The popular Netflix drama, Bridgerton, takes place in and around London in 1813. The show focuses on British nobles looking for marriages during the 1813 marriage “season.” Notably, the show features an array of Black characters in the nobility. This is ahistorical (but welcome. If you’re going to make fiction, feel free to be fictitious). There were Black people in England for hundreds of years, but typically, they weren’t nobility. However, not all of it is completely fictitious. The Duke of Hastings’ confidant is a Black boxer named Will Mondrich. In the seventh episode of the first season, Lord Featherington mentions that Mondrich’s father served in “Dunmore’s army.” Lord Dunmore was a real British commander during the American Revolution, and his regiment was real.
Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment
During the American Revolution, the British Crown hoped to subdue the rowdy colonials and bring them back into the fold. Therefore, they were loath to offend the Southern slaveowner class (beclowning yourself to appease slavers is an multinational tradition). As such, the British regular army didn’t include Black soldiers. They allowed freedmen and the slaves of British loyalists to serve as cooks, assistants, and other noncombatant roles. Lord Dunmore was an exception.
In 1775, Lord Dunmore’s regiment was cut off from British supply lines from Boston. He had been reduced to about 300 men. Desperate for new soldiers, he issued a proclamation. Dunmore’s Proclamation stated, in part, :
“And I do hereby farther declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others (appertaining to rebels) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper sense of their duty, to his Majesty’s crown and dignity.”
That’s British-ese for “Every person enslaved to a revolutionary will be freed if he joins my regiment.”
The proclamation only applied to Virginian slaves, but slaves from all over the colonies fled to Virginia. About 1,000 escaped slaves joined his regiment. In 1776, the regiment was disbanded, but the loyalist freedmen likely served in other Black regiments.
After they took a big L, the British government resettled Black loyalists in Nova Scotia, Caribbean colonies, and London. Some unlucky few were resettled in Florida, still a British colony at the time. Most of those were likely recaptured and sold back into slavery. In all, over 5,000 Black Loyalists were sent to Nova Scotia, London, the Caribbean, and Florida.
Many other elements of Bridgerton’s multiracial casting might be fictitious, but it’s completely believable Will Mondrich is the child of a Black Loyalist.