Black British History Timeline
Black British 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
An ancient skeleton of an African woman was discovered in Beachy Head, Sussex. The ‘Beach Head Woman’ lived during the 3rd century in Roman Britain and is thought to be the first known person of sub-Saharan origin in Britain.
3rd century AD
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.
The earliest image of a Black Briton was discovered in an abbreviated version of the Domesday Book used to collect taxes.
The Atlantic Slave Trade was the transportation and global trade of 10-12 million enslaved Africans to the Americans. It was started by Portuguese merchants and West African traders but within 150 years it was dominated by 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!’
Writer and Abolitionist Mary Prince published her autobiography ‘The History of Mary Prince’ exposing the life of enslaved females in the colonies.
On the 23 December1837 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.
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 placed 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.
On the 1st August 1884, more than 800,000 enslaved peoples throughout the British Empire were ‘freed’ but 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.