Tag Archive | "black soldiers"

Black Loyalists in 18th Century London


Image: Courtesy of Kurt Miller – KMI Studio Website: www.kmistudio.com

It was during the War of Independence in the colony of America that Britain gained herself these unlikely allies. Black loyalists fought for Britain against the American colonists. Free blacks were joined by thousands of slaves who had been promised freedom and land by Britain if they joined in this battle. The idea of British freedom, i.e. complete freedom in the shortest possible time, was appealing to the escaped Africans who in the 1770s made their way to the British army position to fight for Britain and for freedom.

In September 1783, the independence of the United States and the formation of its boundaries were formally recognised. The new country was founded by an egalitarian movement and based on the philosophy of ‘equal rights’ for all.  After this treaty had been signed, the whole British faction had to leave the United States. In the eight months between April and November 1783, over 3,000 black people leaving the country on British ships for destinations as varied as Nova Scotia, the West Indies, England, Germany, Quebec or Belgium, were recorded in the Book of Negroes .

Black Loyalists in 18th Century London

London had a severe poverty problem in the 18th century. This became more pronounced as growing numbers of African-American loyalists arriving from America ended up living on the streets. The black and white loyalists had all been promised compensation for their losses in the War of Independence, however, the majority of claims from the black loyalists were denied or they were given derisory amounts condemning them to lives of destitution. The Parliamentary Commission Compensation Board reviewing the claims stated, on several occasions, that they believed the black claimants were being deceptive in claiming they were free men with property and should adopt a state of gratitude that they were now at liberty rather than pursue applications for financial assistance. In 1786 there were over 1,000 black loyalists living in London. As the negative sentiment regarding the presence of Africans in England increased there were suggestions of where to relocate these black people; the main areas proposed where the Bahamas, where other loyalists had moved to or Sierra Leone, on the West African coast.

The following year around 200 of this impoverished group migrated to Sierra Leone with government assistance; the government wanted to remove the problem of black poverty and the presence of large groups of free black people from the streets of England. There were 344 poor black people on the ship Myro that sailed from London in 1787.  The plan was to move the burden of the ‘troublesome’ black person from the attention of the public, forever . This was an indication of the racially nationalist philosophy that was to perpetuate the abolitionist movement.


Further reading and research

The Book of Negroes – that listed all the Black Loyalists evacuated from America – can be found in the archives at Kew (Public Records Office).

There is also a copy available online here

The National Archives contain records, that can only be viewed in the reading room, about the Committee for the Relief of Poor Blacks and their emigration to Sierra Leone; this covers the details of events between May 1786 to April 1787.

This article was contributed by Marjorie Morgan.Writer, Researcher. © 2013 | Blackpresence has special permission to publish this article.

Related Link: Black Loyalists

Posted in African American History, African History, Black Britain, Black History Month UK, Black People in Europe, Black Soldiers, Guest Blog Posts, SlaveryComments (5)

Walter Tull Petition.

Walter Tull was one of the 1st Black Officers in British Army in WW1. He died leading his men in the Somme. Campaigners are trying to ensure that Walter gets his Posthumous Military Cross that he was recommended for in Dispatches.

Walter Tull

Walter Tull

Sign the Walter Tull Petition

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The Motherland Calls – Book Launch


The Motherland Calls - Stephen Bourne

The Motherland Calls – Stephen Bourne

Dear Friends

Please find attached to this email an invitation to an event to launch my new book

The Motherland Calls- Britain’s Black Servicemen & Women 1939-45 (The History Press) at the BFI Southbank (National Film Theatre) on Friday 16 November from 2-4pm.

I will be introducing screenings of two outstanding, enjoyable and informative BBC TV programmes about Britain’s black WW2 veterans: Here Say (1990) and Reunion (1993).

Admission is free for Over 60s.

£5 for everyone else.

I will be signing copies of the book afterwards.

It would be great to see some familiar & friendly faces!

