I thought I would start Part 2 with a person of whom we know so very little about, and yet who is an important, if forgotten, figure in this era who tends to take backseat to more well known figures such as Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano.
Ottobah Cugoano is a figure from the Anti Slavery Society and Sons of Africa group who doesn’t get enough attention and I am hoping this changes. He was enslaved in what is modern day Ghana at the age of 13 and taken to work on a plantation in the West Indies. He was then sold at age 16 to Alexander Campbell, a British Merchant, who transported Ottabah to England, where he was baptized John Stuart and given his freedom. He is listed as being around 16 years of age at this time. Campbell, it seems, made sure he was educated and in 1784, he was employed by the Cosways. While working at the Cosways, he became acquainted with William Blake, the Prince Regent, and Equiano. In 1787, he published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of Slavery and Commerce of Human Species. In this narrative, he calls for the freedom of all slaves as he felt it violated the very nature of Christianity (he had become a devout Christian at this time). The Cosways seem to be very liberal employers and allowed Ottobah to travel to speak at Anti Slavery Conventions and to travel to promote his book. In 1791, he released a shorter version of his book for the Sons of Africa. His last letter, also from 1791, he tells the Cosways that he wishes to travel to Nova Scotia and other places. There is no evidence of his existance after this letter and it is preseumed he died in 1791 or 1792.
Bill Richmond was born a slave in Staten Island, New York, but lived the majority of his life in England. If you look him up, he is often referred to as a British Boxer (Puglisit in Regency Terms). He was sent t England sometime during the Revolutionary War (most records state 1777), where he was educated and then apprenticed to a cabinet maker. In 1790 or 17791, he married Mary Dunwick, who was white. He started fighting due to the targeted racism he and Mary faced (they eventually moved to London and had several children). He worked for Hugh Percy, and later on for Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Earl Camelford. He and Thomas were apparetnly inseperable and they often attended boxin matches together. Most believe because Bill was a skilled fighter, and won many matches, he was teaching Thomas, which is mot likely ture. Pitt was killed in a duel in 1804 while Bill bought a pub to semi-retire (and train other hopeful). Investments and betting on failed fights caused Richmond to lose his pub, so he again turned to boxing professionally. In the 1820s, he opted to join a Club where he would teach others how to fight. Lord Byron was one of his students. He is the only black man, out of 18 athletes, who as celebrated at a banquet when the Regent became King Goerge IV. What is trully astoninshing is Bill started his career at age 40, when most athletes are ready to reture. He is buried at St Jame’s in Piccadilly.
Thomas (Tom) Molineaux (also spelled Molyneaux) was born as a slave in the US, but also lived most of his life in England. Unlike Bill Richmond, Tom is listed as an American Boxer. Historians beieve he was born in the Virginia area and took his last name from a plantantion owner (either the oe who owned him or the one who he bieved fathered him). He arrived in England in 1809 here he ade h is way to the pub (Horse and Dolphin) owned by Richmond. Richmond becamse his trainer and his first official fight was in 1810 against Cribb. He lost his two figts agains the known CHampion t the time, but he fought well, so his name would know he a well known name i th boxing circuits. He stopped boxing proessionally in 1815, but like Richmond, still did exhibitions and most likely some teching. He sufferred from tubervulousis ad is buried in Galway, Ireland (he died in 1818 but the headstone wan’t erected until 2009). Most believe he was in Ireland to do some fighting exhibits or to do some teaching.
Mrs. Catherine Despard is a woman of whom we have no known picture of. Her husband, Colonel Edward Marcu Despard, is infamous for being executed for Treason in 1803. But most know that is not the true reason. Edward married Cathine in Jamaica. Some sources say se is the daughter of a minister. Other sources claim she is a Spanish Creole. All agree that his fmily was not the most welcoming ad when he was executed, they wrote her, and her some by Edward (James) out of the family tree. The picture of Edward shows what he looked like when he married Catherine, which was in 1790. From all accounts, his fellow officers and their wives liked CAtherine. Edward was arrested in 1803 for refusing to recognize racial distinctions in law, and then th charge of eing a conspirtor plotting to assainate the King was added, thus ensuring his death. His execution was attended by at least 20,000 ad when Catherine petitioned for the right to have him buried in St. Faith’s, the public stood by her and lined the streets to see this man buried in his family plot. Ldy Nelson and other officer’s wives did their est to take care of her after her husband’s death. Sir Francis Burdett fought and was able to ensure she received her widow’s pension Catherine couted Valentine Lawless (2nd Baron Cloncurry) as well a other high ranking officrs as friend and supporters. Her son, James, fought for the French Army and returned to Englad after the Napoleonic WArs. The last known sighting of James (for Catherine had passed by this point), was a sighting by General John Despard, his ucle. Despard had seen James entering a carriage, well dressed and with a similarly well dressed lady on his arm. With that, James rode out of history.
