Africans in Georgian Britain have often been portrayed as victims of slavery, unfortunates at the bottom of the social heap. The reality was far more fluid and varied, as Onyeka shows, with many African gentlemen sharing the same cultural and social aspirations as their fellow Englishmen.
The African population of Georgian Britain was large, visible and vocal. The historians Kirstin Olsen and Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina have speculated that Africans may have represented a similar proportion of England’s total population as they do now. African men, women and children appear in paintings and drawings by artists, such as William Hogarth, Allan Ramsay, William Denton and Thomas Gainsborough. Moments of their lives in cities, towns and villages across the country are recorded in parish records, government papers and newspapers. Some people of African descent were born in England; others originated in Africa and elsewhere. In 1742, for example, Thomas Carter was described as a ‘Black from Guinea aged about 18 years’, at his baptism in Holy Trinity Minories, London on March 4th. In the same parish there are African-Americans, such as Bina Rose Ray, baptised on January 15th aged 28 and described as ‘a Black from South Carolina’.