Best regards

Stephen Bourne

For additional information see the BFI’s website. Click on this link:


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On Black British Soldiers

Black British Soldiers in the British Army

Black Presence often comes across details of black soldiers either through searches in libraries or by searching online. I’m also a member of several black history email groups.  The article below is extracted from an email by Professor Jeff Green. Who writes books on the Black Presence in Britain. The Black soldiers in the picture below are from the British West Indies Regiment, they served in France in WW1.

British West India Regiment

British West Indies Regiment

We know that soldiers in what be could termed “ethnic” formations served in Europe in the 1914-1918 war: including the West India Regiment, the British West Indies Regiment, labour battalions, regiments from British India, and that individuals served in mainstream British regiments.

The “ethnic” formations reveal, through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s on-line listings of war cemeteries, that Mehr Khan died in Belgium in October 1914, Tek Singh in Belgium in April 1915 and Hardit Singh also in Belgium in November 1917. South African Labour Corps member George Balapile is commemorated in France where he died in April 1917, and Koos Cloete aged 18 is also commemorated in a French military cemetery, for he died in December 1917.

When a veteran or his family achieved fame, there are mentions of war service, such as Lionel Fitzherbert Turpin of British Guiana (Guyana) who served in a British regiment and settled in postwar Leamington – his son Randolph Turpin (1928-1966) was to be the world middleweight boxing champion.

Black Soldiers fought at the Somme

Black soldier British Army

Black Soldier, British Army


Photographs of groups of soldiers sometimes include black individuals, such as in the group of invalids shown on the paperback cover of Philip Hoare’s Spike Island. The Memory of a Military Hospital (Fourth Estate, 2002).

Peter Hart in his 1918, A Very British Victory (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008) page 356 quotes from the Imperial War Museum’s interview with Second Lieutenant William Tobey, of the 16th battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers recalling early August 1918: a corporal had been injured and he called for three volunteers to go forward towards the Germans and collect the corporal under covering fire. “Three men stepped forward, one of which was the only black man in the battalion”.

As with those photographs, the identity of this man is unknown.

And if you look at film of British soldiers in Dublin in Easter, 1916, quelling the uprising that eventually led to Irish independence, a column of infantrymen marches towards the viewer and the post office – surely the man nearest the camera is black – it seems this was a Staffordshire regiment.

Unlike “ethnic” formations, the presence of these individuals raises quite a number of questions.

Jeff Green


Useful  Links about Black British Soldiers


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Black British Soldiers – The Forgotten Fighters

Wed, May 3 1995 – Guardian

Caribbean Soldiers from WW2

Caribbean Soldiers from WW2

Black Soldiers in WW2

In the early years of the second world war, Britain made frequent requests for help from its colonies. One man to respond was Billy Strachan. Like most Jamaicans at the time he regarded Britain as his homeland, and enlisting it seemed a natural option.

“I went to the British Army camp in Jamaica to ask about being sent to Britain to join the R.A.F, but I was laughed at and told to find my own way there”.

he recalls.

“I then went to the Jamaica Fruits Shipping company, which had some boats coming from Britain four of the middle class white people fleeing from the war, and persuaded them to let me have a passage back for £15. I didn’t have £15, so I sold my bicycle and saxophone to raise the fair”.

On arrival in Britain Strachan had no idea how to enlist, and so he headed off to the Air Ministry in London.

“I hadn’t heard about the recruiting stations and the guards thought I was taking the Mickey when I said I wanted to join up. Luckily, a Hooray Henry, Officer type, overheard us and said: “oh you’re from Jamaica, one of our colonial friends. Welcome. I did geography  at university and I’ve always been impressed by you West Africans.” Thanks to his supreme ignorance I was dragged in, and was eventually sent to the RAF unit in Euston for a medical.”

Caribbean Pilots in WW2

Billy Strachan went on to serve both as an Air Gunner and pilot for Bomber Command, and was a member of the only crew of 99 Bomber Squadron to finish a tour of 30 trips alive.

Once the war ended many black servicemen felt that their efforts were one appreciated.

“It was as if it was okay but was to be over here while there was an emergency, but in 1945 we weren’t wanted any more,”

says Laurent Philpotts, Public Relations Officer for the West Indian ex-service men and women’s association.

