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

The History of Blacks in Georgian& Regency England (Part 2)

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.

1784 Engraving by Richard Cosway showing Richard, his wife Maria, and Ottobah Cugoan. Pubic Domain Image

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 1810.jpg
Hand Colored Ethcing, circa 1810. Artist Unknown; Public Domain.

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.

Tom Molineaux ('Molineaux') by and published by Robert Dighton.jpg
Hand Color Etching by Robert Dighton, circa 1812. Public Domain

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.

Colonel-Edward-Marcus-Despard.jpg
Colonel Edward Despard, Circa 1790. Attributed to George Romney. Public Domain.

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.

Image result for cesar picton
Cesar Picton’s death is registered in the Parrish of All Saint’s Church in Kingston-Upon-Thames. Courtesy of Exploresurreyspast.org.uk

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 as Othello by James Northcote, circa 1826. Public Domain

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).

Resources

exploresurreypast.org.uk

hisoryisfun.org (the Jamestown Musuem Revolutionary WAr website)

npg.org.uk

english-heritage.org.uk

janeaustensworld.wordpress.com

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

The Smithsonian

Royal.uk (yes, the Royal Family’s official website. It’s a good resource for genealogy)

haringey.gov.uk

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)

The History of Blacks in Georgian & Regency England (Part 1)

With Brexit and the unfortunate Capitol Insurrection which occurred January 6, 2021, I wanted to write a two part series on the history of Blacks/Africans in England. I already did a three part series about how there were people of color in Europe before the 20th C, but really wanted to take a deeper look at the time of Jane Austen considering how many times I have queried Literary Agents who inform me that no one would believe that there were people of color in my Regency novels. I am hoping with the success of Bridgerton, that outlook will change.

Unknown Lady, circa late 18th C. Public Domain

In 1772, Lord Mansfield (William Murray), Chief Justice of England and Wales, made a decision that was truly a landmark case for the deconstruction of Slavery. That was the Somerset Case and he declared that the enslaved had rights on English soil. He also presided over the 1783 Gregson v. Gilbert case (regarding the Zong) where he again rule that the Captain and his crew were guilty in the deaths of the 132 enslaved Africans they threw overboard and drowned. This influenced the 1791 Parliament ruling which stated insurance companies no longer had to reimburse shippers (and their financial backers) for the loss of slaves (as they were seen as cargo and not people). William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, raised Dido Elizabeth Belle and no doubt this did influence his decisions in those to cases. While none of these decisions outright banned Slavery, they did push the narrative forward.

Image result for lord mansfield
William Murray, circa 1737. Portrait by Jean-Baptiste van Loo. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Dido Elizabeth Belle.jpg
Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay & her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray by David Martin, circa 1778. Currently on display at Scone Palace, Scotland and considered Public Domain

When William Murray died in 1793, Dido was granted her “freedom” and was left enough money to be considered an heiress. In 1793, she would have still be seen as a slave, so granting her “freedom” allowed her to marry John Davinier and move about Society freely and openly. But she was not the highest ranking person of color during this Era.

Image result for queen charlotte allan ramsey
Queen Charlotte, circa 1760s, painted by Allan Ramsay. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust

When Megan Markle married Prince Henry, there was (and is) backlash over Megan being a woman of mixed race. However, it should note that the same hatred Megan still receives is very much on par with what Queen Charlotte received. The Allan Ramsay portraits are considered the most accurate as he never made her appear darker nor lighter, but painted her as she truly was. He was also the preferred painter of her portraits per King George III. Queen Charlotte was a patroness of the Art and her interest in Botany led to the expansion of Kew Gardens. She was a direct descendant of Margarita de Castro y Sousa, who is from the Black/Moor branch of the Portuguese Royal Family. She was often made to look ape like or even dog like in caricature and referred to as “Mulatto Face” in the press. Charlotte endured periods of madness from her husband, the many indiscretions of her sons (Regent was a bigamist and known to have may lovers). She had 15 children, 13 who survived into adulthood, and is grandmother of Queen Victoria. The South African flower Bird of Paradise is named after her as are two China patterns to her name (Royal Lily and Queen Charlotte). She funded orphanages and in 1809 sponsored a hospital for women to give birth in. It’s known today as Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital. Like her granddaughter, Queen Vicotria, she notoriously would keep her daughters close to her, which resulted in them marrying late in life or not at all and having no children of their own. Charlotte was a close and regular correspondent of Marie Antoinette (both were patrons of Music and Arts). She had rooms prepared to received the French Royals and was devastated when they were beheaded. Charlotte is the second longest serving consort in British History, having reigned 57 years and 70 days. Her husband was blind and deaf when she passed in 1818 and except for her jewels, her son (the Regent) had all of her belongings sold at auction (the jerk). The current Royal Family denies the possibility that Queen Charlotte was a person of color, but considering how many people during the Georgian Era made comments regarding her non-whiteness, then I believe it is safe to say she was not as white as the current Royals like to maintain.

