Burntwood Family History Group
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Francis BARBER
Francis BARBER, thought originally to have been called ‘Quashey’ was born as a slave about 1735 on the Orange River Estate sugar plantation in Jamaica which belonged to Colonel Richard Bathurst
The place and date of his birth are not known; but he was aged about fourteen in 1749, when Richard Bathurst sold the Orange River Estate
A favourite slave, the boy in 1750, then aged about fifteen was taken to England by the Colonel, where he was baptised as Francis BARBER
Two years later in 1752, Richard the elder Bathurst died. In his will, Barber, was given his freedom, with a small legacy of £12
Richard’s son, Richard was a friend of Samuel Johnson. On the 17th March 1752, Samuel Johnson’s wife died. Richard sent Francis to Johnson as a valet, arriving at Johnson’s home, Bolt Court, near Gough Square, two weeks after Johnson’s wife had died
Johnson was known for his disapproval of slavery and sent Francis (or Frank as he called him) to school in Barton, Yorkshire saying ‘You can never be wise unless you love reading'. He was there for about a year
(Johnson's House in Gough Square is of additional special historic interest as being one the first places in England where a former slave is known to have lived as a respected, independent individual)
He wasn't happy at Johnson’s home, and in 1754 aged just 19, he ran away to serve in an apothecary in Cheapside. However, he did pay Johnson the occasional visit
By the time he was in his early thirties, he was back full time with Johnson’s staff
In 1758 aged 23, he ran away again, this time to sea. For the next two years he served on the HMS Stag under Captain Angel. They sailed the North Sea protecting English fishermen
Johnson, who had grown quite fond of Barber, missed him, and arranged for him to be discharged
On his return in 1760 he re-joined Johnson's staff, working as Johnson’s butler
He attended Bishop's Stortford Grammar School in 1767
Francis BARBER attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds c 1770
Johnson wrote to Francis, encouraging him to read and reassuring him of his abiding affection. One such letter he sent to Francis ends: 'Do not imagine that I shall forget or forsake you...'
In 1772 after finishing school, he worked as his Johnson’s secretary. In later years he had acted as Johnson's assistant in revising his famous dictionary and other works
It is said that the childless Johnson raised and treated him like if he were his own son, giving him his freedom
In 1773, he married Elizabeth (also known as Betsy) Ball in the local parish hurch of St Dunstan’s. On his marriage Johnson allowed Francis and Betsy to move into his house Bolt Court
When Johnson moved to London, Francis and Betsy went with him. He emained the man servant of Johnson for 35 years until Johnson’s death in 1784
Francis cared for Johnson in almost every way, as valet and secretary, He was his servant during the day and he was his companion in the evening. He nursed him in his various illnesses, and took communion with him when he received it for the last time just before his death
In 1783, the whole family came to live with Johnson in Bolt Court, adjacent to Gough Square. Francis is described as about 48 (incorrectly), low of stature, marked with the small-pox; has lost his teeth; appears aged
and infirm, clean and neat, but his cloaths the worse for wear; a green coat, his late Master's cloaths, all worn out. He spent his time in fishing, cultivating a few potatoes, and a little reading
When making his will, Johnson asked Sir John Hawkins, later his first biographer, what provision he should make for Francis. Sir John said that a nobleman would give 50 pounds a year. Then I shall be "noblissimus" replied Johnson, and give him £70. Hawkins disapproved, and after Johnson's death criticized his "ostentatious bounty and favor to negros". The bequest was indeed widely covered in the press
On the 9th December 1784, Johnson wrote a codicil to his will, which was several times the length of the will he had written the day before. In both the will and in the codicil, Johnson makes him the chief beneficiary
Johnson made him his residual heir, with £70 a year to be given him by Trustees, (of which Sir Joshua Reynolds was one) expressing the wish that he move from London to Lichfield, Staffordshire, Johnson's native city, to avoid the temptations of London. Johnson also left him his books and papers, and a gold watch
Johnson died later in December 1784 at Bolt Court. After Johnson’s death, Johnson’s friends, especially Reynolds and James Boswell helped the Barbers (Barber is often mentioned in James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’)
In 1786, Francis did move to Lichfield and opened up a draper’s shop. He lived there as a free man in the city of Lichfield. There he married a local woman named Elizabeth
The Barber's life in Staffordshire was unsettled, and Francis was apparently given to drinking. He was not good with financial matters, and failed to curb his extravagance. Over the years, the Barbers had to sell most of the items Johnson had left them in order to make ends meet
Later, in the mid-1790s, the Barbers moved to the nearby village of Burntwood, where they started a school, and Francis became a schoolteacher there
The Barber’s had five children in total, apparently after some miscarriages, but of these only three survived infancy
Their eldest son was named Samuel (he was named after Johnson) and he did not survive. Their next son born in 1785 was also named Samuel and he did survive
By 1799, they were known to have three of their children - Elizabeth, Samuel and Ann - living with them in the
parish of Burntwood. He described himself as ‘Born in "Jamaco in the West Indies"
Francis’s health began to deteriorate, and he was taken into Stafford Infirmary. He died there on the 28th January 1801. He was buried at St Mary's, Stafford
His wife Elizabeth, moved to London with their only surviving daughter Ann. Elizabeth died in 1816
Their son, Samuel, on whose education they had spent time and money, became a minister in the Primitive
Methodist movement and was a well-known in the Stafford region. He married and had children. He died 1828
Direct descendants of Francis, still live and farm near Lichfield
If you have any information to add on Francis BARBER, please send details to us at enquiries@bfhg.org.uk
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