Catholic Negro slaves in 18th C. England – J.A Hilton

Triangular Trade
Triangular Trade
A few eighteenth century English Catholics, particularly in Lancashire and especially in Liverpool, were involved in the Atlantic slave trade. As a result there were a few Catholic Negro slaves in eighteenth century England.

[ref name=”my-unique-id-1″]I am grateful to Dr M Rowlands
and Mr C.I Bennett for their help.[/ref]
The history of the Atlantic slave trade is bedevilled by ignorance and prejudice. European slave traders were motivated by the profits that were to be made by supplying slave-labour to the underpopulated American colonies, where European conquest and disease exterminated the aboriginal inhabitants. English slave-traders supplied not only in the
English colonies in North America but also in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. West African kingdoms co-operated by selling into slavery captives and convicts, the surplus population of their own region. The result was the triangular trade:

Processed and manufactured goods – textiles and hardware, rum and tobacco were exported to England from West Africa. Slaves were exported from West Africa to the Americas, 80,000 per year by 1750. England’s Atlantic ports, including Liverpool and Lancaster (though legislation in 1799 closed Lancaster to slavers), in the catholic stronghold of Lancashire were deeply involved in this trade. Raw materials fro processing and manufacture – tobacco, sugar and cotton
– were exported from the Americas to England. Very few slaves arrived in England. A growing Population, supplemented by Irish immigration, increasing from five and a half million at the beginning of the eighteen century to nine million by the end, provided sufficient labour for agriculture and its increasingly mechanised industry. However, there were a few black slaves in England, some of them regarded as fashion-accessories by wealthy ladies, others the personal servants of sea

[ref name=”my-unique-id-2″]R Kerridge, the story of Black History (London, 1998); H. thomas, The Slave Trade (London, 1998): G. gerzina Black england: Life before emancipation (London, 1995);J. Walvin, Black and white: the Negro in english society 1555-1945 (London 1973);Walvin, BlackIvory: A history of British Slavery (London, 1992); S.I. Martin, Britain’s Slave trade (London, 1999); E.J Hobsbawm, Industry and empire (London, 1969):P.E.H Hair, The Atlantic slave Trade and black Africa (London,1978): R ansteyand P.E.H. Hair , Liverpool, The African slave Trade and Abolition (Historic society of Lancashire and cheshire), Occasional series, II Liverpool, 1976); M.M schofield ‘The slave trade from Lancashire and cheshire ports Outside Liverpool, c 1750-1790’,Transactions of the historic society of Lancashire and Cheshire, CXXVI (1977), pp.30-72: M.Elder, Lancaster and the African Slave Trade (Lancaster, 1994).[/ref]

The Catholic James, Duke of York, subsequently King James II, set them the example as head of Royal Africa Company.  the colony of Maryland was originally founded in 1663 as a haven for English Catholics, and there may have been emigrants thither from Lancashire.

By 1685 the colony had become an important market for slaves.

[ref name=”my-unique-id-3″]Thomas, pp. 196-209, J.A. Hilton, ‘The Anglo Celtic Catholic Ascendancy, 1685-91’, north west

catholic History, xIX (1992), pp. 1-6;N. Gardner (ed.). Lancashire Quarter sessions records: Register of Rescusants 1979

(wigan.1998), p.9.[/ref]

In 1788, Robert Hodskinson, the nephew of the Rev. Robert Banister, Catholic priest at Mowbreck in the Fylde, was in Honduras ‘ahunting inconsistent fortune, following a parcel of negroes to cut down mahogany, and send it, I suppose, to England. [ref name=”my-unique-id-4″]L.Gooch (ed.), The revival of english Catholicism: The Bannister-Rutter correspondence 1777 – 1807(wigan, 1995), p.129[/ref]
Robert Worswick, a Catholic, a banker, and a freeman of Lancaster, had interests in slavers operating from Lancaster.[ref name=”my-unique-id-5″]Schofield pp.58-59;R.N. Newman and J. Brownbill,St Peter’s Lancaster
(London,1910), pp.195,226,239,243.[/ref]In 1764 the 19yr old Peter Newby, a native of Kendall in Westmorland and educated at Fernyhalgh in Lancashire, left the English college at Douay before ordination, and took service on a Guineaman, a slave ship which left Liverpool in January, ‘in which voyage he’ Newby wrote of himself, ‘was an eyewitness of scenes that would have shocked even apathy itself, and made the sternest stoic weep’.[ref name=”my-unique-id-6″]M. Whitehead Peter Newby: 18th Century Lancaster Recusant Poet (Lancaster, 1980).pp.13-15.[/ref]

