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Date updated: 3/22/2021

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries many black people were brought to London as enslaved people from plantations in the Caribbean and Americas by slave owners to work in domestic households. Their ‘status’ upon reaching England was hotly debated in the period. Judgements by John Holt, Lord Chief Justice in cases in 1696 and 1701 had concluded that slavery did not exist in England and that formerly enslaved people could not be regarded so while in England. The idea of baptism was linked to this notion and to be baptised increasingly was considered to confer free status.

View of St Katharine by the Tower in 1815
View of St Katharine by the Tower in 1815

Katharine Auker

Katharine Auker was baptised at St Katharine by the Tower on 29 February 1688. The parish entry does not give much information about her, but we know more about Katharine because of a court case she took to the Middlesex Sessions in 1690. Katharine was brought to England in 1684 by her ‘master’ Robert Rich, a planter from Barbados.

Following her baptism (and possibly as a result of it) she was increasingly maltreated by Rich and eventually turned out of his house. Rich was able to forbid her from seeking employment elsewhere by refusing to formally discharge her from service which effectively condemned her to destitution. Katharine resisted and petitioned the sessions court in 1690 asking to be discharged from service to Rich who by then had returned to Barbados.

Katharine won a victory of sorts and it was ordered that ‘the said Katharine shall be at liberty to serve any person until such time as the said Rich shall return from Barbadoes’.

The new dataset will be available to search within the LMA Collections Catalogue from 29 October. To find out more and to search the Switching the Lens dataset, visit the LMA Collections Catalogue.

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