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Sheppey's Hidden Black Histories exhibition reveals island's links to slavery and Napoleon

A Sheppey family has discovered it is related to a black slave who fought for Napoleon in the 19th century and was captured by the English.

After serving on a prison ship, Maurice from Martinique was released and came to live on the island where he met and married a black woman.

Mary Seacole visited the town in February 1859
Mary Seacole visited the town in February 1859

His story is one of many told at the Cottage of Curiosities in Rose Street, Sheerness, as part of Black History Month. The free exhibition, called Sheppey’s Hidden Black Histories, is in the upstairs gallery.

Artists Chelsea St Pierre and Anthony Jones will be running £2 activity workshops for children next Tuesday for the school half-term holiday from 11am to 2pm.

Cottage spokeswoman, Jo Eden, said: “Research shows that Afro-Caribbean sailors sometimes married local girls, left the Navy and worked in the dockyard at Sheerness.

“Our stories about Donald Adolphus Brown and the Hughes family bear this out. Maybe your family can also be proud of the Black Jack Tars who served in Nelson’s Navy?”

She added: “We would love to hear any local stories or family histories as we continue to add to our collection. The Hughes family, for instance, can trace two strands of its family tree to Africa and the West Indies with Henry Johnson and Moise Hulott.”

Descendant Stella Hulott from Westgate on Sea, Thanet, said: “After taking a DNA test for his family tree, my husband found out his fourth great grandad was actually a black slave called Maurice from Martinique who fought for Napoleon and got captured by the English in the 19th century.

“Through DNA we have found links to family members descended from slaves in America. This was something the family was unaware of. Maurice went on to have several children, including the famous seafarer Cornelius Hulott.

“None of this was known by the descendants or even my husband’s father.”

Mrs Hulott said: “We know there are lots more Hulotts we have been unable to contact and would love them to visit the event to learn about their extraordinary ancestors.”

The exhibition is open on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Tuesdays in October from 11am to 3pm. It includes a photograph of black Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole who treated the troops in the Crimean War (1853-1856) and visited Sheppey in February 1859.

But while Florence Nightingale went down in history and became a legend, she was relegated to obscurity until recently.

Read more: All the latest news from the Isle of Sheppey

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