Meanwhile in England there was a handful of Catholic slave owners with their Catholic black slaves or servants. In fact, these blacks are never listed as slaves but as servants. It may well be that they were free wage earning servants rather than slaves. As in the celebrated case of Samuel Johnson’s companion and heir, Francis Barber, the boundary
between slave, servant, and even friend might be vague. However, the whole social and legal structure provided for slaves, even down to their silver collars which they wore as a mark of their status.[ref name=”my-unique-id-7″]Gerzina pp.1-89;P. Edwards (ed.),The Life of Olaudah Equiano (London, 1988), pp.57-59.[/ref]

The return of the papists of 1767 reveals only two Catholic Black servants or slaves, both in the London area. Chelsea, on the north bank of the Thames, returned a seventy-year old captain at sea with his thirty three year old ‘negro servant’, one or both of them resident for ten years. There was only a total of twelve Catholics in the parish. [ref name=”my-unique-id-8″]E.S Worall (ed.), Returns of Papists 1767 (2 vols, London, 1980-89),II,P. 132.[/ref] At Stoke Newington to the north of the city was a fifty-year old ‘black servant’, ‘many years’ resident and the only Catholic in the parish. He was also unique in being the only Catholic Black servant without a Catholic master. Perhaps he really was a servant rather than a slave. On the other hand, he may once have had a Catholic master who sold him to a protestant, changes of ownership being one of the features that emphasised the naked economic nature of the master-slave relationship.[ref name=”my-unique-id-9″]Worall, II,p.134.[/ref]

The registers of St Mary’s, highfield Street, Liverpool, reveal another four Catholic Negro Slaves. A trawl through the printed Catholic registers for Bristol, Lancaster, and London failed to reveal any more. In November 1758, Captain James Brown’s ‘black servant maid’ was baptised in the presence of her master and mistress.[ref name=”my-unique-id-10″]J.S.Hanson (ed.),’ The Catholic registers of Liverpool, now St Mary’s, highfield street, 1741-73′ in Miscellanea VII (Catholic Record society IX, London, 1911), p. 254.[/ref] On 4th May 1764 Capatin charles Martin’s ‘Black Eduad'[sic], aged twenty and ‘in danger of death’ was baptised i the presence of Mrs charles Martin and Mrs Brown.[ref name=”my-unique-id-11″]Hanson, p.280[/ref].This Mrs Brown might have been the same Mrs Brown who’s own maidservant ha already been mentioned. Captain Charles Martin and his wife Esther were both listed in the return of 1767.[ref name=”my-unique-id-12″]Worral, I.P. 20.[/ref]

On 6 june 1771 John Cleveland, ‘a Black’ was baptised with William Woodville and Dorothy Hall as his sponsors.[ref name=”my-unique-id-13″]Hanson, P.321.[/ref] Woodville was listed as a merchant in the return of 1767 and Dorothy Hall as a servant elsewhere in Liverpool.[ref name=”my-unique-id-14″]Worrall.I, P. 17.[/ref]

By 1771 she may have been Woodville’s servant/ On 11 September 1771 John rowe, ‘a black’ was baptised with William gold and Julien Gold, probably his owners, as his sponsors.[ref name=”my-unique-id-15″]Hanson, p. 322.[/ref]

