The Black presence in 17th C England

Parish registers aren’t just lists of names and dates. Sometimes the notes left behind by vicars of old can tell us more about the people who lived in their parish. Every so often, transcribers and family historians find Black people in parish registers; I’ve written about the Black men and women of Essex before: Black History Month – Harwich and Boreham, and Black History Month – Wivenhoe.

The most recent find is the baptism of Hope Heath, baptised on 12 July 1696 at Leyton, Essex, “a black woman aged about 21.”[1]ERO ref D/P 45/1/2 Image 78. Found by Arnie Webb.

What happened next? There are some clues. A marriage took place at St James Duke’s Place, Aldgate in the City of London, on 8 July 1697 between Samuel Moston, a bachelor, and Hope Heath, a widow of Low Leyton, Essex. There’s nothing to say in Hope’s baptism record that she was single, married, or a widow, so this could be her.

The lovely portrait above is called Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom. Find out more about it at Georgian Era.


1 ERO ref D/P 45/1/2 Image 78. Found by Arnie Webb.