Blacks in Britain

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SAMUEL COLERIDGE TAYLOR

Samuel Coleridge Taylor is today almost completely forgotten. However he was, at the turn of the Century one of Britain's mostoutstanding Composers. His parents were African and English and Samuel was born in Holborn on August 15 1875.

He excelled at the violin but late changed his studies to composition. After he graduated he went on to teach music at Trinity College London and at the Rochester Choral Society. At the age of 22 he achieved fame by composing his most famous work: Hiawatha's wedding feast.

This piece of music was described by the royal college of music as 'One of the most remarkable events in English musical history'. He was appointed a professor at the Crystal palace School of Music and Art, he also conducted the Croydon conservatory orchestra and the Bournemouth symphony.

He was also actively involved in promoting the cause of Black people worlrdwide.  He frequently travelled to America where he held workshops for black musiciancs and composers. The Pan-Africanist Duse Mohammed was amongst his friends and together they founded The African and Orient Review, a Pan- Africanist newspaper in London. 

Today there has been a resurgence of interest in the works of this great and interesting man. He died in 1912 aged just 37.

 

WILLIAM DAVIDSON

William Davidson was a Co- Conspirator in a plan to blow up Parliament.

William Davidson was born in Kingston Jamaica in 1786 and he travelled to Britain at the age of 14. He married an English Woman who had four sons and they set up home in Maryleborne. Davidson was appalled by the Peterloo Massacre in which 11 unarmed demonstrators had been killed and over 500 injured. 

In response to this he joined the Maryleborne reading society to better educate himself. He held meetings at his house where radicals who opposed the government would gather, talk tactics and practise military drills. 

Reports held today by the public records office show that the group was infiltrated by police informants who kept track on the meetings and records of the group. An agent Provocateur   George Edwards persuaded the group, which was being led by a man named Arthur Thistlewood, to try to blow up the houses of Parliament. The group fell into the governments trap and were arrested before they embarked.

Thistle wood and Davidson were among those arrested. They were tried for high treason, found guilty and were sentenced to be hung beheaded and Quartered. However an act of Clemency by the King saved them from being Quartered.

On May the 1st 1820 the largest ever crowd assembled for an execution. The crowd was split into two groups by ranks of Lifeguard. Blackfriars Bridge was guarded by 100 men, Artillery men and six guns. The men were hanged and beheaded outside the debtors door of Newgate Jail. The crowd reportedly were wild with fury and chants of Murder rung out!

This was the last Public Decapitation in England!

 

IGNATIUS SANCHO

Ignatius Sancho was the first African prose writer whose work was published in England. 

A former slave and renowned shopkeeper, Sancho came to England in 1731. He was two years old. The Duke of Montague gave him presents of books to cultivate the mind of the knowledge hungry Sancho. Later he went to serve the Duke's Widow at her home.

Sancho was a great friend of the actor Garrick, and it was at Garrick's suggestion that Sancho attempted acting the Black roles of Othello and Orinooko. Sancho, however, he was thwarted by his speech impediment.

It was from his Grocers shop on Charles Street in Westminster that Sancho wrote his famous letters, and received his correspondents who included Garrick, The Montagues, the sculptor Nollekins, and the writer Laurence Sterne.

Amongst his achievements Sancho was almost certainly the model for a character "Shina Cambo" in the 1790 novel Memoirs and opinions of Mr Blenfield. This novel is perhaps the first instance in English Literature where white men visit the home of a Black family as equals and when black people are shown as integrated into White English Society. Sancho also enjoyed composing. He died in 1780, two years after his death his Letters were published. They attracted over 1,200 subscibers, the highest subscription of any author of his time for 70 years. He was also painted by Gainsborough and it is also plausable that he was depicted in Hogarths' Taste of the High Life 1742. 

Further reading:
Letters of Ignatus Sancho by Ed Paul Edwards, London: Dawsons of Pall Mall.
Staying Power: the history of Black people in Britain by Peter Fryer, Pluto press, London 1984. 
England : Life before Emancipation by Gretchen Gerzina, (John Murray, London 1996) 

 

MARY SEACOLE

Mary Seacole is, without a doubt one of the unsung heroines of British History. She was one of the Two famous women who aided British Troops in the Crimea. Her Contemporary, Florence Nightingale has been lionised and is renowned and celebrated to this day. Mary Seacole however today remains largely forgotten. 

Of Jamaican origin Mary learned her nursing skills from her mother who had kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers. 

Mary heard of the collapse of the British nursing system in the Crimea and headed for London in 1845. She applied to the War Office to offer her series as a nurse, however she was turned down she believed the reason to be colour prejudice.

Nor discouraged she funded her own trip to the Crimea where she immediately set about tending to the sick and wounded. She set up her own store where she sold medicines and supplies. She became a favourite with the troops despite her race. 

One soldier writes in his memoirs:

"She was a wonderful woman.... all the men swore by her, and in case of any malady , would seek her advise and use her herbal medicines, in preference to reporting themselves to their own doctors. That she did effect some cure is beyond doubt, and her never failing presence amongst the wounded after a battle and assisting them made her beloved buy the rank and file of the whole army"

After the war she retained to England destitute and in ill health, the times brought her condition to the attention of the public. A letter asked: 

"'While the benevolent deeds of Florence Nightingale are being handed down for posterity ...are the humble actions of Mrs Seacole to be entirely forgotten?'"

Well wishers, who included Lord Rokeby and Lord George Paget, who were both Commanders in the Crimea organised a benefit for Mary Hich lasted Four days, and was held in the Royal Surrey Gardens in Kennsington. Over 1000 artists performed.

Mary Seacole wrote her Autobiography entitled The Wonderful Adventure of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands and is a thoroughly detailed and informative read. She lived prosperously for the rest of her life and died on 14 May, 1881 and left over 2,500 in her will which was a very reasonable sum in those days. 

Her grave can be found at St May's Catholic Cemetery in Harrow Rd, London. If you are in the Area pay her a visit to ensure a real British Heroine is not forgotten. 

 

OTTOBAH CUGGANO

Was born around 1757 in Ghana, he was kidnapped as a slave at around thirteen. He came to England from Grenada in 1752 and was set free. He was advised to be baptised to avoid being resold into Slavery he took the name John Steuart. He had close association with Oloudah Equiano and Granville Sharp. In 1786 when a black man called Henry Demane was kidnapped, it was Cuggano who alerted Sharp who then rescued Demane. 

The following year he published Thoughts and Sentiments On The Evil and Wicked Traffic Of Slavery and The Commerce of The Human Species. The book sets about demolishing the arguments for slavery. It was ground breaking in its content because Cuggano declared that the enslaved Blacks had both the moral right and the moral duty to resist their masters. 

If any man should buy another man...and compel him to his service and slavery without any agreement of that man to serve him, the enslaver is a robber and a defrauder of that man every day. Wherefore it is as much the duty of a man who is robbed in that manner to get out of the hands of his enslaver, as it the duty of any honest community of men to get out of the hands of thieves and villains. 

Cuggano dared to take a stand, and publicly demand the abolition of the slave trade and theemancipation of the slaves. It was ideas such as Cuganno's which paved the way for the beginning of Pan Africanism. 

These articles are reprinted with permission from the Web site The Black Presence in Britain 

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