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Dido Belle and Francis Barber

Gretchen Gerzina explores the lives of two black people in the higher echelons of English society, in other people's households, Dido Belle and Dr Johnson's servant Francis Barber.

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 home.

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

In the seventh programme of the series, Professor Gerzina explores the lives of two black people who lived in the higher echelons of English society, in households which were not their own - Dido Belle at Kenwood, and Dr Johnson's servant Francis Barber. They were not quite servants but not quite family. What were their options in life?

With Professor Joan Anim-Addo and Dr Michael Bundock, biographer of Francis Barber.

Presenter Gretchen Gerzina is the author of Black England: Life before Emancipation and Dean of the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts.

Recorded on location in Kenwood House and in Dr Johnson's House.

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

Reader: Jonathan Keeble
Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4.

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15 minutes

Last on

Tue 11 Oct 2016 13:45