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John Wilson

History of black Britain?

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As well as reading snippets about African and also jewish people living in England (the latter were brought here by William I, but later they were brutally expelled and robbed of their vast wealth by King Edward I in 1290, only being 'allowed' back to England by Oliver Cromwell) and/or visiting as envoys etc in history, I have heard it said that there has been small, non-white communities resident in England for centuries?

From which era, in which towns and what became of them? Did their descendants assimilate into the wider white society, thus leaving unwitting 'white' English ancestors alive today?

Apparently, before British avarice and arrogance drove the vile slave trade which fuelled the economy and thus the Empire that made our nation so rich, Africans had served/visited at the court of Henry VIII (in what capacity? Servants? Envoys?) and also Elizabeth I (but who was alarmed at many black people 'living in England' and in the late 1590's she advocated the repatriation of the 'negroes', but this was perhaps not carried out, as she died soon after).

I'm aware of the major roles of some relatively fortunate black people (compared to c.95% (?)other black people then) in the Empire period in Britain, taking part in the Chartism movement etc, serving in the R.Navy, being bare knuckle boxers in England (King George III wanted to meet one great fighter in 1805 named Tom Molineaux- a freed US slave). Dr.Johnson employed a black servant and paid for his schooling in England and left a large inheritance for him in his will.

There are also one or two instances of 18thC noble families hanging oil paintings of family portraits displaying mixed race members, the composition of the images, posture and attire of the subjects clearly show blood relations to the family and 'equal' acceptance, not merely being servants or other submissives.

Did I mishear a historian on radio years ago, when he stated that there was even 'black' Roman troops that served in Britain? Some evidence seems to confirm that these were men that were stationed nearby Hadrian's Wall- Vinda Landa.

Bethany Hughes in her 'Seven ages of Britain' stated that "any modern Briton has between 20-40% Arabic DNA", due to those farmer-settlers who arrived on these shores(or fought for land?) before the 'Celts' in 5-700bc. Could that partly explain the traditional 'tanned' or 'olive-skinned' appearance of some of the Cornish?

Did black or jewish people serve any other monarchs of England throughout our pre-Empire history(many were European bi-racial themselves), or achieve any high office of note?

Again, the 'establishment' view needs revising.

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Hi John. Love your website. We in Essex appreciate what Deira did for us - sending the first Christian missionaries here that made any headway. When St Cedd first arrived in Bradwell (just up the Roman road from here) rumour has it that the first thing he said to the young man who greeted his boat was 'Eee-oop lad'. (However, I've no documentary evidence for this.)

Septimus Severus was an African Roman emperor, who at the end of his life had a go at conquering Scotland, and instilling some team spirit into his sons. He failed in both, though he did manage to negotiate a lasting treaty with the Picts, before dying in York in 211 A.D.

Black History, as you've pointed out, doesn't seem to be accepted as part of the mainstream of British History, so it's good that October is increasingly recognised as 'Black History Month' in schools. http://www.blackhistory4schools.com/

What we think of as 'History' owes a lot to what the education system has defined as 'History'. The subject of 'History' was introduced into the curriculum in the 19th Century as a response to the rise of the British Empire. This included the idea that Britain had a civilizing mission in the territories she controlled, and this idea also carried heavy racial overtones. The idea that black people might have anything to offer - Mary Seacole is a glaring example - was filtered out of 'History'.

Your examples appear almost 'querky' because we have got used to the early 20th century notion of one country/one race/one language. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy - by the end of the century the ethnic and linguistic jigsaw that had been Europe had turned into a continent of 'nationalities' each with its own state, and we are now quite surprised when we hear that at the beginning of the 20th Century most Italians didn't speak Italian and most French didn't speak French.

History books can be dangerously wrong. In 1966 I introduced African history into a Uganda school. (Before that African history wasn't considered important enough.) I had to read a page ahead in the latest scholarly history books (the textbooks not having been written yet). Ideas about tribal origins, which suggested some cattle-herding 'tribes' were more advanced, and hence became the ruling 'tribes', have turned out to be dangerous nonsense. In Rwanda similar myths, that the Tutsis were a kind of master race and less 'African' than the Hutus, were one of the factors that brought about Africa's own holocaust in 1994.

I think what I'm saying is that most traditionally-trained historians need desperately to read up on archaeology and anthropology.

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Hi Norman, and thanks for the site feedback.

When St Cedd first arrived in Bradwell (just up the Roman road from here) rumour has it that the first thing he said to the young man who greeted his boat was 'Eee-oop lad'.
:rolleyes: Yes!
I think what I'm saying is that most traditionally-trained historians need desperately to read up on archaeology and anthropology.

Yes, especially as it constantly evolves, ie. discoveries of Gigantoraptor skeletons, Anglo-Saxon coin hoards etc?

Racial bigotry in the days of the British Empire became even more institutional after slaves were freed by law, plantation and slave owners (and other sectors) suffered financial losses and had to be compensated by the Government.

A more bitter and racial overtone began to seep into society as black people were freed and almost 'blamed' for society's losses. This also manifested itself, as black faces grew rarer, in the literature, theatre and other forms of popular entertainment of the age, Kipling's work to name just one example typical of the Victorian era?

But I suppose we are talking "agendas"? The Political right will always deny that Severus was black, as with other characters, so it's a case of battling entrenched opinions with education?

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As well as reading snippets about African and also jewish people living in England (the latter were brought here by William I, but later they were brutally expelled and robbed of their vast wealth by King Edward I in 1290, only being 'allowed' back to England by Oliver Cromwell) and/or visiting as envoys etc in history, I have heard it said that there has been small, non-white communities resident in England for centuries?

Have you read "Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain: Black People in Britain Since 1504" by Peter Fryer?>

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As well as reading snippets about African and also jewish people living in England (the latter were brought here by William I, but later they were brutally expelled and robbed of their vast wealth by King Edward I in 1290, only being 'allowed' back to England by Oliver Cromwell) and/or visiting as envoys etc in history, I have heard it said that there has been small, non-white communities resident in England for centuries?

Have you read "Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain: Black People in Britain Since 1504" by Peter Fryer?>

No, but I'll add it to my 'to read' list. Thanks.

I am also keen to try to discover evidence of existence of black people/communities in Britain from Roman times onwards.

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