Africans in Tudor and Stuart Port Towns

January 2021

The Drake Jewel

Dr Sam Willis meets with Dr Miranda Kauffman to discuss the research that led to her prizewinning book Black Tudors – The Untold Story, and in particular to her discovery of the lives of numerous Africans living in England and Scotland’s port towns during the 16th and 17th centuries. She explains how they arrived in Britain, what occupations and relationships they found in the ports and how they were treated by the church, the law courts and the other inhabitants. Their lives are a crucial part of our understanding of this age in which England made her first steps as a colonial empire and their experiences shed light on many of the leading Tudor seafarers of the time including Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Ralegh. Miranda’s research into the Africans living in England in the Tudor and Stuart periods encourages us to ask wider questions about Tudor perceptions of race, religion and the ethics of enslavement and colonialism.

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    Sam Willis

    From the Society for Nautical Research, in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis, and this is the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history.

    Hello, everyone. I hope you have enjoyed the launch of our Great Sea Fight series just before Christmas, which has begun with three episodes on the Battle of the River Plate of 1939. We’ve more of this coming your way and we’ll be publishing another on the Battle of Cape St Vincent of 1797 in February. Before we play this week’s interview, it’s time to briefly revisit those poor sailors of the Whaler Swan to follow their story as they are trapped in the ice off the west coast of Greenland as the December of 1836 turns to the New Year of 1837. Life in the days after Christmas has been precarious, and the temperature is astonishingly cold.

    Whaler Swan

    Wednesday 28th December, a light breeze from the west-northwest the fore part of this day. Middle part declining winds from the southeast am – pm heavy gales from the south, the ship driving inshore at the rate of two knots. At eight gales increased. Got the bread on deck. A reef of berg’s lying about 19 miles to leeward, all hands engaged in putting a few clothes together ready for throwing on the ice. At twelve it providentially fell to quiet, moderate, and lighter weather. One of the bergs to be seen on the starboard bow about two miles from us. Latitude by observation 72 degrees 35 minutes north, the land seen this day distance 25 or 30 miles. Sunday the 1st light airy winds the whole of the day. Divine service performed as usual in between decks. This day average of thermometer 30 degrees below zero. A 250-gallon shake cut up for fuel.

    Sam Willis

    Modern research into the exact location in which the Swan was trapped show us that the temperature today is on average 10 degrees warmer than it was in the New Year of 1837; crucial information for scientists mapping Arctic climate change over the past two centuries.

    Happy New Year everyone. This week I am talking to Dr Miranda Kauffman, a historian who specialises in black history. You may well have seen her on TV or at history festivals and public lectures all over the country. I’d urge you to listen to her speak live. She’s absolutely fantastic. Today we’re interested in the research that led to her prize-winning book ‘Black Tudors: The Untold Story’, and in particular, to her discovery of the lives of numerous Africans living in England and Scotland’s port towns during the 16th and 17th centuries. She explains how they arrived in Britain, what occupations and relationships they found in the ports, and how they were treated by the church, the law courts, and the other inhabitants. I very much enjoyed talking to her. And I hope you enjoy listening as much. Here she is.

    Hi, Miranda, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me today. How are you doing?

     Dr Miranda Kauffman

    I’m doing all right. Yeah, thanks.

    Sam Willis

    Good. Tell us a bit about how you got into your subject of research. I’m always fascinated in the history of historians to see how people got into what they do.

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Well, my mind wandered in a lecture. So, when I was in my last year at Oxford, as an undergraduate, I was in a sort of fairly dull lecture about early modern trade, and suddenly the lecturer mentioned that the Tudors had started trading to Africa in the middle of the 16th century. And I was really surprised because the only thing I’d ever been taught about trade with Africa was the trade in enslaved Africans in the 18th century on. And so I, you know, I was really surprised, and I had to find out more, and I rushed to the library and started reading, and you know, and then quite quickly, I think in Peter Fryer’s ‘Staying Power’, I found reference to some documents from Elizabeth I Privy Council, where they said that quote, ‘great numbers of nigers and blackamoores have arrived in this realm since your Majesty’s wars with the King of Spain’. And that was an even bigger surprise. So, I thought, well, you know, if these high-level government papers are saying that there are large numbers of Africans here, then they must have left some trace in the large amount of documentation we have for the early modern period. So, I began my search and, you know, as always stood on the shoulders of giants, and it did turn out that there were some people who have been researching this for a long time. And so, you know, people like Marika Sherwood and Kathy Chater helped me out and sent me some references. And from there I went on and ended up finding references that over 360 people of African origin or descent in Britain between 1500 and 1640

