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Black communities in historical Britain?

John Wilson

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I have read about small, non-white communities resident in England apparently existing for centuries- usually resident in ports where their ancestors may have been first brought as slaves(?) to this land? I was wondering from which era/s they lived in, which towns they resided in and what became of them? Did their descendants assimilate into the wider white society as time passed, thus leaving unwitting white English ancestors alive today?

I ask that last question because I once watched a documentary about slavery and the connections to British society, and a noble Lord (forget which title and castle) strode out to meet one of his distant relatives via that old 'trade' - and I was surprised to find him shaking the hand of an educated young Black Englishwoman. Clearly there was more social and racial interaction going on in the W.Indies than the history books, personal diaries and family histories admit?

As well as reading odd snippets here and there over the years about African and also Jewish people living in England (the latter brought here by William I but later expelled and robbed of their vast wealth by King Edward I in 1290 before reintroduction by Cromwell) and/or visiting as envoys etc in Tudor times.

Apparently, before Arabian and European avarice and arrogance drove the slave trade which fuelled a vast fraction of the British economy and thus the Empire that made our nation so rich, Africans had served at the court of Henry VIII (in what capacity? Envoys? Slave/Servants?) and also Elizabeth I, who in c.1598 dissuaded her Captains/slavers to not allow their captives ('negroes') to live in England, but her orders were perhaps not carried out, as she died soon after.

I'm aware of the major roles of some relatively fortunate few black people(compared to 95% other black people then) in the Empire period in Britain, taking part in the Trade Unions and Chartism movement etc, serving in the R.Navy and Army, becoming bare-knuckle boxers in England (King George III wanted to meet one great fighter in 1805 named Tom Molyneaux- 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.

As recently as WWII, a Jamaican fought in the RAF's Fighter Command in England during the Battle of Britain, more Jamaicans/Africans flew in Typhoon Fighter-Bombers and Lancasters, some of which I have seen in old photographs and in some seldom-shown contemporary footage (marching RAF personnal)..

Did I mishear a historian on radio years ago, when he stated that there was even a 'black' Roman legion that served in Britain?

Or was he referring to the IXth Hispana Legion, which may have contained African Auxiliaries- the fabled Numidian Light cavalry? Some tablets found at hadrian's Wall suggest such a presence.

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/during the time of the 'Celts' in 5-700bc. Could that partly explain the traditional 'tanned' appearance of some of the Cornish people?

Anyone's thoughts?

Edited by John Wilson
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A companion contextual history can be seen in contemplating ''Terra Nullius'' as a signifier of attitudes :

''Linda Burney, speaking publicly on an Aboriginal way of being Australian, says:

Terra Nullius (the term) was the basis of the whole idea of White Australia. The point about White Australia that people need to realise is that it was - and still is - racist by definition (emphasis in original). 5

She reminds us that the White Australia Policy was not abolished until December 1972. The use of this term as the title of Pratten's short narrative plays on these racist definitions. And it is probably no accident that this film was made in the same year (1992) that MABO land claims were recognised and laws pertaining to the Native Title Act underwent change.6 As a title,Terra Nullius links the historical act of dispossession to its more contemporary usage, that is, the widespread recognition of the lie that it was based on. More than that, though, it signifies a dual relationship between the body of the indigene and a particular body of land.

LITERAL SIGNIFIERS: Terra = earth/land

nullius = 'non-existent' inhabitants

terra = earth (mother)/identity

nullius = uninhabited/ belonging to 'no-body' ''

ie to justify no treaty Aboriginals were practically declared non human by the British Empire. Ie no invasion: a colonisation. The First People to occupy Australia became subject to incredibly inhuman treatments that continue today.

''Amnesty blasts Indigenous policies''

Saturday, August 14, 2010


edit: formatting

Edited by John Dolva
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