Africans in East Anglia, 1467-1833


Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your newly published book Africans in East Anglia, 1467-1833. To begin with, can you please give us a brief overview of your book?

The book examines the history of people of African heritage (defined as being people who originated from, or whose ancestors originated from, any location in the continent) who lived in Norfolk and Suffolk (East Anglia) in the early modern period. 

In the book I think about three central issues. Firstly, I try to uncover how, where, and when did people of African descent arrive in rural counties like Norfolk and Suffolk during the early modern period. Secondly, I try to discover what the lives of these Africans living in provincial England were like. Finally, I try to assess how these Africans were perceived by their contemporaries. 

The book covers a period of nearly four centuries, from the late 1400s to the early nineteenth century. I have tried to uncover the historical experience of these Africans by looking at the interaction of local custom, class structure, tradition, memory, and the gradual impact of the Atlantic slaving economy. My suggestion is that in the early period, from 1467 to around 1640, the initial regional response to arriving Africans was not defined by ideas relating to skin colour. Rather the response was dominated by local understandings of religious status, class position, ideas about freedom and bondage, the fact that East Anglia was a mobile society, used to interactions with foreigners, and by the immediate local circumstances in which an African was encountered. The evidence I have unearthed shows that arriving Africans were able to join the region’s working population through baptism, marriage, parenthood, and work. 

After this, I look at the period from the mid-seventeenth century onwards and suggest that the growing interaction of the region’s merchants and gentry with the North American and Caribbean colonies from that period onwards became important. I explore the growth of plantation ownership in the region and the region’s involvement in the transatlantic economy. Having looked at these data and examined the data about the region’s African population in this period, I suggest that the initial manner of responding to Africans was gradually altered as local merchants and gentry begin doing business with the burgeoning slaving economy. These interactions seem to have allowed the negative racial ideas that were developed to underpin Atlantic slavery in the colonies to seep into local culture. Over time, this process subtly changed the social circumstances of Africans in the region. 

Nonetheless, my argument is that these negative ideas did not completely displace the older, more inclusive, ideas, especially among the working poor. African migrants and their descendants continued to become part of working-class communities throughout the period. These proposals are supported by a wealth of material about the lives of hundreds of Africans who lived in East Anglia during the period, which I provide both in the text itself and in appendices at the end of the book.

Africans in East Anglia, 1467-1833


£65.00 / $99.00,
August 2021
Studies in Early Modern Cultural, Political and Social History
Boydell Press



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Richard C. Maguire is Honorary Senior Lecturer in the School of History at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.