretchen Gerzina explores a largely unknown past - the lives of black people who settled in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

She reveals a startling paradox - although Britain was at the heart of a thriving slave trade, it was still possible for many black people to live here in freedom and prosperity. A few even made it to the very top of fashionable society.

But there were others who were brought over by slave-owners from the West Indies and who were never free, despite living for the rest of their lives in Glasgow or Bristol or London. Some took the law into their own hands and managed to free themselves. Others went further and advocated violent revolution. Free or unfree, they all saw Britain as a place of opportunity that could become a home.

The second week of programmes moves towards the 19th century and Abolition.

In this sixth episode, Professor Gerzina travels to Glasgow to meet a team of historians who are just beginning to uncover the lives of runaway slaves in Scotland. One enslaved man, Joseph Knight, took the law into his own hands, brought his owner to court and outlawed slavery in Scotland for ever.

With Professor Simon Newman, Dr Stephen Mullen and Dr Nelson Mundell.

Presenter Gretchen Gerzina is the author of Black England: Life before Emancipation. She is Dean of the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts and also presents book programmes on NPR.

The music in this series is by the 18th century composer Ignatius Sancho and performed by the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra.

Readers: Jonathan Keeble, Paterson Joseph, Kathy Tyson
Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

15 minutes