documentary on TV last week described how together they fought the French and Spanish at Trafalgar.
"England Expects" was what Nelson called for, but the fleet was a mixed bag of nationalities and races. The British Navy (for it wasn't just the English) was for its time relatively egalitarian. It needed sailors, lots of them, and how they worked was more important than the colour of their skin.
Of the 18,000 sailors in the fleet there were 1,400 non-Brits from 25 nationalities. The program looked at the log-book of HMS Bellerophon, which included Swedes, Danes, West Indians, French (possibly Royalists) and American's (one white who was press ganged and one black, likely a run away slave).
Indeed there was maybe a couple of hundred coloured sailors, mostly ex-slaves for whom a life in the Royal Navy was better than that in the plantations.
While below decks black and white could work together as one, there remained limits in promotion opportunities. The quarter deck was beyond reach, a petty officer role was the most they could hope for.
But their role was not forgotten. The frieze above is from one side of Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square, and on the far left there is clearly an African sailor, one of the crew along with Nelson.
The face might look different, but the navy in 1805 was one of the few institutions where that meant less than what a person could do. And that was one of the factors that led to them winning the day, beating the combined fleets of both France and Spain.
Updated: O'Docker kindly tweaked the pic to make the faces stand out more
7 hours ago