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St Alfege's Church

St Alfege Church.
View full size imageSt Alfege Church. © NMM
The church’s records of baptisms and burials reveal a lot about the composition of London’s 18th-century black poor and the area’s general black population, including people’s origins and some of the reasons behind their presence in Greenwich.

Most entries follow the pattern first found with John Good who is describes as a ‘negro servant to Captain Sanderson, buried 1703’. The baptismal register is interesting for a number of reasons. Many individuals were baptised as adults (for example Ann Unus in July 1781, described as a ‘negro from America’ and Thomas Johnson Samuel in the same year), which is significant because such ceremonies were very rare in the 18th century. In the absence of other data they are often interpreted as referring to potential converts from Judaism or other religions.

For black people, a formal baptism carried great status. The American origin of proportionally high number of baptisms reflects the presence of a great many black loyalists who had fought with the British in the American war of Independence in the 1780s. With the collapse of the colonial adventure, hundreds of former enslaved people and former soldiers took up residence in London, Liverpool and Dublin. However, it is also important that between 1754 and 1813 Greenwich registered the baptism of 27 Black people who were neither enslaved nor otherwise in service.

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