“Mr. Maverick was desirous to have a breed of Negroes, and therefore seeing she would not yield by perswasions to company with a Negro young man he had in his house…”
… from John Josselyn as recounted in Two Voyages to New England, published 1674
One story of millions
by West Side Davie
“Cumba” was her name. She died a slave in Romford, England in April, 1668 – the property of John Burch and his wife Margaret of Hogsty Plantation. (I’m not sure whether Captain John Burch of Barbados is also referred to and is the same as Colonel John Burch of Barbados, but this family history and other websites seem to say it is the same man. I remain open for correction!)
Today, Cumba is remembered as Havering’s first black resident in an excellent article by Professor Ged Martin just published in the Romford Recorder:
It was 350 years ago this year that a fabulously rich couple, John and Margaret Burch, arrived in Romford.
They’d made their money in Barbados, exploiting slave labour to produce the bonanza crop: sugar.
In 1664, they retired to England, buying Romford’s biggest estate, Gidea Hall, then usually called Giddy Hall. The mansion, demolished in 1930, stood just east of Raphael Park.
Madam Burch, as she was fawningly called, brought her personal maidservant from Barbados, the ultimate status symbol.
Cumba was Havering’s first black resident. A slave, a piece of property, Cumba survived the English climate just four years.
But when she died, in April 1668, somebody had the humanity to record her name in the register of Romford’s St Edward’s church. “Cumber, a ffemale Blackamore servant from Guyddy Hall, buried.”
Today, “blackamore” is an offensive term. But in 1668, when “black” was used to describe complexion, it was an attempt to identify Cumba with some dignity. The double “ff” indicated a capital letter.
… read the entire article Cumba: Havering’s first black resident remembered on the 350th anniversary of her arrival.
We know very little about Cumba, but we still know far more about her than we do about millions of other people who were enslaved with her and since. We know about the times in which she lived, and we also know a little about the socially-condoned cruelty of slave owners. I believe that much of history has been ‘cleansed’, but not all of it. What passed for ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ when Cumba lived gives us some idea of her personal circumstances, what she probably saw even if she was not herself subject to all of the abuses. We simply don’t know the details of her life, but we know the times.
So to learn more about Cumba, we will talk of the people around her: the powerful elites of society at the time… Continue reading