Francis Williams ca.1690-1762
Francis WILLIAMS ca.1690-1762
Born in Jamaica, son of John and Dorothy Williams, an enslaved couple. The will of John’s enslaver, Col. John Bourden (d.1697), provided his freedom. He went on to become a wealthy merchant, and fought for himself, his wife and his sons (including Francis) to have increased protection under the law.
Francis is believed to have been educated in Britain, but the only archival record of his studies is admission to Lincoln’s Inn in 1721. His time in London was cut short by the death of his father in 1723, after which he returned to Jamaica, and appears to have run a school in Spanish Town, where he taught reading and writing alongside mathematics and Latin. He was also a writer of Latin verse.
Before his return to Jamaica Williams' property, including "Book-Cases… Mathematical Instruments, Books and other Curiosities" were auctioned at his house opposite the church in Mark Lane, London. The auction began on 4 December 1723.
A portrait of Williams in the collections of the V&A depicts him in his study in Spanish Town, and behind him is a case of finely bound books. Carretta identifies that open before him is "Newton’s Philosophy", and on the shelves can be seen "Locke", "Cowley Poems", and "Paradise Lost". It is uncertain whether the painting was commissioned by Williams himself, or created as a caricature by someone wishing to undermine his status as an educated and free Black man. William’s will, proved after his death in 1762, listed among his possessions "A parcel of old books", furniture, and fifteen enslaved people.
No books from Williams’ library are known to have been identified.
- Alston, R. C., Inventory of sale catalogues ... 1676-1800, St Philip, 2010.
- Carretta, V. “Who Was Francis Williams?” Early American Literature 38, no. 2 (2003), pp.213–37.
- Gilmore, John. "Williams, Francis." In The Oxford Companion to Black British History : Oxford University Press, 2007.
- Gilmore, John. "Williams, Francis (c. 1690–1762), writer in Jamaica." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- “Celebrating Black History Month: Francis Williams – earliest known black member of Lincoln’s Inn”, ‘’Tales from the Archive’’, The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn.
- “Francis Williams - a portrait of a writer”, V&A.
- “Francis Williams, the Scholar of Jamaica”, V&A P.83&A-1928.
- “To be Sold by Auction on Wednesday next, being the 4th Day of December, all the Household Goods and fine Furniture of Mr. Francis Williams, the Black Merchant…”, Daily Journal, 29 November 1723.