The list of christenings for 1682 in the parish register of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, has the following entry for 24 December:

John Boy (?) a black of Capt. Will. Green of wapping mariner aged 19 years of thereabouts

This entry intrigued me for a number of reasons. I’ve been researching my ancestor Captain William Greene, a mariner who died in 1686 and was buried at St Dunstan’s. However, all the records we have for him associate him with Ratcliffe, not Wapping, and this William Greene is more likely to be the mariner from that village who died in 1696, and about whom I wrote in my last post. If it is indeed the same person, it’s the first time I’ve seen the rank of  ‘captain’ associated with him, a fact that makes it even easier to confuse him with my own Captain Greene.

Then again, I was intrigued by the meaning of the entry. When it says that John was ‘of’ Captain Greene, does it mean he was simply his slave or servant – or something more (see this post, where I wrote about Ann, the ‘natural daughter’ of Glasgow merchant Colin Thomson by a ‘mulatta’ woman)? Then there is the brutal simplicity of ‘a black’, together with the demeaning appellation (if I read it correctly) ‘Boy’. The fact that John was christened at the age of 19 suggests that he might be a recent arrival in the country, perhaps brought back from one of William Greene’s voyages overseas. We know from his will that William Greene of Wapping was a seafaring mariner, whereas ‘my’ William Greene (of Ratcliffe) was a member of Trinity House and therefore probably a Thames pilot (though we can’t be absolutely sure about this).

Captain and slave: a 17th century engraving (

The Atlantic slave trade was at its height in the latter half of the 17th century, and we know that this period also saw a rise in black settlement in Britain. Apparently, black slaves often served as attendants to sea captains, as well as to colonial officials, traders and military personnel.

This is not the first time I’ve come across evidence of my ancestors’ involvement in the slave trade. Some time ago, I noted that the Robbs and Thomsons of Glasgow profited from slavery through their involvement in that city’s mercantile trade a hundred years or so after the time of Captain Greene.