Black England in the Eighteenth Century

Monday 3 June

The idea that Britain became a mixed-race country after 1945 is a common mistake. Georgian England had a large and distinctive Black community. Whether prosperous citizens or newly freed slaves, many ran the risk of kidnap and sale to plantations.


Gretchen Gerzina, author of Black England and actor Paterson Joseph, author of the historical novel The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho, will discuss the dramatic and often moving stories of Georgian England’s forgotten Black community.

In 18th-century England, Black people could be found in clubs and pubs, there were special churches, Black-only balls and organisations for helping Black people who were out of work or in trouble. Many were famous and respected, including Ignatius Sancho, a correspondent of Laurence Sterne, who is the subject of Paterson’s award-winning debut novel. Other notable figures include Francis Barber, Doctor Johnson’s beloved manservant; Francis Williams, a Cambridge scholar; the heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle; and Olaudah Equiano whose Interesting Narrative went into multiple editions. But far more were ill-paid and ill-treated servants or beggars, despite having served Britain in war and on the seas. For alongside the free world there was slavery, from which many of these Black Britons had escaped.

Join Gretchen and Paterson for this in conversation event as they reveal the triumphs and tortures of Black Georgian England and bring to light a fascinating chapter of our shared past – a chapter that has been ignored too long.

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This event is hosted live on Zoom Webinar. You’ll receive further instructions and a link to join a couple of days before the event takes place and a reminder an hour before. During the event, you can ask questions via a Q&A function but audience cameras and microphones will remain muted throughout.

Answers to frequently asked questions, plus tips on making the most of your Festival experience can be found on the Festival website.

Please note that our online talks provide automated captioning that may not be 100% accurate and may vary in quality.

Please ensure you use the correct email address as this is where your ticket will be sent. If you do not provide the correct address, you will not receive the acknowledgement email or ticket.

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