Black History Month 1
Looking at 17th and 18th century Shropshire sources
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the myth that Black, Asian and ethnic minority people have only been present in Britain since the 1960s still persists. Yet archives reveal that they have been documented in Britain since Roman times. As part of Black History Month, we highlight some of the collections which show the longstanding Black presence in Shropshire. Archives also show the important contribution (often unmarked) that Black, Asian and ethnic minority people have made to Britain.
To date, the earliest recorded Black presence in Shropshire is in the 1670s when Samson, a gardener was employed on the Lloyd’s estate at Llanforda. Samson worked on the pleasure grounds and physic garden and it’s probable that he was brought from London or a large local estate for his specialist skills (see correspondence volumes of the Lloyd family, Sweeny Hall collection at the National Library of Wales). We haven’t found out much about Samson’s early life yet. Perhaps his experience was similar to that of ‘Jack Black‘ who worked on the Wynn’s estate in Ystumllyn. Jack’s abduction as a young child and later life as a talented gardener was recorded in the pamphlet John Ystumllyn, neu, ‘Jack Black’ .
Recently, a team of volunteers cataloguing the Shrewsbury Borough quarter sessions records found more 17th century references, including a presentment of John Qua for ale selling, 28 April 1692 (ref 3365/2280/13)
During the 17th and 18th centuries, a number of Black people in the provinces were employed as servants. Evidence of this is often found in parish registers. For example, on 4 July 1752 ‘Cato and Antony, two West Indians’ were baptised in the parish of Sheinton.
At Shifnal, Benjamin Prioulieu ‘Black servant to Mr Austin’ was baptised on 16 May 1766. Could this be the same Benjamin Prialee who married a Margaret Mansell, widow of Shifnal merchant Walter Mansell, 16 years later? Benjamin was then living in Derbyshire but the marriage licence gives his occupation as ‘servantman’.
Detailed cataloguing of poor relief records has also revealed some more examples. The settlement examination of Thomas Africanus in May 1785 shows he was born in Bombay but gained settlement at Shifnal by living upwards of four years as a hired servant to Richard Slaney, gentleman (ref P246/L/1/38a). This meant he was entitled to poor relief from Shifnal parish.
As you might expect, records of landed estates can also be informative. A letter book in the Downton collection refers to ‘Indian matters’ and a child bought by a servant of Charles William Boughton Rouse’s and taken into the latter’s care. The child was christened Francis Purchase. (ref 6683/4/330).
One visual depiction of the Black presence in Shropshire is this painting of the old Shrewsbury Gaol in 1791.
Among the prisoners in the courtyard, is the solitary figure of Richard Small. According to the Shrewsbury Chronicle and calendars of prisoners, ‘Richard Small, a negro, was committed to the County Gaol for the rape and robbery of a girl about 19, near West Felton’.
Richard wasn’t guilty and was acquitted at the Assizes.
A number of the references in this blog post come from an article the Salopian Recorder written by Terry Bracher, Issue 21 Autumn 1997. We’ve continued to look out for more references but we are keen to add this. Please do get in touch if you’d found anything in the course of your research or if you’d like to help on one of our volunteer research projects which will explore Black Asian and Ethnic Minority history in Shropshire.
In tomorrow’s blog post we’ll look at more sources, travelling forward into the 19th and 20th centuries.