The History of Blacks in Georgian & Regency Era (Part 3)

The final entry into a look of notable people of color for Black History Month. I did get an inquiry as to why I used the terminology of “black” instead of African-American. Well, mainly because the term African-American did not exist in the 18th & 19th Century. Many of these people I am highlighting were either enslaved or were born of enslaved people. Hope this clears up any questions or concerns as to why I am using a word that may be considered offensive (I am, after all, not wising to offend anyone with this series, but only wishing to point out that yes, people of color did exist in Europe prior to the 20th Century).

The Kreutzer Sonata - Wikipedia
The Kreutzer Sonata (Violin Sonata No.) Public Domain
The Black Violinist Who Inspired Beethoven – Martin Plaut
George Bridgewater, circa 1800s. Courtesy of the British Musuem

George Augustus Polgran Bridgewater, sometimes listed as George Polgreen Bridgewater, as born in 1778 as Hieronymus Hyppolitus de Augustus in Eastern Polad to His father, Joanis Fredericus de Augustus (African decent) and Maria Schmid (German/Polish depending on the historian). Now, back in Part 1 of this series, I mentioned how Aristocracy of Europe (especially Peter the Great), had an affinity for the “exotic” when it came to servants, which would explain how a mixed race person was born in Poland. Jonais, sometimes listed as John in Anglicized sources, claimed to be descendant of an African Royal, who was kidnapped, then sold to a Dutch Captain, and ended up in Barbados married to a local woman. How much of this is his wanting to create a more exotic flavor to his identity and how much of it is truth as we don’t know. But from John’s tale, we can discern some truths. His father was kidnapped (possibly as a child since kidnapping African children seems to be a reoccurring staple of Slavery), sold and ended up in the Caribbean/West Indies where he fathered children. John’s telling of his past could be cobbled together of what his father remembered, but also a need to explain how he ended up in the service of nobility. John was a member of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy’s household, where he was called the “Moor” and served as the “exotic” page. Maria was most likely a maid in the same household. Prince Nikolus was a patron of the Arts, particularly music, having his own orchestra and personal composer (Hayden, who is sometimes credited as being an early teacher of George and sometimes not). John had two sons, the younger also playing a string instrument, but the focus was on George. John left his wife and second son so to tour Europe with George, dressing his son in more Islamic style clothing (turbans and Turkish robes) to highlight the “otherness.” At some point, they ended up in England, playing for Prince George (later Regent). John gambled away his son’s earning and George, at the age of 12, sought the protection of the Prince. The Regent (because there are just too many Georges in this tale), took George under his protection, paid for the best in education and musical tutors. Bridgewater played such venues as Convent Garden, Drury Lane, Haymarket, an even performed at the Abbaye de Panthemont in Paris where Thomas Jefferson was in attendance. But that is not the most intriguing part of his life. Beethoven, feeling depressed over the knowledge he was losing his hearing, contemplated suicide. How close was he, we do’t know but for composer to lose his hearing, which he needs to write must have been devastating. When Beethoven met George in 1803, he found a close friend. Beethoven was 32, George was 24. They had much in common having endured abusive fathers, being hailed as musical geniuses at young ages, never quite fitting in. Beethoven even wrote the Kreutzer Sonatas for George. But they had a falling out (some say it was over a woman), which is tragic because neither of them even met after their year of mutual affection (affection meaning a strong friendship, not sexual). Beethoven then rescinded his Kreutzner dedication (he also wisely removed a dedication to Napoleon from another piece). George stopped performing sometime in the 1820s, turning to teaching instead. If he ever played his friend’s sonatas, we will never know. But what a splendid and fantastic movie would their tumultuous year together would be! Bridgewater received an MA in Music from Cambridge in 1811, married, had 2 children, and separated from his wife in 1824. He died 32 years after the death of his once time friend and is buried in Kendal Green Cemetray in London.

