Thursday, March 6, 2014
The intriguing story of Dido Belle at Kenwood in England.
Dido Elizabeth Belle was the daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay of the Royal Navy & Maria Belle, a slave whom he met en route from England to Jamaica around 1761. Lindsay acknowledged that Dido was his daughter. When Lindsay went back to the navy, he entrusted 5-year-old Belle to his uncle, William Murray, Lord Mansfield, who lived at Kenwood. Lord & Lady Mansfield had no children of their own but raised Belle with Lady Elizabeth Murray, the daughter of Mansfield’s other nephew, David Murray. William Murray, Lord Mansfield, who as Lord Chief Justice presided over some of the most historic cases that affected enslaved Africans.
Dido lived at Kenwood for 30 years. She received an allowance & helped Lord Mansfield with his legal correspondence as well as supervising the care of the Kenwood dairy & poultry. Dido was provided with furniture, birthday & Christmas gifts & ass’s milk when she was ill.
On August 29th 1779, American loyalist, Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) after visiting Kenwood, recorded in his diary: "A Black came in after dinner & sat with the ladies & after coffee, walked with the company in the gardens, one of the young ladies having her arm within the other. She had a very high cap & her wool was much frizzled in her neck, but not enough to answer the large curls now in fashion. She is neither handsome nor genteel- pert enough. I knew her history before, but My Lord mentioned it again. Sir John Lindsay having taken her mother prisoner in a Spanish vessel, brought her to England where she was delivered of this girl, of which she was then with child, & which was taken care of by Lord M., & has been educated by his family. He calls her Dido, which I suppose is all the name she has. He knows he has been reproached for showing fondness for her — I dare say not criminal. A few years ago there was a cause before his Lordship bro’t by a Black for recovery of his liberty. A Jamaica planter being asked what judgement his Ldship would give? 'No doubt' he answered, 'He will be set free, for Lord Mansfield keeps a Black in his house which governs him & the whole family.' She is a sort of Superintendant over the dairy, poultry yard, etc, which we visited. And she was called upon by my Lord every minute for this thing & that, & shewed the greatest attention to everything he said."
Hutchinson had been a Boston merchant who served as governor of Massachusetts. Viewed as pro-British by many, Hutchinson's house was looted & burned in 1765, by an angry crowd protesting the Stamp Act. As matters escalated, Hutchinson fled to England. Hutchinson's story of Dido's parentage did not match her father's.
When Lord Mansfield died, he carefully recorded in his will, that Dido was a free woman. She received legacies from her father, her great-uncle & other Mansfield relatives. From Lord Mansfield Dido inherited £500 outright, £100 per year, & of greatest consequence, her freedom. She also received £1000 (shared with another illegitimate child) from her father, Captain Sir John Lindsay, who died in 1788, & £100 from her aunt, Lady Margery (or Marjorie) Murray.
William Murray, Lord Mansfield, died in 1793. Belle left Kenwood in 1793, when she married John Davinier, an English steward at Kenwood. They had 3 children-twin boys, Charles & John, & another son named William. They lived in Pimlico. Belle died in 1804, aged 43.