Enslaved African Man
Lifetime: 1705 - 1775 Passed: ≈ 247 years ago
Ukawsaw Gronniosaw also known as James Albert, was an enslaved African man who is considered the first published African in Britain. Gronniosaw is known for his 1772 narrative autobiography A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince, as Related by Himself, which was the first slave narrative published in England. His autobiography recounted his early life in present-day Nigeria, his enslavement, and his eventual emancipation.
Gronniosaw was born in Bornu (now north-eastern Nigeria) in 1705. He said that he was doted on as the grandson of the king of Zaara. At the age of 15, he was taken by a Gold Coast ivory merchant and sold to a Dutch captain for two yards of check cloth. He was bought by an American in Barbados, who took him to New York and resold him for £50 to "Mr. Freelandhouse, a very gracious, good Minister." Freelandhouse is presumed to be the Dutch Reformed Church minister, Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, based in New Jersey.
There Gronniosaw was taught to read and was brought up as a Christian. Gronniosaw said in his autobiography that he wanted to return to his family in Africa, but Frelinghuysen denied this request and told him to focus on the Christian faith. During his time with Frelinghuysen, Gronniosaw attempted suicide, distressed by his perceived failings as a Christian. When the minister died, he freed Gronniosaw in his will. The young man worked for the minister's widow, and subsequently their orphans, but all died within four years.
Planning to go to England, where he expected to meet other pious people like the Frelinghuysens, Gronniosaw travelled to the Caribbean, where he enlisted as a cook with a privateer, and later as a soldier in the 28th Regiment of Foot to earn money for the journey. He served in Martinique and Cuba, before obtaining his discharge and sailing to England.
At first he settled in Portsmouth, but, when his landlady swindled him out of most of his savings, was forced to seek his fortune in London. There he married a young English widow, Betty, a weaver. She already had a child and bore him at least two more. She lost her job because of the financial depression and industrial unrest, and moved to Colchester. There they were saved from starvation by Osgood Hanbury (a Quaker lawyer and grandfather of the abolitionist Thomas Fowell Buxton), who employed Gronniosaw in building work. Moving to Norwich, Gronniosaw and his family again fell on hard times, as the building trades were largely seasonal. Once again, they were saved by the kindness of a Quaker, Henry Gurney (coincidentally, the grandfather of Fowell Buxton's wife, Hannah Gurney) who paid their rent arrears. A daughter died and was refused burial by the local clergy on the grounds that she was not baptised. One minister at last offered to allow her to be buried in the churchyard, but he would not read the burial service.
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