Image result for olaudah equiano
Google’s doodle celebrating the 272nd Birthday of Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equniano was born sometime in the 1740s (it’s given as 1745 in most biographies) and died in 1797. He was enslaved at age 11, renamed Gustavus Vasso, and eventually was sold to a merchant Captain who allowed him to purchase his freedom. He became an author, explorer, and merchant. Olaudah’s first hand narrative pushed the Abolitionist movement forward in both the UK & US. His autobiography went through 9 editions in his lifetime (which was really unheard of) and was a member of the Sons of Africa, a lobby group that was part of the Anti Slavery Society in England. Equniano’s story was key to passing the 1807 law abolishing the trade and capture of slaves (it still allowed the forced breeding, sell, and importation of slaves from one territory to another). He married Susannah Collins in 1792 and had two mixed race daughters. His youngest daughter married a minister in 1821. Some Scholars question if Olaudah was born in Africa[Nigeria specifically] as his baptismal records in England list him as being from the Carolinas. Yet his first owner (and people who knew him) stated that Olaudah spoke no English when he was purchased, making the case that slave traders were possibly lying (GASP) about the origins of the people they enslaved. Susannah died at age 34 and Olaudah died the following year at age 52. It’s sad he didn’t live to see the end to Slavery in England, but at least his daughter was alive to witness it (as it passed in 1833). Considering how popular his autobiography was in his lifetime, there is no chance that Austen would not have come across a copy or would not have heard of him.

Ignatius Sancho, 1768.jpg
Ignatius Sancho, circa 1768, by Thomas Gainsborough. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada

[Charles] Ignatius Sancho had a very interesting life. He was born aboard a slave ship and orphaned at around age 2. He was given to three sisters living in Greenwich, England and was a slave to them for 18 years. He ran away to the Duke and Duchess of Montagu, who decided to educated him and encourage his interests in literature (other tales state the Duke visited these sisters and being impressed with Ignatius’ intellect, taught him to read and write). There is no record of the Montagus purchasing him, so it may have been they compensated the three women for after a few years, he left the Montagus (Igantius was listed as a servant, not a slave) and became a shopkeeper in Westminister, wrote and published various forms of literature (books, poetry, and essays). Igantius became the first Black person to have voted in 1774 and 1780 being a male property owner of both a house and shop (which entitled him to a vote under English law). Ignatius married Anne Osbourne, who was West Indian, and had 7 children. His letters were published two years after his death and is widely accepted as one of the earliest first hand accounts of slavery. While it doesn’t seem like much, the Duchess of Montague left him an annuity of 30 pounds a year in her will in 1752 (comes to about 2000 in today’s market). Sancho counted Thomas Gainsborough (who painted him twice), actor David Garrick and abolitionist Charles James Fox among his friends. Igantius corresponded with writers and encouraged them to stand up against slavery. He was a loud advocate for the end of Slavery and lectured frequently. Sancho is the first Black person to have an obituary in the newspapers of that era.

Image result for black regency francis williams
Francis Williams, circa 1745. Artist unknown. Courtesy of the V&A Museum

Almost all we know about Francis Williams comes from the History of Jamaica (1774) by Edward Long. Long downplays Williams and his family’s contributions, so there isn’t much to go on. We do know that the painting was done by someone in Jamaica. The window appears to overlook a town (The V&A believe it to be Spanish Town) and the library setting is kind of typical Georgian background. Other Scholars think it’s a caricature, while I tend to lean towards a person who had not much training in doing portraits as the landscape shows artistic talent (not everyone can do portraits). Edward Long, while he hated Williams, was the owner of this portrait and it was one of his descendants who gifted it to the museum. Francis may or may not have been born into Slavery. He may have been born at anytime between 1692 and 1700. His father, John Williams, was not granted freedom until 1697-1699, so chances are Francis was born as a slave. He had 2 elder brother and one sister. His father, John, became a wealthy landowner who, unfortunately, had slaves. John Williams in 1708 was granted a trial by jury AND had a law passed that slaves could not testify against him, which was groundbreaking as free Black men did not have the same legal rights as his white counterparts. him. He passed in 1723 a very wealthy man. We do know that Francis live in England long enough to become a naturalized citizen. He was a member of Lincoln’s Inn (a club for Barristers in London), and moved back to Jamaica after his father’s death in 1723. Francis opened and ran a school for free blacks teaching Math, Reading, Writing, and Latin. His legacy is problematic because his wealth, and education, re a product of Slavery while he himself is most likely a former slave. Yet his very existence as a wealthy, highly educated, London Barrister who (apparently) wrote poetry in Latin must cause great distress to those who believe in Wyte Supremacy

The Hon John Spencer and his son, the 1st Earl Spencer and their slave, Caesar Shaw. Circa 1744 by George Knapton. Public Domain

Not much is known about Caesar Shaw. He was a slave owed by John SPncer. Casaer was baptzed in Northampton and we do know he was most likely taken from Africa. However, he was eventually freed and gave first hand testimony regaring the horros of slavery at Anti Slavery meetings and conventions. During the Georgian Era, it was seen as a ign of wealt to have black servants. Peter the Great was known to have black footmen, Valets, an eventually tradesmen and merchnts at his palaces. So while many of these servants are namless, knowing even a few of their names help establish that there were Black people in England (and Russia) during the 18th and 19th Century.

