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NEWSLETTER September 2009

Dear Member,

Please remember Thursday 24th September 6pm Talk ‘Bahamian Hurricanes’ Wayne Neeley AND Saturday 7th November 7pm Jubilee Banquet Sandals Hotel.

Rosalie Fawkes has requested I would kindly circulate among the membership of the Historical Society that a website is presently under construction for the late Sir Randol Fawkes and the content can be viewed by clicking on the following link: www.sirrandolfawkes.com. There is a wealth of historical information there that they will find very helpful.

And I thought the following story about the first black mayor in Britain would provide interesting reading:

DR. ALLAN GLAISYER MINNS (Bahamian):
BRITAIN’S FIRST BLACK MAYOR

(source: www.seancreighton.co.uk)

(His uncle, the Rev. Samuel Minns 1805-1857 was the first black Anglican priest in the Bahamas.)

If you were asked where the first Black Mayor in Britain was elected, what would you say? London? Birmingham? Manchester? In fact, according to recent research, the first ever Black Mayor in Britain was a man named Dr. Allan Glaisyer Minns, Mayor of Thetford in Norfolk! Until quite recently John Archer, elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, was thought to be the first Black man to hold this position. However the ‘American Negro Year Book 1914’ recorded that –‘In 1904 Mr. Allan Glaisyer Minns, a coloured man from West Indies, (Bahamas) was elected Mayor of borough of Thetford, Norfolk’.

Norwich and Norfolk Racial Equality Council (NNREC) and Norfolk Record Office have been researching the life of Dr. Minns following initial research undertaken by Sean Creighton, a historian based in South London. The following is an extract from the ‘From Norfolk & Suffolk In East Anglia, Contemporary Biographies’, W.T Pike (1911), Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds:

‘Minns – Allan Glaisyer Minns, Alexandra House, Thetford; youngest son of the late John Minns; born at Inagua Bahamas, October 19th 1858. Educated at Nassau Grammar School and Guy’s Hospital London. M.R.C.S. Eng; Lond. Medical Officer Thetford Workhouse & Thetford District of Thetford Union, Hon. Medical Officer Thetford Cottage Hospital. Member of the British M.A. & Norwich Medico Chirurgical Society; President of Horticultural Society; Mayor of Thetford 1904-05-06.’

But an even more interesting story is his family background is written up in:. ”A Tribute to the Negro: Being a Vindication of the Moral, Intellectual, and Religious Capabilities of the Coloured Portion of Mankind: with Particular Reference to the African Race” – Manchester and London: W. Irwin, 1848, by Armistead, Wilson, 1819?-1868 http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/armistead/menu.html

His grandfather John Minns was born about the year 1770, and received a good, plain, and religious education at "The Friends' School and Workhouse," Clerkenwell - an establishment belonging to the Society. From this establishment, he was placed out as an apprentice to a baker, but he absconded from his place, for some unknown cause, being then about eighteen years of age.

He boarded a ship about to sail for the West Indies. This was at a period when the Slave-trade and Slavery were in the zenith of their dark domain, and ruled and reigned over the hearts and consciences of every class of men. Being of sober and frugal habits, after a few years he acquired a little property, and commenced trading in various articles of merchandize, amongst the islands.

On one of these expeditions he took his passage on board a vessel which foundered off New Providence, one of the Bahama Islands. On board the same ship there was a Slave dealer with several Negroes, whom he had to dispose of, when he should fall in with a market suited to his purpose. Having been some time at sea, the ship sprang a dangerous leak, and at length was deserted by the captain and crew, when about two miles from shore. The Slave dealer found it impossible to save the lives of the Negroes, by means of the ship's boat, which, indeed, was scarcely equal to carry the captain and crew, besides some other passengers then on board. As a forlorn hope, therefore, he took off the manacles from his Slaves, and gave them the chance of saving their lives by swimming. By some circumstance, whether by accident or design does not appear, the boat put off with all the crew and passengers except John Minns, who was left on board the sinking ship. Not being able to swim, his distress of mind, on reflecting on his hopeless situation, may be more easily conceived, than described. With the prospect of immediate death before him, he endeavoured to resign himself to the will of God, and put up a prayer for mercy to his soul. It pleased Providence, however, to move the heart of one of the female Slaves on board (named Rosette) to his situation, and to devise means for his preservation. She procured a feather-bed from one of the berths, and having securely lashed it to his back, she requested him to lower himself down the ship's side into the sea, when she would assist him to gain the shore. This expedient appeared to John Minns but a forlorn hope, yet, as no other means were at hand, and time was wearing fast away, he submitted himself to the generous proposal. His sable benefactress, being herself an able and expert swimmer, was soon in the sea to assist the poor, helpless, White man, down the ship's side. She then laid him gently on the bosom of the unstable element, with the bed attached to his back, and, having secured one corner of it between her teeth, she proceeded on her perilous voyage, towing her singular cargo towards the shore; and in this way they both reached the land in safety.

