Francis Barber was a servant and companion to the writer Samuel Johnson.
Francis Barber was born in Jamaica around 1735. He came to Britain with a planter from the island. For one year he went to school in the small village of Barton nr Darlington in Yorkshire England.
Then, as he got older he entered the service of his owner’s son who sent him to work for the Writer Samuel Johnson who’s wife had just died.
Two years later the plantation owner died and in his will, he left Francis 12 Pounds and his freedom.
However, as Francis was a young man and high-spirited, he ran away to Cheapside and worked as an apothecary’s assistant. He did however, keep in touch with Samuel Johnson. However, in 1758 Francis went to sea serving 2 years on H.M.S. Stag.
However, in 1758 Francis went to sea serving 2 years on H.M.S. Stag. Johnson did not approve of Francis being in the Navy and through one of his contacts wrote to the Admiralty asking that ‘Frank’ be discharged. It is clear that Johnson was very fond of Francis because he paid for his education which cost 300 pounds, a large sum at the time.
When Barber left School he went to work for Johnson, not just as a valet but as a secretary and personal assistant. After Samuel Johnson died Francis Barber told an interviewer that Johnson hated to be waited on, and they were good companions who both, lived and prayed together.
Johnson left Francis 70 pounds per year and a Gold watch. Later an associate of Johnson, Sir John Hawkins (Not the Naval Commander), tried unsuccessfully to take the watch away.
Barber married an English woman called ‘Betsy’ and they settled in Lichfield, (Staffordshire). They had not been there long when ‘Boswell’ a friend of Johnson wrote to Francis informing him that Sir john Hawkins had completed a biography of Samuel Johnson in which he slandered both Johnson and Barber.
Boswell asked Francis to help him get Johnson’s personal documents back off Hawkins. Remembering the incident with the watch Francis was only too happy to help.
Francis moved to ‘Burntwood’ outside Lichfield where he taught at the local school.
He died in Stafford infirmary in 1801. But his descendants till live in the area today. They don’t bear much resemblance to Francis though as they are completely white. They featured in a Channel 4 documentary in which they expressed great pride in their black ancestor.? you can watch a video short of One of Francis’s descendant on BBC Video Nation.