Blacks in the Gordon Riots

Marika Sherwood trawls contemporary reports of the anti-Catholic protests that rocked London in June 1780 to reveal the black men and women who took part, exploring their motives and punishments for doing so.

'The evident Decay of Trade, the enormous Increase of Taxes to carry on a ruinous War against our Colonies, joined with a Perfect Hatred against the secret Advisers and Promoters of it... the Ministry has laid too many Burthens on the People to be borne with Patience. I only wonder they have been quiet so long...'

So wrote 'A Detester of ill-grounded Accusations' to the Public Advertiser on Ju1y 24th, 1780. The 'they' were the Londoners who had rioted during the first week of June 1780.

The poor of London, as well as the not-so-poor, had many other reasons for discontent. For them the city was an unsavoury, unsanitary and grossly overcrowded place, where footpads and robbers were a constant menace and 'justice' was often meted out on the evidence of paid informers. The many gaols housed the bankrupts, the criminals and the political discontents: some 200 'crimes' merited capital punishment. There was resentment against war-profiteering and against the numbers of the Government's 'placemen' and pensioners. Those not liable to taxes were liable to impressment, into both the army and the navy, whose thirst for men seemed unquenchable. Employment was insecure and irregular and 'combining' to attempt to obtain better wages and conditions was illegal.

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