The 18th century: other records

Aside from church records, there are other types of records about black people living in Bristol. These might be: newspaper reports of runaway slaves, who came to Bristol usually as personal servants; shipping records listing free black men who worked as sailors; wills of deceased free black and white residents; and records from the courts and personal letters. Old Bristol newspapers are today in the Bristol Library Service. They carried occasional advertisements for the sale of a slave. One such advertisement is pictured here. More often, however, newspapers had advertisements asking for the return of a runaway slave, who may have come to Bristol as a personal servant. Sometimes slaves ran away from their owners if they were unhappy, badly treated, or if they had done something wrong which they knew they would be punished for. The newspaper advertisement shown here offers a reward to the person who returns the runaway slave and offers to forgive the slaves’ offences.

Court records also mention black residents of Bristol. One such example is that of Richard Cornwall, ‘a Christian Negro’. He was the servant to a man called Captain Day who lived on College Green in central Bristol. In 1737, a local white woman named Cornwall as the father of her child and tried to prove this through the courts. He was let off when it was apparently discovered that the child named as his had been coloured with coal dust to make it appear black. If the black servant had been found to be the baby’s father, he would have had to pay money for its upbringing to the mother. We do not know the relationship between the two, or why the woman named him as the father.

Another black resident of Bristol was John Quaco. He had been a slave but gained his freedom. As a free man he was a sailor for over twenty years. Quaco lived in Princess Amelia Court in Pipe Lane, off Colston Street, in central Bristol, in the 1750s. He probably came to the port city of Bristol because there was usually a lot of work for sailors. In his years at sea as a sailor, he sometimes worked on slave ships.

An un-named black man who lived in Wilder Street, in the St Paul’s area of Bristol, was a musician. In 1773, he taught a 10 year old young white boy, Benjamin Ford, to play the fife (a Scottish musical instrument). Ford is quoted as saying, “I went up to the Full Moon Yard every night that week to see the Black to learn to play the Fife”. The boy was meeting his teacher in The Full Moon Inn public house. We do not know anything else about the black fife player, whether he had a ‘proper’ job, was free or a slave. The pub still stands today on the corner of Stokes Croft and Cumberland Street, near St. Paul’s in Bristol. The Full Moon Inn, in Bristol, is shown here in a drawing from a plan of the City of Bristol, made in 1742

Nathaniel Milward was a Bristol merchant and owned a plantation on the Caribbean island of Jamaican. He had two illegimate sons living in Bristol (this meant that they were born out of marriage, but in this case their father acknowledged his responsibility to his sons). Milward’s sons were of mixed race. They were known as ‘quadroon’, which was ¾ white, and ¼ African descent. These sons, Edward and Benjamin Milward, were to become apprentices at the ‘foundery on the Back’ (a metal workshop in the Welshback area of Bristol). As apprentices, the boys would train as metal workers and be paid a small wage for a set number of years until they had learnt the trade. Their father died and in his will of 1773 he instructed that his sons should start their apprentices at the metal workshop when they were 14 years old.

John Pinney was a merchant based in Bristol, who owned plantations on the Caribbean island of Nevis. His papers are now in the library of the University of Bristol. They contain many references to his black slaves. Pero Jones was one, brought from Nevis when his master came to live in Bristol at 7, Great George Street. Pero had been bought from another plantation owner on Nevis in 1765, when he was about 12 years old. He became John Pinney’s personal servant. Pero worked for Pinney for over 30 years. He died in 1798. Today there is a bridge in Bristol named after Pero, in memory of all the enslaved Africans that were traded by Bristol merchants. A picture of this bridge can be seen here. A freed slave had also been brought to Bristol with the Pinney family. She was called Frances Coker and was the maid to John Pinney’s wife. Frances died in 1820 and was buried in the Baptist cemetery in Redcross Street, in Bristol.

Some of the black population in Bristol were involved in ‘Abolition’, the campaign to end slavery. The anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson visited Bristol in 1787. He talked to sailors and local people about the slave trade, hearing horror stories about the slaving voyages that left Bristol. It was probably in the Seven Stars public house in Thomas Lane that the sailor John Dean, a free black man, told about his torture on board a slave ship. Other black residents of Bristol hoped to help their fellow men in other ways. James Martin of Bristol, for example, was a former slave. He died in 1813 or 1814, and left money in his will to the African Institution in London. This was a Christian foundation set up to undertake work in Africa to spread the word of God.

Not every black person in Bristol was a slave or a free person earning their own living. Some were important and honoured visitors. On the 4th of April 1759 an African ‘prince’ who is called ‘Gonglass’ visited the Moravian chapel in Maudlin Street, pictured here, and spoke in French to the minister there. He was probably one of the sons of the powerful African slave trader John Currantee of Anamaboe in present-day Ghana.

Two African princes visited Charles Wesley (brother of John, the founder of the Methodist Church and a strong supporter of Abolition) and his family in Charles Street. They had escaped being enslaved in Virginia in 1773, and had come to England. They were baptised as Methodists in Bristol and taught to read and write before being sent home to Old Calabar in what is now Nigeria.