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  • Freetown and London, 1847
  • Douglas M. Haynes (bio)

Among nineteenth-century cities, Freetown, Jamaica and London stand out as major spaces for racialized black people. They functioned as communities for free and emancipated peoples as well as fugitives. They also served as centres for abolition and sanctuaries from slavery. The movement of black people to and from these locations traced the contours of the black Atlantic while exposing the fault lines of freedom between the British Empire (where slavery was abolished in 1833, though the apprenticeship system [End Page 18] remained in place until 1838) and the United States (where slavery persisted until 1865) (Gilroy 2-48). Even within the context of the empire, black subjectivity remained tethered to racialized discourses about black people's capacity to be fully developed human subjects. The circulation of James Africanus Beale Horton—a pioneering pan-Africanist who was among the first African medical officers in the British army—captures the tension between identity and movement at a critical moment in the histories of freedom.

Horton was the son of liberated slaves Nancy and James Beale, who resided in Gloucester Village, British Sierra Leone. The English name of the village, like the names of village communities in British Jamaica, reflected not only the spatial connection between middle-class abolitionists in Britain but also a social model for being human to which liberated and emancipated slaves were expected to conform (Hall 120-139). Like others, the elder James adopted the name of the missionary who supervised his conversion and passed it on to his son. Young James Horton added Beale to his name in honour of James Beale, who sponsored his admission to the Church Missionary Society-run Grammar School in Freetown in 1847. Horton continued his education between 1853 and 1855 at the Fourah Bay Institute, where he quickly emerged as a top student. He was among three students selected for a War Department medical education and training program for West Africans. The program was based on the assumption that tropical Africans possessed an innate or biological capacity to withstand the tropical climate or disease environment (which extended to the West Indies), unlike Europeans, whose mortality rate gave the continent its reputation as the white man's grave. As a condition of participation, he was prohibited from practicing medicine outside of Africa. Between 1855 and 1859, he qualified for membership in the Royal College of Surgeons after training at King's College in London and earning a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh—and James Beale Horton became Dr. Horton (Fyfe 19-28).

Along with the title of doctor, Horton added "Africanus" to his name in 1859. This addition was not without political significance. His anglicized names linked Horton to the white European community in the colony while distinguishing him from both indigenous tribes and earlier black settlers—including West Indian Maroons, who were resettled from Nova Scotia. The latter underscored the marginality of recaptives and their descendants by designating them "nata" (Horton 26-27). The name "Africanus" situated Horton within a larger imagined community, one that reflected Africa's place in the European imagination as both the cradle of human civilization and a site of European-inspired regeneration. The Latin construction communicated Horton's membership in a trans-historical culture of liberal learning, one that tied the history of European civilization to the Nile Valley and, in particular, ancient Egypt via the classical worlds of Greece and Rome (Fredrickson 71-79; Dain 139-168). This was not merely a conceit but rather a personal intervention into a mid-century debate about the origins of civilization that animated Anglo-American discourses about the humanity of people of African descent. [End Page 19]

For friends and foes of abolition, the racialization of ancient Egyptians as black or white either underscored the capacity of people of African descent to overcome the effects of slavery—with European supervision, of course—or doomed them to a life of servitude. When commenting on the decay of post-emancipation Jamaica in his infamous "Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question" (1849), Thomas Carlyle contrasted the historical agency of white British men, who transformed the land and advanced civilization, against stereotyped...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 18-21
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-07
Open Access
No
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