History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 October 2007

Britons never will be slaves …?

More from Jane Lockwood . . .

And don't forget that Jane is giving away a copy of her new book!

After writing Forbidden Shores I went on to read more about the abolitionist movement and about the black population in England. It’s a fascinating subject. As I mentioned in my post about my book, there was never a large slave population in England, but by the end of the eighteenth century as many as fifteen thousand black people lived in London. Most of them were male, working as pages, footmen, and butlers--the sort of servants who ostentatiously displayed their employers’ wealth.

Were they free or not? Good question. The status of a slave brought to the country from abroad had been debated for at least a century. The English took very seriously the concept of Magna Carta and as the patriotic song Rule Britannia (set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740) said: Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves; Britons never will be slaves. So you couldn’t have slaves in England… could you? The matter was decided once and for all when Chief Lord Justice Lord Mansfield ruled in 1772 that a slave was not regarded as such in England, and--most important--could not be coerced into returning to the land where he or she was enslaved.

Mansfield had a personal interest in the matter. His own stepdaughter, Dido Elizabeth Lindsay (1761-1804), was the daughter of a sea captain and an enslaved woman rescued from a Spanish ship. Dido was brought up in Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath near London and served as companion to her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, who was also adopted by Lord and Lady Mansfield. Johann Zoffany, fashionable painter to the court and aristocracy, painted this portrait of the two women in 1779. They’re beautifully dressed, and both looking at the artist/viewer, which suggests some degree of equality. According to Wikipedia she had the status of an upper servant, and probably served as Lady Murray’s companion; for instance, she did not dine with the family but joined them after dinner for coffee. Was it the stigma of race or illegitimacy?

One of the most astonishing aspects of the abolitionist movement was that support crossed barriers of gender and class. Ordinary housewives boycotted sugar. The London mob was notorious for helping slaves escape and ordinary people accepted members of the black population into their lives and families.

Thanks again for having me visit, History Hoydens!


Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

Dido and Elizabeth do seem to have a very strong family resemblance. The shapes of their faces, noses, and eyebrows are pretty much identical.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

What an interesting topic Jane. I loved reading about the story of Dido. She would make an interesting secondary character in a novel. I suspect that both her race and illegitimacy contributed to her position in the household. It's interesting that she was allowed to join the Ladies after dinner, as if that would be less uncomfortable. I'm so sorry that my trip to London didn't coincide with the exhibition at Kenwood House. I would have loved to have seen it.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Jane, this is a wonderful post; and it's a fascinating subject. I'm particularly interested in the microcosm effect of the abolitionist movements, like the housewives boycotting sugar. That would be a wonderful detail to include in a novel, for tone and atmosphere and to put the world in perspective. I love learning about what John and Jane Bull did, historically, since so many of our novels/authors focus on the behavior, manners, and actions of the upper crust. I guess because publishers think that's what readers want, or all the stories about dukes are readers' escapist sugar-fixes for fictional fantasies' happily-ever-afters.

But that's a whole 'nother topic ...

6:37 AM  
Blogger JRMullany said...

Hi Laura--interesting point! What I'm interested in, and I hope Kalen will comment on this, is the clothes. It seems as though Dido is wearing an extremely fancied-up version--in white satin--of a slave's dress. The first time I saw this portrait it was dated 1799 and I wondered why Elizabeth was wearing such an old-fashioned dress, because Dido's gown, in its simplicity, looks very classical. But the earlier date explains Elizabeth's gown and makes a mystery of Dido's.

8:08 AM  
Blogger JRMullany said...

Elizabeth, I'd have loved to have seen the Kenwood exhibit too.

Amanda, I'm tremendously interested in the "middling" people of the period too. Since I come from England I don't have a very high opinion of the aristocracy and they don't hold much attraction for me, except when they interact with the servants downstairs!

8:12 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

What I've loved about your books Jane, is that even though your characters are slightly of the aristocracy, they're much more than their class. Clarissa has to find employment because of her situation and Allen is a younger son, so he has to make his way in the world. March lives outside of England and that claustrophobic world. I've always been interested in those men and women who were mavericks so to speak, who stepped outside the box.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Fascintating post, Jane. I saw an exhibition about the Abotlition movement at the City of London Museum a few years ago that was really eye-opening in terms of the depth of the movement (wide range of people involved) and the number of people of African descenet living in England. The story about Dido and Elizabeth is really intriguing (and I noticed the clothes as well). You said Mansfiled was Dido's stepfather--was he literally married to her mother or does this refer to the fact that he adopted her? How did she end up in the Mansfield household?

9:54 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Great post, Jane. I love the story behind the portrait. I would have never guessed how the lives of these two young intertwined. Like Amanda says, what wonderful detail to include in a novel.

10:55 AM  
Blogger CrystalGB said...

Great topic. I enjoyed reading about Dido and Elizabeth and their connection.

11:31 AM  
Blogger catslady said...

I love hearing about the background and all the history included - makes for such interesting reading.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great post! Forbidden Shores sounds great! You can see the family resemblance with Dido and Elizabeth.

4:35 PM  
Blogger JRMullany said...

Tracy, I haven't been to the City of London Museum in years--I'd love to have seen that exhibit! The V&A had a conference on artifacts of the abolitionist movement this year that I missed, too.

