Museum to launch education project on runaway slaves in London

Slaves escape on streets of 17th century London... by Olivia Twist

Slaves escape on streets of 17th century London... by Olivia Twist - Credit: Abigail Holsborough

An education project on 17th-century press adverts offering rewards for the recapture of runaway slaves is to be launched in the Docklands. 

Researchers have pieced together hundreds of advertisements from slave owners in the City and along the Thames more than a century before Britain formally abolished slavery.

They are launching an education project at the Museum of London Docklands on October 21 that includes storytelling, poetry and artworks on the subject. 

Dr Peggy Brunache... University of Glasgow lecturer on Atlantic slavery

Dr Peggy Brunache... University of Glasgow lecturer on Atlantic slavery - Credit: Kirsty Anderson

“People view the slave trade as something between Africa and the Americas between the 1650s and 1780s,” University of Glasgow lecturer Dr Peggy Brunache said. “But many slaves were brought to London where some were successful in escaping.”   

The project is by Spread the Word charity, working with the University of Glasgow and the Ink Sweat and Tears Press.

These small ads in the London Gazette often included descriptions about where slaves were from, how well they spoke English and the clothes they wore.  

One ad was printed on December 30, 1700, looking for "Quashey, 16 years, belonging to Capt Edw Archer from Bell Wharf in Shadwell". It said: "Whoever brings him to Mr Richard Clarke in Bell Wharf shall have a guinea reward.”  

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Another on September 25, 1705, asked for 20-year-old Caesar, wearing "buck-skinned breeches, dark grey cloth coat, sleeves lengthened". It added: "He went away from his master’s house, Mr Goodwin. Whoever brings him to Wapping-Wall shall have 20s (shillings) reward.” 

One advert of January 17, 1707, read: “A black girl, servant to Capt Henry Lumley, in Prescott Street, Goodman’s Field, who has marks of diamonds on both temples and her forehead, middle siz’d, can talk some broken English, age 16 years, went away from her master’s house. Whoever secures her or brings her to the house shall have two guineas reward.”  

Prof Simon Newman... 'Slavery in London was polite and genteel, but was still slavery'

Prof Simon Newman... 'Slavery in London was polite and genteel, but was still slavery' - Credit: Renzo Mazzolini

The university’s Prof Simon Newman claimed slavery was "very different in London... dressing slaves in expensive liveries as personal servants to advertise the wealth and success of those who claimed ownership".  

He added: “But it was still slavery and these people could easily be sent back to the places where it was more savage and violent."  

An anthology is being published by Ink Sweat and Tears Press and launched on October 21 at the Museum of London Docklands in North Quay, Canary Wharf.

Slave owners advertised in the press to get their runaways back

Slave owners advertised in the press - Credit: London Gazette 1700-1705