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Black John and Toby


Black John and Toby were slaves in Berbice who came to Scotland with their owner, James Baillie Fraser of Reelig, in 1809. Toby returned to Berbice with James, arriving early in 1810, but Black John remained at Moniack, the Fraser's house in Scotland.

James’s brother, Edward, referred to Black John in a letter to his mother, written from Berbice in 1810. Edward saw the corrupting effect of slavery and wrote that ‘Blacks are seldom capable of lasting attachment to their owners because of the way their owners treat them and they treat their owners’. He knew that his mother would ‘give Black John as instance to contrary’ because he had ‘grieved when his master came away, and felt alone and deserted’ but Edward held that ‘if he [Black John] returned to the country [Guyana] and there were an insurrection . . . he would as soon see his master and me killed as not’.

By 1811 James was back in Scotland and in 1812 Black John accompanied him on a tour of the west Highlands in 1812. James had now decided to go to India and was keen to have John baptised before they left. This required the permission of the presbytery of Inverness and, when that was granted, John was baptised in 'the great Church' [the High Church, Inverness] by the Rev Thomas Fraser on 13th December 1812.

Black John remained with James in India and later accompanied James when he travelled to Tehran in 1821 and continued with him to the remote province of Khorasan in 1822. When the party were detained at Resht, James plotted an escape, sharing the details only with Black John in whom he could ‘implicitly confide’.

Ten years later, on a journey to Constantinople, he regretted Black John’s absence: ‘It is now that I miss my faithful John, who was so capital a hand on a march, and who used to look after so much which I now must see to myself, whether weary or not.’

Black John had returned to Britain with James in 1822, but his health deteriorated and he died in 1823. His last days, and the attachment of James and his family to him, are seen in their letters.

Diary of Jane Fraser (James Baillie Fraser’s mother)
June 1823
James informed us of the depressing account of poor John’s Death – when James determined by the advice of Dr Chambers to send him to the Hospital and told him so – he made no answer or objection but went out at about 1 o’clock on Thursday the 29th – carrying some of his Master’s Cloaths to the wash – and was heard of no more until the end of the day the 30th – during which time his Master was in the utmost anxiety and perplexity where to look for him – or to guess where he had gone.

The Nurse (?) of the Middlesex Hospital came to tell him his Black Servant had arrived there the evg before in so weak and wretched a state – that they had instantly admitted him without examination & that he was still thought in a dangerous way – it would appear that the poor Creature had gone out with those Cloaths to wash probably from uncertain or little knowledge of the Town and possibly from a sort of wandering that . . . even then upon him from fever – wandered on either in search of the Hospital – till he was quite exhausted until providentially he was near the M Hospital into which he was rescued.

When James went to visit him on the 31st – the Surgeon told him there was not a hope of his recovery and accordingly it appears he expired about 3 hours afterwards – he knew his Master however but could say little and was not quite Collected in what he attempted to say – poor John – never will he be remembered without a sigh of regret – or a pitying tear – after being associated with James in many afflicting and interesting scenes and having proved himself the attached faithful friend as well as the devoted Servant – and when James looked to making him as comfortable as possible for the remainder of his life – the regret at his unexpected loss is sincerely felt – and his attached service will be cherished in the memory of us all with affectionate regard.

Just before going out had a letter from James . . . adding some additional accounts of the death of poor John & whom he had had interred at Paddington Churchyard – himself attending the Funeral.

Letter from Jane Fraser to George Fraser
15th June 1823
Your father has I believe touched on the melancholy loss of James’s faithful Black John! I cannot say how much it has distressed us all & James most sincerely I never saw the poor creature since we parted with James at b…. but he is too strictly associated with many interesting scenes to lose the memory of his devoted & faithful attachment & never will James find another like him – he has not even attempted to replace him yet.

 

Thanks to Kathy Fraser for her help with information on Black John.