BY Stephen Nartey, 12:00pm October 21, 2022,

Tom Jenkins, the first Black teacher in Britain whose legacy was buried for 200 years

Tom Jenkins, first black teacher in Britain/Photo credit: Press Reader

For 200 years, his story was buried in the annals of history in the Scottish town of Teviothead near Hawick. His request to head the local school in Teviothead was turned down despite his brilliance and being qualified for the job. 

Dampened by the actions of the local authorities, the fourth Duke of Buccleuch and other opinion leaders led advocacy to raise monies and converted a structure in the community into a school, according to the BBC. 

With resilience and determination, Tom Jenkins, the first Black teacher in Britain, trained scores of children at Teviothead between 1814 and 1818. 

His story was unearthed by artist Dr. Jade Montserrat, who was researching the links between Hawick and Jenkins in relation to Fredrick Douglass, the anti-slavery campaigner, who visited the community in 1846. 

Montserrat said Jenkins had a rude awakening when he was barred from being the local school head. Jenkins had a knack for teaching and was fit for the role which was vacant. He did not allow his rejection to put him down. When funds were raised to set up a school for him, he rose to the task and taught many local children who expressed the desire to learn. 

According to historical records, Jenkins was born in the Senegambia region in 1797. His father, who was actively involved in the transatlantic slave trade, offered him to a captain of one of the slave ships, Capt James Swanson, when he was six years old. 

The idea of giving him away was to enable Jenkins to get access to education and return to Africa. But, Montserrat indicated that Capt. Swanson, who was in charge of the slave ship, Prudence, died a few days after they landed in Hawick. Hawick was a fledgling industrial town which was gradually gaining ground. 

Jenkins was lucky; he was taken in by the Captain’s sister and her husband. Guided by the objective with which he was put on the slave ship, Jenkins began learning the English language and the local dialect of Hawick. Within a short period of time, he was able to write each letter of the alphabet himself. 

He sharpened his skills every night with an old textbook and candlelight. He read virtually every book he could lay his hands on. Empowered by his level of knowledge, he applied to be the head of the local school at the age of 20. 

Despite his contributions, Montserrat said not much recognition has been paid to the contributions of Jenkins to the education of the Hawick community except for a plaque placed on the Johnnie Armstrong Gallery. Montserrat said Jenkins’ passion for learning was unmatched and this translated into his career as a teacher. With local support from the Quakers, he furthered his education at the University of Edinburgh.

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.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 21, 2022


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