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‘Wanton Phaeton’
A Chronology of English African Race Consciousness: Antiquity to 1735

Based solely on Winthrop D. Jordon’s White over Black, an immensely flawed but valuable theoretical work built on a partial survey of literary sources of the period.

Ancient legends concerning people of black African races are limited to a legend of a Greek god arcing too near the sun, philosophical curiosities concerning the effects of geographic latitude on the skin-tone of the myriad human races and the Old Testament and later rabbinical sources declaring that black Africans were cursed by God to be forever a slave race due to their ancestor Ham’s treatment of his patriarch father.

A specific chronology of English-African race-consciousness, of some relevance to European-African race relations in Plantation America, is provided below.

“Whose likeliness seem’d men to be,

But all as blacke as coles.

Their Captaine comes to me

As naked as my naile,

Not having witte or honestic

To cover once his taile.”

-Robert Baker

1553: The First Voyage to Guinea and Benin by an unspecified English captain

1554: William Towrson reports that five African slaves were brought to London and trained as interpreters.

1555: the Spanish chronicle of Franciso Lopez de Gomara, written in 1516, in the wake of the conquest of the Canary Island of Gomera, is translated into English and causes a curious sensation, implanting the idea of “white” races and “black” races common among Islamic and Hebrew slave traders into the English consciousness. One can trace the noun Whiteman and its counterpart Blackman, via this vector. Contrary to Jordon’s theory, English protestants did not conflate the blackness of death, the soot of the fire, the Devil, The infernal pit, demonry and deviltry with “black” Africans, but continued to identify African folk according to variations of the Portuguese and Germanic terms for black “negro” and “negger.” The subsequent attitude concerning African pigmentation and facial characteristics remained in the realm of curiosity more than condemnation or association with evil.

1562: Captain Robert Baker traffics slaves out of West Africa to London.

1564: Captain John Hawkins traffics slaves from Africa to London and in knighted and permitted to have on his noble crest the image of a negress.

1566: Hawkins and Drake set down 100 castaways at the mouth of the Rio Grande, possibly including some Africans, with three English sailors making it to Canada.

1566; Jean Bodin assures his readers that hot climates and sexual promiscuity go hand in hand.

1577: William Harrison contends that the chief worry of literate Englishman was “masterless men” in England and their going abroad and gaining status outside the British hierarchy and that masters valued sheep more than human servants. Winthrop marks this state of severe class oppression as predictive of race-based oppression on page 43, yet on page 44 he denies that white slavery formed the template for African chattel slavery in the very same Plantation Virginia society and dissolves his own theory 500 words after concluding it. It astonishes the rational reader that such a book could have won the 1969 Book Award.

1578: George Beat describes a “blacke as cole” African and a “faire English woman” marrying and having a child.

1579: In a letter Thomas Stevens describes Africans as ugly by reason of their coloring, hair type, lips and nose.

1591: Giordano Bruno wrote that “no sound thinking person” would think that Africans and Jews came from the same bloodline and hence inferred the legend of Ham to be a slander.

1597: James I linked apes and satyrs with demons which somehow leads Winthrop D. Jordon to postulate in 1968 that the English of the time naturally linked demons with Africans, even though, 90 years later New Englanders clearly distinguished between monkey demons, negroes and black devils in their cosmology. Hence this modern academic expects the reader to believe that an English King of 1597 was an entire intellectual leap closer to blathering insanity than the Puritan church fathers of Salem were who believed in rooster-footed monkeys cursing day laborers.

1599: Shakespeare speaks of African women being ugly in In Byyrham

1600: In the English translation of Leo Africanus’ fanciful guide to Africa the author insures the reader that “Negros” are the most criminal “Nation under Heaven.”

1602: Elkin Calhoun Wilson described cosmetically enhanced and unnaturally white skin with rose blotching as the premier beauty standard.

1607: Edward Topsell published a paper that stressed humans were descended from apes and from thence got their lust and passion for sex and that Africans were more closely related to such creatures and this explained their higher sex drive.

1608: John Day in Law-tricks or, Who Would have thought It, describes Africa as the “Empress of Black Soules” clearly equating deviltry and race.

1614: The Reverend Samuel Purchas preached that all races should combine their bloodlines to form “one sheep-fold, under one great Sheepherd,” the earliest advocacy of the current academic and media obsession with extinguishing distinct human races in favor of a single median-toned race.

1614: Thomas Adams writes The White Devil, or the Hypocrite Uncased, referring to white as a color of purity and black as a color of deviltry, speaking not in racial but demonological terms, which the modern historian cannot separate from ethnic references.

1621: Peter Heylyn writes of Africans contemptuously painting “the Divell white,” preferring the “beauty” of their own “jetty” color to the English complexion.

1623: Richard Jobson promotes the notion that African “heathens” kept a “natural Sabbath day” and should be treated as well as Christians.

1634: Francis Bacon describes an African as a “little foul ugly Aethiop.”

1627: Peter Heylyn concluded that the drastically different complexion of black Africans from English was proof of God’s good will to man, in that the Creator designed each kind of man for his homeland.

1631: the first English settlement on the African coast at Kormantin.

1646: Sir Thomas Browne wrote of how transplanted Negroes retained their dark color even in cold climates, which was troubling to some English thinkers, indicating a type of hereditary staining or taint.

1651: the Guinea Company instructed Bartholomew Haward to “Buy and put aboard…said negers and C[h]attel” [indicating another type of human property other than blacks were being shipped out of Africa and that these slaves were being purchased from African merchants, not captured by English slavers]

1665: in a book titled The Gold Coast an anonymous author describes African men as having large penises which transmit disease at a frightening rate.

1666: Thomas Browne concedes, after decades of resisting the notion, that the Biblical curse on Africans might be founded in truth.

1670: John Ogilby described how the African peoples were “so scorched and vexed by the heat of the sunne, that in many places they curse it when it riseth,” explaining that people of Africa would hold to more nocturnal habits than Englishmen.

1671: Charter of the Royal African Company, marks the inception of the transatlantic slave trade to English North America.

1672: A lurid account of Englishmen murdered in Africa by “Negroes or Mors” is published in London.

1680: Morgan Godwyn writes The Negro’s and Indian Advocate

1688: Apra Behn writes Oroonoko, a popular story featuring an African hero.

1694: Captain Thomas Phillips wrote that he could not sanction the idea of condemning Africans for their appearance as it was “the effect of the climate it has pleas’d God to appoint them.”

1726: Captain Nathaniel Uring described an African Queen as appearing very attractive, in such a way as to suggest she was a of mixed European ancestry.

1730: A Rhode Island author wrote “Of the Blackness of Negroes,” of how Negroes reckoned their features and complexion beautiful.

1732: A London essayist points out that “Europeans” not “whites” transplanted to the tropics maintain their fair complexion just as Africans maintain their dark complexion in colder climes, indicating growing realization that racial characteristics were more innate and less related to immediate conditions than previously theorized by ancient thinkers.

1735: Naval surgeon John Atkins opines that “the black and white Race have sprung from different-coloured first Parents.” This opinion was against the general opinion of the time but marks an early use of the terms black and white that would come to dominate racial discourse in the 1800s.


Jordan utterly fails to prove comprehensive English, race-based antipathy in literature, but rather presents a wildly diverse opinion among 16th, 17th and early 18th century English thinkers concerning the quality of black Africans. In so failing to make his pre-ordained case for preternatural white evil and predetermined black martyrdom, he does however, chart the emerging ideas of white and black racial consciousness as Plantation America took form and transformed over 200 years.

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