The 16th and 17th centuries

The first reference to a black person, or a ‘blackmore’ as they were then often called, in the city’s records is in the 1590s. It is to a black man who worked as a gardener in the Great House owned by the Young family. The house stood on the site of what later became the Colston Hall (which still exists today as a venue for performances). The Red Lodge, now a museum, is the last remaining building from the Young’s estate. A picture of the Great House is shown here. It is taken from a detailed map drawn in 1673. In 1653 the house became the second sugar processing house in Bristol. Sugar from the Caribbean plantations would have arrived ‘raw’. It required processing to make it into the white refined sugar which people used to sweeten their tea and coffee.

Katherine, a black woman, worked in the Horsehead Tavern. This public house was in Bristol’s Christmas Street (pictured here). The street ran from the bottom of Queen Steps, now Christmas Steps, to the gate in the city wall called St John’s Gate. She worked there until her death in 1612. The records give no details about whether Katherine was a slave or a free woman. Another black woman was Catellena, who lived in Almondsbury in Gloucestershire. She seems to have been a freewoman because she had a small amount of property to leave in her will. A slave would have been unlikely to own property so this suggests that she might have been free.

Many of the black people living in Bristol were Christians, and were baptised, married or buried in church. The church records often refer to their nationality or colour. One individual who appears in the church records of a Baptist chapel was called Frances. She was referred to as ‘an Ethiopian or blackamoor’. Ethiopia was often used to refer to the whole of Africa, rather than to the country in the North East. So the term Ethiopian probably meant that she was a black African, not that she was from Ethiopia. Frances was a servant to a man who lived ‘upon the Back of Bristol’ (now known as Welshback). Frances was a valued member of the Baptist congregation in the Broadmead area of Bristol. She died in 1640. Pictured here is a 1742 drawing of the Baptist chapel where Frances was a member of the congregation.