There is no known image of Cesar Picton, which is a pity as he seemed to have quite an interesting life. He was enslaved/kidnapped at age 6, most likely from the Senegal area. He was brought to England by an Army Officer, who presented him as a gift to Sir John Philips in 1761. Philips had Cesar baptized as it was believved he had been raised as a Muslim prior to being kidnapped. Phillips was a baronet and both he and his wife treated Cesar as an “exotic” servant, dressing him in turbans and velvet. Horace Walpole mentioned Cesar in one of his letters, describing his dark skin and exotic clothes. He was treated as “free” by the time he was an adult, much in part to the Somerset Case, and was left legacy of 100 pounds by Lady Philips upon her death in 1788. He used it to set himself up as a coal merchant in Kingston, then did well enough to purchase property in 1795. He was fined 5 pounds in 1801 for illegal poaching, but no other punishment other than the fine was given (poachers were known to be executed or sent off to Australia). In 1807, he rented out his Kingston property and rented a home in Tolworth, being described as a gentleman in the lease agreement. In 1816, he purchase second, larger house with garden in Thames Ditton. He was 81 when he passed in 1836. He never married and it is unknown if he was a member of any Anti Slavery movement. However, he is important for his contributions to the community in which he lived and for being a prime example of a wealthy black man in the Regency Era, which must irk those who state England is for the English.
Ira Frederick Aldridge was born in 1807 in New York to Rev Danial and Lurona Aldridge. He attended the African Free School for children of free blacks and slaves, where he received an education of classical English literature, math, geography, writing, etc. He was exposed to theatre as an audence member seeing plays at the Park Theatre. His first professional acting experience was acting in the African Grove Theatre in 1821. Because of the racist views an discrimination he faced at that time, Aldridge emmigrated to UK, landing in the LIverpool area in 1824. Trying to create a pulic image for himself, he implied he was a decendnt of African Ryalty, an took on the name of Keene, associating himself with Edmund Kean. Aldridge would be billed as FW Keene Aldridge, sometimes biled as African Roscius (after the famous BCE Roman actor). He made his debut at age 17 in May 1825 in a small production of Othello. He reprised that role in October 1825, but this time at London’s Royal Coburg Theatre. Aldridge became the first African-American actor to establish his acting career in England. He had a 7 week run at the Royal Coburg, acting in 5 different plays. Aldridge received top billing as Othello. And if the role called for a more European hue, he was not above donning white greaspaint and passing as white on stage (yes, he donned white face). In 1831, he had a successful run in Dublin. He achived his best praise perfoming abrad in Prussia and Russia. In 1863, he applied for British Citizenship and was planning a 100 stop tour in post Civil War America when he passed. He did marry, twice. His first wife was white actress by the name of Margaret Gill (British) who raised his natural son, Ira Daniel Aldridge as her own child. They were married in 1825 and she passed in 1864. He then married the mother of his natural children, “Countess” Amanda von Brandt, who was Swedish. She was his mistress throughout his career and marriage and mother of his four children. He died unexpectedly in 1867 while on tour in Poland, where he is buried. All four of his children became involved int he arts (his two daughters went on to be Opera singers).
hisoryisfun.org (the Jamestown Musuem Revolutionary WAr website)
History Today (Sept 1981 issue; available on hisorytoday.com archive section)
Blackamoors in England: Black London, Life before Emancipation by Gretch Gerzina (https://www.dartmouth.edu/library/digital/publishing/books/gerzina1995/)
the V&A Musuem
The British Library
New York Pubic Library
Royal.uk (yes, the Royal Family’s official website. It’s a good resource for genealogy)
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
Too Many Blackamoors: Deportation, Discrimination, and Elizabeth I by Emily C. Bartels (available on Rutgers website for free via Project Muse)