Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor
The Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor was a charitable organization founded in London in 1786 to provide sustenance for distressed people of African and Asian origin. It became a crucial organization in the subsequent proposal to form a colony in Sierra Leone.
The Black Poor in 18th Century England
The "Black Poor" was the name given to indigent residents of London who were of Black ancestry in the 18th century. Black Poor had diverse origins. The core of the community was the result of Atlantic slave trade. Another factor was the presence of Black American sailors on both navy and merchant ships. By that time, the Black Poor had become a common sight on the streets of London. Most of the Black Poor lived in impoverished East End parishes, Seven Dials and Marylebone. They formed part of the broader Black British community, which predominantly consisted of people employed at menial urban jobs, but also with prominent members like Ignatius Sancho and Equiano. While this broader community included some women, the Black Poor seems to have exclusively consisted of men, some of whom developed relationships with local women, often marrying them.
On 5 January 1786 an announcement appeared in the Public Advertiser that Mr. Brown, a baker in Wigmore Street, Cavendish Square, was to "give a Quartern Loaf to every Black in Distress, who will apply on Saturday next between the Hours of Twelve and Two". Details followed that enabled people to subscribe. A meeting was organised for 10 January and by the end of the month they had summarised the situation. Originally concern was expressed about Lascars, Asian seamen. However it was found that there were about 250 "Blacks in Distress" of whom only 35 came from the East Indies, the others being from Africa or the West Indies. 100 claimed they had been in the Royal Navy. In common with other responses to serious social problems, the issue was not addressed by the government, but rather by concerned citizens setting up such appeals and lists, e.g. there was also around this time a subscription list to support distressed weavers in Spitalfields.
After the original meeting, held in the premises of Mr Faulder, a book seller of Bond Street, the following meetings were held in Batson's Coffee House, opposite the Royal Exchange. It attracted some prominent figures from London's financial elite: George Peters, Governor of the Bank of England, Thomas Boddington, the noted philanthropist and slave owner, John Julius Angerstein, General Robert Melville. Montagu Borgoyne was the original chair person, but after a few weeks his business interests took him away from London and he was replaced by Benjamin Johnson, who in turn suffered ill-health and was replaced by Jonas Hanway. The abolitionists Samuel Hoare and two of the three Thornton brothers, Henry and Samuel, were also involved, along with James Pettit Andrews and Sir Joseph Andrews.
On 14 February The Morning Herald remarked:
- "The example of the Duchess of Devonshire, in contributing to the relief of the poor Blacks, has had a salutary effect. The Countess of Salisbury, the Countess of Essex, Marchioness of Buckingham and a variety of other titled characters are also on the charitable list."
When the appeal was closed on 18 April a total of £890 1s had been raised. Donors included many bishops and clergy, including Herbert Mayo and William Pitt. Aside from general benevolence, this cause attracted particular sympathy because so many were Black Loyalists who had served in the British armed forces. The largest donation was collected from amongst the Quakers by Samuel Hoare.
The Committee soon organised two venues for regular distribution of alms: the White Raven tavern in Mile End and the Yorkshire Stingo, in Lisson Grove, Marylebone. These venues were open for several hours a day providing outdoor relief. There was also a sick house set up in Warren Street where 40-50 needing medical attention were provided for with indoor relief. Some of the recipients of aid were found jobs, particularly as seamen. In providing clothes so that men could get work as sailors, some of the committee members were simply applying the same charitable methods they had used in organisations like the Marine Society. However, the shortage of work at sea meant that unemployment remained a problem. Surplus labour was drifting in from the countryside, and many English people also took up begging in London. Lacking the resources to set up any new industry, the Committee took heed of such individuals as Richard Weaver who was "willing and desirous to go to Halifax and other Parts of Nova Scotia where there is a fairer Prospect of Employment". Soon the charity focussed its goals on giving "a temporary relief to the objects of the Charity, and in future to provide them with clothes and a settlement abroad" . . . "to such places as may put them in a condition of getting their bread in freedom and comfort".
Immigration to Sierra Leone
The committee also was instrumental in the transfer of Black Poor to Sierra Leone. Historians differ as to whether a desire to remove black people from London was a principal goal of the committee or whether it was more focussed on strictly altruistic goals. Although there was a prevalent view amongst contemporary White West Indians that racial intermarriage was abhorrent, this was not a significant viewpoint in London at this time. However, the chair of the committee did write to the Standing Committee of West India Planters and Merchants requesting their advice and assistance in procuring an act of parliament to "prevent any Foreign Blacks being brought to this country to remain", though not much came of this proposal.
By the end of October 1786, three transport ships were commissioned and docked at Deptford. The applicants for the settlement were to sign an agreement, agreeing to the condition that they would retain the status of British subjects, to be defended by the Royal Navy. They were then given a document granting the citizenship of Sierra Leone. On April 9, 1787 the ships left Portsmouth with about 280 Black men, 70 White women, and 40 Black women. They were accompanied by some English tradesmen. The white women were most likely the wives and girlfriends of Black men. Today the descendants of the Black Poor are the Sierra Leone Creole people.   The ones that could finish the voyage arrived off the shore of Sierra Leone on May 15, 1787.
- Black Poor and White Philanthropists: London's Blacks and the Foundation of the Sierra Leone Settlement 1786 - 1791 by Stephen Braidwood, Liverpool University Press, 1994.
- Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama, BBC Books, 2005 (ISBN 978-0563487098)
- ↑ Black Poor and White Philanthropists: London's Blacks and the Foundation of the Sierra Leone Settlement 1786 - 1791 by Stephen Braidwood, Liverpool University Press, 1994.