Wednesday, December 22

Economic Activity amongst Black people in UK during 18th Century

While the United Kingdom abolished slavery legally in 1833 and actually banned trading in Slaves back in 1807, there were still slaves during the 18th century. In addition, you end up with many Black slaves who are now freemen (so to say) and their children who are now based in the UK. Which I never considered. As it so happens, the estimates of these ex-slaves is approximately 10,000 in the 18th century. So how did they survive now that their economic activity was no longer driven by the slave owner?

Seems like the researcher found that these black citizens were mostly employed as domestic servants. Post domestic service, they would either go into business of their own or move household. Service of their own was of various kinds, such as teaching sword fighting, buying and selling food items, coal merchants, etc. They could also do apprenticeships. If the black chaps did not do domestic service, then they would usually go into the Navy. Other jobs that the historical record (which is admittedly patchy) relate to being shop assistants, druggists, musicians, ministers of religion, constables and in one case, a lawyer. These were all men and their situation was much better than the Black women whose lives were much more difficult post manumission. Domestic service was obviously high up in the list of occupations, but prostitution seems to be unfortunately high up on the list as well.

So what happened to the second generation? They seem to have moved into a wider set of occupations compared to their parents. Hair dressers, ministers, gardeners, lace makers, cabinet makers, sea captains, engine fitters, and so on and so forth. Seems like this was fairly typical economic behaviour and not so much different from what other poor white folks in the United Kingdom would also see. But what wasn't clear was how did they find the jobs? Besides word of mouth, it would be quite interesting to find out how prospective employers and employees linked up.

And that’s where this second paper comes in handy. I quote one classified advertisement on page five on Tuesday 7 November 1876 edition of the Liverpool

A Coloured Man (from Canada) desires a Situation as SERVANT in
gentleman’s family. Accustomed to horses. Age 50. Miss Cane, 130

More examples and I quote:

On Monday 18 December 1876 a ‘respectable, well-educated Young Coloured Man’ who had recently arrived in England (although he does not say from where) advertised his availability for work in the Liverpool Mercury. He was specifically looking for a position in a Mercantile Office to start immediately or in the beginning of January 1877. He advertised himself as having a sound knowledge of bookkeeping and a ‘fair legible hand’. He assured future employers that he could produce ‘excellent certificates’ as to sobriety and honesty. His advert was repeated on Saturday 23 December 1876. The Liverpool Mercury also carried two adverts for a ‘Coloured Young Man’ on Tuesday 18 and Saturday 22 November 1879. He was looking to ‘make himself useful’ in a situation in a hotel, billiard room or as a messenger for offices or shops. On 10 November 1900 a ‘Coloured Young Lady’ advertised her desire to find work in a Bazaar or Playhouse as an attendant in The Era. The advertisement was also carried on 17 November 1900.

So looks like that despite the cost involved in placing this classified advertisement, the black men and women would actually place advertisements and would presumably get jobs.

Employers on the other hand would hire black / coloured folks via advertisements for specific purposes. For example, there were quite a lot of advertisements which actually relied on the colour of their skin for the job. This is like becoming an attraction in a bar, on the stage, barmaids, entertainers at hotels, musicians, animal trainers in a circus. Here is one example from The Era 19 October 1889.

WANTED a Steady Man as Animal Keeper. One that will enter the
Lion’s Den and give a performance if required. A Coloured Man

other advertising entries show coloured and black folks applying for jobs as a travelling servant, valet or butler, nurse or maid but these were in the minority. Looks like the job opportunities were quite oriented towards the colour of skin itself. As it so happens, having a black or coloured servant was considered to be high class and were sought after. One has to remember that we are talking about a comparatively small number of black and coloured people in the UK which would not have threatened the general public. It was more during the second world war where there was a step change in the number of black people in common society. What also did not help was that 130,000 Black GI’s came over from the USA as part of the Invasion Force. That really changed the dynamic of how white indigenous white people saw the growth of Black communities in the UK. The post world war period with the wholesale importation of workers from commonwealth countries such as Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, etc. then again changed the dynamic even further.

Quite an interesting view on a long lost part of British life.