Remembering Tom Jenkins, The First Black Teacher In Britain Whose Legacy Was Buried For 200 Years



In the Scottish town of Teviothead, close to Hawick, his tale was lost to history for 200 years. Despite his intellect and qualification for the position, his plea to lead the neighborhood school in Teviothead was denied.

According to the BBC, the fourth Duke of Buccleuch spearheaded advocacy efforts to raise money and transform a local building into a school after being discouraged by the local government’ actions.

Between 1814 and 1818, Tom Jenkins, the first Black teacher in Britain, successfully instructed a large number of kids at Teviothead.

Artist Dr. Jade Montserrat discovered his narrative when looking into the connections between Hawick and Jenkins in regard to Frederick Douglass, an anti-slavery activist who paid the town a visit in 1846.

Jenkins, according to Montserrat, received a harsh shock when he was denied the position of local school principal.

Jenkins was a natural teacher and qualified for the open position.

He refused to let being rejected make him feel inferior. He stepped up to the plate when money was gathered to establish a school for him and taught several neighborhood kids who exhibited an interest in learning.

Jenkins was born in the Senegambia region around 1797, per historical sources. When he was six years old, his father, who was actively involved in the transatlantic slave trade, offered him to Capt. James Swanson, the commander of one of the slave ships.

Jenkins was intended to be given away in order for him to have access to school and go back to Africa.

But Montserrat said that the slave ship’s captain, Capt. Swanson, passed away a few days after they arrived in Hawick.

Hawick was a young industrial town that was steadily growing.

Jenkins was fortunate to be taken in by the sister and her husband of the Captain. Jenkins started studying the English language and the Hawick dialect under the direction of the goal for which he was placed on the slave ship. He quickly mastered the ability to write every letter of the alphabet by hand.

Every night, by candlelight and an outdated textbook, he honed his talents.

Almost every book he could get his hands on was read by him.

He applied to be the head of the neighborhood school at the age of 20, feeling confident in his level of knowledge.

Despite his efforts, Montserrat said that Jenkins’ contributions to the education of the Hawick community have received little acknowledgement outside of a plaque on the Johnnie Armstrong Gallery. According to Montserrat, Jenkins had an unrivaled zeal for studying, which carried over into his profession as a teacher. He continued his schooling at the University of Edinburgh with assistance from the Quakers in the area.

He later gained an opportunity to head a school in Mauritius in 1821. That was the last time he was seen in Hawick until he died on June 16, 1859. Montserrat believes the flames that were lit by Jenkins are what paved the way for Frederick Douglass to give a lecture in Hawick some 30 years later.

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