was baptised at St John’s Church, Hackney,
in 1710. Her children, Joseph and Katherine
were baptised at the same time.
In 1710 Hackney was still surrounded by fields.
Many rich people built houses in Hackney. They
liked to get away from the crowded streets of
London. Large houses needed many servants. By
this time a lot of Black people were being brought
over from the West Indies to carry out this
Although Margaret is given the title servant,
she is unlikely to have been paid.
Voice calling ‘Margaret,
my Mistress, Madame Mitchell. I wonder what she wants
I live here in Church Street,
in Hackney, in this year of our Lord 1710 My daughter
who is 14, and my son who is seven, are here with
me too. This is a comfort… and yet a curse.
Portrait of African Girl, c.1740
Madame M: Where’s
Joseph? Why isn’t he ready? Tell Katherine to
send him up.
This is a grand house, one of Hackney’s finest,
or so Madame would say. It has six bedrooms, all with
their own closets. But we share one room and one bed
between the three of us. I clean, and do the laundry,
which gives me a bad back. My daughter cleans and
helps the cook – she works long, long hours;
and my youngest – well look at him.
Mare Street near the church, 1740
Madame M: Ah,
there you are boy, why haven’t you got your
turban on – no Margaret you’re hands are
covered in soot from cleaning the fireplace. Come
got up in pink silk suit with lace cuffs, and a yellow
silk turban with a ridiculous white feather stuck
in the top. She dresses him up as if he were a doll,
because it’s the fashion to have a little black
boy as a page, and has him follow around after her
all day, and sometimes half the night if she is going
dancing at the Assembly. The child comes home so tired
he can hardly stand up.
People at Vauxhall Gardens
Mind you, her own little boy is
almost as miserable. He goes to school on Lower Clapton
Road and learns Latin and French and geometry, which
he hates.When his maman is not looking, the two boys
sneak off together and play ‘Ring a ring a roses’
on Holywell Mount where they buried the people who
died of the plague and covered them over with earth
Madame M: Margaret,
Margaret do make haste and finish.My guests will be
arriving and you know how the sight of you upsets
poor Lady Chapman.
I get a little time off, and then me and my boy go
walking, across the fields, beyond the church and
out towards Hummerton.
There’s plenty of new houses that way too. Hackney
is the fanciest of places these days. All of Master
Mitchell’s merchant friends want to move here,
he says, and take the fine air, and build a grand
home for themselves.
View of Hackney
Margaret: I know
where most of these moneymen get their riches from
though. From cargoes of sugar and rum and tobacco.
From working slaves on their plantations. These fine
ladies and gentlemen sipping tea in their drawings
rooms would choke to see how their sugar got made.
But I know- I’ve seen it.
Madame M: Margaret. Bring the tray
through when I call.
Master Mitchell is a sugar merchant. He travels to
the West indies every year. Four years ago now, he
decided to bring us back with him to England, along
with a few men to be trained as footmen. I’ll
never forget the long days and nights on that ship,
my children cold and sick and half scared to death.
Master Mitchell figured we would be cheaper. And we
are. And there is nothing we can do about it. Madame
Mitchell insisted we be baptised, and then having
done her Christian duty by us, she is now at liberty
to treat us as slaves.
Madame M: There
now Joseph, stand straight, don’t scowl so.
There, hold my fan, and then, when you hear the bell,
hold my train while I receive my guests. There Margaret,
doesn’t Joseph look better when he smiles.
Black boy dressed in turban
What really frightens me is what
will happen in a few years time. My little girl is
almost grown up now. A man – a ‘gentleman’
tried to pull her into the pub, the ‘Mermaid’
last month. Assumed that because she was black he
could do as he liked by her. She was too quick for
him that day. And what will happen when my boy grows
too big to be her pet? Will Madame keep us all three
then? I hear young men are sold at the coffee shops
in the city every month. How might he buy his freedom,
and live where he chooses?
Madame M: Here they are. Joseph,
what did I tell you? My dress. You can go now Margaret.