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The Black Londoner Experience: Exploring Black Life through Records of the Court, 1720-1840

Crymble, Adam

Other(s)
Wright, Manon

Black Londoners have lived in the city for centuries. This collection brings 10 Black London lives together in an accessible volume to share the diversity of their experiences in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with new readers.

Drawing on the records of the Old Bailey criminal courthouse, these ten carefully selected trials have been chosen to show some of the breadth of Black experience in London during the age of enslavement (c. 1720-1840). The volume includes Black victims, witnesses, and defendants; men, women, and children; sailors, servants, and entertainers; locals, immigrants, and visitors. Some were treated well by the justice system, and others were met with cruelty. Each had their own experience.

While the volume contains details of crime and conflict, crime is not the sole focus. The sources also give us glimpses into the daily lives of these Black individuals as they interacted with the city and its inhabitants. We learn where these Black people spent their time, with whom, doing what, and sometimes even what they had in their pockets.

Each of the ten cases has been accessibly formatted for classroom use or personal study, and features illustrations by Manon Wright. The sources are arranged like plays, making them easy to read aloud as a means of better understanding the theatre of the courtroom and the power dynamics at play. Dr Crymble offers notes and reflections on tricky or foreign concepts in each case, as well as issues that he has noted through experience that students often misinterpret by making modern assumptions about the past.

  1. John Humphreys, 1727
  2. John Cross, 1749
  3. Elizabeth Gift, 1755
  4. Esther Allingham, 1782
  5. John Thomas, 1786
  6. James Wallis, 1801
  7. Dolby Jackson, 1808
  8. Thomas Johnson, 1818
  9. 'The Busker' 1831
  10. Louis James Grant, 1840

For serious scholars of Black experience in 18th/19th century London criminal records, the author also recommends the following works:

  •  Tim Hitchcock, Robert Shoemaker, Clive Emsley, Sharon Howard, Jamie McLaughlin, et al, the Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674-1913 (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8, 2018.
  • Adam Crymble and Emma Azid, 'Black Lives, British Justice: Black People in London Criminal Justice Records, 1720-1841' Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation vol. 2, no 2. (2021): 1-11.
  •  Kathleen Chater. Untold Histories: Black People in England and Wales during the Period of the British Slave Trade, c. 1660-1807 (Manchester, 2011).
  •  Norma Myers, Reconstructing the Black Past (Frank Cass, 1996).
  •  Marika Sherwood. ‘Blacks in the Gordon Riots’, History Today, vol. 47 (1997), 24-28.
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  • Crymble, Adam, and Emma Azid, 'Black Lives, British Justice: Black People in London Criminal Justice Records, 1720-1841', Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation, vol 2, no 2 (2021): 1-11.

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