The London Review of Books has a review by Fara Dabhoiwala of a book by Simon Newman called Freedom Seekers: Escaping from Slavery in Restoration London which heavily features Samuel Pepys.

(UPDATE: You can download the book for free from the University of London Press)

The article begins:

On Valentine’s Day​ 1661 Elizabeth Pepys and her husband, Sam, rose early and walked from their house behind the Tower of London down Seething Lane. They were to visit one of Sam’s superiors, William Batten, surveyor of the navy. The custom was that women should take the first man they saw as their Valentine, so long as he was no relation. The previous year, Elizabeth had selected her own beau; this time it was all planned to further Sam’s new career as clerk of the acts to the Navy Board. Elizabeth was to be paired up with the elderly Batten; Sam was assigned to Batten’s daughter Martha. He knocked at the front door, ‘but would not go in till I had asked whether they that opened it was a man or a woman’. From behind the door, ‘Mingo, who was there, answered “a Woman”, which, with his tone, made me laugh.’ Pepys didn’t bother in his diary to explain who Mingo was but evidently they knew each other.

Read the article at the LRB or more about Mingo in the Encyclopedia.

This also makes me wonder whether we should more accurately refer to Mingo and Jack as slaves, rather than servants?



1 Comment

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

A very worthwhile read, which includes Pepys information beyond the Diary. Apparently Wayneman wasn't the only one sent off to Barbados by Pepys.

I expected it to be a downer, but didn't find it so -- Simon Newman included births, deaths and marriages information as well as advertisements for runaways and Diary and letter entries to illustrate the variety of experiences enslaved people encountered.

The word 'servant' was used to describe people of all colors, enslaved, indentured and free. In the 17th century London, they mostly wanted young boys as pages ... it's when the boys became men that problems arose.

Lots of statistics about the growth of London, trade and demographics of who did what where when, if you're interested in that.

When I started to research the people mentioned, I found some were MPs, details omitted by Newman, which I found curious. But omitted in their Parliamentary bios. was the fact that they were slaver traders and/or owners -- all were politely described as "traders", a word that will forever be suspect for me now.

It's good to confront the dead imperial elephant in the living room; it has enlightening stories to share of days gone by.
It's the entrepreneurial little elephants living next door that we are responsible for; more people are enslaved today than in the 18th century. That's what we need to be woke about.

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