    Sam Willis

    It’s fascinating the way you tell that story, because, I think the way to get into history as a historian, and I know lots of students are going to be listening to this podcast, is you’ve got to find a gap in your own knowledge first, and you go, ‘Wow, that’s interesting. I want to know what’s going on there’, and you go into that gap. And then you can find other places that actually haven’t been written about. But it’s very unusual, I think, to go into any area of history to find out that nothing’s been done about it. Part of what I love about history is just how creative and how big the field is. And I don’t think people really recognise or appreciate that. And then you got to find your own your own little bit, your own little bit that you’re actually going to investigate what was your first little bit that you actually wanted to get to the bottom of?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Well, I think I just wanted to find out how many there were, and where they were. I mean, I suppose the big question, in my mind, that kind of came up quite quickly was, I wanted to know, how they were perceived and whether they were enslaved. I think a lot of people assumed they were enslaved throughout kind of Western history, and increasingly, I found evidence that they weren’t in England in this period.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah. Particularly works with ships, doesn’t it? Because when you think about Africans on board, Tudor, or Stuart ships, you might immediately think of those who had been enslaved by Tudor seafarers like John Hawkins. But that’s clearly not the full picture.

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Yeah, I mean, I found that people who’ve written histories of the slave trade, as it’s usually called, but um, I’m trying my best to call it you know, trafficking in enslaved Africans, which is a bit more of a mouthful, but I think is important in terms of the change of emphasis of sort of putting personhood back into these individuals who were not just a commodity called a slave. And I think histories of that abominable trade, as I’m sure someone later called it, sort of started with John Hawkins in the 1560s, but then wrote as if English trade just sort of, you know, exponentially increased from that point. Whereas actually, when I dug into it, I found that there was a gap of almost 70 years between, I think it might be exactly, anyway, between Hawkins’s last voyage that ends in disaster in 1569, and the first ship that I found was arriving in Barbados with a cargo in 1641. And there’s some interesting sort of, certainly, when we’re talking about maritime history, there’s an interesting period in between. So, when I say that, I mean, I’m talking about what becomes known as the triangular trade of setting off from England, going to Africa, and then going to sell in the English colonies. I mean, we have to remember that for a lot of this, in-between period, England didn’t have any colonies, and Hawkins was actually selling to the Spanish colonies. And that’s why it didn’t work out for him in the end, because the Spanish saw him as an interloper and didn’t want him getting involved. I think, again, when we talk about the trade of enslaved Africans, we quite often, you know, have this sort of jingoistic, almost assumption that it was dominated by Britain throughout history, whereas for the majority, for the whole of the 16th century, it was the Spanish and the Portuguese, who were doing this stuff. So, there was this gap, but there’s this interesting period in between, where you see privateers capturing enslaved Africans from Spanish and Portuguese ships, in much smaller numbers than were later transported by British ships and taking them to sort of these emerging colonies. And last year was the 400th anniversary of 1619, which is when the first Africans arrived in Virginia, and that those Africans were captured by privateers from a Portuguese ship that was coming from Angola. And people are still debating what their exact status was when they arrived in Virginia. But certainly, when they left Angola, they were enslaved by the Portuguese.

    Sam Willis

    So, it’s not just about establishing this trade trafficking in enslaved Africans, it’s also the British actually having their own locations in the West Indies, which is such an important part of that. And that’s all to do with generations of seafarers going out there and exploring and mapping and charting the West Indies to find out what on earth is there because, you know, knowledge of that whole geography was so important to being able to establish the colonies. What about the sources? How do you actually get to grips with this?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Well, a lot of the references to Africans in England are coming from parish registers, so records of baptisms, marriages, and burials. That gives you a lot of the bulk of knowing where they were living, and also gives you an interesting insight into their levels of acceptance into Tudor society because we find them inter-marrying, you find children born to mixed couples, which, again, is something that surprises people now, when I talk about it; some people think that that’s a very modern phenomenon, but it’s not. But you don’t always get a lot of meat on the bones with those records, that can often be a sort of one liner with very little information about the individuals. So, I think, but you know, they appear in household accounts of aristocratic and noble households, and Royal households where there are records of them being paid wages or clothes, or shoes being bought for them, or them being paid rewards. So, again, their labour is being compensated in the same way that English labour was so they’re being paid wages, which is another indicator of freedom. And then I think, you know, the meatiest evidence comes from court cases. So, you know, with the maritime angle, the High Court of Admiralty records, come up with some interesting material, and I think probably would come up with a lot more, if anybody actually went through and transcribed the whole thing, because there’s, it’s one of the really worse catalogued set of records at the National Archives. I know there’s a project called maritime lives, I think, no marine lives, where they have begun kind of crowdsourcing transcribing it, but I think they started in the 1650s, and I wish they’d start at 100 years earlier. But you know that there is a lot, I think, still to be tapped there. But you know, that’s where we find the story of Jacques Francis, the salvage diver who worked on the wreck of the Mary Rose, but also a few other stories as well. Or, you know, like these pirates, anyway. Pirate slash privateering, there’s a fine line. But, you know, privateering was definitely one of the ways that Africans came to England in this period, because like I said, you know, they’re capturing, the English privateers are capturing Spanish and Portuguese ships. And before there are English colonies, like Virginia and Barbados, and Bermuda, to take them to, they’re bringing them back to England. They’re more interested in the sugar on board or other commodities. But these Africans do end up coming back to England.

    Sam Willis

    It was interesting, what you were saying about the difficulty of actually accessing some archives and how sometimes research is kind of laid on a plate for you, and it’s easy, and sometimes it’s not. I particularly was working in the National Archives when I was researching for my PhD and if you look at letters made from the Admiralty in the 18th century, they’re all beautifully ordered. So, if you want to read a letter by Nelson and you find the box of n written by them in whenever 1803. But then you go back through time and I came across, I was writing about Benbow in the late 1600s, and they were just boxes and boxes, and boxes of letters still in their envelopes, and still un-catalogue, and it takes four times as long to actually get to grips with anything. So, I admire your perseverance to your work. I’m particularly interested in the household accounts. I don’t know anything about that at all. What is a household account and where do you find them?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Well taking it from the top you have the royal household accounts. So, you know accountancy is not a new thing, the King or the Earl of so and so want to know what money is being spent and they have officials whose job it is to write down exactly how much is being spent on everything in the household from you know the food that they’re buying to the wages of the servants to rewards given to people or clothing bought for a funeral for the entire household or for a celebration. And that’s where you find the records of John Blanke the Tudor court trumpeter who played for Henry VII and Henry VIII. He played at Henry VII funeral and Henry VIII coronation, and we have the records of the red clothes that were bought for him, or rather scarlet, which was a higher level of clothing.

    Sam Willis

    An even redder red!

     Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Yeah, well, it was more luxurious fabric. And so, he got scarlet clothing for the coronation and black clothing for the funeral. But you also have his wage slips in there as well.

    Sam Willis

    Do we know where he was from?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    No. I mean, as you were saying, you know, Tudor geography wasn’t brilliant, so they weren’t that great at kind of knowing where people came from, especially because the terminology they used to describe Africans is quite vague. So, sort of the most common term I found was blackamoore, and that sort of pretty much leaves you none the wiser as to where they’re from. John Blanke is called the Black Trumpet. But I mean, the only kind of hint that we have is that in the Westminster Tournament Roll where he is portrayed, he’s portrayed wearing a turban. So, that kind of maybe a slight clue, but on the other hand, it might not because Henry VIII loved dressing up in Turkish fashion, as he called it. So, it’s really yeah, it doesn’t really leave us much the wiser. But what we can do to estimate where these Africans were coming from, is to look at the broader patterns of travel around the Atlantic world at the time. So, we know where you know that the Africans, that Spanish and Portuguese, were bringing both to Spain and Portugal, and across the Atlantic, came from parts of West Africa, and specifically Senegambia, which is the area between the Senegal and Gambia rivers. So, we can kind of make that broader come to that broader conclusion that way.