After John Minns had devoutly acknowledged the interposition of a kind Providence in his preservation, he endeavoured to devise a suitable retribution to her, who had been the means of his remarkable escape from impending death. He concluded it was his duty, by every means in his power, to endeavour to obtain Rosette's freedom from Slavery. Most of the other Slaves had, by great exertion, reached the shore; and, as they were soon in a condition to be offered for sale, their owner gave public notice of it in the island. John Minns now entered into a negotiation for the purchase of Rosette; but her cruel owner, instead of sympathizing with his feelings, took the advantage of asking such an exorbitant price for her as was quite beyond his means; and for some time it was doubtful whether the desired change of masters, for the meritorious girl, could be accomplished. Rosette was aware of these impediments, and extremely anxious that they should be surmounted, fondly hoping that he, whom she had been the means of delivering from a watery grave, would, from motives of gratitude and compassion, be the means of restoring her to freedom, and, perhaps, to her endeared connexions in Africa, from whose embraces she had been cruelly torn away. This was indeed a time of anxious suspense to poor Rosette; but at length, to her great joy, the bargain was concluded; she found herself in the hands of a kind and humane master, and now she neither feared the lash of the taskmaster, nor the abuse of the manager. John Minns soon afterwards commenced business as a baker at Nassau, in the island of New Providence; and as his trade increased, he found Rosette of great advantage to him, not only in his business, but in his domestic arrangements. Besides a high character for fidelity to her employer, and a capacity for domestic duties, she possessed the form and figure of an African beauty--was young, strong, and active. All these circumstances tended to create an attachment, in his mind, towards his faithful servant, and he not only determined to free her by law from bondage, but also to make her his wife. Their marriage, brought about by events of so extraordinary a character, was productive of a large share of happiness to both parties. They had a family of children, and lived for several years in great harmony, until Rosette died in giving birth to an infant. On her deathbed she conversed with great composure on her approaching end. She spoke very affectionately to her sorrowful husband, and addressed each of her children separately; but it was supposed she had forgotten the infant, when, after a considerable pause, she said, "And God will be a father to the motherless child," and, almost immediately, she breathed her last. Her loss, as described by her husband, was lamented in the neighbourhood where she resided, and her funeral was attended by a large concourse of the inhabitants, rich and poor, black and white, bond and free. Her husband always spoke of her with the greatest affection, affirming, that during the years she had been his wife, she never give him a moment's pain, nor did he ever receive an unkind word from her lips.

Rosette Minns used to describe herself as the daughter of an African prince; and it is supposed she was taken captive in one of those cruel wars which are fomented between the chiefs, by European intrigue, for the sake of sharing in the spoil - the prisoners on either side being sold into Slavery. She appeared to have, at first, but very indistinct views of Christianity, but said that missionaries had been amongst her people. On further intercourse with Christian society, her mind became expanded and capable of receiving the truths of the Gospel. in its purity and simplicity. One of her greatest enjoyments was that of listening to the reading of the Bible, and she was accustomed to speak in terms of great admiration of the efforts of the Bible Society, to spread the Scriptures throughout the world; frequently expressing her anxious wish that her beloved relatives, in her native land, might become acquainted with the contents of that blessed book. A trivial circumstance may be noticed here, as characteristic of the abject feeling of caste which pervades the Negro mind, in regard to the well-known prejudice, against colour, in the Whites.

John Minns was once reading to his wife a letter which he had received from his sister in England, in which the following passage occurred:--"Give my love to poor sister." On hearing this, poor Rosette was overcome with gratitude and astonishment, to find that a female, of another complexion than her own, could not only love her, but was willing to acknowledge her as a sister - at hearing which she broke out into tears.

John Minns was employed by the Government, as baker to the King's troops, and was much respected in the island. The authorities there had regard to those religious scruples, which he was known to entertain, as respects fighting and swearing. He was never required to take an oath, or to do military duty, although the law then required every man to bear arms, and to be prepared to be called out, on military service. Free persons of Colour were subjected to many privations and indignities, and liable, without clear proof of title to freedom, to be reduced to Slavery. It was a practice with John Minns, in order to make their title to freedom beyond dispute or cavil, to buy a piece of freehold for each of his children, soon after they were born, taking care to have it legally registered in the name of the child.

Two of his sons (Men of Colour) were educated in England, and were persons of considerable talent; they employed their pen in remonstrating against the unjust restrictions to which the free people of colour were then subject. They were not only debarred the franchise, but their oath, when opposed to the word of a White man, was not regarded in any of the courts of justice, which exposed them to much vexation, and pecuniary loss, from unprincipled and litigious persons. Such has been the reformation of late years in the jurisprudence of these islands, that Free Persons of Colour are admitted to all the rights of citizenship. It is understood that these two individuals are now in office under the Government, and one of them in the commission of the peace.

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