The Foreigner

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The Art of Fencing, London 1730
Historic fencing image from ‘The Art of Fencing’ London, 1730

Antony Rogeson was an 18th-century Virginian black fencing master who lived and taught in Edinburgh between roughly 1783 and 1810. We know a bit about him because he registered himself as an ‘alien’ to the city on 12th March 1794; stating that he had travelled from Virginia and had lived in Edinburgh for the last 11 years.  At the time of his registration, he stayed at Baxter’s Close in the Lawnmarket and declared that he had no intention of leaving Edinburgh.

Antony had to register with the local magistrates in Edinburgh under the conditions set out in the Aliens Act of 1793. This particular act was enacted by Parliament to protect Britain against foreign agents during the Napoleonic French Wars. The Act required all foreigners who were living in Britain to register themselves, detailing their occupation, country of origin, arrival Port, and place of residence, etc. Registration was the responsibility of the local magistrates.

A Rogeson Alien Entry_SL115_1_1
Antony Rogeson’s entry in the Aliens Register, 12th March 1794. From collection held at Edinburgh City Archives.

Antony settled in Edinburgh during the 1780s at a time when there were very few other African Americans living in the city. From Williamson’s trade directories for Edinburgh, Canongate & Leith we can see him clearly listed as a teacher of fencing. Anthony first appears in the directory for 1784/85, with his last entry being recorded in the 1800/01 directory. He carried out his classes at Brodie’s Close in the Lawnmarket.

We find him again in the 1810 Edinburgh Annual Register in which a story is recounted of his fight against four prizefighters. The ‘ruffians’ invaded his home over an argument caused by their ‘indecent manner’ towards a young girl that had left Rogeson’s home. Despite being outnumbered and surprised while eating his dinner, Rogeson managed to stab one of the assailants in the hand with a fork, before then being beaten and kicked. He survived and was taken to the public office on Bow Street. Unfortunately, he was confined to the watch-house overnight to make sure that the assailant he stabbed survived, which the man did. The story in the Register ends with him requiring to post bail.

It is worth noting that Antony’s name was spelled with many variations – His first name sometimes appears as Anthony, while his surname ranges from Rogeson to Rodgeson and Rodgerson. On his official form within the Aliens Register held in the City Archives he is registered under the name Antony Rogeson; however, we can see from his own signature that he signs the declaration as Anthony Rogeson.

A Rogeson signature
Anthony Rogeson’s signature in Aliens Register. From collection held at Edinburgh City Archives

The City Archives holds three Aliens Registers, covering the period 1794 through to 1825. With many other fascinating people listed within these registers preserved, we can find out about who was entering the country, where they were residing/lodging, as well as where they originated from and their occupations.

The City Archives also holds records for Lord Provost passports, which were issued to citizens travelling abroad by the Town Council between 1845 and 1916. These volumes give an insight into who was travelling where and for how long.

Edinburgh remembers both its foreign residents and its citizens in foreign lands. We preserve these records to tell us about the past; but we want you to tell us what we should collect about life today for tomorrow: