Black histories


We are currently working on a project to identify key collections and items in our collections relating to Black histories. This will be a significant piece of work, designed to make it easier to find items and to reveal previously hidden histories.

The project will be wide ranging, but we are starting by considering what our collections reveal about Cornish connections to the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Our collections show us that people in Cornwall were employed in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and also benefited from it. We know of families across Cornwall whose wealth was augmented by the labour of enslaved people, both during the peak of the Trade and after it was abolished (you can explore University College London’s fascinating database and map for more information).

Our parish records also contain Black baptisms – at the moment we think the earliest dates back to 1611, but there are a number connected to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. For example, “Rachel Chapman…the Property of Mrs Chapman of Fowey” was baptised in 1746 and there are numerous other instances recorded. Our family, estate and solicitors’ collections also contain wills, leases and maps related to the ownership of enslaved people, managing plantations, and more.

We plan to extend this project further to look at other areas of global history, including what our collections reveal about the involvement of Cornish people in Britain’s colonies, and the impact of Cornish migration on native populations in countries such as South Africa and Australia. This is an ongoing project, so please do check back for updates and further information. We will be examining correspondence, parish registers, court and gaol records and travel diaries to see what they reveal, and to enable us to tell better and broader stories about people in Cornwall and Cornwall’s place in the world.

We recognise that our catalogue contains some terms which are offensive, and some whose meaning has changed over time.  Such terms exist within some original records and have been retained to inform users of the nature and content of the sources concerned.  They do not reflect the views of the Archives and Cornish Studies Service.  We apologise for any offence that our inclusion of these words may cause.

Key search terms:  Caribbean, Transatlantic Slave Trade, Enslavement, Slavery, Black history

Key collections: none discovered as yet, but collections of certain families with connections to the Transatlantic Slave Trade might prove useful

Recommended reads: The Cornish in the Caribbean by Sue Appleby; Music and Musicians in early 19th century Cornwall, The world of Joseph Emidy – slave, violinist and composer by Richard McGrady