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People of African Descent in Bristol before 1850

The table shows people of African descent  who lived in Bristol. Scipio Africanus  (1720) was one of them. It was customary for slaves to be named after Roman emperors and generals or given other ironic titles which would display both the classical education of their owners and the subservient status of the the person so named. Scipio Africanus was named after a General Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (236-186 B.C)

Although very little is known of his life it is known that he was the servant of Charles William Howard, 7th Earl of Suffolk, who in 1715 married Arabella Morse and lived in the "Great House" in Henbury, Gloucestershire near Bristol. It is not known how he was acquired, but he died there aged, according to his headstone, eighteen. His Master and Mistress would die two years later.

He is remembered because of the elaborate grave, consisting of painted headstone and footstone, in the churchyard of St Mary’s in Henbury, which is a grade II listed building.[1] Both stones feature black cherubs and the footstone bears the unusual epitaph:

I who was Born a PAGAN and a SLAVENow sweetly sleep a CHRISTIAN in my GraveWhat tho' my hue was dark my SAVIOR'S sightShall Change this darkness into radiant LightSuch grace to me my Lord on earth has givenTo recommend me to my Lord in heavenWhose glorious second coming here I waitWith saints and Angels him to celebrate

It is thought that 10,000 black slaves and servants were in Britain in the early 18th century, but this is one of the very few memorials to them. Curiously, there is no record of his burial in the church registers.[2]

References[1] Memorial to Scipio Africanus 10 metres NW of south porch of Church of St Mary. Images of England.  Retrieved on 10.09.2007[2] The 18th century: church records. Discovering Bristol. Retrieved on 10.09.2007

Content generated during research for the paperback book 'Bristol: Ethnic Monorities and the City 1000-2001' (ISBN 13 : 978-1-86077-477-5 ) for the England's Past for Everyone series

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