A Forgotten Georgian History
Georgian England had a large and distinctive black community. Yet all of them, prosperous citizens or newly freed slaves, ran the risk of kidnap and sale to plantations. Their dramatic, often moving story is told in this book. The idea that Britain became a mixed-race country after 1945 is a common mistake. Even in Shakespeare’s England, black people were numerous enough for Queen Elizabeth to demand their expulsion. She was, perhaps, the first to fear that whites would lose their jobs, yet her order was ignored without ill effects. By the eighteenth century, black people could be found in clubs and pubs, there were churches for black people, black-only balls and organisations for helping black people who were out of work or in trouble. Many of them were famous and respected: most notably Francis Barber, Doctor Johnson’s esteemed manservant and legatee; George Bridgetower, a concert violinist who knew Beethoven; Ignatius Sancho, a correspondent of Laurence Sterne; and Francis Williams a Cambridge scholar. But many more were ill-paid, ill-treated servants or beggars, some resorting to prostitution or theft. And alongside the free world there was slavery, from which many of these black Britons escaped. The triumphs and tortures of black England, the ambivalent relations between the races, sometimes tragic, sometimes heart-warming, are brought to life in this well-researched and wonderfully readable account. The black population of Georgian England had been completely ignored until this book changed the conversation, clearing the way for a new kind of history based on the experiences of ordinary people rather than the ruling classes.