Roots Entwined by Audrey Dewjee

Roots Entwined by Audrey Dewjee

Tangled Roots: Literature and events to celebrate mixed-race people in Yorkshire

Audrey Dewjee

Yorkshire-born Audrey Dewjee has been married for over 40 years to a Zanzibari of Indian ancestry. She has been researching British Black and Asian History since the mid-1970s, and is currently a member of Leeds Diasporian Stories Research Group. In the 1980s she worked with Ziggi Alexander, co-researching the exhibition Roots in Britain: Black and Asian Citizens from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II, and co-editing Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, which brought Mary Seacole back into the public consciousness

London abounds with an incredible number of…black men who have clubs to support those who are out of place [i.e. out of work] and in every country town, nay in almost every village, are to be seen a little race of mulattoes, mischievous as monkeys, and infinitely more dangerous.

So wrote Phillip Thicknesse in 1788. Thicknesse may have been exaggerating the numbers for effect; nevertheless, surviving records show that inter-racial families existed all around the country. There may be a greater number today, but mixed-marriages have taken place in Britain for hundreds of years.
Small numbers of Africans and Asians started arriving in Britain as a result of the trading links which followed upon early voyages of exploration. Africans were the first to arrive in the 1500s as a by-product of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. They were followed by Indians and Chinese, after the setting up of the East India Company in 1601. London and the southern counties provide the earliest evidence of marriages – for example, that of Samuel Mansur or Munsur “a Blackamoure” to Jane Johnson at St. Nicholas, Deptford in 1613. Samuel may have been African, Arab or Asian.

Yorkshire eventually caught up with the trend. One of the earliest marriages here took place on 12 November, 1732, at Thornton by Pocklington in the East Riding, when John Quashee wed Rebecca Crosby. Others followed. Henry Osman, who had been brought to England from India by a member of the Lowther family, married Anne Cook at Swillington in 1753. At the time of his marriage, he was employed as a footman by Sir William Lowther, and he remained at Swillington until his death in 1781. Henry and Anne had a number of children, many of whom married and stayed in the local area.

Respectable English women appear to have had no hesitation in marrying men of colour: for instance, Elizabeth daughter of Rev. George Lawson, vicar of Weaverthorpe, who married Peter Horsfield at Boynton in 1780. The fact that many of the men had skills or were in secure employment and therefore able to support a family, would have added to their attraction. Yorkshire men also married African and Asian women. James Doe and Parcira Derosa, described as “a widow and Chinese”, were united in Ripon Cathedral in 1755, while possibly the earliest portrait of an inter-racial family in Britain was that of Harlequin, her Yorkshire husband and their two children…

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