Dr Johnson and Francis Barber

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Jamaican slave who became the heir of Dr Samuel Johnson.


Francis Barber was born into slavery in Jamaica in about 1742, brought to England by his owner, and became a servant in the household of Dr Samuel Johnson, the renowned man of letters. He served in the British navy during the Seven Years’ War, but then returned to Johnson’s employ (visiting Ashbourne with him on several occasions). He eventually became Johnson’s heir – a matter which some found shocking.

There was a significant black community in London in the eighteenth century, but there are few individuals for whom records survive. Francis Barber’s story opens a window onto some little-known aspects of British history.

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