Black History Month

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. 

Baptism of Rebecca Magarth, recorded in the Broomfield parish register in January 1736/7 (D/P 248/1/1)

Baptism of Rebecca Magarth, recorded in the Broomfield parish register in January 1736/7 (D/P 248/1/1)

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.

Marriage of Maria Sambo to Warren Hull in Earls Colne, 1737 (D/P 209/1/4)

Marriage of Maria Sambo to Warren Hull in Earls Colne, 1737 (D/P 209/1/4)

Burial of Maria Hull nee Sambo in Earls Colne, 1766 (D/P 209/1/5)

Burial of Maria Hull nee Sambo in Earls Colne, 1766 (D/P 209/1/5)

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 ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk It is important that archives record everyone’s history so that we can leave an accurate picture of Essex today for future generations.

Parish register stories

Parish registers are some of our most frequently used documents, and as well as providing useful information on baptisms, marriages and burials, sometimes an individual’s story is recorded in more detail. This is more common in the earlier centuries of the keeping of parish registers before standardisation, when record keepers could write as much or as little as they liked. Inevitably, however, such entries nearly always raise more questions than they answer.

The register for Little Clacton contains a very sad and somewhat mysterious story dating from 1592, when a bride, Prudence Lambert, hanged herself the morning after her wedding to Clement Fenn:

Clement Fenn singleman, and Prudence the late wife of Nycholas Lambert, wch dwelt in Little Clacton Lodge; were maryed uppon Teusdaye [six], the xvth day of August; but the (most accursed creature), did the verye next morning, desperatelie hang her selfe, to the intolerable grieffe of her new maryed husband, and the dreadfull horror and astonishment of all the countrye. 

Extract from Little Clacton parish register, 1592 (D/P 80/1/1 image 45)    

Prudence’s burial is recorded two days later in the same register:

Prudence Fen, now the wife of Clem[e]nt Fen, and late the wife of the above named Nicholas Lambert; was buried out of the compass of Christian burial; in ye furthest syde of the churchyard northward; uppon the xviith daye of August; for that shee most accursedlie hanged her selfe.

Extract from Little Clacton parish register, 1592 (D/P 80/1/1 image 61)

 

Another unusual case was found in the pages of the register for Great Hallingbury in 1708:

Anne the daughter of John Hastler and Sarah the Relict of his Father Edward Hastler (by an Incestuous cohabitation for which she did publick penance in the Parish Church of this Parish of Sunday the 11 of March last past and Sunday the twenty eighth following; the first time in the Parish Church of this Parish and the second in the parish Church of Bishop Stortford the father having absconded himself) was baptised privately on the 25th day of 8ber 1707 and her baptism publicly certified in the Church on Easter Sunday April the 4th

Extract from parish register for Great Hallingbury, 1708 (D/P 27/1/4 image 29)

 

A story which hopefully had a happier ending is found amongst the baptisms in the parish register of Ugley in 1759:

Anne daughter of John Grimshaw, a Sailor in the Dreadnought Man of War, & Jane his wife found in Labour in the Road, & taken care of by the Parish, was born June 27th & baptized July 7th

Extract from Ugley parish register, 1759 (D/P 373/1/2 image 17)

 

If you want to explore parish registers for yourself, you can do so using Essex Ancestors, which is available online for a subscription, or for free in the ERO Searchroom.  You can also look out for our Discover: Parish Registers sessions to really find out how to get to grips with these amazing documents.