Archivist Sarah Dickie writes for us about records of Black communities at ERO…
As October is Black History Month, we thought we would look at one or two Black people who are recorded living in Essex in previous centuries. Although the perception is that not many Black and Asian people were present here until relatively recently, this is not the case. The Record Office keeps a running list of references to Black people found in parish registers and other documents and the current total is 156, covering the period from 1580 to 2011. In most cases the only record is that of a baptism, marriage or burial and from these we can only guess the background details. For example, Sarah Drake had her daughter, Jacoba, baptised in Broomfield on 26 July 1725 naming the father as ‘Jacob, the Blackmoor servant to Mr. Hill at the Parsonage.’ [Mr. Hill was not the vicar.] In 1736/7, Rebecca Magarth, a Black maid, belonging to Edward Kelsall of New House, Broomfield was baptised. Did Jacob at the parsonage know Rebecca – we can only surmise, although with the size of the parish at that time, they may well have known of each other’s existence. What about Ann Madre, the daughter of Charles and Margaret Madre, baptised in 1736 in the neighbouring parish of Great Waltham and described in the margin as ‘Black’? She lived only a short distance away but may never have come into contact with Rebecca or Jacob; we will never know.
What is tantalising about these entries is how little we know about the people concerned. Sometimes, as in the case of Maria Sambo, they have left a bit more information behind. Maria first appears in Essex records in January 1732 when she signed as a witness on the marriage bond of Henry Dunnings for his marriage to Mary Seabrook. Her own marriage took place in Earls Colne in November 1737 when she married Warren Hull, a glover. She was 25 then but no record of her baptism has been found in Essex. However, there is a record of the christening of a Maria Sambo, the daughter of Thomas and Mary Sambo, at St. John Zachary in London on 14 November 1712. Maria and Warren Hull had four daughters, although as two were given the same Christian name it appears only three survived. Maria’s death is recorded in the Earl’s Colne burial register for 1766 ‘Maria a Negro the wife of Warren Hull was buried May 4 1766’. Her three daughters all died, unmarried, within a year of her so we cannot trace the family further.
However, although there is certainly further information to be found in the records, it is only with the help of staff and searchers passing on details they have found using parish registers and other documents that we are able to compile a list of references for further research.
Black and Asian communities in Essex today are under-represented in our collections and we welcome deposits of records from new (as well as old) communities in Essex so if you have any records that you would like us to have, either on loan or as a gift, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org It is important that archives record everyone’s history so that we can leave an accurate picture of Essex today for future generations.