Reclaiming Black Peter

RECLAIMING BLACK PETER

for Black History Month 2021 –

About

Back in 1780 Peter Burnett arrived in Paisley, a stranger who had only small amount of money and a note of introduction to James Tannahill father of Robert Tannahill the poet.  Peter was an unusual, rare character, a Black American, big, strong and flamboyant. He came to Scotland to work as a Valet for a rich Glasgow Merchant. The merchant’s business soon failed and he moved to Paisley to learn the skills of the more prosperous weaver.

Peters success gave him the wealth to dress in the latest fashions of the day – a long black coat, a velvet gold spangled vest, breeches fastened with silver buckles and lace ruffles on his cuffs. He dressed like other weavers of the time, except for the colour of his skin and a tuft of hair on the crown of his head which, by his African beliefs, would allow him to be lifted into the Kingdom of Heaven when he died.

A popular and well-loved character, he had a good life, socialising and dancing with his peers but, in 1788, with the downturn in the weaving trade, he went to work in Edinburgh’s high society. 

When weaving picked up again, he returned to Paisley to reclaim his high earnings. However, his fortunes took a bad turn, when Peter’s friend the Poet Robert Tannahill drowned in the Paisley Canal.  Peter dove into the water to bring up the lifeless body.

This project will re-create Peter’s life in a new theatrical and poetical exploration of positive black male identity.  This work will explore contemporary dandyism in black communities throughout the world, examining how men of African descent “defy stereotypes and monolithic understandings of masculinity”.

RECLAIMING BLACK PETER will be written by Edinburgh-based, Afro-Caribbean writer, Apphia Campbell who will recreate Peter’s life in a new theatrical and poetical exploration of positive black male identity. The work will explore contemporary dandyism in black communities throughout the world – examining how men of African descent “defy stereotypes and monolithic understandings of masculinity”. The project is supported by Renfrewshire Council’s Great Places Scheme and through Creative Scotland’s Open Fund for Sustaining Creativity.

Apphia Campbell is originally from the United States and graduated from Florida International University with a BFA in theatre performance. In 2013 she wrote her critically acclaimed piece, ‘Black Is The Color Of My Voice,’ which opened in Shanghai to rave reviews before arriving at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014, where it sold out and has been touring the UK; including a sell-out West End Run in 2019. In 2017, her new show ‘Woke,’ was presented as part of the Made In Scotland Showcase, won a Scotsman Fringe First, a Highly Commended award from Amnesty International, and was shortlisted for The Filipa Bragança Award and Scottish Art Club Theatre Award. In 2018, She was featured in the guardians 50 shows to see at the fringe, and Vogue’s 5 shows not to miss. In 2018, she became a member of the BBC writer’s room. And later commissioned to write a children’s story called Zachary the Zebroid, and a monologue called ‘Birdie’s Dilemma’ for NTS’s Scene’s for Survival in collaboration with BBC. In Sept 2020, she became a new board member of the Edinburgh Fringe Society, where she is honoured to be able to help ensure the future of the fringe. She’s excited to go on the journey and discover more about ‘Black Peter’s history and Scotland’s relationship to him.

When: Oct 2021

Where: Paisley

Contexts Black history Male identity Slavery Post-Colonialism

Supported by Renfrewshire Council THCARS2