    Sam Willis

    Are there voyage accounts from ships actually making these voyages as well that you can get into?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Yeah. So yeah, that’s another, I mean, I haven’t listed all the sources. So that’s another one, I think. Yeah. So mostly, and this is where the Hakluyt Society comes in handy, with a lot of the sort of printed edited voyage accounts that they’ve produced over the years. And there are, you know, there are wonderful titles like ‘The troublesome voyage of Edward Fenton’, which was very troubled. And at the same time, you’ve got a separate diary of Richard Madox, who was the chaplain on the voyage, so you get his perspective of that one as well. And that’s quite interesting because they pick up some Africans in Guinea to replace crew members that have died because they need extra hands on deck. But I think the most detailed voyage accounts that we have are obviously of Francis Drake’s endeavours. So that’s where we get a lot of information about the life of Diego, who meets Drake in Panama in the 1570s, early 1570s, and then ends up coming back to Plymouth with him living there for four years, and then going on the circumnavigation voyage with him, which he, unfortunately, dies on eventually, in Indonesia. But that’s quite an amazing story. And you have ‘Sir Francis Drake Revived’ is where you get the details of the Panama experience, where you learn that Diego has actually brokered this alliance between Drake and the Panama Maroons, which is quite the story. I think, traditionally, people tell the story as if Drake captured all this treasure all by himself. But actually, it becomes clear that the English were entirely dependent on a larger number of Maroons, who were their guides and had been stealing gold from the Spaniards for years.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah, they knew exactly what they were doing and how to go about it.

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Yeah, yeah. And so, I mean with Drake, again, with sort of the circumnavigation voyage, because that’s something that people have been interested in for a long time, the sources are a bit more available; there’s a lot of printed versions. So, you’ve got the English voyage accounts, but you’ve also got the Spanish records because once he starts raiding ports and ships on the Pacific coast of South America, the Spaniards start writing back to Madrid saying, you know, ‘Drake is attacking. this is bad news’, and with lots of details. And then they pick up some of the people that he captures, and then drops off again, and like submit them to quite heavy inquisitions. So, we’ve got all of that as well, which is really interesting.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah. So, I suppose there’s, do you get a sense that there’s so much more to be done within this field? I mean, are there Spanish and Portuguese scholars working on their own accounts as well?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Well, yeah, I mean, there’s definitely more to be done. And I think it’d be really interesting to match up the material you find in English records with more of the Spanish and Portuguese ones that unfortunately I don’t have the language skills to really dig into yet.

    Sam Willis

    Yet Miranda, yet!

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    No, I think that ship has sailed.

    Sam Willis

    The 16th century Portuguese, I’d struggle with that; I’d struggle with that as well. While we’re talking about Drake: he is fascinating as well, and I’m particularly interested in the material culture that survives, linked with Drake: and of course, there’s the Drake jewel, which is a magnificent thing. It was a gift given to him by Queen Elizabeth, around 1588, perhaps a couple of years before, and that’s got a little story to tell us about Africans in the Tudor world as well.

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Well, it has a huge bust of an African man right at the centre of it. So, I think people have overlooked the significance of that in the context of the histories that I’ve looked at because the African bust is sort of superimposed on a white person’s bust. I’m not sure, it’s not clear really whether it’s male or female, that figure, but I think that that was a symbol of this alliance between Drake and the Panama Maroons, which had been central to his success. And although it didn’t actually, you know, cause success again, for the English on the scale that it did in 1573, the English still obsess about it for years later, and it’s constantly in their plans when they’re, you know, and it makes logical sense if you’re trying to attack the Spanish, if you can get the Maroons or even the enslaved Africans in those ports, to turn against the Spaniards and be on your side, you know, that that’s a good tactic. And it’s still in there when they’re planning, you know, the disastrous Western design under Cromwell in the 1650s. They’re still saying, oh, we’re going to get the Africans to turn against the Spaniards and fight on our side, but it doesn’t, it has mixed results.