Image result for frances barber 1745
Francis Barber, circa 1770s. Attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds or James Northcote. Courtesy of the Tate Collection & Public Domain

Francis Barber was born Quashey around 1740. We do know he was born in Jamaica on a sugarcane plantation owned by the Bathurst family. It was the father and son (both named Richard) who, when they traveled to London in 1752, gave Francis to Johnson after Johnson’s wife died to serve as a Valet. Johnson was a strong voice against Slavery both in the US and the UK and is known as the author of the Dictionary of English Language. Barber was technically granted his freedom when the elder Bathurst died in 1755, and was given an annuity of 12 pounds. However, Francis then worked at an apothecary, then joined the Royal Navy and eventually came back to work for Johnson in 1760. All the time he was away, he and Johnson were regular correspondents as Francis had been given some education by the Bathursts. Johnson then put Barber through school and Barber became his assistant, having worked on the Dictionary’s second revision, a well a other literary works by Johnson. Francis was also key in helping Boswell write a biography of Johnson after his death. Johnson, from all accounts, was very attached to Francis and left him 70 pounds (well over 2000 in today’s market) a year in his will which was widely covered in the press at the time. It was seen as scandalous to leave a black man more than what a nobleman would leave an assistant (50 pounds was considered a lot). Francis married Elizabeth Ball (white) and they had 2 children. Those children went onto marry white people as well, which some people at that time did not like. Francis Barber still has decedents living in Littchfield to this day.

Image result for us revolutionary war black soldiers
Lafayette & James Armistead, circa 1780s. Public Domain

The Revolutionary War brought about a lot of change not only for the British Empire, but for enslaved Africans in the Colonies. It is estimated that in 1775, more than a half a million Africans living in the 13 colonies were slaves. Ministers and Quakers such as George Keith and John Woolman were advocating against Slavery in the 1760s, thanks to the rising abolitionist movement in England. They were ignored. Abigail Adams, future First Lady, herself wrote many times on the irony of wanting to fight for freedom from tyranny while keeping slaves who lived in tyranny. In the first battle against the British, 10 out of 15 black soldiers were slaves. In 1777, the 13 states enacted laws enforcing quotas to push black slaves into fighting the British. In 1778, Rhode Island established a Black Battalion because they could not meet their quota for white soldiers to fight for the Continental Army. Many slave owners (particularly the Southern States) gave the Continental Army slaves instead of fighting themselves. Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s Royal Governor, in 1775 established a regiment of runaway slaves, promising them freedom is they fought for the British. It was not a well liked policy, but it established an interesting paradigm. In 1776, it seems some of the enslaved did not like that the Constitution not making all men equal, and rebelled. The British Army used this outrage t their advantage and promised freedom to slaves, and their families, if they joined the British Army. It is not known how many enslaved Africans switched sides or how may ran away for the chance at freedom. We do know that several thousand freed slaves moved to British held territories after the War and over a thousand moved to Dublin, Liverpool, and London in the aftermath. So, while the Founding Fathers advocated freedom, they refused to free those who were forced to fight the British, while the British freed those who were willing to fight, but not those they had already enslaved in their territories. It’s a weird and interesting time period in the Georgian Era as not many historians (both US and UK) like to discuss the role Slavery played in the fight for Independence. With over a half a millions slaves, that gave the Continental Army a clear advantage over the British. Yet it is Britain who passed a law outlawing Slavery in 1833, over 30 years before the US.

Resources

hisoryisfun.org (the Jamestown Musuem Revolutionary WAr website)

npg.org.uk

english-heritage.org.uk

janeaustensworld.wordpress.com

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

The Smithsonian

Royal.uk (yes, the Royal Family’s official website. It’s a good resource for genealogy)

haringey.gov.uk

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)

Bridgerton: A Review

Well, first I must apologize for not writing as much last year as I thought I would be. An unexpected increase in workload meant I had little time for anything other than trying to sleep and survive. But I resolve to try an start this 2021 year off with a bit of fun and fluff.

Bridgerton | Netflix Official Site
Courtesy of Netflix

Bridgerton, if you haven’t heard, is a book series by Julia Quinn set in the Regency. The books are fictional, so there is very little attempt at them being historically accurate, other than the basic facts (like who is the ruler, dropping the name of well-known and famous society leaders, etc). Now, the Netflix series has gotten some criticism for casting people of color, some in prominent roles. To me, it’s refreshing because it IS historically accurate. Sorry to burst the fragile misconceptions of every Austen Adaptation ever, but there were non white people living in England during the 18th Century (and even earlier, if we’re being truthfully honest). Theatre folk (of which I will always be), know that blind casting really is the best way to cast roles. People who are good SHOULD play parts that suit them as actors, not skin color. And we should have more diverse casting. We should have disabled actors, trans actors, etc cast based on their ability, not their looks. But I digress…

Romance novels have this reputation for being the cheesy bodice rippers published by Silhouette or Avon (for example). But Romance Novels are a unique literary form that we should never sneer at. Many of us have probably read a cheesy romance novel, or two, growing up. I myself m exceptionally fond of the Gothic romance novels of the 1960s and not just because they have fun cover art (which they do).

Vintage Gothic Romance Books Classics Paperback Novels 1960's 1970's Women  running from houses, heroines in pe… | Gothic romance books, Gothic books,  Gothic romance
Courtesy of Pinterest

Romance novels are pure escapism. Austen novels have been labeled as romance, young adult, and adult fiction in libraries and in bookstores. I myself have outlined for 6 Austen style novels (one being written and edited and rewritten and you get the picture). There is nothing wrong with writing or enjoying Romance just as long as you remember not to take it too seriously (thought it can be hard).