Prince William (later William IV) with Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. Circa 1788 by James Gillray. Public Domain

Vanessa Riley has written a book on Dorothy Kirwan Thomas (Island Queen) which is being released this coming year (her site says 7/2021). While Riley probably knows more about this amazing woman than I will ever know, I did want to include Dorothy in my post for being not only an entrepreneur in an era where women didn’t have economic power, but for also being a savvy political player as well. Dorothy was born in 1758 and is sometimes known as Doll Thomas and Dorothy Kirwan. She was born into slavery, purchasing her freedom as well as those of numerous family members over a period of 16 years. Thomas had businesses in Montserrat, Dominica, Grenada, Barbados, and Demerara consisting of hotels (one with a French Restaurant), leasing property, running lodging houses, owning slaves and a plantation (because yes, former slaves did engage in owning slaves), as well as selling goods to plantation workers and slaves (known as female hucksters, this was her primary business and probably her first). She was one of the few women, and most importantly, one of the few black women, who was financially compensated for the loss of her slaves when Parliament banned slavery in the UK and in all their territories. It may have helped that William IV, who signed this piece of legislation, was her former lover. Dorothy had 11 children and traveled to England often. All of her daughters married prominent white business men, one becoming Madame Sala, a famous actress as well. All her children and grandchildren were sent to England and received excellent educations. In 1824, she protested and WON against a discriminatory law that targeted non white women, having it overturned. She became one of the wealthiest women in the Caribbean.

George Africanus - Wikipedia
The GRve of George Africaus & his wife, located in Sta Marys Churchyard, Nottingham.

George John Scipio Africanus was most likely born in West Africa (the Sierra Leone region) in 1763, as he was listed as being age 3 when he was baptized in 1766. He was given to Benjamin Molineaux as a gift, but Molineaux decided to educate him and treat him as a servant, instead of slave. When Molineaux died in 1772, George (the son) continued to have Africanus educated. George worked as a servant, and was apprenticed to a brass foundry at some point. He moved to St. Peter’s Parrish in Nottingham when he was 21 in 1784. He met and then married Esther Shaw in this same Parrish in 1788. In 1793, they started a business out of their home, Africanus’s Register of Servants. Thy had 7 children, but only 1 lived to reach adulthood (and later on married in 1825, having children of her own). George died in 1834 and his wife continued to run their business until her death. Africanus was known to be a member of the Anti Slavery Society and he is the first Black Entrepreneur in Nottingham. The v of George and his wife was rediscovered in 2003, with a new headstone being provided by the community. Africanus may not have made much money running his own business , as he did continue to work as a laborer and waiter (and possibly servant now and then), but its important he started his own business. That said business was successful enough to continue after his death due to the dedication of Esther, his wife, is equally important. I did not find if he has any living descendants, but it is likely that somewhere, there are still a few of living in Nottingham to this day. And, dear Reader, what an absolutely splendid notion!

William Davidson, circa 1820. Pubic Domain

William Davidson is included here for being infamous and linked to the Cato Incident. William was born between 1781 and 1786, being the natural (an antiquated term meaning illegitimate) son of the Attorney General of Jamaica and a local woman (free or slave it is unknown as is her name). His father’s name is not listed, but the person is most likely Alexander Henderson, who was the AG of Jamaica at the time of his conception and birth. At age 14, William came to Glasgow to study law, where he became involved in a movement for Parliamentary Reform (The Society of the Friends of the People). I cannot find out if he finished law school, but he was apprenticed to a lawyer in Liverpool, but then, it seems, decided to run away to sea, though perhaps the running away was him being press-ganged into the Royal Navy as both are listed as having occurred. I feel it is most likely William was press-ganged rather than running away, but this is a personal opinion. He then returned to Scotland, where his father then arranged for William to study Math in Aberdeen. William left school, moved to Birmingham and started a cabinet making business. He fell in love with the daughter of a rich merchant The father thought William was after her dowry (7000 pounds is nothing to sneeze at) and had Davidson arrested on false charges. The girl was married to someone else and William attempted suicide. It really does feel as if nothing but hardship and tragedy follow Davidson. He then moved to London, married widow Sarah Lane, a working-class woman with four children of her own, and they had two more children. It seems his past hardships were finally behind William. He converted to the Methodist faith, taught Sunday School, then had to leave for seducing a female student. Now, we don’t know what really occurred, but it may have been racial motivated or a abuse of power (either his or someone else’s). William’s life changed irrevocably on 16 August 1819 when 60,000 gathered to protest for Parliamentary Reform and the Royal Calvary charged into this crowd, killing 18 people. This incident is known as the Peterloo Massacre. This spurned Davidson back into the political activism of his youth and he became associated with the Marylebone Union Reading Society, where members had access to radical publications such as Thomas Paine and inflammatory pamphlets. George Edwards persuaded William, along with 27 others, to meet on Cato Street in Grosvenor Square in February 1820. They were set up and arrested with Edwards helping locate any who managed to flee the police raid. On 28 April 1820, Davidson and 4 others were found guilty. William was hung (drawing a huge crowd to witness this execution) and decapitated May 1, 1820. Davidson continued to claim his innocence and stated that he and the others were set up by Edwards. The transcript of the trial shows that it was George Edwards who was behind the plot to assassinate certain members of Parliament. Edwards who chose the Cato Street location and informed the police of the assassination plot. George Edwards notified the police where the meeting was being held and the names of the people who were going to attend. Edwards was never prosecuted.

