The Good Funeral Guide Blog

In memory of England’s slaves

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Scipio grave


The arrival of slave trading ships at Bristol’s port helped make the city rich in the 18th century. But there are few memorials to the thousands of Africans put to work around Britain in that century.

It was, therefore, interesting to learn that the modern Pero’s Bridge at  Bristol Harbour is named after the slave of John Pinney, a successful sugar merchant whose Georgian town house is now preserved as a museum exemplifying the domestic interiors of the age.

When the bridge was opened, a Liberal Democrat councillor, Stephen Williams, condemned it as ‘gesture politics’.

A more historic, and therefore more remarkable memorial can be found in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in the Henbury area of north Bristol. There’s an unusual, painted headstone and footstone, featuring black cherubs. The grave belongs to Scipio Africanus, who died, aged 18, in 1720 while in the service of a Charles William Howard.

The epitaph on the footstone reads:

I who was Born a PAGAN and a SLAVE
Now sweetly sleep a CHRISTIAN in my Grave
What tho’ my hue was dark my SAVIOR’S 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


3 comments on “In memory of England’s slaves

  1. collin gilles

    Monday 7th November 2016 at 6:39 pm

    whats that negros name

  2. Richard
  3. Simon Lamb

    Sunday 22nd December 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Stephen Williams is now the MP for Bristol West. Scipio Africanus was the name of the Roman general who defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars so it is a fair bet that this wasn’t the name of the unfortunate slave who died in 1720. The headstone is in remarkably good condition so I wonder who has been contributing to its upkeep in recent times?
    The Mansfield Judgement of 1783 made it clear that it was not possible to hold slaves in England so it is safe to say that most of England’s slaves lie in unmarked graves in the West Indies or the southern states of America – or in the Atlantic Ocean.

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