After I was demobbed in Nottingham a Padre said to me: “When are you going home?” I was shocked; if a Padre could say that, what must everyone else to be thinking?”

Black Ex Servicemen feel neglected

50 years on, nothing much has changed. Black ex-servicemen still feel neglected by the military establishment and believe they are not afforded the same privileges and facilities as veterans from the white Commonwealth countries. Last year they felt snobbed at not being included in the D-Day Commemorations, and it has only been through a last-minute interventions from leading black figures, such as Bernie Grant, that has ensured invitations for the V.E.Day have been extended to the Gov. Gen. of Jamaica and the president of Trinidad.

The old black British soldiers have not been so lucky. Earlier this year and the West Indian ex-service men and women’s association was sent some forms inviting its members to apply for seating at the VE day commemorative events, but none has been successful. Unsurprisingly, the Association has decided to hold its own commemorative program. Since the vast majority of black and Asian veterans were fighting in the “Forgotten” war in Burma, Malaya and Africa, and most accounts of the war have been written from a Eurocentric perspective by white historians, there has been an inbuilt tendency to discount the contribution in their literature.

Yet, even in those books which focus on the campaigns in which black and Asian troops were involved, there has been a predisposition to be little better role. Colonel Ismail Khan who served with the Indian Army in Malaya has particularly strong feelings about this.

“There is always the sense that the Indian troops weren’t quite as good as the British, and the writers have tended to easy to ignore their efforts or to contend them by attacking their fighting spirit or exaggerating the desertions.”

For those children whose grandparents ER either dead or living overseas, the opportunities for learning even an oral history are extremely limited. Many black and Asian ex-servicemen now recognise that they have a responsibility to write their own history.

One institution firmly behind such moves is the Imperial War Museum. Anita Ballin: the museums education officer, says:

“There is material on the black war effort here at the moment, but you have to look pretty hard to find it, and many people have asked for more information.” In response to such requests the museum has assembled in multimedia resource pack entitled to gather for use in schools and which will also be available through public libraries. Ballin hopes that it is just the first step. “In time I would like the Museum to stage either a special exhibition or for more material to be included in the permanent displays.”

Such efforts are more than welcome, but the black and Asian ex-servicemen realise that it will take a great deal more to shift the underlying attitudes.

During the war, and black people were still a comparatively rare sight in this country, the racism they encountered was minimal, but that soon changed in the post war years. While the rest of Britain set about building a country fit for heroes, black people found that the country for which they had fought was denying them access to equal jobs and accommodation. “It seem as if no sooner had one to many and then another began,” says Laurent Phillpotts. “But just like the last war it’s a battle we are slowly winning.”

Related Articles on this site

Black soldiers in the British Armed Forces – John Ellis
Africans in Wartime Propaganda – Part 1
Related links
Imperial War Museum – Online Collection – Jamaican
Imperial War Museum – Online collection –  African Soldiers
We also served 


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Black Romans At Hadrians Wall

Black Romans at Hadrians Wall In the 3rd Century AD. the Libyan born emporer of Rome sent a “Division of Moors” to be Garisoned at Hadrians Wall.In the 3rd Century AD. the Libyan born Emperer of Rome sent a “Division of Moors” to be Garrisoned at Hadrians Wall.

The division was named (Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum) after Marcus Aurelius or another emperor who may have been known by the same official name.

The Unit was stationed near Burgh on sands, near Carlisle.

Septimus Severus was inspecting the Wall inthe year 210 when he was reputedly mocked by an “Ethiope” who was wearing a garland of Cyprus. The Cyprus bough was sacred to Pluto, god of the underworld.

When ordered away, the black soldier replied with sarcasm ” You have been all things, conquered all things, now, O conquerer, be a god!”

Severus perceived this to be a bad omen. He died shortly afterwards in York.

As well as the common soldier or slaves, there may well have been officers or Prefects from North africa Living in the area.

In 1951 a Romano-British cemetery was unearthed in York. 350 skeletons were found of which several exhibit limb proportions which suggest that they were black Africans.

