Black People in Britain: The Eighteenth Century

James Walvin looks at attitudes to black people in the context of slavery

To be sold, a Negro boy age about fourteen years old, warranted free from any distemper, and has had those fatal to that colour; has been used two years to all kinds of household work, and to wait on table; his price is £25, and would not be sold but the person he belongs to is leaving off business. Apply at the bar of George Coffee House in Chancery Lane, over the Gate. [1756}

These and many other slave advertisements were commonly found in English newspapers from the mid-seventeenth century onwards. They provide a wealth of important evidence about the history of England's black society and, of course, about the individual blacks who were bought and sold like other items of trade. Blacks were sold and bartered, especially in the seaports of London, Bristol and Liverpool; they were bequeathed in wills. England's blacks were widely employed as domestic servants throughout the country, a fact confirmed by the abundance of illustrative material – portraits, cartoons and sketches – in which black servants appear with their employer's family.

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