Sweet History landmark (photo)

Memorials - Scipio Africanus

Description

The tombstone of the slave Scipio Africanus can be found in Henbury churchyard in Bristol. Scipio (whose real name is not known) was a servant to Charles William Howard, 7th Earl of Suffolk and Bindon, who in 1715 married Arabella Morse and lived in the “Great House” in Henbury, Gloucestershire near Bristol. It is not known how he was acquired, but he died there in 1720 aged, according to his headstone, eighteen. His master and mistress died two years after him.

The black servant was given the name of a famous Roman general. It is not known how long he had been a servant of the Earl or how long he had lived in Henbury. There are no records in the church registers of his burial but he has one of the most ornate gravestones in the churchyard. His elaborate grave has a painted headstone and footstone, Both stones feature black cherubs and the footstone is engraved with the unusual epitaph:

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

The verse on the stone at Scipio’s feet refers to him becoming a Christian and the supposed benefits of this Christian belief.
(inset images of tomb)

Activities

  1. Scipio Africanis was given his name by his master. It was the name of a powerful Roman army general. Why do the pupils think this was the case? Discuss the fact that slaves weren’t allowed to have their own name as they were believed to be the property of their owners and didn’t have their own freedom.
  2. Get the children to think of about what the concept of freedom means to them. Ask them to write a short poem about their idea of freedom. The poems could be illustrated and used to create a display.
  3. The tomb of Scipio Aficanis is one of very few memorials to African slaves. Millions of African people lost their lives and their freedom due to the transatlantic slave trade but most of these remain unknown, unnamed and largely forgotten. Discuss this with the pupils and elicit their opinions of this.

Encourage the pupils to design a commemorative piece of artwork that remembers the lives and the suffering of those African slaves. This could be a painting, a collage, or a piece of dance or drama.

This activity can support the delivery of literacy, art and design and citizenship.