It is important to state that no one can be exactly sure of the ethnicity of Septimus Severus. Todays Libyans are Arabs in the main, yet there are Naturalised sub saharan Africans living amongst them. Libyans have a high mixture of Arab and Berber blood. Berbers are found from the top of Africa, right down into Mail and Senegal.

North AfricaRomans

Comment on the Black Romans http://tinyurl.com/2xewet

Roman Emperors http://www.roman-emperors.org/sepsev.htm



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Black History Refreshed by 'Mother Country'

Mother Country - Stephen Bourne

Mother Country – Stephen Bourne

Black British History went through something of a coming out party in the late 1990’s and early naughties. Real interest arose in the contributions of Black people in Britain and The Internet brought forth a whole plethora of sites and snippets of information all with the aim of finally setting the history books straight.

However, during the decline of the Blair Years, the interest in Black British history seemed to wain somewhat. Even BBC History magazine failed to pay much attention to Black History Month, which comes around every October here in the U.K. It seems to have become “P.C” to discuss or to even mention Black History, and so, as a follower of Black History in Britain I was wondering where the next contributions were going to come from. I even considered writing something myself. Fear not though, you can rest easy in your beds because the London raised Author Stephen Bourne has produced yet another invaluable book which is sure to encourage fresh, new, green shoots in the research and reportage of Black British history.

Bourne who is also the Author of such beautiful resources as “Aunt Esther’s Story” and ” A Sophisticated Lady- A Celebration of Adelaide Hall” , has in his latest offering brought together a fair collection of disparate reports, articles and photographs depicting the efforts and struggles of black people on the Home Front.

“Mother Country – Britain’s Black community on the Home Front 1939-45 brings the spotlight to such personalities as Dr Harold Moody, The Peckham Doctor who founded the First Pressure group for Black people in the U.K. Another Gem, is the story of Ken “Snake Hips” Johnson, the charismatic young Guyanese Bandleader who rose to fame during the War years only to be killed by German bombs whilst performing.

This book is different to many others that have mentioned the contribution of Black people people during the Second World War because it focuses solely on individuals who were based here in Britain during the War and not those serving in the Armed Forces. Bourne doesn’t fill the book with celebrity profiles either, he unfurls the stories of ordinary working people from a range of different countries and social backgrounds.

People Such as the Nigerian Air Raid Warden E.I Ekpenyon who was so popular with Local londoners that they would visit him at his home at all hours should they need his help or advice.? Another Londoner profiled is Bourn’es own Aunt, Esther Bruce, who lived through the Blitz hardships and sewed and altered dresses for the American Actress and Singer Elizabeth Welch. Others featured in the book include , Learie Constantine, Adelaide Hall, Una Marson, and many others.

Only in recent years has the effort of non white and non British Soldiers truly been acknowledged by the mass media, and as former soldiers die with each passing year, their story is once again in danger of becoming lost.? So Stephen Bourne’s book is a timely release for historians, helping guide them to further research and giving us all a sound, eye opening introduction to the Sacrifices made by Black Britons and Commonwealth subjects in Wartime Britain. I would fully recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Black history.? This book should grace the shelves of every black household in Britain, and then some.

“Stephen Bourne brings great natural scholarship and passion to a largely hidden story. He is highly accessible, accurate, and surprising. Mother Country is quite simply a home-grown triumph.”

Bonnie Greer, playwright and critic

Related Links

Buy Mother Country, and other black history books about By Stephen Bourne

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Walters War – part 1

Warning: Some of this content may not be suitable for younger viewers.

Brilliant Drama about Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British army who was also the first black footballer to score a goal in british football. Starring the talented O-T Fagbenle and written by award winner Kwame Kwei Armah

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Black Soldiers – Joseph Gasford

Far from Home;
A Brief Record of the Life, Military Service and Death of Joseph Gasford; A Black Bandsman of the 89th Foot; Late of St. Domingo and Gosport, Hampshire.