We can only speculate as to the motives of those involved in these baptisms. Baptism was a raison d’etre of the clergy following their mandate to baptise. Catholic heads of households were urdged by contemporary spiritual writers to fulfil their spiritual duties not only to their own immediate families but also to their househols servants. thus Richard Challoner in his Meditations, first published in 1754, called upon his reader to:

Consider what the duty is of parents with regard to their children: and so in proportion of other superiors with regard to them that are commited to their charge…they are not to neglect their temporal well-being…But they must take much more to heart their everlasting slavation.[ref name=”my-unique-id-16″]R. Challoner, Meditations (London, 1875), p.394 (‘honour thy Father and thy Mother. september 26’).[/ref]

Other Catholic sponsors might be fulfilling obligations to friends or employers. The slaves themselves had obvious reasons to ingratioate themselves by conforming to their masters religion. However, we must not discount honest conviction.

For some Catholics, such as the ex-slave trader Peter Newby, like his evangelical counterpart, john Newton, there was a contradiction between his religion and slavery.[ref name=”my-unique-id-17″]Whitehead, pp. 23-24:B.Martin and M. Spurfell (eds), John Newton: Journal of a Slave Trader, (London, 1962)..[/ref] Indeed, Newby associated the abolitionist movement with the campaign for catholic emancipation:-

The slave that drags his long yet length’ning chain,
what would he give to bend his shrivell’d knee
At thy [Freedom’s] approach, to quit his life of pain,
And flyfrom tyranny to roam with thee?

Start not, ye Britoons-’tis your country’s stain-
Thousands, who breathe with you one common air,
Are little less than slaves-they meet distain,
and evr’y degradation is their share

[ref name=”my-unique-id-18″]Whitehead, p. 42[/ref]

However, there were Catholics who supported slavery. Fr Raymon Harris [alias Hermosa], the ex-Jesuit and former assistant priest at Liverpool, published in 1788 a pamphlett which defended the slave trade from scripture, and won the thanks of Liverpool town council.[ref name=”my-unique-id-19″]T. Burke, catholic History of Liverpool (Liverpool.1910),pp. 14-15; Hanson, pp.188-90.[/ref] Moreover, the opponents of abolition and Catholic emancipation were also ready to link the two together. in the election of 1807 the Liverpool tories ridiculed the Liberal candidate Roscoe as ‘his holiness the pope]… He bore two banners: Catholic emancipation and Abolition of the slave trade’.[ref name=”my-unique-id-20″]Burke, p.36.[/ref]

Abolition and emancipation progressed in tandem. Lord Mansfield’s judgement in talbot’s case in 1771 put an end to the prosecution of catholic Priests for treason, and Mansfield’s judgement in somerset’s case effectively put an end to slavery in England. Legislation lagged behind public opinion and the common law. The Catholic relief acts of 1778 and 1779 culminated in the Emancipation act of 1829. the slave trade was abolished in 1806 but slavery in the British West Indies was only abolished in 1833.[ref name=”my-unique-id-21″]M.D.R Leys, Catholics in england 1559-1829 (London, 1961), pp.126-53; gerzina, pp.90-132: Thomas, pp. 553-555, 649.[/ref]

The existence of English Cathollic slave-owners and slaves in the eighteen centure, together with the English Catholic opponents and supporters of the slave trade and slavery, indicate the extent to which the English Catholic community shared in the values of the English community as a whole. Although he was not a Catholic, Black Sambo’s grave at Sunderland Point at the mouth of the river Lune, not far from Lancaster serves to remind us of the darkness at the heart of Catholic Lancashire.[ref name=”my-unique-id-22″]Elder, pp. 24-25[/ref]

Related Links
Black History Month – The Grave of Black Sambo – Lancaster and the Legacy of Slavery

Wikipedia- Black Sambo’s Grave

One thought on “Catholic Negro slaves in 18th C. England – J.A Hilton

  • 29th August 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Several of William Wilberforce’s family became Catholics. One of them became a Dominican friar and was a close friend of Cardinal J H Newman.


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