    Sam Willis

    In terms of life in port towns, I think this is particularly interesting. I mean, you’ve obviously got a, we’re lucky in that our capital city is a port town, so there must be so much material you can get into from London, but also other port towns around the country. I wonder if you talk a little about studying their lives in these port towns.

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Yeah, so about a third of the references I found overall were in London, and quite a few in kind of East London, like St Botolph Aldgate Parish, and St Olave Hart Street, which are, you know, close to the river. But there were, I also found records of Africans living in Southampton, Plymouth, Bristol, at least a couple in Dover, one in Hull. And so clearly, Africans arrived by ship into ports, and so it makes sense that they stayed there. But also, there are a number of Africans who were working on ships as wage sailors like John Anthony, mariner of Dover, who shows up in the State Papers actually, petitioning for his wages to be paid, because they’re long overdue, which was normal for sailors, it wasn’t specific to him being of African origin. And he does eventually get paid with six months interest to cover the period.

    Sam Willis

    Oh, that’s good.

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Yeah, exactly. It would cover the period where he was going without them. And he was actually involved in a voyage to Virginia in 1619, the same year that these enslaved Africans are brought there from Angola. And I was really disappointed when I dug into it more closely and realised that although they’d set off with plans to go to Virginia, they never made it. And they kind of turned back at Bermuda, having supposedly traded for tobacco, at Bermuda, you know, illegally with a Spanish ship, but later on, the Spaniards claim that it was stolen from them. So that again, like generates a lot of court materials, which is brilliant – legal cases. I would add that when Africans appear in legal court case records, they’re always witnesses rather than in the doc themselves, which is interesting.

    Sam Willis

    But everything’s beautifully transcribed; it is the beauty of court records, I think. you can get so much material in there – no, not the case?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    No, no, not in the 16th century.

    Sam Willis

    Was it a bit more hit and miss?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Well, it all depends on the handwriting of the clerk who’s writing it down. But at least I mean, you do get twice the chance of reading the words because you get the interrogatives and then the depositions. So, you can see the questions that the witness has been asked and then read their answers. So, say you at least get a double chance to figure out what the keywords are. Yes, it’s hit and miss.

    Sam Willis

    It’s actually an exciting area of research because it provoked so many questions about the lives of these people, about their status, about their experiences of maritime life; how have you got to grips with this, the sort of the next stage? Once you’ve identified that someone was there, how do you then kind of move on and try and put flesh to the bones of the story?

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    Well, it’s difficult. There are a lot of gaps, in that inevitably we’re not going to find out as much about their experience as we would like, especially because there aren’t any first-hand accounts written by the person. But so, it is a bit doing a jigsaw puzzle and knowing that a few of, quite a few of, the pieces are going to be missing. But I mean, I think that when I was writing my book, I tried to recreate the context of their lives as well. So, to think about what it was like to be a sailor in general in the period so that to give you a kind of sense of, of that life. Or, you know, another amazing story is a Prince from River Cestos in modern-day Liberia, who is brought back to London by a merchant called John Davies, baptized in London, in a parish of St. Mildred’s Poultry, which is right in the centre of modern-day London, near, well in the city, near Bank, and then lives in London for a couple of years, learns English, and then goes home and acts as a sort of trade factor as an interpreter whenever English ships call in at the port, again, with mixed success. But although there isn’t that much information about him personally, we have in a sort of extended parish register entry describing his baptism. And then I found a letter from an East India Company merchant who encounters him on the coast of Liberia several years later, that I was able to sort of match that up and learn more about what happened to him next. But in order to try and understand more about who he was, I read quite a bit about that area of the African coast in that period. And mostly drawing on later accounts, like this Frenchman called Jean Barbot, who visited probably about 60 years later, but also, I put his life in the context of other African nobles, who, you know, the high standing high-status Africans who visited London in the same way and also learn English and went back. So yeah, it was a sort of part of a bigger phenomenon.

