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Memorial to a special slave

Paul Harvey helpfully gave me this idea for a blog at a time when we are thinking about the way “Black lives count”.


The grave of a young black teenage slave boy can be found in St. Mary's, Henbury (Bristol) churchyard.


This lad had been named Scipio Africanus by his owners. He died aged 18 in 1720.


Some slaves were brought over to work in Britain. The date of Scipio's birth suggests that he may have been born in Britain to a slave mother. He was seemingly adopted into a wealthy household as a child slave. He may well have been treated as a sort of pet!


The bonus for him was that he probably enjoyed a fairly comfortable, if short life. Evidently he was much loved. Thus he was given a formal grave within a churchyard with an ornate head and foot stone, painted and decorated with black cherubs.


What are we to think about this? Well, it lays bare some shocking racist views. BUT I would say that it shows that occasionally love and humanity can show through even in the cruellest bleakest situations. It shows that a slave, despite belonging to a race that was down-trodden and despised, could still be loved (a bit like the way Jesus loves us despite all our imperfections). It shows the way in which slaves were generally regarded, so that this young boy stands out as the exception that proves the rule. It shows that if we love someone we want them somehow to live on, if only perhaps in memory, and that we want others to be loved by God as we believe we are loved eternally (echoing the idea that God loves all his people and in his love keeps us all safe forever).



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