History of Black people in England


Black Settlers in Tudor Times


The Tudor period was significant for Black settlement in England (although Black settlement began before this). In 1501, for example, we know that Catherine of Aragon landed at Deptford with a multinational and multicultural entourage of Moors, Muslims and Jews – descendants of those who had settled in Spain from the 8th century. Besides Glossary - opens new window‘Black Moors’ from Spain and North Africa, in Tudor times Black people began to arrive as a result of the slave trade – as interpreters, sailors and servants, and also, it appears, as slaves.

 

A Black Diver Gives Evidence

Papers relating to a suit (claim) and countersuit before the High Court of Admiralty in 1547/8 give us a glimpse of one slave working in Tudor England. In November 1546, a merchant ship, the St Mary and St Edward of Southampton, caught fire and sank while riding at anchor two miles off Southampton. An Italian salvage operator, Pietro Paulo Corso, was hired to recover tin and lead from the ship, these being the only salvageable parts of a cargo valued at £6,000. Domenico Erizo, one of the consortium of Florentine and Venetian merchants who owned the cargo, subsequently claimed that Corso had secretly removed tin from the sunken ship and hidden it away for his own benefit.

 

Jacques Francis' deposition, c. 1548 - opens new window

Lying off The Needles (185KB)
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One of Corso’s divers in this salvage operation was a man called Jacques Francis, a slave from Guinea in West Africa. We know something about his role because he and other witnesses gave depositions (statements under oath) in support of Corso’s claim against Erizo for damages and/or Erizo’s countersuit. A number of these depositions display unfavourable attitudes towards slaves or Blacks as witnesses.

Jacques Francis' deposition, c. 1548 - opens new window

‘A morisco born where
they are not christened'(122KB)
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John Moore, A Black Freeman of the City of York

On 29 September 1687, a Moor was given the Glossary - opens new windowfreedom of the city of York. He is listed in the freemen’s roll as ‘John Moore – blacke’. He is sometimes referred to as ‘Johannes’ Moore.

The freedom of the city could be obtained by men and women, in a number of different ways. They could earn it through serving an apprenticeship, inherit it from a parent who was a freeman, purchase it, or receive it as a reward for services rendered to the city. John Moore bought the freedom of the city.

There seems to have been no fixed rate for those people purchasing the freedom of the city. John Moore paid two amounts – 20 nobles (equivalent to13s 6d) to the Common Chamber of the city of York and £4 to the city council – for this honour.

 

Chamberlains' book, York, 1687 (Admission of John Moore to the Freedom of the City) - opens new window

A Black Freeman in York
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John Moore appears to have been a fairly wealthy member of the York community. He was in a position to pay the requisite amount of money to the mayor to enjoy all the privileges of the freedom of the city. Belonging to this elite body, he could bear arms, he had the right to fish in the city’s rivers and, since freemen were beneficial owners of the meadows, he could graze his animals on them.

Moore was something of an exception, as no other Black man or woman has been found to date in the York rolls. Perhaps further research will reveal other examples of Black people being entered on the freemen’s rolls of other cities in Britain.

Council minute book, York, 1687 (Payment to John Moore on becoming a Freeman of the City) - opens new window

John Moore Pays for
the Freedom of the City
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References and Further Reading

Surtees Society, Register of the Freemen of the City of York from the City Records, vol. I, no. 96 (1897) and vol. II, no. 102 (1900)

Walvin, J., Black and White: The Negro and English Society, 1555-1945, London, 1973

 

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/early_times/settlers.htm