The Search for Dido

Sarah Minney, a genealogist-researcher, solves the mystery of the later life of a famous black beauty of the late 18th century.

Dido Elizabeth Belle (or Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, as she is sometimes known) was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocratic English naval captain, later admiral, Sir John Lindsay (1737-88). He was a man with a somewhat checkered career in the Royal Navy in the generation before Admiral Nelson. Exactly when and where she was born is unknown, but the story goes that Lindsay captured a Spanish ship and on board found a beautiful black slave. With her he had at least one child (Dido) in around 1763.

What became of Dido’s mother is unknown; perhaps she was left to live her life out elsewhere while Dido was brought up in England, or perhaps she died during Dido’s early childhood.

With Lindsay at sea with the Navy, the child was sent to live with her father’s uncle, Lord Mansfield, and his wife at Kenwood House, Hampstead. The Mansfields were also raising another great-niece, Dido’s cousin, Lady Elizabeth Lindsay, whom they had adopted after her mother had died.

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