By John D Ellis.
Joseph Gasford was born in French governed St. Domingo, (modern day Haiti and the Domincan Republic), in 1785. Whether he was born enslaved or free, and whether Gasford was his original name, or merely an Anglicised version of the French slave name given to his African forebears remains unknown. Gasford was born in one of the first West Indies colonies to successfully rebel, (in 1792), against slavery.
Although at war with the French, the British, fearing that rebellion should spread to their own colonies, sent two expeditions to put the uprising down. The earliest of these expeditions saw the British Army fight major battles against the free former slaves in 1790s, and whilst unsuccessful, such was Britains fear of the spread of rebellion to their own colonies, that they returned again in the early nineteenth century.
Whilst the 89th Foot, (the regiment Gasford was to enlist in), did not serve in St. Domingo, it did have its 1st Battalion resident in Ireland when Gasford appears to have arrived there sometime prior to 1803. It is possible that he actively sought sanctuary amongst the British, who with abolitionist sentiment growing at home, were beginning to flex their moral superiority vis–vis slavery over their enemies; the new French Republic. Alternatively, and given the British practise of encouraging Black Republican Prisoners of War to re-enlist in the British Armed Forces, it may be that Gasford had been captured, (albeit at a young age), by the British at St. Domingo and chose military service with the British rather than endure long years of captivity in a POW camp.
It is popularly believed that most Black soldiers enlisted in white British raised regiments when such units were based overseas. However, whilst some were indeed recruited overseas, it would appear that the majority of Black soldiers enlisted in either Ireland or on mainland Britain. The historical presence of Black people in Ireland remains largely neglected by historians; however, it seems evident that ships returning to Europe from the Americas probably made Ireland their first port of call in order to replenish supplies and to trade. Likewise Army regiments left badly under strength by duty in the white mans grave of the West Indies, would return to the country to re-stock their ranks with Irish recruits.
Whether Gasford arrived as a sailor on a returning merchant vessel; as a servant in the retinue of an Army regiment; or as a manacled POW; in Athlone, County West Meath, on the 21st of October 1803, the eighteen year old Joseph Gasford enlisted for unlimited service in the 1st Battalion 89th Foot, (later the Royal Irish Fusiliers, but hereafter referred to as the 1st/89th). Most regiments had more than one Black soldier in their ranks, and serving in the 1st/89th when Gasford enlisted was one George Cocoa, a twenty-six year old Jamaican.

The 1st/89th sailed for Holland in November 1805, but after multiple shipwrecks; much loss of life; and the capture of a large proportion of the unit by the Dutch; the prisoners were exchanged and the unit reformed in England in 1806. Unfortunately, in Portsmouth in September 1806, Private George Cocoa was discharged from the regiment after being injured during a shipwreck. On discharge he was described as being 29 years old, 5/9 tall, had black hair, black eyes and having a black complexion. Nothing is known of Cocoas fate.

The 1st/89th were quick to replace Cocoa, and Gasford was soon joined by another Black soldier, one George Warner, a twenty four year old from St. Christophers, West Indies. Following reformation the 1st/89th sailed for South America in February 1807, but mid-passage they were re-directed to the Cape, and from July 1807 they found themselves in Madras, India where they were to serve until 1831.

Initially Black people had been employed as slaves and/or servants to Army officers, acting as an index of rank or opulence supreme for their masters, and indeed officers were to continue to employ Black and Asian servants until well into the twentieth century. However, by the mid-eighteenth century a combination of the perceived innate musical ability of Black people; the fashion for Turkish music; and reforms to Army manpower with the establishment of enlisted military musicians ensured that the use of Black soldiers as military musicians and symbols of regimental rank and opulence had become widespread amongst white British raised regiments. After undergoing instruction in weapons handling and drill, Gasford and Warner joined the regimental band of the 1st/89th.

Whilst the exact role of regimental bands was not to be regulated until the mid-nineteenth century, in the line infantry bands were taken where-ever the regiment went; playing in camp, at military displays and social soires, under enemy fire to keep up the morale of their comrades; or on occasion being called upon to down instruments to pick up muskets and beat off enemy attacks. Thus, as either regimental bandsmen, or at Company level as buglers, drummers and trumpeters, Black soldiers served on campaign from the West Indies to the Iberian Peninsular; North America to Waterloo; and in the East Indies from Assaye to Java, and Burma to Afghanistan.