    Sam Willis

    Well, it’s been very nice talking to you. Thank you for giving me your time. How would people find out more? Tell us about your book.

    Dr Miranda Kauffman

    It’s called ‘Black Tudors: The Untold Story’ available in all good book shops. These days, you know, you can order things online from your local bookshop and even get it delivered to your home. So, there’s no excuse for using the A word. But you know, if you want more and more broadly, and my website is www.mirandakauffman.com. Or you can contact me on Twitter at @MirandaKaufmann, I enjoy talking to people there.

    Sam Willis

    Well, thank you very much for your time really enjoyed talking to you.

    We’ve had lots of interesting contributions to the Society for Nautical Research’s free forum over the festive period, with a particularly good one sent to us from Remi Caradot in Canada: ‘Hello, I am from Canada near Ottawa, and I’m looking for information about a portrait that I found in a pile of garbage on the side of a road near a cottage by the Gatineau River in Quebec. I did not pay attention to it when I found the painting until now when I started to search for the name inscribed on a label on the back. Please see the attached images (and those are all uploaded now, so do check them out). The label said Captain Josiah Nisbet, R. N., taken at the age of three years in the Isle of Nevis, W. I. I assume that R. N. means Royal Navy and W. I. means West Indies (I think you’re correct there Remi). Is there a possible connection with Josiah Nesbit (1780 to 1830), the son of Dr. Josiah Nesbit (1747 to 1781), and Frances, known as Fanny Woolward (1758 to 1831), who married Horatio Nelson in 1787? Dr Nisbitt died on October 5th, 1871 after moving with his family from the Isle of Nevis to England. Francis returned to Nevis shortly after and lived at the house of her uncle John Richardson Herbert before she met Nelson, around 1784. The label said taken at the age of three years in the Isle of Nevis, which seems to be accurate, given the age of the painting and the canvas and provides a date circa 1783. Any additional information is welcome.’ Thank you very much indeed for getting in touch Remi, and everyone do please check out the post and the responses to that.

    And here is another one from Ian Trackman: ‘I’m trying to find the birthdate of Dido Belle, the mixed-race daughter of John Lindsay commanding officer of HMS Trent between 1759 and 1763 and Maria Belle, a slave. Almost nothing is known of Dido’s early life. She was baptized in London in 1766 when the church record states that she was aged five years. Shortly afterwards, she was taken into care by Lord and Lady Mansfield at Kenwood House, their country home in North London. The Kenwood household accounts show regular payments to Dido on her birthday by Lord M’s order. Unfortunately, there is no specific payment date. However, in 1792, the payment appears between two dated entries for the third and the fifth of July. So, assuming that Dido’s birthday was correctly known at the time, it can be deduced a 3rd, 4th or 5th of July 1761. To corroborate this, I’m now trying to establish from naval records whether and if so, where she could have been conceived about nine months earlier. That is in the spring of 1760. I’ve located the log of HMS Trent at the National Maritime Museum for which it appears that Lieutenant (later Captain and Admiral) Lindsay was in or near Charlestown, present-day Charleston, South Carolina. However, I’m having difficulty reading the handwriting and abbreviations in the log and would appreciate assistance from an expert.’

    Well, you’ve come to the right place Ian, and I’m delighted to say there have been all sorts of discussion on the forum from as many experts as you could possibly want. And we are getting closer to solving this fascinating problem. But that’s it for the end of this week. I very much hope that you’ve enjoyed yourselves. Please do follow us on social media. You can follow the Society for Nautical Research @nauticalhistory on Twitter. You can find us on Facebook, the Mariner’s Mirror has got its own Instagram page and YouTube channel and there’s going to be some fascinating material being posted on both in the coming weeks. What else can you do? Well, please do join the Society for Nautical Research; you can find us @snr.org.uk. and your subscription fee will go towards publishing the most important naval and maritime history and to preserving the world’s maritime heritage. Thank you very much indeed for listening.

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