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Date updated: 17/05/2022

Samuel Munsur

Samuel Munsur was baptised on 28 November 1613 at the church of St Nicholas, Deptford (Z/PROJECT/BAL/M/P78/NIC/001/0150).

We do not know much about Samuel. The paper in the register is damaged and the full entry cannot be deciphered but the surviving entry reads “a Blackamore that came in one of the [illegible] shypes”.

St Nicholas church, Deptford, from a watercolour of 1802
St Nicholas church, Deptford, from a watercolour of 1802

Samuel’s surname is obscured from the page but a later entry in the register shows that a Samuel Munsur “a Blackamore” married a Jan Johnson on 26 December 1613 and it would seem likely that the baptism entry is for the same man (the baptism being a necessity for the marriage to take place a month later). This couple had a son, Samuel who was baptized in the parish on 28 October 1614.

The name Munsur is possibly derived from the Arabic ‘Mansur’. According to the Professor Imtiaz Habib, it was commonly used in India and there is a strong possibility that Samuel was an early migrant from the subcontinent. By this date, the East India Company, which had been founded in 1600, was establishing ever stronger trading links between England and the Mughal Empire in India. In 1607, the Company had decided to build its own ships and leased a yard in Deptford, close to the parish of St Nicholas.

Parts of Deptford and Greenwich in the 1740s
Parts of Deptford and Greenwich in the 1740s. Part of the naval dockyard is marked as 'The King's Yard' in the top right corner, and St Nicholas Church can be seen

The entries in the parish register appear to be early references to a mixed marriage (the assumption being that Jan Johnson is white) and it raises the question of the subsequent visibility of Londoners of colour in the records over the centuries. By the time Samuel and Jan’s son is baptized the entry makes no reference to his father being “a blackamore” which means that the ‘visibility’ of Indian heritage in records for subsequent generations is potentially lost to researchers.

Samuel is not the only person from India appearing in early 17th century registers. Peter Pope is baptised in St Dionisis in 1616 (Z/PROJECT/BAL/C/P69/DIO/A/001/MS17602/01) and George Horsan is baptised at St Mary Lambeth on 31 December 1626 (Z/PROJECT/BAL/M/P85/MRY1/342/1192). Both of these men were sponsored by significant individuals, King James I in the case of Peter and the Archbishop of Canterbury for George. We know more details about them from records of the East India Company held at the British Library.

Switching the Lens Project

The Switching the Lens project refocuses our attention on Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous heritage. The dataset highlights records of over 2600 individuals drawn from Anglican parish registers at London Metropolitan Archives and is the result of  research carried out by staff and volunteers, which began as the British Library funded Black and Asian Londoners project carried out in 2000 to 2002, and continues today at LMA.

Search the Switching the Lens Project