As I remember it, Dido's father was Mansfield's nephew--he (Lindsay) was a naval officer so he couldn't raise his daughter himself; I'm assuming Dido's mother had died.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

It was a great exhibit, Jane. They had copies of pamphlets, medallions, books, newspapers. It really brought the whole abolition movement to life in a very tangible way.

Were Dido's parents married? Did she ever get married herself?

Thanks for the fascinating post--it makes me even more eager to read your book!

5:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

While you can't see the front of Dido's gown, what you can see if nearly as fashionable as her cousin's.

One of my favorite books, which has lots of info about Dido and her uncle is BLACK LONDON. I just gave my paperback copy away today. LOL!

7:08 PM  
Blogger Carol Burge said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing!

7:29 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Tracy, according to Wikipedia Dido did eventually get married to a British East India Comapany official named John Davinier and had 3 sons. She's buried at St. George Hanover Square in London. Kalen, thanks for the book recommendation. I'll have to pick up a copy of Black London.

5:15 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks, Elizabeth! I'll have to pick up a copy of "Black London" too.

9:43 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

Jane, what a fascinating post! I love visiting the Hoydens because I always learn such wonderful things!Like Amanda E I am always interested in what the average British citizen thought, believed and lived during the Regency, my favorite era. Kalen thanks for the book recommendation. Another one to add to the wish list!

8:33 PM  
Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

I've just seen some recent news about an archaeological dig which seemed relevant to the discussion here:

Excavations in the grounds of a Scottish castle have uncovered the remains of a house belonging to a slave freed in the 18th Century.

The dig at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire was launched in an effort to find out more about the life of Scipio Kennedy.

The full findings will be unveiled at a conference in Glasgow at the weekend.

The National Trust for Scotland said Scipio had been taken from his home in Guinea at the age of six and was granted his freedom at Culzean in 1725. [...]

Scipio was bound for the West Indian plantations when he was bought by Captain Andrew Douglas of Mains in Dunbartonshire.

In 1705, Captain Douglas' daughter, Jean, married John Kennedy and Scipio went with her, eventually moving to Culzean.

He took the family surname of Kennedy, learned to read and write and was instructed in textile manufacture.

In 1725, Scipio was given his freedom and a home in the grounds of Culzean Castle. He married local woman Margaret Gray three years later, with whom he had eight children.

He died at the age of 80 on 24 June 1774 and a gravestone was erected in Kirkoswald graveyard. [...]

Mr Alexander said the house was probably a fairly grand affair.

"It cost £90 to build so we think it was probably built of stone and quite fancy," he said.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ooooooo, Laura. Thanks for the info. I'll have to look into this . . . I've been obsessed for about a year now with writing a romance with free black protagonists. It may end up as a give away novella, because the idea doesn't seem to excite anyone in NY, but that will be all the better for readers. LOL!

12:28 PM  
Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

It may end up as a give away novella, because the idea doesn't seem to excite anyone in NY, but that will be all the better for readers. LOL!

I'm looking forward to reading it.

Also related to Scotland, have you heard of James Horton?

James Horton was born in Sierra Leone and his parents were freed slaves. He was educated by the C.M.S (Church Missionary Society). In 1855, at the request of the War Office, Horton and two other young men were sent for further medical training at King’s College, London. He then went on to study at Edinburgh University. As a student, Horton took the name Africanus as statement of his roots. In 1859 he joined the British Army Medical Service where he was appointed assistant staff surgeon. Horton was one of the first Africans to qualify as a medical doctor and one of the first to serve as an officer in the British Army and in 1874 he achieved the title Surgeon Major. In 1880 he retired and returned home where he founded the Commercial Bank of Sierra Leone. He died aged 48.

And here's another (possibly):

Historians are intrigued by a mysterious figure who appears in a tapestry depicting a scene from the last battle fought on British soil.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) believe he may be a Jamaican servant of an officer on the government side at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness.

And I just found this too:

Dr Johnson famously left his Jamaica-born employee Francis Barber a £70 annuity, and refused to let him go and buy food for his cat, as he felt that 'it was not good to employ human beings in the service of animals'. Barber's last descendant still lives in the Lichfield area; he's white, his children are all daughters, and the name will die out with this generation.

You've probably come across that one already as you've got a book about black people in London, but I'd not heard of it before.

Seems like there are a lot of interesting stories around to provide inspiration.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Horton is a bit after my period of interest (though I have heard of him, just not done any real digging). There is a lot of info out there right now, due to it being the 200th anniversary of the end of the British slave trade.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

"There is a lot of info out there right now, due to it being the 200th anniversary of the end of the British slave trade."

Yes, so it it seems a bit odd that "the idea doesn't seem to excite anyone in NY." You'd think that this would increase their interest in this sort of story.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I always love to hear about non-white Britons and I was so excited when I stumbled across the wikipedia entry for Dido. I think it's a shame that with the Regency being such a huge part of the his-rom market and the presence of very talented AA romance authors, no one has tackled them--and/or scholars have painted the history of the African diaspora (or any other "minority" culture) in the modern world as only concerning slavery and racism.

As a result, in my own writing I like to try my hardest to include characters of other ethnicities and cultures (if not different classes) in my novels because they are just as important and a part of our world as the aristocratic white Britons.

I'd love to read your story Kalen--ST or anthology form, whatever--and my curiosity in Jane's book has grown to a fever pitch. *g*

11:53 PM  

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