HEADSTONE OF GEORGE EDWARD DONEY APPROX. 50 METRES SSW OF THE TOWER OF THE CHURCH OF ST MARY

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1392854
Date first listed:
22-Aug-2008
Statutory Address:
HEADSTONE OF GEORGE EDWARD DONEY APPROX. 50 METRES SSW OF THE TOWER OF THE CHURCH OF ST MARY, CHURCH STREET

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
HEADSTONE OF GEORGE EDWARD DONEY APPROX. 50 METRES SSW OF THE TOWER OF THE CHURCH OF ST MARY, CHURCH STREET

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:
Hertfordshire
District:
Watford (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 11043 96244

Reasons for Designation

The tomb of George Edward Doney is designated for listing at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * A handsome headstone of 1809, with an original poetical epigraph, elegantly executed * The tomb is of particular historical interest, having been erected to George Edward Doney, said to have begun life in the Gambia, and then been a slave in Virginia, before coming to England to work as a servant. * Group value with the church of St Mary, Watford.

Details



1007/0/10015 CHURCH STREET 22-AUG-08 Headstone of George Edward Doney appro x. 50 metres SSW of the tower of the C hurch of St Mary

GV II This list entry has been added as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.

DESCRIPTION: The tomb is situated in an enclosed, wedge-shaped section of the churchyard of St Mary, Watford, approximately 50m SSW of the tower. The churchyard was altered in 1952. A tall headstone of 1809, crowned with a shouldered segmental arch. Within the arch, a simple scrolled design; a beaded border follows the outline of the headstone. The inscription is in Roman and italic letters: 'IN MEMORY OF GEORGE E.D DONEY, / A Native of Virginia, / (who for 44 Years discharged / the duties of a faithful honest / servant / to the EARLS OF ESSEX) / he died 3rd September, 1809. // Poor Edward blest the pirate Bark which bore / His captive Infancy from Gambia's shore / To where in willing servitude he won / Those blest rewards for every duty done / Kindness and praise the wages of the Heart. / None else to HIM could joy or pride impart / And gave him, born a Pagan and a Slave / A FREEMANS Charter and a CHRISTIANS grave.'

The churchyard contains ten other listed tombs, all chest tombs. The church itself is listed at Grade I.

HISTORY: George Edward Doney was born c1758, in Gambia, on the west coast of Africa, where he was sold into slavery and taken to Virginia. He probably lived on a tobacco or cotton plantation, but it is likely that he was a favoured slave, chosen to perform domestic duties, rather than working in the fields. The circumstances of his arrival in England are not known, but in 1766, at the age of about eight, he entered the service of William Anne Holles Capel, 4th Earl of Essex (1732-1799). George Edward Doney was about the same age as the Earl's son, also George (1757-1839); Doney may have been engaged, at least at first, as a companion for the young Viscount Malden. Doney was baptised in 1774, when he was aged about 16. In this year appeared a humourous engraving by Joseph Bretherton entitled 'High Life Below Stairs', which shows three dozing servants at Cassiobury reluctant to respond to their master's bell. One of the servants is black; this may well be George Doney. There is no definite information about his role in the household; his name appears on a list of servants in Cassiobury estate records as 'Doney the Black', and the burial registers describe him as 'Negro servant to the Earl of Essex'. He is known to have served in the local militia; the militia lists for 1782-6 record George Doney's name beneath that of a footman, perhaps indicating that Doney was also a footman. It is likely that, as a valued black servant, Doney's duties would have corresponded to those of a footman. In C18 aristocratic households, black servants were prized partly for their decorative value - they frequently take a subsidiary role in portraits - and footmen were the most visible of household servants. An unfinished painting of c1807-9 by J.M.W. Turner shows a harvest dinner in one of the barns at Cassiobury, with a black servant, probably Doney, in a prominent position, dressed in the costume of a high-ranking servant - his role appears to be similar to that of a butler. Not long after the occasion depicted, Doney died, aged about 51, and the quality of the tomb erected for him, with its elaborate and affectionate inscription, confirms that during his 44 years of service he had earned a position of particular distinction within the family. Unusually for a servant, Doney was given an obituary notice in the Gentleman's Magazine, in which it is observed that his 'respectful attention and demeanour conciliated the universal good opinion of all those who had opportunities of witnessing his services.' The limits of his social position, are, however, underlined: he is said to have acquired 'the friendship of those of his own station.' Doney died a widower; the identity of his wife, and the date of their marriage, are unknown.

Doney was not the first black servant to live at Cassiobury; the parish registers record the baptisms of Othello, 'a negro formerly called Donas', servant to William Capel, 3rd Earl of Essex in 1730 (Othello was baptised on the same day as the Earl's daughter), and three years previously, of Charles, 'a negro formerly called Donas', servant to the Duchess of Bedford (the Duchess was sister-in-law to the Countess of Essex). The shared name, 'Donas' or 'Doney', from the Latin word for 'offering', suggests that these men or boys may have arrived in the household as gifts; it seems possible that this was the case at Cassiobury, since the family are not known to have had business interests in the West Indies or America. A view of Cassiobury Park, with family, friends, and servants, painted c1748 by John Wooton, includes a black servant, perhaps Charles or Othello.

The 4th Earl of Essex and his wife were amongst the subscribers to the autobiography of England's leading black anti-slavery campaigner; the 'Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano' created a sensation on its publication in 1789, and made a dramatic contribution to the anti-slavery movement. There is no clear indication of the opinions of the 5th Earl with regard to slavery, but it seems reasonable to suppose that he was in favour of its abolition. A friend of the Prince of Wales, Essex was a patron of the arts, and of actresses; politically, he was a whig and a supporter of Lord Grenville, the committed opponent of slavery during whose premiership the 1807 Abolition Act was passed. The inscription on Doney's headstone, which he must at least have approved, suggests that he rejoiced in his servant's freedom, though the verse seems to imply that Doney had earned that freedom through devoted service and Christian faith rather than receiving it as a natural right. The inscription on the headstone indicates that by the time he died, two years after the abolition of the slave trade, Doney had been given his freedom legally; if so, there is no evidence for when this took place.

We know very little about the lives of individual men, women and children brought to England as slaves. Graves represent one of the few forms of tangible evidence regarding the existence of slaves in England, and such graves are rare; the vast majority died without trace. The survival of a tomb commemorating George Edward Doney, and the limited knowledge we have of his life, makes him exceptional. Such memorials may help us understand more about the lives of others, whose graves were not marked; this record of Doney's history serves to remind us of the many histories which have been lost.

SOURCES: 'The George Edward Doney Story' (produced by Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, 2007); http://www.watfordjunction.org.uk/ accessed on 29 December 2007; Dictionary of National Biography; Gentleman's Magazine (September 1809)

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION The tomb of George Edward Doney is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * A handsome headstone of 1809, with an original poetical epigraph, elegantly executed * The tomb is of particular historical interest, having been erected to George Edward Doney, said to have begun life in the Gambia, and then been a slave in Virginia, before coming to England to work as a servant. * Group value with the church of St Mary, Watford.

TQ1104396244

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
505034
Legacy System:
LBS

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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