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Francis Williams
Francis Williams

Slaves had little or no chance of receiving any kind of education; this would only have intensified their dissatisfaction of their plight. No educated slave would remain content at being the property of another human being; indeed, uneducated slaves found the situation intolerable. It was no wonder, then, that in the West Indies and North America the penalty for educating slaves was very severe.

There was also the belief that blacks were not capable of being educated, not least in the same way that a white man was. It was for this reason that the Duke of Montagu, who had lived in Jamaica for many years, decided to conduct which was at that time a very unusual experiment- to prove that a black man had the same intellectual capabilities as a white man. He chose a young man called Francis Williams because he noticed that he had a lively intelligence.

Francis Williams was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1702, the youngest son of John and Dorothy Williams, who were free blacks. The duke sent him to England to be educated privately, after which he entered Cambridge University. There he studied mathematics, Latin and literature, eventually graduating with a bachelor's degree.

Quickly embraced by the literary set in London, Williams became quite famous, in particular for a ballad he composed called Welcome, welcome, brother debtor. It was so popular in London that some minor composers, jealous of his success, tried to claim the song as their own.

Williams longed to return to Jamaica, even though he knew he would be treated with less tolerance. He set sail for Jamaica with the hope of securing a good position in government. This appointment, although being put forward by his benefactor Montagu, was turned down by white officials.
By 1735 Williams was living the life of a scholar in Spanish Town, where he set up a school where he taught mathematics, Latin, reading and writing. Ironically, those officials who did not think Williams was fit to sit with them in government were perfectly happy to send their children to him.

Williams is best remembered for being a poet of merit, who specialized in Latin verse. He enjoyed composing Latin odes to every new governor of Jamaica. One of his best pieces was 'An Ode to George Haldane,' which was written at the time of Haldane taking the post of governor:

Rash councils now, with each malignant plan,
Each faction, in that evil hour began,
At your approach are in confusion fled,
Nor while you rule, shall raise their dastard head.
Alike the master and the slave shall see
Their neck reliv'd, the yoke unbound by thee.

When the Reverend Robert Boucher Nicholls, Dean of Middleham, read the ode his fury at the colonists that had compared blacks to apes was so strong that he exclaimed,
"I have never heard an orang-utan has composed an ode. Among the defenders of slavery we do not find one half of the literary merit of Francis Williams."

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