Whilst the racial hierarchies of the time meant that few Black soldiers were ever promoted, in the regiments they entered they were trained, paid, and enjoyed the same conditions of service, (however foul they might invariably be), as their white peers; thus no doubt enjoying a level of equality and acceptance seldom found in civilian life. Indeed, the memoirs of at least one black soldier, (Ukawsaw Gronniosaw who served with the 28th Foot during the 1760s), suggest that the treatment he received in his regiment compared favourably to that received as a free man in either America or England. That is not of course to suggest that Black soldiers entered a racially tolerant melting pot.

The ranks of the common soldiery were largely constituted of the flotsam and jetsam of British, Irish and European society; as well as the patriotic and adventurous; although the exact ratio of the latter to the former is still a matter for debate; with Wellington firmly indicating his views when he called his soldiers the scum of the earth. Thus there is no reason to expect that any racism present in contemporary society was not also present amongst the ranks of the British Army. However, the records of Black soldiers suggest that despite hostility towards people of colour, they came to be respected as soldiers by both their white peers and superiors.

For the ordinary soldier, service in the East Indies during the nineteenth century consisted of long periods of boredom interspersed with brief but bloody encounters with various groups of natives. The latter, for their part, were often, (albeit not unsurprisingly), unwilling to either bow to, or accept further, Britains expansionist policies, and as a result the 1st/89th saw more than their share of action. In 1811 the regiment left Madras to participate in the capture of Java; earning the battle honour Java, and if either Gasford or Warner had lived beyond 1848 they would have been entitled to claim the Java clasp to the retrospectively awarded Military General Service Medal 1793-1814.

Between 1817 and 1819 the unit was employed against the Pindarees, (in the 3rd Mahratta War), before returning to Madras.
In 1825 Private George Warner was discharged to a pension of 1s per day. On discharge he was 43 years old, 5/6 and 1/2 tall, had black hair, black eyes, a black complexion and claimed to be a hairdresser by trade. Like Gasford, Warner was from a French West Indies colony, although not one that had managed to successfully throw off the yoke of oppression as St. Domingo had.

When the Napoleonic Wars finally finished the French regained control of most of their former colonies, and whilst moves were being made to abolish colonial slavery; France, like Britain, still retained it. Therefore it is likely that Warner feared that a return to St. Christophers, (particularly in light of his taking up arms for the British), would have endangered his hard earned freedom. Warners pension papers noted his intention to remain in Madras on discharge, and perhaps during his long service there, (eighteen years by 1825), that he had established links locally and possibly even married a native girl. However, at this point Warner disappears from military records, so nothing more is known of him.
Between 1825 and 1826 the 1st/89th participated in the 1st Burma War; earning the battle honour Ava. During this campaign the regiment lost 621 enlisted men; mainly due to disease, however, the British Army has always been slow to reward campaign service; and the few survivors of the 1st/89th had to wait until 1851 to claim the Ava clasp to the retrospectively awarded Indian General Service Medal 1799-1826. By which time unfortunately, Joseph Gasford had died.

Private Joseph Gasford was discharged as an out-pensioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and awarded a pension of 1s/2d per day on the 31st of November 1829, being “worn out…being impaired by cataracts…” On discharge he was of “remarkably good character, 43 years old, 5/6″ tall, had black hair, black eyes, a black complexion and claimed to be a labourer by trade.

Exactly how and where Joseph Gasford spent the next twelve years remains unknown. However, whilst like George Warner he chose not to return to the West Indies, (and probably for similar reasons), Gasford opted to settle in England. Bar a few years in Ireland, and a very brief stay in England as his battalion was being reformed after the Dutch debacle; the majority of Gasfords service had of course been spent in the East Indies; probably leaving him with few links to the country he chose to settle in.

Yet by 1841, he had apparently eschewed well known areas of Black settlement like Liverpool and London, to live in Gosport, Hampshire. Exactly why Gasford decided to settle in Gosport will probably remain unknown, although its proximity to Portsmouth, (where George Cocoa was discharged), might indicate that the area was home to a Black community, and/or that Cocoa and Gasford remained in contact after the formers discharged.

