From parish records, we have the briefest of insights into the lives of black people living in the modern period in Surrey. A large number of these occur in places now forming part of Greater London, comprising trade hotspots close to the Thames. Examples of parish baptisms and burials include:
- 22nd December, 1577, ‘a child of black Richards, a stranger’, buried in Kingston-upon-Thames
- 20th December, 1611, ‘Anthony the blackamoor’ was buried in Oxted;
- 17th September, 1667, ‘Edward Dedford, a blak at John Turners’ buried in Putney;
- 15th April, 1677, ‘John Sango, a Moor’ baptised in Sutton;
- 21st November 1686, ‘James Guinrey, a blak, from Mr. Sclater’, buried in Putney;
- 19th May, 1687, Robertt Catharick and Mary Ember, ‘two blacks’, were married in Putney;
- 8th February, 1705, burial in St Martin’s, Epsom, of ‘John Ackmett, a black boy’;
- On 10th June, 1725, ‘Dennis Gerred, the black’ buried in Putney;
- On 6th March, 1735, ‘Seppeo, a servant, a black, from Sir John Grosvenors’ was buried in Putney, and on 2nd June 1718 the parish buried ‘Peter, the black servant to Mr Grosvener’; Sir John Grosvenor was an important figure – the sheriff of London in 1727 – and likely brought these two servants home from his plantations in the West Indies;
- 20th August, 1764, Richmond Moody, ‘an African’, was baptised in Byfleet;
- 18th December the same year, ‘James Smith a Black’ was buried in Morden;
- William Williams, ‘a Black, aged betwixt 20 and 30 years’, baptised in Richmond on 30th May, 1790;
- William West (aged 16 when baptised 2nd November 1791) and Isabella Thomas (aged about 19 when baptised on 19th January, 1792), both described as a ‘negro servant to Mr Goldwin’ – in Richmond;
- George Ford (baptised in Richmond on 20th January, 1793), ‘aged about 20 years, a negro’;
- Elizabeth James, ‘a black, servant to Wm. Rhodes’ baptised in Richmond on 14th April, 1793 with three other servants to the same man, possibly of the same origin;
- December 1794, James Henry Hyder, ‘a mulatto aged about 18 years, servant to Mrs. Ramus’ baptised in Richmond;
- On 29th March 1795, Thomas Pascocedour, ‘mulatto aged about 18 years, servant to Mr Randall, Brentford’, baptised in Richmond;
- An entry for 11th February 1796 records the baptism in Richmond of William, ‘baseborn son of an unbaptised Negro woman’; On 26th February the same year, Charlotte, ‘a Negro woman aged about 20 years’ was also baptised in Richmond;
- 14th May 1804, Anthony Small, ‘a Black aged 40’, buried in Wimbledon (Wimbledon, St Mary’s: Parish Records (1538-1940). Surrey History Centre reference P5/1/8)
Black people passing through Surrey
There are a number of records where black people are among those making use of the Portsmouth Road connecting London to the naval city. Along this road travelled many who were to continue by sea to other parts of the world either to trade or to fight. Commonly, people stayed overnight in Send or Ripley, so it is no surprise to find many travellers, strangers and passengers on the Portsmouth carriages, as well as soldiers, among those taken ill or involved in accidents and subsequently buried in those parishes and recorded in the registers.
The following names were recorded in the Send and Ripley parish registers (SHC Ref. SEN/1/2, and SEN/1/3):
- 1st November, 1713, ‘Windsor, Capt. Arris’ Black was publicly baptised at Ripley’. This entry suggests that the man named ‘Windsor’ had arrived in Britain for the first time and was baptised at the first opportunity.
- 27th June, 1740, ‘A black died in the road buried at Send Church’;
- 30th September, 1750, ‘Thomas Novels, A Black man’ was baptised in Ripley. Sadly, the following year, the same register records his death and burial (30th April, 1751).
- 30th April, 1764, the burial of ‘Annonymous [sic]… a black who dyed in ye Queen’s service’. This man was one of many soldiers, both active and disbanded, who passed through the Surrey villages.
- 23rd June, 1776, ‘Jane Morris, an adult molotto’ was baptised in Ripley chapel.
Diversity in the records – a true picture?
There is evidence in the archives to show the true diversity of Surrey’s inhabitants.
From the Quarter Session bundles comes the case of ‘Timothy Martin, a negro doing wrong’. On 14th May, 1783, Thomas Cooper, a miller, gave evidence about the man who he considered a ‘loose, bad and designing fellow’ who he found trespassing, hiding behind a millstone in the mill and pretending to be lame.
Historically, it is easy to underestimate the number of black people in Surrey for a range of reasons.
Firstly, with entries in parish records, we have to rely on incidental information being recorded, such as the colour of a person’s skin, occupation, or their country of origin. These details would not normally have been recorded unless the scribe thought it was relevant, for example if it were relevant for Poor Law assessment and the person named might be eligible for support from the parish church, to which all charitable responsibilities were devolved following the Reformation in 1538.
