Francis Williams was born around 1700 to John and Dorothy Williams, a free black couple in Jamaica. John Williams had been freed by the will of his former master and within ten years was able to acquire property. As free blacks the Williams family were increasingly in the minority as Jamaica's sugar industry, which relied on the labour of enslaved Africans, grew over the course of the 18th century. Even less common were educated black people. However, John Williams' independent wealth ensured that Francis and his brothers received an education.
A story later evolved suggesting that Francis was the subject of a social experiment devised by the Duke of Montagu who wished to show that black individuals - with the right education - could match the intellectual achievements of whites. The Duke is reported to have sponsored Francis to travel to England to undertake an English education at a grammar school and then at Cambridge University. However, Francis does not appear in the university's records and his family's wealth would have probably made the Duke's support unnecessary.
Example of his poetry:
An Ode to George Haldane
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.
- Ignatius Sancho, another protégé of the Montagu family
- Phillis Wheatley, another early Black poet writing in English contemporaneously
- "Francis Williams - A Portrait of an Early Black Writer". Victoria & Albert Museum. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
- Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, State University of New York at Buffalo.
- "Francis Williams - A Portrait of An Early Black Writer". History, Periods & Styles. Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2008-06-11.
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