Where There's A Will: Genealogy and Black Britons in the 18th century
As a family historian, about a year ago I began to suspect that one of my ancestors, born about 1800, was black. I read books on black history, accumulated about 600 parish register entries, mainly of servants, and became interested in what happened to them after the deaths of their masters. While looking for the will of one of these masters, I noticed the name John Scipio in the index to wills in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) 1750-1800. It is a surname which seems to have been given only to black men (after the Roman north African general) so I knew this would be of interest. The will itself does not mention Scipio’s colour, only that he was the servant of Elizabeth and William Snelgrove, and that he lived in Mile End Old Town in the parish of Stepney, East London.
Scipio, who died in 1760, left Mrs Snelgrove £5. Her son William (appointed sole executor) received £32. Her two daughters Mary and Anne, and son John, were also bequethed £5 each. Intriguingly, the youngest daughter Elizabeth was to be given £10. The rest of John’s worldly goods were to be divided between a number of people apparently unrelated to him. Ann and Elizabeth Austin, William Ratcliff, Edward James, Maria Coleman and Ann Ramsey were to get £5, while Samuel Ramsey and widow Elizabeth Mason were to receive £10. The children of the Charity School at Mile End Old Town were to get £5, with another £5 to be paid to Samuel Grace, a baker, to be spent on bread for the poor. Sisters Ann Ince and Susannah Tonks and a Dr Josiah Cole of Mark Lane, London, were each left a guinea to buy a ring.
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