Scipio Africanus

Charles Cowling

 

Scipio Africanus (1702 – 21 December 1720) was a slave born to unknown parents from West Africa. Very little is known of his life. He was the servant of  Charles William Howard, 7th Earl of Suffolk. Scipio lived in the Great House in Henbury, near Bristol. He died there aged, according to his headstone, eighteen.

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

 

Bristol-based reggae band Black Roots, sang about him:

 

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gloria mundi
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Maybe, years later, this poignant headstone inspired Wlliam Blake to write “The Little Black Boy” in “Songs of Innocence?”