During the nineteenth century Gosport was a busy and bustling port area; home to the victualling yards and service industries vital to nearby Portsmouth, where from of course, Britains maritime empire spread out across the globe. The 1841 census for South Street, Alverstoke, Gosport reveals a highly transient population, with many people being born outside the County of Hampshire.

Thus, whilst they cannot be identified on the 1841 census, (as it does not facilitate the identification of race), it is possible that Gosport had a well established, albeit small Black population, which was able to maintain some communication with the West Indies. In 1841 Joseph Gasford was living in one of the Rookeries of Hammond Court, South Street; sharing his dwelling place with a musician, a tailor, and two young spinsters.
His proximity to the former; a forty year old professional musician named James Huskisson, suggests that perhaps although Gasford was listed as a Soldier, (indicating that his pension was his primary income), that he may have relied on his musical skills to supplement his pension.
Joseph Gasford died aged sixty three on the 3rd of July 1848 at Hammond Court, South Street, Gosport. The Registrar; Richard Reeves McKinon, pronounced the cause of death to be a chest affliction of long standing, and the witness present at Gasfords death was one Sophia Williams. In 1841 Sophia, a widow in her thirties with three young girls, had lived two houses away from Gasford in Hammond Court, and the age of the youngest child; (Maria aged three), suggests that she had been widowed relatively recently. It can only be speculated as to the exact relationship between Joseph Gasford and Sophia and her family. It may be that Sophias role in Joseph Gasfords life and death was merely that of a dispassionate observer of his final days; it being customary in the Rookeries for widows to earn money by nursing the sick and laying out the dead. However, it is equally likely, (considering that they had been neighbours for so long), that the old soldier of colour, far from home, with his poor eyes and an increasingly bad chest, acted as a surrogate grandfather figure to Sophia and her children, regaling them with fascinating tales of adventure and battle in far off lands.

In conclusion, whilst Joseph Gasford is to date the only Black Army pensioner known to have resided in nineteenth century Gosport, he was but one of many hundreds, if not thousands, of Black soldiers whose service in the white regiments of the British Army, (as opposed to the far better known segregated coloured units of the East India Company and the West India Regiments), has been long forgotten both by the country they fought for and the communities they later settled in.

Notes and Sources.
The search for Joseph Gasford in civvy street was greatly assisted by the enthusiastic co-operation of Mr Shaughnessy and the staff of the Local Studies section of Gosport Library.

The 89th Foot later became the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and their history and traditions are still retained by their direct descendants; the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment.
For Cocoa see Public Record Office [PRO] WO 121/80.
For Gasford see PRO WO 97/980. WO 120/62-66.
For George Warner see PRO WO 97/985.
The 1841 Census for Alverstoke, Gosport, Hampshire. HO 107/388/7.
Death Certificate of Joseph Gasford: GRO ref: September qtr. 1848. Averstoke, County of Southampton
JD. Ellis, The Visual Representation, Role and Origin of Black Soldiers in British Army Regiments During the Early Nineteenth Century, (Unpublished MA thesis. MA in Nineteenth Century Culture and Society. University of Nottingham, 2000).
The Prisoner records of Stapleton Prison near Bristol; which housed French POWs in the early nineteenth century, reveal that successful efforts were made by the British to enlist Black POWs into the Royal Navy. The majority of these men were sailors, however, at least one was a soldier captured at St. Domingo. See PRO ADM 104/416 Prisoners of War at Stapleton 1805-1811.
P. Fryer, Staying Power, The History of Black People in Britain, (Pluto Press, London, 1984).
H. Harris, The Royal Irish Fusiliers (The 87th & 89th Regiments of Foot), (Leo Cooper Ltd., London, 1972).
RG. Harris, The Irish Regiments, A Pictorial History 1683-1987, (The Nutshell Publishing Co Ltd., Tunbridge Wells, Kent, 1989).
Further Articles by John Ellis.


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The Negro Soldier



This clip from a War Department film shows African-American soldiers being trained for combat during World War 2. The Tuskegee Airmen are seen flying fighter planes in the U.S., while other soldiers train in arctic conditions. There’s no year given, but it’s probably 1942 or 1943.

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