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What can the inscription on a grave tell us about attitudes to black people?

This is the grave of a man called Scipio Africanus who was servant to the 7th Earl of Suffolk and is thought to have lived on the Blaise estate near Bristol. He died aged 18 and was was buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Henbury, Bristol in 1720. The inscription below is carved into his footstone:

I WHO WAS BORN A PAGAN AND A SLAVE
NOW SWEETLY SLEEP A CHRISTIAN IN MY GRAVE
WHAT THO MY HUE WAS DARK MY SAVIOURS SIGHT
SHALL CHANGE THIS DARKNESS INTO RADIANT LIGHT
SUCH GRACE TO ME MY LORD ON EARTH HAS GIVEN
TO RECOMMEND ME TO MY LORD IN HEAVEN
WHOSE GLORIOUS SECOND COMING HERE I WAIT
WITH SAINTS AND ANGELS HIM TO CELEBRATE

The grave of a man called Scipio Africanus who was servant to the 7th Earl of Suffolk and is thought to have lived on the Blaise estate near Bristol. He died in 1720.
The grave of a man called Scipio Africanus who was servant to the 7th Earl of Suffolk and is thought to have lived on the Blaise estate near Bristol. He died in 1720. © Source Historic England Archive. Mr Cyril N. Chapman LRPS Ref: 379142

Teaching idea

Ask pupils to read through the inscription and highlight any sections they feel reveal any clues about the attitudes of people at the time that it was written. Point out that the inscription is written as if Scipio is speaking. Do they think these are his own words? If not who do they think may have written them and why? Use the Teachers' Notes (above) to help them answer their questions.

Learning aims and outcomes

  • To promote the use of images, objects and archive items for historical enquiry and to aid historical interpretation
  • To support the teaching of History and Citizenship at KS3&4
  • To investigate aspects of local history and how they relate to a broader historical concept
  • To use ICT to research information about the past, to process historical data and to select, categorise, organise and present information

Prior knowledge

It will be helpful if students have prior knowledge of:

  • the triangular trade
  • the history of enslaved Africans in Britain (see link below)

Extended learning and useful links

  • Find more slavery related images in the Image by Theme: Slavery collection

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