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Memorial to Scipio Africanus 10 Metres North West of South Porch of Church of St Mary

A Grade II* Listed Building in Bristol, Bristol

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Latitude: 51.5065 / 51°30'23"N

Longitude: -2.6308 / 2°37'50"W

OS Eastings: 356316

OS Northings: 178801

OS Grid: ST563788

Mapcode National: GBR JP.J6ZB

Mapcode Global: VH88F.CD2H

Plus Code: 9C3VG949+HM

Entry Name: Memorial to Scipio Africanus 10 Metres North West of South Porch of Church of St Mary

Listing Date: 4 March 1977

Last Amended: 30 December 1994

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1205137

English Heritage Legacy ID: 379142

Location: Henbury and Brentry, Bristol, BS10

County: Bristol

Electoral Ward/Division: Henbury and Brentry

Built-Up Area: Bristol

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bristol

Church of England Parish: Henbury

Church of England Diocese: Bristol

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901-1/17/1328 CHURCH CLOSE
(South side)
(Formerly listed as:

This list entry has been amended as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.

The tomb of Scipio Africanus lies approximately 10 metres north-west of the south porch of the church of St Mary. Headstone and footstone, dated 1720. Painted Pennant stone with shaped tops, recently re-painted (2007). On the headstone, a painted circular 'tablet' contains the incised inscription; this is surrounded by carved relief decorations. Above, the winged faces of two black cherubs, separated by a flower; to the sides, more flowers; and below, two skulls. The inscription reads: 'HERE / Lieth the Body of / SCIPIO AFRICANUS / Negro Servant to ye Right / Honourable Charles William / Earl of Suffolk and Bradon / who died ye 21st December / 1720 Aged 18 Years'. On the footstone, an apron-shaped painted tablet contains the inscription. Above, a single cherub, surrounded by flowers. Here, the inscription 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 SAViORS 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'

HISTORY: Most of the information we have about Scipio Africanus is inscribed on his tomb. From this we learn that he was born c1702, that he died on 12 December 1720, and that between these dates he was servant to the Earl of Suffolk and Bindon (the erroneous 'Bradon' which now appears on the headstone is the result of a misreading made during restoration).

Charles William Howard married Arabella Astry in 1715, succeeding to the titles of 7th Earl of Suffolk and 2nd Earl of Bindon in 1718. They are believed to have lived at the Great House at Henbury, near Bristol, which had been built by Arabella's mother's family, the Morses, in the late seventeenth century. Howard was also the owner of Audley End in Essex, of which county he was Lord-Lieutenant. The Earl died very soon after Scipio, in February 1722, aged 29; his wife died four months later.

How and when Scipio Africanus came into the service of the Earl is not known. Neither Howard's family nor that of his wife is known to have had interests in the West Indies or America. Many Bristol merchants traded in slaves, and Scipio Africanus may have arrived in Henbury through a local connection. The inscription's claim that he was 'born a pagan and a slave' suggests that he began life as a slave in the colonies, though he may have been transported from Africa at a young age. If he spent time on a plantation, it is likely that he was a favoured slave, chosen to perform domestic duties, rather than working in the fields. He must certainly have won the favour of the Earl of Suffolk, since the tomb erected following his early death displays unusual richness of invention in its charming design and poetic inscription. The verse on the footstone makes it clear that Scipio Africanus had been baptised, and he may also have been legally freed, but there is no other evidence of this - his name does not appear in the parish registers. It was commonly thought that the act of baptism freed slaves from their bondage; in this verse the condition of being a pagan seems almost to be equated with that of being a slave, whilst Christianity brings salvation, both earthly and heavenly.

The name 'Scipio Africanus' was given to the boy by the Earl or by a previous owner; names of Roman origin were frequently chosen for slaves. A Roman rather than an African, the original Scipio Africanus (236-184 BC) was one of the great generals of the ancient world, who became known as 'Africanus' after defeating Hannibal at Carthage. Polybius's account of this event suggests that the captured Carthaginians might earn freedom if they showed goodwill to their conquerors - it is possible that this idea had some bearing on the name chosen for the young African.

We know very little about the lives of individual men, women and children brought to England as slaves. Graves represent one of the few forms of tangible evidence regarding the existence of slaves in England, and such graves are rare; the vast majority died without trace. Such memorials as do exist may help us understand more about the lives of others, whose graves were not marked; this record of Scipio Africanus's history serves to remind us of the many histories which have been lost. The quality of this tomb makes it particularly interesting. That fine memorials were occasionally commissioned for black servants is an indication that such servants might earn special places in the regard of their employers; the well-known tomb of Scipio Africanus provides valuable evidence for research into the complex and clouded early history of black people in England.

The churchyard of St Mary, set above the main road and approached by a narrow lane, retains the sense of isolation which must have characterised the village of Henbury before it was reached by Bristol's suburbs. The church itself is listed at Grade II*; the churchyard contains four other listed tombs and a listed mortuary chapel of c1830. The walls, railings and gates of the churchyard are all listed.

SOURCES: Bertram R. Davies, 'The Henbury Epitaphs' (1962) found at http://www.gertlushonline.co.uk/ accessed on 29 December 2007; Dictionary of National Biography; P. A. Pickering and A. Tyrrell, Contested Sites: Commemoration, Memorial and Popular Politics in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2004), 164

The tomb of Scipio Africanus is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* As an early example of a memorial erected to a man who had been born a slave, and ended his life as a servant in an English aristocratic household, the tomb is of more than special historical interest
* The headstone and footstone, in excellent condition, display unusual richness of invention, in both design and inscription
* Group value with the church of St Mary and a number of other tombs.

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