Britain's Black Past

BookBritain's Black Past

Britain's Black Past



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Expanding upon the 2017 Radio 4 series ‘Britain’s Black Past’, this book presents those stories and analyses through the lens of a recovered past. Even those who may be familiar with some of the materials will find much that they had not previously known, and will be introduced to people, places, and stories brought to light by new research. In a time of international racial unrest and migration, it is important not to lose sight of similar situations that took place in an earlier time. In chapters written by scholars, artists, and independent researchers, readers will learn of an early musician, the sales of slaves in Scotland, the grave—now a shrine—of a black enslaved boy left to die in Morecombe Bay, of a country estate owned by a mixed-race slave owner, and of the two strikingly different people who lived in a Bristol house that is now a museum. Black sailors, political activists, memoirists, appear in these pages, but the book also re-examines living history, in the form of modern plays, television programmes, and genealogical sleuthing. Through them, Britain’s Black Past is not only presented anew, but shown to be very much alive in our own time.

'Drawing on the work and diverse methods of its contributors, who include historians, curators and an actor, it provides in-depth histories of Black people and communities in Britain, challenging how we construct and remember them. [...] These biographies, concerning figures from visiting African princes to the 1,700 Black sailors in the eighteenth-century Royal Navy, are vital to disrupting past narratives that depict Black people as passive, and show the rich diversity of Black British History.'Montaz Marché, Times Literary Supplement

'[Britain's] Black Past includes many original and creative chapters … [Britain’s] Black Past is part of a historiography of Black British scholarship.’
Onyeka Nubia, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 

'This collection situates itself as an ideal starting point for newcomers to the field seeking an overview of the current trends and major recent interventions in Black British history, as well as for those looking to refresh their British and imperial history course reading lists.'
Ryan Hanley, English Historical Review

Author Information

Gretchen H. Gerzina is Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography and Dean of Commonwealth Honors College, University of Massachusetts. She was previously Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor in Biography and Professor of English at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Illustrations7
List of Contributors9
1. Before and After the Eighteenth Century: The John Blanke Project21
2. The Slave and the Lawyers: Francis Barber, James Boswell and John Hawkins41
3. Revisiting Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa59
4. Britain’s Black Tars77
5. Black Runaways in Eighteenth-Century Britain95
6. The Making of a Liverpool Community: An Elusive Narrative113
7. Pero’s Afterlife: Remembering an Enslaved African in Bristol133
8. Within the Same Household: Fanny Coker155
9. The Georgian Life and Modern Afterlife of Dido Elizabeth Belle175
10. Ghostly Presences, Servants and Runaways: Lancaster’s Emerging Black Histories and their Memorialization 1687–1865193
11. Staging Sancho211
12. Julius Soubise in India229
13. The Gravity of Mary Prince’s History249
14. Nathaniel Wells: The Making of a Black Country Gentleman267
15. Ira Aldridge in the North of England: Provincial Theatre and the Politics of Abolition289
16. ‘Fermentation will be universal’: Intersections of Race and Class in Robert Wedderburn’s Black Atlantic Discourse of Transatlantic Revolution309
17. The Next Chapter: The Black Presence in the Nineteenth Century329
18. Genealogy and the Black Past345