Lives Remembered: Enslaved People in the 1700s and 1800s
Little information survives about the individual men, women and children brought to England as slaves.
St James' Church, Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool L8 1UR, built between 1774 and 1775 is where many settlers from West Africa, the Caribbean and America were baptized.
The records and monuments in St James' provide an insight into transatlantic migration, including Liverpool's involvement in the trade in enslaved Africans. Access is by appointment only but more information on the records is available digitally. Please note the records contain period-specific terminology.
Graves also represent one of the few forms of tangible evidence of the existence of enslaved Africans here in England. The habit of giving enslaved people Roman names accounts for the number of Scipios, Plinys and Caesars buried in churchyards across the country. Such graves are rare but those that exist help us to understand more about these lives. Some examples of memorials like this are given below.
'Samboo' is thought to have been a young African servant to a sea captain or merchant. Local stories describe how in 1736 he caught a fever and died soon after arriving on shore. His grave is at Sunderland Point, near Lancaster.
The plaque on his grave was added 60 years later and the site has gained poignancy in representing other unknown individuals who were enslaved. Today visitors leave flowers and coloured stones at the grave as a tribute.
The grave of Myrtilla (listed Grade II*) dated 6 January 1705, is one of the earliest identified and is unusual in commemorating a woman. The headstone itself is elegant and legible. It is also an example of the handsome local style. It can be found at the churchyard at St Lawrence, Oxhill, Stratford on Avon, CV35 0RB.
Myrtilla was enslaved and owned by Thos Beauchamp, believed to have been a sugar planter. It is thought that Myrtilla, described on her memorial as a 'negro slave', began life on a plantation on the West Indian island of Nevis. She was brought to Warwickshire by her owner to serve his wife. It appears that sadly she died soon after arriving in England.
Scipio Africanus was a servant to Charles William Howard, 7th Earl of Suffolk, and is thought to have lived on the Blaise Estate, Henbury Manor, near Bristol.
It is not known how and when Scipio came into the Earl's service. Many Bristol merchants traded in enslaved Africans, although the Howards do not appear to have had interests in the West Indies or Americas. Scipio may have arrived at Henbury through a local connection.
The name 'Scipio Africanus' was given to the boy either by the Earl, or by a previous owner. Names of Roman origin were frequently chosen for people who were enslaved.
According to Scipio's headstone he died in 1720, aged 18. The elaborateness of his headstone and footstone in St Mary's Churchyard, Henbury, Bristol BS10 7QF (listed Grade II*) suggests that he was well thought of by the Earl of Suffolk. The grave was one of the first in England for a man who was enslaved from birth and is in excellent condition.
Philip Scipio's gravestone is on the north-west exterior wall of St Martin's Church, Werrington, Cornwall PL15 8TP.
Philip was a servant to the Duke of Wharton. Later he was personal servant to Lady Lucy Morice who had the memorial stone erected. He was buried in 1784, aged 18. See the full inscription on the Black Networking Group site of Devon gravestones.
"Here lies the body of I.D. a native of Africa who died in this Town April 19th, 1801."
So reads the gravestone to ID, an unknown African in the churchyard of the Church of St John the Baptist, Bishop's Castle, Shropshire SY9 5FD.
It is not known how this African came to die in Bishop's Castle in 1801. However, the elegant inscription and decoration of the headstone suggest that the person held some status.
Also carved on the headstone is:
He hath made of one blood all nations of men
Opponents of slavery sometimes quoted these words and so it is possible that abolitionists erected the headstone.
A headstone commemorating the life of Rasselas Belfield, a young servant, described as "A Native of Abyssinia" is at the east end of the churchyard of St Martin's Church, Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 3DE.
Rasselas died in 1822, aged 32,and it is thought that he was bought during a military campaign. The inscription celebrates Britain's role in ending slavery, and the freedom enjoyed by Rasselas in his new country. It reads:
A Slave by birth I left my native land,
And found my Freedom on Britannia's Strand.
Blest Isle! Thou Glory of the Wise and Free,
Thy Touch alone unbinds the Chains of Slavery.
George Edward Doney
George Edward Doney (about 1758 to 1809) worked for the 5th Earl of Essex at Cassiobury in Hertfordshire for 44 years.
The inscription on his gravestone reveals that he was captured from Gambia as a boy and sold into slavery in America, before being brought to England. It is clear that he was highly regarded by the Earl and Countess of Essex, who were subscribers to the first edition of Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative.
Doney's obituary appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine. His gravestone in the churchyard of St Mary's, Church Street, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0EG is listed Grade II.
The inscription on his gravestone is an original poetical epigraph. It reads:
Poor Edward blest the irate 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 and pride impart,
And gave him, born a pagan and a slave,
A freeman's charter and a Christian grave.
The freed slave Chloe Gambia appears to have arrived in Aston by Sutton, Cheshire, in 1767 when she was about seven years old. She was probably on a slave ship returning to the port of Liverpool.
She was baptized in St Peter's Church and lived in the household of Henry Hervey Aston and his wife Catherine. At first she was a playmate for their children, then she was a servant before eventually becoming the family housekeeper.
Chloe Gambia died in 1838 of breast cancer and is buried in the south side of the churchyard of St Peter's, Aston Lane, Aston, Cheshire, WA7 3ED, where her gravestone still stands.
Jacob Walker and Harriet Long
Jacob Walker and Harriet Long are remembered by a memorial in the old churchyard of St Mary's, Hornsey High Street, London N8 7QB (listed Grade II).
Jacob was enslaved in Harriet's household in Virginia, where she lived with her second husband, George Long. In 1828 the Longs returned to England, bringing Jacob with them to help look after their growing family. By this time he was a servant, earning a wage.
The Longs lived in Highgate, London. Jacob died here in 1841 aged 40. A month before his death Harriet Long passed away. Jacob was apparently so distraught by her death that he repeatedly visited Harriet's grave. They are buried together with their names recorded on the same tombstone.
The inscription written by distinguished classicist George Long reads:
Jacob Walker; a native of Virginia. In America the faithful slave, in England the faithful servant of Harriet and George Long and an honest man. Died at Highgate on the 12th August 1841 in the 40th year of his age.
The contrast between the two descriptions of Walker reflects the relative legal differences between America and England at this date.