Paula – A Letter to James

Dear James

I have just been looking through a box of old photos and came across the one of you when you were about 5 years old.  The one where you are sitting on an old canon outside Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.  At the time you would not have known that this place is part of your heritage.

All this is of importance to me at the moment, because of Dad and my involvement in the Port Stories Project in Lancaster.

You will not have known as you sat on the canon that the castle behind you once housed African people who were waiting to be carried away as slaves from a continent that they would never see again.

Unlike me , you would not have experienced the poignant sadness of standing (in the dark, musty cell that would have housed countless people, with only a small round hole near the ceiling for air)  imagining that one of my ancestors may have stood in this very place.  A place where they would have heard the roar of the sea that would take them to a place and a life without freedom, that they could not have imagined.

When enough slaves had been collected they would pass through a door which lead them to the ships that were waiting to transport them from a continent they would never see again. This door became known as the ‘Door of No Return’.

 

Many of these people ended up in the Caribbean like my ancestor or in North America.  But, as I have now discovered a small number, ended up here through various means, in Lancaster. One such black person who ended up in Lancaster was a young woman named Francis Elizabeth Johnson who was brought here as a servant by John Satterthwaite and his wife Mary.

Love Mum xxx

ps. YESTERDAY I TOOK A WALK UP TO CASTLE PARK TO TRY AND FIND THE HOUSE WHERE THE BLACK SERVANT FANNY WORKED FOR THE SATHERTHWAITE FAMILY. I FOUND IT AND TOOK A PHOTOGRAPH OF IT.

 

Little is known about Frances or Fanny as she was known. We do not know whether she married or had children, whether she was a ‘free’ slave as many black servants in England at this time were regarded, whether she was paid for her work. There is no record of her death.

There is a story that when she died the family kept her hand as a keepsake of a ‘cherished’ servant.

To us this seems strange, but apparently, the descendants of this family kept the hand. As I wandered through the Memorial Garden in The Priory Church Yard nearby where Fanny’s hand is now buried, I found the memorial stone with her name and date of baptism on it.

I don’t know why I was so delighted to have found it, but I think it was because it proved that she really had existed. What her life in Lancaster was like, I can only imagine.

From baptism records it is clear that Fanny would not have been the only black person living in Lancaster during this time in history. As I made my way home passed some beautiful Georgian buildings that would have been houses to many a wealthy Lancaster merchant, I wonder how many of the people I passed in the street, may unknowingly be the descendants of some of the black people like Fanny, whose ancestors like yours and mine once passed through that ‘Door of No Return’.

All of this is part of your history and part of the history of the town where you were born.

Illustrations by Len Grant.