African-American Maritime Heritage — PortSide NewYork
Richard “King Dick” Crafus (1791-1830) courtesy of the New England Hisotircal Soceity ion

While I used a picture of “King Dick” Crafus (who was a boxer, priveteer, and an American POW during the War of 1812), I am mainly using his image to show what William Brown (the First Black Woman in the Royal Navy) may have looked like. Her story appears in the Chronicle of September 1815 (which is found on the national archives site) as well as proof she was registered as a sailor onboard a Royal Navy ship in 1815. Now, the article listed her as “Mrs” William Brown, which I find annoying. William Brown was a sailor first, female is just their gender. There are two accounts of this person joining the Navy. The first states they joined 23 May 1815 and was then discharged 19 June 1815 for being discovered as “female.” The September article states this person served aboard the HMS Queen Charlotte for 11 years before being discharged, being a Captain of the Fore-Top (in other words, they were the best of the best of the sailor set), was around 26 years of age, known to be just one of the guys, and apparently was married, but left the husband for a life as a sailor. Second account gives us more information, giving us a date of birth (1789), joining the Royal Navy in 1804 as a sailor on the HMS Queen Charlotte (it was one of the premier Fleet ships during the 1813-1814 Napoleonic War Years and was the Flag Ship in 1813-1815), was extremely capable Sailor, was often allowed to steer the ship and could easily navigate through shallow waters. Now, the dismissal in the first (and discharge incident) is most likely due to the First Lieutenant being jealous of this highly respected, highly capable sailor of color. In 1814, the Navy would have disbanded after Napoleon’s defeat, and would have docked for a refitting. Signing up again in 1815 would have been expected of all Navy personnel since Napoleon was up to no good (again). But did this stop William Brown? Nope. For in July 1815, a William Brown (stated to be 32 & from Scotland) joined the crew of the HMS Cumberland, said to be an able sailor, one of the best, and paid off in August 1815 (because Napoleon was defeated, so time to relax). But wait, there’s more! William Brown then joins their old crew aboard the HMS Queen Charlotte (with a different First Lieutenant) 31 December 1815 (again being the Flag Ship) as Captain of the Fore-Top. Again. Brown then transferred to the HMS Bombay in 1816, which was then the Flagship for Rear Admiral Sir Charles Penrose. With that, William Brown sails off, with no more records. While there are some discrepancies in terms of age, I firmly believe William Brown wanted to live their life as a Sailor and as a Man. Adding a few years to their age is really not that big of a deal. Of course, I came across a historian who thought it must have been a gag, as there was another female (being younger than 20) trying to enlist in 1815 as William Brown. Dear Sir, William Brown is a very common name and I am sure, if anyone decided to look at the sailors who enlisted and served in the Royal Navy from 1800-1820, there would be hundreds, if not thousands, of sailors called William Brown. But for me, this particular William Brown should be applauded as being the first Black Female Royal Navy Sailor, but I also feel William Brown is the first Transman that we know of serving in the Royal Navy. I am sure there are people who would disagree, but William Brown lived a majority of their life as a man. They should be respected as such.

Resources:

New York Times 9/4/2020 Article on Bridgewater

newenglandhistoricalsoceity.com

portdenewy.org

wcml.org.uk

britishexecutions.co.uk

Daily Gazette 2/26/2015

VanessaRiley.com

Spanglefish.com

Georgianera.wordpress

BBC.co.uk (regardig Nottingham History)

jamancianfamilysearch.com

Jamacian Save Insurrection Scare of 1776 by RB Sheridan

The British Musuem

Antislvaery.ac.uk

bl.uk

nationalarchives.gov.uk