The 'Bridgerton' Ending, Explained | 'Bridgerton' Season 1 Finale
Lady Danbury and Simon Basset, courtesy of Marie Claire

As an adaptation, I think Bridgerton is well done and has moments of being far superior than the recent ITV Austen adaptations. The costumes are rich, colorful, and sometimes a tad ridiculous (the Feathertons in particular), but they are all well made and have that silhouette we all associate with the Regency Era. They do an adequate job of visually giving us insight into the person’s social status, mood, marital status, and degree of social acceptability. As well as mixing elements of the fantastical with the historical. Visually, it is a delight.

Romp and circumstance: why Netflix's Bridgerton is just our cup of tea this  year | Period drama (TV) | The Guardian
Queen Charlotte, courtesy of Netflix

Now, as far as the adaptation goes for being faithful to the book, I must confess that I cannot supply any information. Now, I did try to read the first novel, The Duke and I, but had to stop due to a triggering element that, while it was not the same in the series, a similar event was depicted and I do have issues with it. That element is rape. In the novel, the “heroine” rapes the Duke (he is drunk) and denies it ever occurring up until they are married. As a victim of sexual assault, I could not finish the novel. No matter how it is framed, nor that the people involved end up being “in love”, rape is never acceptable. Ever. I found it repugnant and disturbing that any author would use the disgusting and reprehensible troupe of rape, but framing it within the confines of a romance, thus trying to make it acceptable (or palatable) to the reader.

not amused puppy - Google Search | Funny animals, Funny, Funny pictures
Puppy is NOT Amused, courtesy of Pinterest

I found the rape so triggering, that I engaged in some self harm (which I will not disclose as to the TYPE other than it doesn’t involve any knives nor blood and yes, I do see a therapist and have for years). Now, the adaptation did not include the rape scene as written, but still included a rape scene nonetheless, which was extremely disappointing. Any forward thinking person will tell you that even in the midst of engaging in a sexual activity, when one person says STOP or NO, it all stops. Period. The adaptation still had the heroine rape the Duke, but now within the confines of the marriage bed, which makes it that much better.

Reader, it does not.

Spousal rape is real and it should never be treated lightly nor be filmed as one person had the right to continue. And that was how it was framed. Daphne is seen as being in the right to force her husband to ejaculate inside her because she wants a child. This is rape. He clearly tells her to stop. Not once, but many times. And yes, we should be having this conversation because no mater how much I enjoyed this adaptation, I am utterly disgusted they would still keep Daphne’s rape of Simon in. It doesn’t matter that she did it after they were married instead of before. We do not need to see depictions of rape, including spousal rape, in any adaption that is advertised as a romance. This season is framed around the book The Duke and I. It’s touted as being a historical romance.

Bollywood angered over Hathras gang rape, demand justice for victim |  Deccan Herald
Courtesy o the Deacon Herald

Rape has no place in romance novels. It has no place in adaptations. No matter how much I enjoyed this series, I cannot fathom why the producers decided it would be perfectly acceptable to include rape. The story could have worked perfectly fine without it. Simon (the Duke), in a moment of passion couldn’t have forgotten to pull out since that was his main form of birth control. Or have him use a condom (yes, they existed) and have one tear or rip or perhaps he forgets? There are so many other ways to possibly hint at Daphne being late with her period without the rape. The pull out method is known to not be 100% effective against pregnancy and considering they devoted an entire episode to them screwing each other, you are telling me that not once he might have forgotten to pull out? Seriously? I understand that this is a work of fiction. Trust me, I know because I write fiction (though I endure the added burden of trying to be as historically accurate as possible). But once you start having some structure of reality to help us believe the world we are in, logic will come into play. According to Planned Parenthood, unless you are using a condom and/or birth control with the pull out method, 1 in 5 who only do the pull out method will get pregnant within a year. So, this means Daphne really had nothing to worry about because statistically, she would have gotten pregnant eventually.

Now, the series is enjoyable and I do recommend it because it is so rare for me to see anyone who looks even remotely like me on screen (big or small) that isn’t a terrorist or a servant that the biggest draw for the series IS the diverse cast. And if you ignore (or skip) the whole rape scene, it is an enjoyable series.

There’s still the old troupe of how the fat girl can’t possibly be anything other than the friend until she magically becomes beautiful (Yes, I’m looking at you Lady Whitstone).

Bathing During the Time of Austen (or how I survived without a Shower for a week)

There’s this misconception that prior to the Victorian Era, people didn’t bathe. I myself am guilty of this false reasoning as I recall, at the tender age of 12, writing down in a notebook that “people smelled” when I started my journey of researching the 19th Century. In my current notebook (I occasionally rewrite everything with updated notes and information), I have kept the ubiquitous “people smelled” line to remind myself not only of how far I have come, but just how easily we can be led to the wrong conclusion. Yes, people smelled prior to the Victorian Era. In fact, people still smell today (it is, after all, one of the five senses). Of course, I am being a tad silly and what we truly mean by “smell” is bad odors.

