Readers of onlineFOCUS will know we sometimes write about local history. Well, we’ve just stumbled across the blog of the Essex Archive Office, and they have some interesting stuff there. Their latest piece is on a new book about Essex in WW2.
Seraching for articles about our part of Essex doesn’t lead to much – there are few entries for Rayleigh or Rochford; nothing for Hullbridge, Rawreth, Canewdon or Hockley. But one of the items for Rayleigh is rather surprising, it indicates that the earliest mention of black person in Essex is in Rayleigh – over four hundred years ago:
“The earliest mention we have found of a Black individual in our collections is the burial record of Thomas Parker, ‘a certayne darke mane’ in Rayleigh in 1579/80 (D/P 332/1/3). Thomas was buried on 12 February in the year that we would call 1580; at the time, however, New Year was marked on 25 March rather than 1 January, so contemporaries would have thought of it as still being 1579. As with so many records this little snippet raises more questions than answers, as we know nothing else of Thomas Parker.”
You might think that being a “certayne darke man” might be a reference to hair colour – but would someone’s hair colour really be mentioned in burial records? According to Wikipedia, the earliest Africans to arrive in England in the 16th Century were as follows:
“Early in the 16th century, Africans probably arrived in London with Catherine of Aragon when she travelled to England to marry Henry VIII. Among the six trumpeters depicted in the royal retinue of Henry VIII in the Westminster Tournament Roll, an illuminated manuscript dating from 1511, is a black musician. He wears the royal livery and is mounted on horseback. He is generally identified with the “John Blanke, the blacke trumpeter” who appears in the payment accounts of both Henry VIII and his father, Henry VII. There was also a group of Africans at the court of James IV of Scotland, including a drummer referred to as the “More Taubronar”. Both he and John Blanke were paid wages for their services.
When trade lines began to open between London and West Africa, Africans slowly began to become part of the London population. For example, merchant John Lok brought five Africans to London in 1555. The voyage account in Hakluyt reports that they:
“were tall and strong men, and could wel agree with our meates and drinkes. The colde and moyst aire doth somewhat offend them.”
Whoever Thomas Parker was , he probably led an eventful life….