Black Victorians




Victoria's Past honors and remembers Rosa Parks.


The Black Victorians  


THE HISTORY OF BLACK PEOPLE IN BRITAIN certainly goes back a long way - well before the reign of Queen Victoria. There were Black people in Britain in Roman times, and there has been a continuous Black presence here since 1555. For Shakespeare's London audiences, Black faces would have been a familiar sight.

The eighteenth century saw a great expansion in Britain's Black population. After the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713, British slavers dominated the infamous Atlantic slave trade. Some slaves were landed and sold at London, Liverpool or Bristol, but many Black people were brought as domestic servants by returning sea-captains, colonial administrators and plantation owners. For the English aristocracy and the newly rich, a Black page or handmaiden was an asset to be shown off as evidence of exotic wealth, so in the 18th century Black people were ironically more evident in the art and writing of the time than they were to be in the early Victorian period.

By the 1760s, the Black population had grown to somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000; Granville Sharp estimated the number of black servants in London alone at 20,000, in a city of 676,250 people. Many had attained freedom - or run away from their masters. In 1772, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield's historic decision in the case of runaway John Somerset ruled that a slave could not be deported from Britain against his or her will. This was the beginning of the end of slavery in Britain itself, and an encouragement to Black people and to abolitionist campaigners. The abolition of slavery was confirmed in 1806 by an Act of Parliament.

As the 18th century drew to a close, Britain's Black population was well established, breaking free from slavery - but usually very poor, sometimes destitute. The first-generation immigrants were overwhelmingly male, supplemented by arrivals of Black sailors, plus 4,000 Black refugees who had fought for George III against the American Revolution. Black people integrated and intermarried into poor white urban populations, and entered the nineteenth century sharing in the misery and historical anonymity of the British poor.


The Fisk Jubilee Singers








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