Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

152: Sarah Parker Remond (1824-1894), British citizen

Sarah Parker Remond was born in Massachusetts, a ‘free person of color’, and came to England in 1859 where she lectured on American slavery and attended Bedford College in London. She went on to Italy where she qualified as a doctor, married an Italian, and died in there in 1894. In 2013 a plaque was erected at the Protestant cemetery in Rome. Remond has attracted attention from historians and there are websites and publications that mention her, with varying degrees of accuracy.

An early study in the Journal of Negro History of 1935 suggests she was born around 1815, and so does Wikipedia. The Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History of 2006 gives her birthday as 6 June 1826, as does the website of the National Women’s History Museum of Washington DC. An interesting fact, germane to this website’s main focus of black affairs in Britain, emerged in Gerald Horne’s Negro Comrades of the Crown. African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. before Emancipation (New York University Press, 2012) p 213 where he said that Ms Remond had become a citizen of Britain. His source was the British National Archives in Kew, reference HO 1/123/4809. An on-line search of Kew’s system confirmed this, and copies of those pages are before me as this is written.

Remond was joined by her sister Caroline R. Putnam (who was born in 1826), who had experienced a colour-line on the Cunard line’s Europa, which led Remond to advise the British press and ask ‘whether men and women, guilty of no crime but having a dark complexion, shall be liable to such injustice on board English steamers?’ (Scottish Press, Edinburgh, 20 December 1859). Remond also wrote to the newspapers about a decision made at the American Embassy in London. She had a US passport and needed a visa to enable her to travel to France, to attend a conference. It was rejected because she was not an American citizen. The officials were following State Department guidelines from July 1856 and the Dred Scott decision of 1857 excluded blacks from citizenship. She was not the first African American to experience this policy, and some states including Massachusetts had started to issue passports to ‘denationalized’ black citizens. But Remond sent copies of the correspondence to the newspapers including Edinburgh’s Scottish Press, and the Morning Star and Inquirer of London. The Times of 7 January 1860 (page 9) published them under the heading ‘Disabilities of American Persons of Colour’.

Remond started studies at Bedford College for Ladies (Bedford Square, Bloomsbury) and was active in both the London Emancipation Society and the Freedmen’s Aid Society.

The application for citizenship, granted on 11 September 1865, notes she was ‘An African, born in the U.S. aged 41. A spinster has resided 6 years and intends to reside permanently’ to which an official has added ‘A Proper Case’. The two pages of copper-plate ‘memorial’ declares she was 41 (so we can agree on 1824 being her birth year), that if she was naturalized she would be able to ‘obtain and hold real or leasehold property in this country where many of her intimate friends reside’. She had decided ‘under no circumstances to return to reside in America’. ‘The strong prejudice against persons of African descent which is entertained by a large proportion of the inhabitants of the United States and the social disabilities under which such persons consequently suffer’ had caused this decision.

She also stated she was living at Aubrey House, Notting Hill. One of the witnesses who signed the memorial was Peter Alfred Taylor. Aubrey House, an 18th century mansion near the hill top in Camden Hill (and now owned by a millionaire) was where Taylor and his wife Clementia lived from 1861. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states Taylor was a ‘politician and radical’ who inherited the Courtauld chemical and fibre business. Audrey House was an ‘open house for leading radicals’ from 1861, including Italian nationalist Mazzini. Clementia Taylor was to be active in the Freedmen’s Aid Association, and secretary of the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society, and was to be an active supporter of women’s suffrage. The blue wall table erected by the London County Council in 1960 names three other residents as well as defining the Taylors as ‘philanthropists’.

There is no obvious reason for the ‘BBC bitesize’ website to state that Remond ‘faced the same discrimination here’ in Britain as in America. The Taylors’ open house, as well as Remond’s close links with Warrington where she gave three lectures days after arriving in England in January 1859, let alone the grant of British citizenship suggest although life in Britain for black Americans was not without insults and negative elements, it was much better than the U.S.A.

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