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Raise a glass to Nottingham’s African hero

REMEMBERED: A plaque dedicated to George Africanus

THE RAGS to riches story of a liberated house slave who became a renowned Nottingham entrepreneur is to be explored and highlighted as part of a new Heritage Lottery Fund project.

George Africanus, who was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, was brought to England and ‘gifted’ to wealthy Wolverhampton businessman Benjamin Molineux.

The servant man was given the opportunity to learn to read and write, and served an apprenticeship as a brass founder in one of the Molineux family’s foundries.

Africanus became a free man long before the Committee for the Abolition of Slave Trade changed the law in 1807 and is said to have used his newfound freedom to make valuable contributions to his community.

He founded the Africanus’ Register of Servants, an employment agency to help liberated slaves find jobs. The entrepreneur went on to own property and businesses in the centre of Nottingham and was also part of the Watch and Ward - a sort of police force responsible for preventing civil disturbances.

Rosanna Ottewell, project co-ordinator at community organisation Belong, which was awarded £69,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to research Africanus’ life, described him as an “amazing and successful businessman.”

EVIDENCE

She said: “His story is evidence that black people have been contributing to the community for a long time and gives people a sense of belonging and inclusion.”

Norma Gregory, who runs a youth organisation and is supporting the Belong project, said Africanus’ story is an important part of black history.


REMEMBERED: A plaque dedicated to George Africanus

She said: “Probably a third of the city is ethnic minority, so we need to showcase people who have done extremely well and who have made valuable contributions, economically and socially.  These extraordinary people who have been forgotten can inspire today’s generation and cultivate cultural esteem.”

The project is aiming to develop an interactive CD-Rom, which will be piloted in local schools this September. A tour, similar to the Robin Hood walk, is also being developed.

Gregory says Africanus’ impact on the community is so “significant” that a local community brewery, Castle Rock, has named a beer after the ex-slave.

A spokesperson for the brewery said they chose Africanus because “his story is that of overcoming the odds.”

He added: “We are proud of what he achieved in moving from being a slave to a free and successful man in the height of adversity.”

Ottewell said she hopes to provide a real insight into Africanus’ life and the experience of house slaves. “Much of the history we have is from the American and European perspective and focuses on the life of field slaves, but the story of the black domestic slave is seldom told,” she said.

Only one image of Africanus is believed to exist. He is depicted in a painting standing behind his master.

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