William Westley, 1731
Birmingham is well known as a city of 1,000 trades but it might also be a city of 1,000 nations. Trade has brought people from far and wide to live and work in the city and a look at the censuses from the nineteenth century reveal people coming from across Europe and the “East Indies” (South Asia) and the “West Indies” (the Caribbean). In 1871 we find Paul Paulson and his wife Eliza, both singers, living in Coleshill Street near Dale End. Paul was born in the East Indies – we can only guess as to his heritage. Meanwhile over in Lichfield Street at the same time John Patnapally, a hawker and his wife Mary Ann, was born in Mumbai and we can suppose his heritage was probably in part at least South Asian. There are equally large numbers of people from the West Indies – sometimes the census gives us a place, as in the case of Matthew, a clerk, and Matilda Hyman who were living with their daughter Lizzie, a teacher, in Albion Street. He and his family were born in Kingston, Jamaica, part of a large Jewish community in Jamaica where they had settled, felling persecution in Europe from the 1530’s onwards.
The Hyman family shared the house with a boarder, Julius Scott, who was from Prussia, probably part of the Scottish Prussian Community established through trading links in the Middle Ages. We know that Matthew Hyman was Jewish, as his burial at Balls Pond Road Jewish Cemetery in London is recorded in 1882.
Birmingham has always been a city of vibrant diversity with thousands of stories waiting to be told.
This year sees the 50th anniversary celebrations of Jamaican independence and in the Archives we can trace back Jamaican history over 350 years. The earliest reference to Jamaica that we have found here in Birmingham dates from 1662 and is an accounting record of Sir Charles Littelton, Deputy Governor of Jamaica. The Littelton family were and are still a prominent Worcestershire family with property in Halesowen, Hagley and Frankley.
Jamaica had come under Spanish rule in 1494 and its capital was established at Spanish Town. From this date Jamaica became a centre for settlers from far and wide. It became a refuge for persecuted Jews from Europe and the transatlantic slave trade brought many African people to Jamaica. Black people lived in Jamaica either enslaved or independently as free men and women, having defied their oppressors and establishing their own communities in the more remote areas of the island.
In 1655 the British seized control of the island from Spanish occupation and at this time the Spanish freed those people who were enslaved on their island.
In the 1660’s, when this document was drawn up, the population of Jamaica would have been very diverse and there are references in it to “wild negroes” who are the African peoples who lived independently from the slaves on the island. There are also references to the building of forts and defences which reflects the unstable political situation in Jamaica at this time.
You can find out more about sources for Black History in Birmingham Libraries here. And if you want to know more about Caribbean history in general there are some great resources at the National Archives which includes some excellent links and resources.