Kidderminster’s hidden role as home to one of the most famous freed slaves in the world
Sold into slavery, Ukawsaw Gronniosaw had a turbulent life despite being born the grandchild of a Nigerian king.
But it was in Kidderminster that he settled after being freed from the shackles of bondage and found a nurturing community.
Gronniosaw, who took on the name of James Albert, became one of the first slaves to write and publish his biography in Britain around 250 years ago and make the world aware of the horrific first-hand experiences involved in slavery.
It was in the Worcestershire town that the remarkable Gronniosaw published his book, made friends and had his children christened in the 1770s – decades before slavery was abolished in the UK in 1807.
His book from 1772 – A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince – can still be found in Bewdley and Kidderminster libraries for the public to read.
The former slave became good friends with Calvinist minister Benjamin Fawcett, who preached at the Old Independent Meeting House in Kidderminster, where Grionniosaw attended and had his children christened.
Gronniosaw had lived a tough life. Although born in the Nigerian city of Baurnou as a grandchild to the reigning King of Zaara in around 1705, he was captured by a Gold Coast ivory merchant and sold into slavery at the age of 15 to a Dutch captain for just two yards of check cloth.
After being bought and sold several times, he was granted his freedom in 1748 and fought for the the British Navy in Martinique and Cuba before being discharged to Britain and later marrying a white widowed weaver, Betty, in London.
It was when the family moved to Kidderminster in the latter years of their life with their children that Gronniosaw started to make his mark.
Gronniosaw’s letters also reflect friendships he made in the Midlands including a Mrs Marlowe in Leominster, where he says he was “shewed kindness from my Christian friends”.
Archivist Zoe van Well from Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service said that minister Fawcett also found work for Gronniosaw and his wife in Kidderminster, at a carpet factory.
“Gronniosaw’s life in Kidderminster is a lovely story on how he came to find friendships and write his biography as a freed slave.
“His biography in itself is incredible and it was one of the first of its kind in the country and world on the first-hand experiences of being a slave.
“During Black History Month, or any time, we encourage people’s inquisitiveness in finding out about our shared history.
“Anyone can come and look at the Worcestershire archives as we are a research facility and have lots of information to explore.”