Image
A Lovely period Regency Bathing room in the Chateau de Valancey, France. Photo taken by Anna M. Thane (@Anna_M_Thane) 2019

As the above photo shows, people during the Georgian & Regency Era did have rooms solely devoted to the art of bathing and maintaining hygiene. So it IS a fault (clearly) to believe people did not clean themselves. A majority of this, I feel, comes from adaptations (both TV & Film) of period pieces. Especially films of my believed Classic Era were they showed Kings & Queens arguing about bathing more than once a year (I kid you not). So little of them show bathing, we tend to have this blinded perception of people being utterly filthy. I distinctly recall having professors inform us that the use of incense in Catholic services was done because people smelled. This may be true for those who were poor and couldn’t bathe on daily basis, but the use of incense for religious reasons is as old as religion itself. So maybe, just maybe, the Catholic Church was using incense because it’s kind of the norm. Another example is the concept of indoor toilets. Many people accept that they had ancestors who used chamber pots. In fact, chamber pots are a very common thing one finds in modern period romance novels (I myself reference it once or twice-it seems very hard to not mention them). And we know that they did exist and were used. Yet, indoor toilets (yes, you read that correctly) have existed for hundreds of years and predate our modern bathrooms.

An illustration of a Medieval Era Garderobe, aka an indoor toilet. Courtesy of Pinterest.

The Garderobe is a fairly basic indoor toilet. A hole leads to a pit where the waste is collected and people do rake it (and remove it as needed). Yes, dear reader, there were people who’s job was literally shit and piss. This is really no different from campsites that have outhouses (yes, they still exist), to people who have a self-contained septic system in their yard. Yes, chamber pots (and other such devices) were used for things such as emergencies, invalids, and convenience, yet we must stop with the nonsense that they did their business out in the open. Of course, when traveling, one had no choice BUT even then, there was an attempt at modesty and privacy.

Now,what does this have to do with my week long shower-less regime? The bathroom was undergoing a renovation (new tiling) and that meant no access to the tub and shower for about a week. I am not someone who can go without bathing for very long (unless I absolutely must due to being hospitalized or very ill), so I decided it might be nice to try my had at bathing Regency style in a way. The first day, I used a bucket of warm water, a washcloth, and basically sponged myself off. I must also state I had the day off, so I wasn’t concerned with my hair (though I did run the washcloth through it as well). Did I feel clean? Well, yes and no. I can inform you that I did feel refreshed and less grimy, but I did not feel as clean as I normally would.

Serves Pitcher and Wash Bowl. Divine! Courtesy of Pinterest
Ceramic Bathtubs
Minoan Ceramic Bathing Tub, Minoan Palace of Knossos. Courtesy of JSTOR

Now, I am not so fortunate as to afford to use Serves porcelain in my experiment. My basin was a nice, gray plastic bucket. My pitcher was an old plastic cup measuring utensil. My washcloth, I felt, was at least an attempt at the homespun feeling as it was a crocheted one. Soap was some liquid Ivory (meat for bathing, not the dish one). Not feeling quite so refreshed from just the quick sponging off, I decided to up the experience by using both hot and cold water. I donned a bathing suit, went outside, and rinsed off with warm water. Washed and rinsed with cold water (a la hose). Washed and rinsed my hair with the hose, then dumped the rest of the warm water over myself. It felt like camping, in a weird way and I did feel fairly clean. Also, cold. Was this closer to how Jane Austen must have bathed? Well, perhaps.

egyptian-princess-bathing
19th C Woodcut of an Egyptian Relief depicting a Lady being bathed by servants. Courtesy of Pinterest.

Showers (well, showering), has existed since forever. Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians had indoor bathing rooms where servants would “shower” them with jugs of water. Ancient Greeks were the first to have public showering rooms (look up the Ancient Greek City of Pergamum). The Romans, of course, followed suit with their own bath houses as well. Yet what we would consider the runner up to the modern shower was patented in 1767 by Englishman William Feetham ( stove maker) and featured a hand pump. Around 1810, a much more “modern” version emerged and as to who invented it, it’s hard to say as there are disputes.

Ancient Greek Shower
Anciet Greeks Showering on Pottery. Courtesy of Pinterest
Pompeii residents were screwed before the volcanic eruption
A Public Bath at Pompeii. Couretsy of Pinterst
Life Magazine Image of an 1810 Shower. They describe it as being 12 feet in height with a pump for moving water from the bottom to the top (and to be used continuously) to shower. Courtesy of Life Magazine & Pinterest.

Now, my few days of donning a bathing suit and bathing outdoors was no where as elaborate as using the 1810 Shower, but it did feel closer to what Austen herself must have been used to. Not to say that she used a contraption like that everyday. In fact, she may have never used one. Yet it is possible that she did do something similar to what I had done in my quasi-attempt at cleanliness. Now, I must admit that once the tiling was done, I was told I could use the tub, but not the shower and could use the hot water faucet again. Dear reader, I felt like I was n Heaven!

The first appearance of the shower or "rain bath" in New York ...
A NYT Advertisement for a Shower from November 11, 1914. Courtesy of The Bowery Boys

I felt so much cleaner sitting in the tub, using the hot water as needed to bathe (and shave my legs). I felt my hair got much cleaner not having to be blasted by the cold needle spray of the hose. Or at least, I felt warmer, hence, I felt cleaner. Now the new shower head is not as elaborate as the Kennedy Needle model, but it does a decent job. But I have to admit that I felt more understanding of what it must have been like for Austen (or anyone living before the 20th Century) to bathe.

