Billy Blue was real. His story is incredible, and sounds like a half mythical legend, but history shows that Billy was never an ordinary man. He was the son of a runaway slave and an American Indian mother. He was said to come from Jamaica, but that is probably the Jamaica district of Queens in New York rather than the Caribbean island. Some of his stories and behavior suggest he may have spent time on a pirate ship but Billy’s early years are like the mists of time, hard to pin down.

We do know that in 1796 he was in London working as a wharf laborer during the day, and at night he was making chocolates. Billy had found the perfect way to reduce the cost of ingredients for his chocolate. He was stealing the imported materials from the ships he was unloading.

One day he had an argument with a ship’s mate, who reported him to the police. Billy was caught with a 20lb (9kg) bag of raw sugar. At his trial Billy claimed that the mate was stealing even more sugar to sell, but the mate was white, and Billy was black. They didn’t even do an investigation of the mate. Billy was sentenced to seven years hard labor and transportation to Botany Bay.

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