Black British History Timeline
UK Black history goes back nearly two thousand years with evidence of African people living in Roman Britain. In fact, archival research suggests Black communities have been living in the UK since the 1500s.
AD 200 to 1899
200 - 300 AD
Skeletons found in a Roman burial site in Leicester between 2010 and 2015 were found to have African cranical features - two of which, including a child, appeared to have been born in the Roman province of Britannia.
A fort on Hadrian’s wall at Burgh-by-Sands was home to a unit of African Roman soldiers. Artefacts suggest they settled in the area and assimilated into the local community.
350 - 400 AD
In 1901 in York, a skeleton, who would later be called the “Ivory Bangle Lady”, was discovered and subsequently dated to the second half of the 4th century AD. Buried in a stone coffin her remains were found with ivory bracelets, earrings, pendants and other expensive possessions indicating that she held a high ranking position within Roman York. Isotope analysis showed she had spent her early years in a warmer climate whilst her skull shape suggested she had some North African ancestry.
Two female skeletons identified as originating from Sub-Saharan African and identified as dating back to around the tenth century are found in England, one found in North Elmham, Norfolk, in 2013 and the other in Fairford, Gloucestershire, between 1967-1972.
The earliest image of a Black Briton was discovered in an abbreviated version of the Domesday Book used to collect taxes.
An African described as an 'Ethiopian' (a term used in ancient times to describe anyone with black skin) is mentioned in the Pipe Roll (21 June 1259). The document says that he was brought to England by ‘Roger de Lyntin.’ It also gives ‘a mandate to arrest’ Bartholomew, for ‘running away from his said lord Roger de Lyntin.’ Bartholomew may have been on his way to the city of Nottingham to escape his lord’s authority. Again, this is likely to be connected to the Crusades as records indicate that the Lord was a Knight.
The Atlantic Slave Trade was the transportation and global trade of 10-12 million enslaved Africans to the Americans. It was started by Portuguese & Spanish merchants and West African traders but within 150 years it was dominated by Dutch, English and French merchants. They transformed it into a multibillion-pound industry that help fund the industrial revolution in the West and birthed the ideology of racism that still continues to this day.
1225 - 1285
Skeletal remains discovered in 1911, in what once was the cemetery of Grey Friars monastery in Ipswich are identified as African in origin dating back to the late 12th century. He is believed to have come from modern day North African and may have been connected to the Crusades.
John Blanke was a royal trumpeter in the court of Henry VII. It is thought that he came to England as part of Catherine of Aragon’s royal court when she came to marry Prince Arthur (brother of Henry VIII). He first appears in UK royal court records in 1501. He married in 1512 and was given a wedding present by Henry VIII.
Details of African baptisms and burials are found in Tudor parish records in London, Plymouth, Southampton, Barnstaple, Bristol, Leicester, Northampton and other places across the UK from 1558 (when most official records begun). They include ‘Christopher Cappervert, a blackamoore who was 28 years old when he died and is buried in St Botolph without Aldgate in London on 22 October 1586.
This is the year, the United Kingdon entered the slave trade and the beginning of a change in the relationship between White and Black Britons. John Hawkins is recorded as the first English slave trader. His first slave-trading voyage was in 1562-63, on behalf of a syndicate of London merchants, was so profitable that a more prestigious group, including Queen Elizabeth 1, provided money for a second expedition in 1564-65.
Cattelena of Almondsbury was one of a several free Africans recorded living in rural locations. Cattelena lived in the small Gloucestershire village of Almondsbury, not far from Bristol, until her death in 1625.
Francis Barber was the Jamaican manservant of Samuel John in London from 1752 until Johnson’s death in 1784. He was the main beneficiary of Johnson’s estate and used his generous legacy to open a draper’s shop in Litchfield in Staffordshire. He married an English woman and his desendants assilimated into the wider community. He still has living relatives in Staffordshire.
Dido Elizabeth Belle, a British heiress and member of the Lindsay family of Evelix was born. Her life was dramatized in the 2015 British period movie Belle.
Enslaved African-American soldiers who fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War start arriving in London. Deprived of war pensions, they’re forced to work as servants to wealthy whites or were reduced to begging on the streets. Black abolitionist Olaudah Equiano took up their cause and became the unofficial spokesmen for Britain’s Black community.
Ignatius Sancho renowned abolitionist and writer is the first person of African origin to vote in Britain. He voted in 1774 and again in 1780.
In the Somerset vs Stewart case of 1772, William Murray, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, ruled that it was unlawful for Charles Stewart, of Boston, Massachussets in the British American colony, to forcely return James Somerset to the West Indies to be resold. But it did not end the holding of slaves within England or end the Atlantic Slave Trade in the UK or any of its colonies.