In cases of intermarriage between a black wife and a white husband, the wife would adopt the husband’s status and Poor Law assessments might become irrelevant. If a man had been born in Britain, or served a British master for a year or more, they would be considered settled and Poor Law arrangements would be irrelevant to them; later on, anyone who rented property or enrolled on an apprenticeship would also be considered settled. Probably all of these people, including many black immigrants, would be found in parish registers, but nothing would be said about their ethnicity.
Lastly, the black population was partly a trading, seaborne population. They might come and go, and the population would have been dynamic. One African man or woman’s stay in Britain may only have been brief and they would not necessarily have been baptised, married or buried on British soil except in rare circumstances. However, they would have been seen and encountered by many, particularly in Britain’s port towns and especially in Bristol, Liverpool and East London.
Black baptisms and the law
Unlike many travellers, black people would not have arrived in Britain baptised. However, if they intended to stay this was a necessity. This makes the arrival of someone of African or Caribbean origin more likely to be recorded in the parish records than if they they were European.
For a time in the eighteenth century, many people thought that baptism confirmed an African or West Indian’s free status. If a master or mistress wished to exploit the uncertainty of the legal status of their black servants they might refuse to baptise them and so they would not appear in parish registers.
There is no proof that this was the case however. Certainly in legal circles, most were aware of Lord Chancellor Philip Hardwicke’s judgement, voiced in 1749, that ‘if a slave came in to England, or became a Christian, he thereby became emancipated but there was no foundation in law for such a notion’. Many in the legal profession, including Lord Hardwicke, found it in their interests to clarify the laws on bringing slaves into Britain, for the benefit of the British planters who wished not to lose their ‘property’.
Sources at Surrey History Centre:
Parish Registers: Wimbledon Burials 1789-1812 (SHC ref: P5/1/8).
Parish Registers: Richmond Baptisms, Marriages & Burials 1584-1653 (SHC ref: P7/1/3).
Parish Registers: Richmond Births 1653-60, Baptisms 1657-82, Marriages 1654-81 & Burials 1653-82 (SHC ref: P7/1/2).
Parish Registers: Richmond Baptisms & Burials 1682-1759, Marriages 1654-1751 (SHC ref: P7/1/3).
Parish Registers: Richmond Baptisms & Burials 1760-1812 (SHC ref: P7/1/5).
Parish Registers: Richmond Burials 1813-32 (SHC ref: P7/1/8).
Parish Registers: Richmond Baptisms 1813-43 (SHC ref: P7/1/7; -/11).
Parish Registers: Richmond Burials 1832-49 (SHC ref: P7/1/12).
Parish Registers: Kingston-upon-Thames Burials 1560-1665 (SHC ref: P33/1/2-4; -/5-9).
Parish Registers: Kingston-upon-Thames Baptisms 1749-69 (SHC ref: P33/1/14).
Parish Registers: Kingston-upon-Thames Baptisms 1851-75 (SHC ref: P33/1/20).
Parish Registers: Kingston-upon-Thames Marriages 1859-70 (SHC ref: P33/1/28).
Parish Registers: Kingston-upon-Thames Burials 1849-64 (SHC ref: P33/1/33).
Parish Registers: Send St. Mary’s & Ripley: Baptisms 1700-64; Marriages 1700-54; Burials 1700-64 (SHC ref: SEN/1/2).
Parish Registers: Ripley Chapel Baptisms & Burials 1740-92 (SHC ref: SEN/1/3-4).
Parish Registers: Stoke-next-Guildford Burials 1690 (SHC ref: STK/1/1).
Parish Registers: Morden, St. Lawrence: Burials, 1634-1809 and Marriages, 1634-1750 (SHC ref: 2065/1/1).
Parish Registers: Walton-on-Thames Burials 1639-1840 (SHC ref: 2381/1/1-3; 2381/5/1).
Parish Registers: Mortlake Burials 1748-1840 (SHC ref: 2397/1/3; -/28).
Quarter Sessions Information from Thomas Cooper, 1783 (SHC ref: QS2/6/1783/Mid/52).
Bannerman, W. Bruce (ed.), The Parish Register of Putney, Co. Surrey 1620-1734, transcr. Amy C. Hare (Croydon: Bannerman, 1913).
–The Parish Register of Putney, Co. Surrey 1734-1812, transcr. Amy C Hare (Croydon: Bannerman, 1915).
Crooks, Paul, A Tree Without Roots (London: Arcadia Books, 2008).
Finkleman, P., Southern States in Free Countries: The Pamphlet Literature, vol. 1 (Clark, NJ: The Lawbook Exchange Ltd., 2007), pp. 35-40.
Gerhold, Dorian, ‘Black People in 17th & 18th Century Putney’, The Wandsworth Historian, No. 42 (1984).
For The National Archives’ online exhibition about ‘Black Presence: Asian and Black history in Britain 1500-1850’, see: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/