Small, Gifted And Black

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The smallest victims of the slave trade were the tiny African children who, in the 17th and 18th centuries, were brought into British homes not as purchases, but as gifts.

This programme tells the story of two such small boys, from arrival to their deaths many years later as pillars of the society that had enslaved them.

It was common for the privileged classes to have a small, exotically dressed, black pageboy.

For ladies of fashion, they were a fashion accessory.

Indeed a black child would sometimes appear in her ladyship's portrait, his blackness a calculated foil for the whiteness of her skin.

So they made acceptable gifts from those who wished to find favour, repay an obligation, or simply bring home a present for the family.

The children might arrive in Britain with slave ship captains who had acquired them as a 'captain's perk', or they could be brought back by military officers returning from the wars against the French in Africa.

Once in this strange cold land they might be given the role of pampered pet, though this carried with it the risk of being discarded when they became stroppy teenagers.

But some remarkably close relationships developed too, and some of these small 'gifts' triumphed over their terrifying beginnings to make an astonishing success of their lives.