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Black History in Dorset

Alex (Lower Sixth)

Despite the common belief that ethnic minorities in Dorset first arrived in the 1940’s with the American Army, there has actually been a black presence since the 17th century with Lyme Regis having black citizens from at least 1620 and Canford Magna from 1800. Nonetheless, being a coastal county Dorset has mainly been home to slave trade with the Drax, Hallett and Beckford families all owning major plantations in the Caribbean. The Beckford and Drax families in particular were major players in the slave trade both enslaving upwards of a thousand individuals, and Henry Drax was potentially the largest ‘entrepreneur’ of Barbados in the late 1600s.

However, Dorset’s black history isn’t all tainted with slavery. Many major abolitionists hailed from Dorset such as Thomas Buxton. In 1823, when the slave trade was already abolished, Buxton set up the Anti-slavery society in the House of Commons and took over from Wilberforce after his retirement. He also set up projects ensuring human treatment of slaves in the colonies as well as to abolish the slave trade in African countries. It is not only notable individuals as well, but communities such as Bridport were reportedly eager “to give their names with their whole hearts” when signing the petitions to end the slave trade.

During the final years of WWII many black American GIs came to the UK and were welcomed by the inhabitants of Dorset, a response differing greatly to that of our soldiers.  Around 8000 black GIs were stationed in Dorset, and the locals who apparently “didn’t agree with the segregation” imposed by the army instead chose to accept them, many forming relationships and having children together. Sadly, many of these children were shipped off to the colonies by the government but many remained to tell the story of their acceptance by the community.

Some notable black Dorset people today include: Vaughan Gething, Wales’ Minister for Health and Social Services and Louisa Adjoa Parker, poet and historian.

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