Joseph was born in Guinea in West Africa. When he was still a child he was made a slave by the Portuguese and taken to Brazil. Sometime later, his owner took him to Portugal. There, Joseph developed into a virtuoso (very skilled) violin player with the Lisbon Opera.
In 1795, the British Royal Navy ship HMS Indefatigable visited Lisbon. The ship’s Captain, Edward Pellew, visited the Lisbon Opera and heard Joseph playing the violin. Captain Pellew press-ganged (forced) Joseph to join the ship as its violin player. Because of his skin colour Joseph wasn't allowed to eat with the rest of the crew. For several years, he wasn’t allowed to step onto land in case he tried to escape.
Joseph comes to Cornwall
On 28th February 1799, the Royal Navy left Joseph in Falmouth. In order to earn enough money to eat, he started playing and teaching the violin. He was so skilled at playing that many people came to hear him in the Truro Assembly Rooms, and he went on to become leader of the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra. Joseph wrote several pieces of music, but we have no record of them. In 1802, he married Cornishwoman Jenefer Hutchins and together they had eight children. Joseph died in 1835 and was buried at Kenwyn Church, near Truro.
Joseph’s life was celebrated at a service held in Kenwyn Church in 2007. The service marked the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade. Joseph’s life story was also explored in a play called The Tin Violin, written by Cornish playwright Alan M Kent in 2012. In 2015, a wooden carving was placed in Truro Cathedral in Joseph’s honour. There is also a plaque celebrating Joseph’s achievements in the Falmouth Parish Church of King Charles the Martyr.