Assistant to Dr. Samuel Johnson, writer of the first dictionary
Francis Barber was born in Jamaica about the year 1735, and was brought to England by a plantation owner who was the father of one of Samuel Johnson's closest friends. For a year, he attended school in Barton, a small Yorkshire village, and then he entered the service of his owner's son, who sent him as a valet to Johnson in April 1752, two weeks after the death of Johnson's wife. Two years later the plantation owner died, leaving Barber 12 pounds and his freedom.
Francis was only 19 at this time, and ran away to serve an apothecary in Cheapside, paying Johnson the occasional visit. In 1758, he ran away to sea and served two years on HMS Stag, protecting English fishermen from the North Sea. Johnson, who was quite fond of Barber, arranged for him to be discharged. He also paid for Barber to be educated at Bishop's Stortford Grammar School.
When Barber left school, Johnson came to rely on him more and more, not only as valet, but also as secretary. Barber arranged trips, received documents, and kept Johnson's diary. They were also great friends. When Barber married, Johnson allowed his wife and children to move into his house. Johnson died in 1784, leaving him an annuity of £70 and a gold watch. Barber and his family settled in Lichfield, Staffordshire. Barber did not handle money wisely, and later had to sell Johnson's gold watch and other keepsakes.
Francis Barber died in Stafford Infirmary in 1801. His descendants still live in Staffordshire today.