Bathing (or the ability to bathe) is a convenience we take for granted in our modern society. Bathing requires access to clean water, the ability to heat said water, soap (or similar cleaning items), not to mention time and means to do so. For my part, knowing what I know about the time it took to heat water up, to carry it, etc, it’s most likely Austen did a full bath (like in a tub) once a week but sponged off daily. She may have even sponged off more than once a day. I can see any genteel lady sponging off before dressing for dinner or before a ball. I can definitely see any person doing so after riding a horse. Hair washing probably didn’t occur more than once a week. There are people today who don’t wash their hair on a daily basis, so it should come as no surprise to think Jane didn’t do so. Hair washing probably took more time and effort than washing the grime off of one’s body. After all, they didn’t have our modern shampoos, conditioners, hair dryers, and towels.

Degas bather
Woman in Bath Sponging Her Leg (1883) by Edgar Degas. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

I imagine for most people, bathing was closer to Degas painting than anything else. In fact, for most people around the world, it’s probably how they bathe as modern plumbing does not exist everywhere and probably never will. And that’s the most important item I want everyone to take away from this posting. People have, for centuries, found a way to bathe. Whether it meant going to the pond, river, ocean, waterfall, or using a small pitcher or water, people have always found a way to keep themselves clean. Bathing is not this foreign concept nor is it a modern one. It’s clear period films and shows have done us a disservice by not showing us the daily habits of people. By not showing us, we’ve been taught to think of our ancient ancestors as these dirty, smelly, filthy bunch when in fact, it’s all a lie.

Now, I’m not going to lie. I would never trade my modern shower and toilet for what Austen had. I thoroughly enjoy being able to have hot water on demand. I completely rejoice that my waste is flushed away and no one has to rake it. I am very much at ease in our modern bathroom. Now, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind having a nice claw foot bathtub and a stand alone shower someday (who wouldn’t). I may even want to indulge in trying a Kennedy Needle Special ;P! But in all seriousness, what I have discovered, about myself primarily, is that when it comes to bathing, we all find a way that suits each of us. I have showered outdoors. I have used an outhouse. Yes, it’s weird but it’s only weird because it’s not part of our daily lives anymore (for the most part). For some, outhouses and outdoor bathing is still the norm and there is no shame in this. So yes, Kevin Costner showering under a waterfall in Prince of Thieves IS accurate. Colin Firth jumping into a pond after riding a horse is perfectly acceptable. Kirsten Dunst being sponged off in Marie Antoinette every morning is actually historically accurate. And that’s kind of fun to know.

A Brief History of Breakfast (or for God’s sakes it’s “just” a vitamin commercial)

As many of you may have be aware, there has been a great to-do about an Asian/Chinese Centrum commercial featuring Mr. Hiddleston. The uproar over this has been baffling to me since I don’t understand the un-comfortableness people are experiencing over a basically boring commercial (no offense to Mr. Hiddleston, but the Jaguar commercials I liked much better).

It’s really quite a boring bottle, but gets the point across.

Most of the comments I’ve seen on-line relate to the question of why vegetables were being served (along with a fried egg and some fresh fruit) for Breakfast. Well, visually, the vegetables and fruit were laid out and displayed to mimic the brands iconic rainbow design, but in such a way as to not be so blatantly obvious. Clearly the intent was to showcase that the same vitamins and minerals found in these food items are also found in the daily pill. It’s very simple advertising (and yes, I took a class on Modern Art in Advertising in Grad School-it was summer and I was bored).

A screen-shot of the infamous vegetable plate with fried egg. There are blueberries on the plate as well (not shown). I am just impressed with the heart shaped egg actually (yes, I know it’s a mold).

Basically, it’s a pretty decent commercial, a bit boring and the only saving grace is the fact that Mr. Hiddleston is in it. But if you’ve ever seen commercials for the Asian markets (China, Japan, India, etc) that feature Western stars, they tend to be weird by Western standards. I believe it’s because people in the west truly don’t comprehend that there are more people who are Asian and of Asian decent in the world and yes, we’d like products featuring stars we like catered to us. Advertisements in general can be awkward and strange.

Yes, that’s Bob Hope endorsing a soda that no one has ever heard of. Hollywood has a history of endorsing products.

Nicole Kidman for Omega Watches. This advertisement was only placed in Asian countries and in Asian magazines.

While this is all well and interesting (not really), I want to address the issue many people are really having a hard time with, which is having vegetables for breakfast. Breakfast is, I think, historically a very interesting meal to look at because what was once eaten has changed over the years due to shifts in society and economy. Back in the time of Jane Austen (and generally this applies to the Georgian Era well into the Victorian Era in terms of food offered, not necessarily the times), people (not the servants) woke up before 8AM, had a cup of tea, ale, or hot chocolate and a piece of toast (maybe two). This was done in their nightwear, usually women would be wearing a bedgown/robe and men would be wearing a Banyan or Dressing Gown. They then would spot clean, get dressed and do their hair. They then exercised (walking, rode horses), wrote letters, gathered flowers (if they were into wanting fresh flowers in the home), practiced piano playing (specifically this refers to Jane herself) and then sat down to Breakfast at about 10AM.

https://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN00101/AN00101162_001_l.jpg

Le Bon Genre 106, 1817 (Doggy Meal is the basic French to English translation of the piece); Courtesy of the British Museum; this is meant to be satire, but one gets the general idea of what a typical Regency Era meal for just family may look like.

