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A hidden narrative of black Elizabethan England

Historian Michael Wood has a fascinating piece on Britain's "first black community" during the reign of Elizabeth I. Long before the exploits of Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano there was Anna Vause and Mary Fillis :
In 1597, for example, Mary Fillis, a black woman of 20 years, had, for a long while, been the servant of Widow Barker in Mark Lane. She had been in England 13 or 14 years, and was the daughter of a Moorish shovel maker and basket maker. Never christened, she became the servant of Millicent Porter, a seamstress living in East Smithfield, and now “taking some howld of faith in Jesus Chryst, was desyrous to becom a Christian, Wherefore shee made sute by hir said mistres to have some conference with the Curat”.

Examined in her faith by the vicar of St Botolph’s, and “answering him verie Christian lyke”, she did her catechisms, said the Lord’s Prayer, and was baptised on Friday 3 June 1597 in front of the congregation. Among her witnesses were a group of five women, mostly wives of leading parishioners. Now a “lyvely member” of the church in Aldgate, there is no question from this description that Mary belonged to a community with friends and supporters.

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