Samuel Johnson's Relationship with Francis Barber and the Fight Against Slavery

TLDR Samuel Johnson's relationship with Francis Barber, a former slave, reveals his attempts to define his own identity and provide educational opportunities. Johnson's opposition to slavery, although somewhat eccentric for the time, influenced figures like Thomas Jefferson.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 The hosts introduce their guest, Peter Moore, and discuss Samuel Johnson's relationship with Francis Barber and his work on the dictionary.
05:02 The discovery of Francis Barber's handwriting in Samuel Johnson's dictionary reveals his presence and influence in Johnson's life and his attempts to define his own identity, while Johnson repeatedly sends Barber to school in an effort to provide him with educational opportunities.
09:32 Samuel Johnson expressed strong opposition to slavery in Jamaica and the West Indies, influencing figures like Thomas Jefferson, but did not write extensively about it, possibly because he had other concerns and found other injustices equally abhorrent.
14:34 In the 18th century, most people, even those in close proximity to slavery, saw it as morally neutral, as exemplified by figures like John Newton and Benjamin Franklin, which makes Samuel Johnson's opposition to slavery somewhat eccentric.
19:11 Francis Barber's presence in the Johnson household, as a boy who brought experience from a brutal plantation society to literary London, served as an antidote to the moral neutrality prevalent in 18th century England.
24:01 After gaining his freedom, Francis Barber decides to leave Samuel Johnson's household and embarks on an adventurous journey in London, working at an apothecary and eventually joining the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War, which Johnson sees as a terrible decision but may have provided Barber with a sense of equality and kinship among the black population on board ships.
28:49 Francis Barber's freedom allows him to navigate the dangerous 18th century world, but Samuel Johnson's attempts to retrieve him after the death of his mother show a possessive and paternalistic nature.
33:10 Francis Barber is discharged from the Navy and brought back home, showing a possessive nature from Samuel Johnson, but there is a sense of loyalty and love in their relationship.
37:57 Francis Barber tries to set up a school in a neighboring village, but ends up living in reduced circumstances and selling off his possessions due to financial difficulties.
42:46 Francis Barber dies in 1801 and is buried in an unmarked grave, symbolizing the price paid during the morally suspect time of the Enlightenment; his story is included in the book to reflect the coexistence of good and bad during that era.
47:18 The discovery of a list of portraits in Joshua Reynolds's studio at the time of his death, which includes a portrait of Francis Barber, suggests a possible connection between Barber and the enigmatic portrait by Reynolds.
Categories: History

Samuel Johnson's Relationship with Francis Barber and the Fight Against Slavery

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