'A Brighton Breakfast' or 'Morning Comforts' by Charles   Williams

A Brighton Breakfast or Morning Comforts (Oct 1802); drawn by Charles Williams depicting Mrs. Fitzherbert (Prinny’s illegal Catholic Wife, my ancestor by marriage Maria Weld) and Lady Lade (one of Prinny’s mistresses at the time). Courtesy of the Regency Town House website

A typical Georgian & Regency breakfast (remember, this is being served around 10AM) may include eggs, kidneys & liver (I’m not a fan of organ meat, so bleh), various cold cuts or chops leftover from a previous meal (typically cold chicken or turkey, game birds, beef, ham, etc). Kippers or some kind of fish (this tended to be seasonal and more typical for homes along a coast or access to a constant source of fresh water, so think Lyme Regis, Brighton, Bath, but not necessarily London), game pies, tongue (bleh), and perhaps jellied eel (again, bleh). More tea and hot chocolate was served, though Prinny and other Dandies at the time preferred ale (alcohol was available to drink 24/7 at this time because water was not safe to drink). Ale and Stout were also reported to be a healthy beverage to consume for breakfast, so women were encouraged to drink it to help encourage fertility (seriously, I am not kidding here). Cakes spiced with things like Caraway seeds, Ginger, citrus, fresh or preserved fruits, honey and saffron were typically seen. Hot rolls, toast, butter, preserves, French Brioche (particularly posh) along with fried potatoes and any fresh seasonal fruit was served as well. While no research (meaning my ongoing 20+ year one) has yet turned up any evidence of milk or lemon barely water being drunk at this time, I have come across both being touted for invalids and children, so I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibilities to see them made available for those that wished for them (especially if children were involved). This was mean to be a fairly relaxing, communal, and most likely lasted close to an hour as people came to eat at their leisure, which must have been a nightmare for the servants.

The Full English (well, one example of it anyways). There are many variations of it in the UK, but there are at least 2 types of meat, beans, tomatoes, toast, eggs and sometimes mushrooms (some places have potatoes instead of mushrooms). Tomatoes are also usually fried, though raw wouldn’t bother me.

Sometime in the mid Victorian Era (late 1850s to early 1860s), breakfast not only meant the Georgian/Regency meal as stated above, but a newer, smaller hot meal. The English Breakfast Society dates the Full English to the early 1800s, yet I’ve never been able to find any evidence of this. While I do believe it evolved from the Georgian/Regency meal (which did offer a variety of meats, eggs, and toast), tomatoes were NOT widely eaten at that point in time. Tomatoes were seen as poisonous and the only way people consumed them was they had to be cooked, preferably in a soup format and possibly jellied IF one wished for a cold remove for a dinner (remove is a very fancy terms for a side dish). The closest I’ve seen to a Full English is from Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management (it’s free on Kindle and yes, I’ve read it):

Broiled fish, such as mackerel, whiting, herrings, dried haddocks, &c.; mutton chops and rump-steaks, broiled sheep’s kidneys, kidneys à la maître d’hôtel, sausages, plain rashers of bacon, bacon and poached eggs, ham and poached eggs, omelets, plain boiled eggs, oeufs-au-plat, poached eggs on toast, muffins, toast, marmalade, butter, &c. &c.

This is her description of hot food items for breakfast. She does mention the use of cold meats, including tongue, potted meats, cold game pies, as well as bread, sweet rolls, and pastries. Typical breakfast fare for inns, pubic-houses and for the working class (servants too) consisted of eggs, bacon or ham, bread, butter, and ale.

Kedgeree is considered a typical British Breakfast dish (courtesy of the BBC)

Now, one item I have not discussed yet is Kedgeree. Now, I’m American, but I am also half-Desi and I love this dish. I have made this dish and variations that are more traditional (as in Desi traditional) when I was living on my own in Grad School. For modern eaters of this dish, it contains rice, smoked haddock (I prefer Salmon, but Tuna is also considered acceptable), hard boiled eggs, parsley, butter or cream. Some UK recipes insist on adding curry powder (which is a very British thing; curry for us Desis means it contains tomatoes), and sultanas (raisins; like potato salad, just no). This modern dish dates to about 1790 from a recipe book by Stephana Malcolm of Scotland and is believed to have been created by Scottish Militia who missed the spices and food of India once they returned home. Traditional Kedgeree (Khichri or Kishri or Khichdi) dates to 1340CE, but is probably much older. Ibn Battuta wrote in 1340CE of a dish he enjoyed and referred to as Kishri of moong dal cooked with rice (basically, lentils and rice most likely topped with butter because yes, Indian people did know how to make butter).

Masoor Dal (Red Lentil) Khichri. There are many recipes and variations of Khichri out there. Notice that vegetables play a key factor here. Yes, VEGETABLES for BREAKFAST.

The oldest known written recipe for Khichri dates from around 1590 CE and remains extremely popular in the Gurajat region of India where it’s often served with a spiced yogurt called Kadhi or Raitia (they are different dishes actually, but I’ve eaten it with Raitia, so don’t “at” me Desi brothers and sisters). Fish is and was probably added along the coastlines of India, where fish and seafood is widely eaten. Eggs are usually not part of the dish, traditionally, but I’ve added some boiled eggs on occasion. I’ve also added Paneer instead. Like I stated before, there are so many variations of this dish in the Desi community, most can find one they like. Or go with the UK version.