According to his autobigraphy, Olaudah Equaino became the first Black person to explore the Arctic when he sailed, on the same ship as Horatio Nelson, on Lord Mulgrave's famous expedition to find a passage to India
Bill Richmond was a former enslaved African-American from British America who became a leading boxer in the UK. He travelled to England in 1777 and worked as a cabinetmaker in York. In 1804 he began boxing and went on to become the world’s first Black sporting superstar.
The Zong massacre was a mass killing of more than 130 enslaved Africans by the crew of the British slave ship Zong on and in the days following 29 November 1781. The massacre was initially tried as an insurance ligitation case when the insurers refused to compensate the Liverpool trade-slaving syndicate owners of Zong. Leading English Abolitionist, Granville Sharpe, was persuaded to take on the case by African Abolitionist, Olaudah Equiano, and one newspaper reported on the case. It raised the profile of the abolitionists case against slavery and public awareness of the brutality and inhumanity of the slave trade . It also lead to the founding of the Abolition of Slave Trade group in 1787.
Writer and Abolitionist Olaudah Equiano was the first Black person to be employed by the British government and three years later in 1789 he published his biography 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano' which depicted the horrors of the slave trade and helped influence the passing of the British Slave Trade Act 1807.
Under the initial leadership of Olaudah Equiano, a group of Black Abolitionists living in London, formed the Sons of Africa abolition group and worked alongside other abolitionists group such as the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade to emanicipate slaves in the British colonies.
Writer and Abolitionist Mary Prince published her autobiography ‘The History of Mary Prince’ exposing the life of enslaved females in the colonies.
Hundreds of Black Britons were transported from London for resettlement in a colony in Sierra Leone with help from the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor.
Ottobah Cugoano was a formerly enslaved person who published his biography in 1787 detailing the hardships and suffering of plantation slave labour. He was the first African to publicly demand the end of slavery and to challenge the perceived justification for enslaving Africans. He also attacked the trade and the countries who benefited from
it. It was a very bold act as no Black person had ever publicly announced that enslavement should be abolished out of fear of retaliation and the lack of faith that their voice would be heard.
1792 - 1815
Individual Black soldiers are known to have taken part in many of the Napoleonic war campaigns for England and France. After the war, Black soldiers and seamen settled in London after fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.
Black and White abolitionists successfully lobbied parliament to pass the Slave Trade Act on 25th March 1807 which prohibited the slave trade in the British Empire. However, many slave traders found ways to bypass the law and slavery remain legal in the British Empire until the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.
In 1788, Olaudah Equiano lobbied the House of Commons in support William Dolben's bill to improve the slave ship conditions by creating a limit for the number of enslaved Africans could be transported on a ship, related to tonnage. The Slave Act 1788 was the first British legislation passed to regulate slave shipping.
Pablo Fanque was a Black British equestrian performer and circus proprietor who was born on 30 March 1810 in Norwich, England. He is the first recorded non-white British circus owner in Britain and ran one of the most successful circus business for 30 years in Victorian Britain. He is also best known for being mentioned in The Beatles song ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!’
The British Caribbean political radical, William Davidson, is excuted for his role in the Cato Street Conspiracy against Lord Liverpool's government in 1820.
On the 23 December 1837 the Slave Compensation Act was signed into law. The British government borrowed £20m to compensate slave owners to buy the freedom of the slaves. It was the equivalent to 40% of the Treasury’s annual income at the time and wasn’t paid off until 2015.
John Stewart became the first person of mixed African heritage to become a member of parliament. Stewart took his seat as Tory MP for Lymington 125 years after the British Parliament was officially established. However, he remains a controversial figure in Black history as he was a slave plantation owner and received compensation when the enslaved people he held in Guyana were freed.
Sarah Forbes Bonetta was a West African princess who was orphaned by war, sold into slavery and, in a remarkable twist of events, was liberated from enslavement and in 1850 became the goddaughter to Queen Victoria. In 1862, she was invited and attended the wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Alice. She married Captain James Pinson Labulo Davies, a wealthy Victorian Lagos philanthropist, and they moved to Madeira to start a family.
Prince Alamayou, the young Ethiopian prince died after contracting pleurisy in Far Headingley in Leeds on the 14 November 1879. The young prince was taken under the care of the British after both his parents died. Queen Victoria arranged for him to be buried in Windsor Caster and a brass plaque was placed in St George’s chapel to commemorate his life.
During the Cotton Famine, Rochdale mill workers sided with the Union in its fight against slavery despite the many hardships they experienced. The Union strategy of blocking all the Confederate ports in the United States exacerbated a shortage of cotton supplies in Europe, resulting in the cotton famine.
Although the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833 it wasn't until the 1st August 1884, that the more than 800,000 enslaved peoples throughout the British Empire were ‘freed’. But they were required to serve an ‘apprenticeship’ of up to six years on low or no pay. Enslaved Africans finally achieved their freedom in 1838 when the system was scrapped.
Emma Clarke becomes Britain's first Black female footballer debuting for the British Ladies team in Crouch End in London.