The black slaves who fled to Britain: Photos reveal the faces of African Americans who found freedom from brutality


The incredible stories of black Americans who escaped the slave trade to make a life for themselves in Victorian Britain have emerged after more than 130 years.

From a woman who fled Tennessee and ended up meeting the Queen to a man who went from his master’s home to becoming a world boxing champion – their remarkable journeys helped shape the way the UK and Ireland viewed life across the pond.

Calvin Harris Richardson and Thomas Lewis Johnson studied in Stockwell, London in the late 1870s. With their wives (pictured), sisters Issadorah and Henrietta, they went to Cameroon in 1878 as Baptist missionaries. Henrietta Johnson died there and her husband returned to England in January 1880, very ill. After mission work in the USA., Johnson settled in London then Bournemouth where he died in 1921. His Twenty-eight Years a Slave was published in Bournemouth in 1909 ñ a much smaller edition had been published in London in 1882. The Richardsons remained in Cameroon then retired to the USA Courtesy Michael Graham-Stewart.

Importing slaves was banned in America in 1808, but slavery wasn’t officially outlawed until 1865 and the end of the civil war. The conflict cost thousands of lives and saw southern states desperately cling on to the right to keep black people as servants. The slave trade was not banned in Britain until 1833, but prejudice continued for years.

Martha Ricks (pictured) was born a slave in Tennessee, but she escaped to Liberia in West Africa in 1830 when her father bought their family's freedom. Within a year of them arriving, three of her five brothers had died from fever. In her later years she became a farmer and developed a passion for needlework. She had always dreamed of travelling to England and meeting the Queen. In 1892 she sailed from Africa to Liverpool and fulfilled that lifelong ambition to meet Queen Victoria. She presented the monarch with a quilt showing Liberian coffee plants. British newspapers reported her venture with surprise and respect

Most of them never returned to the US, settling in towns and cities around the country and marrying British people.

Their portraits have been published in a new book written by historian Jeffrey Green, as part of his bid to get more information about them.

One shows Marta Ricks who travelled to Britain via Liberia and eventually ended up meeting Queen Victoria. American Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield had a similar experience, serenading the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

There is another striking shot of George Dixon, who escaped the slave trade and became a world bantamweight boxing champion after fighting in London in 1890.

George Dixon (pictured) was the world bantamweight boxing champion and fought in London to gain his title in 1890. At just 5ft 3in in height and 6st 2lb in weight he was known as 'Little Chocolate' in his younger years and only ever weighed a maximum of 8st 4lb at the peak of his career. He was a featherweight champion from 1891 and retired in 1906. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1870 he lived in Boston, Massachusetts where he died of the effects of alcohol aged just 38

Among the others illustrated in Black Americans in Victorian Britain are Peter Thomas Stanford who went on to become a church minister in Birmingham in 1889 and Samuel Ringgold War who arrived in the UK in 1853 and wrote a memoir called the Autobiography of a Fugitive Slave.

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