Seal of the East Indian Company (the British one as there was a Dutch one too). Courtesy of North Central College (Naperville, IL)

Now Kedgeree (yes, I’ve gone back to the UK spelling) is never mentioned in Mrs. Beeton’s book and is never acknowledged as being a dish served during the time of Jane Austen. For some reason, it seems to magically appear around the 1830s, disappear,then reappear in the 1880s. But briefly and only in passing (I am referring to extant novels). It is mentioned in Evelyn’s Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted (pubslihed in 1945) and Mary Wesley’s Camomile Lawn (published in 1984); both books are cited by Americans who blog about wanting to try Kedgeree because it’s mentioned in these two British novels (they are also often shocked at the ingredients and typically don’t like it).

An illustration depicting what a Georgian/Regency Scottish Officer would be wearing (1780s-1820s). We can thank the wife of one of these gents for writing down the first UK recipe for Kedgeree. Courtesy of Brown University (Rhode Island).

This was probably a dish that most men in the military brought back with them (because, as we should now, the East Indian Company sent Army men to India, China, Japan (and more) for close to 300 years (December 1600 to June 1874). Because Austen had no relations involved in that venture, it is possibly she never heard of it (her three brothers joined during the Napoleonic Wars-two in the Navy and one in the Oxford Militia). Tough I do find it odd that it is not mentioned by Sir Walter Scott (considering the UK version comes from Scotland). Oh well. Personally, I am fairly certain Colonel Brandon, Sir John Middleton, Colonel Foster, and Captain Wentworth would have heard of it and eaten it. Definitely Admiral Croft must be included in that list.

Corn Flakes

This brings our breakfast journey right to Battle Creek, Michigan (I’ve got family near there, no lie) and the Kellogg Brothers. Dr. Kellogg was a Seven Day Adventist and hard core vegetarian. I do mean hard core. He was fine with dairy being consumed, but not meat, not eggs, no fish, etc. Hopefully you get my point. He ran a sanitarium (Dr. John Harvey Kellogg) and did some pretty shady crap. He tortured and trained a wild wolf to turn away from the instinct to eat meat as “proof” man could curb his instincts for consuming flesh. He believed in using masturbatory devices to curb unhealthy sexual activities between married couples (vibrators people); he firmly believed sex should only take place to produce children. Any “urges” had to be taken care of scientifically. Basically, he was nuts himself (see the 1994 film Road to Wellville as it’s surprisingly accurate). His brother, Will, on the other hand, was more practical. While also an Adventist, he wasn’t too keen on the whole vegetarian thing, but he was into philanthropy. Will noticed that rich people ate eggs and meat for breakfast while the poor tried to survive on oatmeal, farina, gruel (you get the point) which filled them up, but didn’t provide enough nutrients. So he came up with corn flakes, which is just toasted flakes of corn mush. It was cheap, it was filing, and because you ate it with milk, you were getting some protein. Post Cereals (now known as General Mills) copied this concept with their own version, but added sugar.

How many of us grew up with the concept of this being the normal breakfast?

This really did change the landscape for breakfast. Think about all the cereals that have come out of this concept. We have cereals made from corn, wheat, oats, and rice. And yes, I know I did not mention pancakes, waffles, etc because I don’t have time for that and I am focusing on just the concept of breakfast, not a book on the history of it. Eggs generally were eaten on weekends (at least, for me growing up) because cereal was faster to prepare.

Vegetable Stuffed Omelette from Betty Crocker’s website. No, I’m not kidding. This is an actual recipe. Chosen mainly to highlight that, yes, we do eat vegetables for breakfast.

This brings me back around to people freaking out about that Hiddleston commercial. If vegetables are in a quiche, an omlette, or a quinoa breakfast bowl, no one is bothered by it. We accept that it’s perfectly fine to have vegetables for breakfast, but only if it conforms to certain standards (meaning Western standards). But what if the commercial was done for a Desi audience and the dish he prepared was a traditional Khichri? Most people in the UK would probably recognize it as being similar to a Kedgeree and wouldn’t be bothered by it. Americans would still have a fit because it’s rice being eaten for breakfast (rice, of course, is ALWAYS Basmati; that Texas grown “Texati” stuff is disgusting). I’ve worked with people from Mexico and have had eggs smothered in beans and Cholula Hot Sauce (which I highly recommend! The beans were cooked in mole sauce and onions).

On the left is regular brown rice. On the right is brown Basmati rice.

Breakfast is simply  the first meal we eat to break our fast after sleeping. There is no wrong food to eat. There is no right food to eat. I can tell you that as while in College (and Grad Schools), I ate things like grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast, Khichri, oatmeal, eggs (lots of eggs, which I still do), portabello mushrooms, ice cream (I’m an adult), cereal, beans on toast (Heinz of course as I am not a savage), shami kabobs, tuna sandwiches, lox on bagels with smear (ask your Jewish or NYC friends), and on occasion, pancakes or waffles.

This is what I had today for Breakfast: homemade Paneer Jalfrezi on a bed of spinach. Followed by an apple (Envy variety! Delicious) and tea.

So yes, I have eaten vegetables for breakfast. I’ll probably continue to do so in some fashion the rest of my life. It’s really not that weird of a concept. I didn’t think the commercial was weird in showing that. FYI, the shuffling people say occurs near the end? Most likely slipping shoes on. Most Asians take shoes off at the door and put the on when they leave. This is not a creepy or weird thing. It keeps floors much cleaner. I really do think people need to learn about other cultures so things like this won’t be found to be offensive or awkward in the future.

Tomorrow? I think I’ll have some vegetables with my eggs topped with cheese. And a glass of milk. Then again, I may have a protein smoothie.