“An Aethiopian of Ginny”

Jean Jeggo, transcribing Gosfield’s baptism register for FreeREG, found the following entry:

Thomas an Aethiopian of Ginny in Africa beeing about twelve years of age made confession of his fayth in Jesus christ & was baptized July 13 1671.

Sadly there isn’t any further known information on Thomas besides this entry in the register. That he came from “Ginny” suggests he came from Guinea in West Africa, and implies that he might have been a slave. It might seem odd that he was described as an “Aethiopian” when Guinea and Ethiopia are on opposite sides of the African continent (about 3,500 miles apart) but at the time, the term referred to someone who was black.

There was legal disagreement for many years as to the status of someone who was bought as a slave outside Britain, then brought into the country. Thomas may have worked as a household servant, but whether he was paid a salary isn’t clear. He might have worked at Gosfield Hall – built by Sir John Wentworth in 1545, according to Philip Morant it was owned by the Grey family between 1653 and 1691 after a Wentworth daughter married a Grey. So if Thomas worked at Gosfield Hall, he would have been in the employ of the Greys. Did he later take their surname as his own, or choose something else?

It’s obviously sad to think of a child of twelve being so far from home, possibly a slave and forced into work. However, in the register he survives as Thomas – although perhaps not the name he was given by his parents, he’s not defined by his status, only by his place of origin and by the faith he professed to. Although we can’t know how willingly he accepted it, of course.