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27 Sept 2017

Exploring Culzean Castle: The Life of Scipio Kennedy (Part 6)

A close-up of Culzean Castle seen from the lawn in front.
This is the sixth instalment of our blog series exploring the life of a young, enslaved, African boy named Scipio at Culzean Castle.

In the last blog post, we discussed Scipio’s bumpy transition into marriage with Margaret Gray. We also discussed the perceptions of interracial marriage in 18th-century Scotland.

This post will follow Scipio’s journey into fatherhood. As discussed last time, before Scipio and Margaret were married in October 1728, they had been found guilty of ‘fornication’. Their first child, Elizabeth, was born at Culzean Castle in the June before they were married. The couple went on to have five more daughters and two sons – Joan (b.1730), Douglas (b.1731/2), Susanna (b.1734), John (b.1737), Ann (b.1739), Clementina (b.1742) and Grace (b.1745). There is little information known about the children, but a descendant of Elizabeth has traced his lineage back to her. An article published in The Scotsman in 2012 chronicled Jonathan Sharp’s journey to discovering that Elizabeth Kennedy was his great-great-great-great-grandmother. He mentioned his disappointment in realising that, after discovering his relationship to Elizabeth and Scipio, ‘the paper trail […] had run its course.’ Of course, this is an all-too-familiar feeling for many descendants of enslaved Africans across the world. It is a notoriously arduous task for descendants of enslaved people to trace their ancestors beyond a few generations; records are unreliable and scant.

We know Elizabeth had children, since Jonathan Sharp has traced his ancestry to her. A Kennedy family biographer, Michael Moss, wrote of Scipio and Margaret’s third child (and first son) Douglas that ‘so trusted was Scipio that Sir Thomas recruited […] Duglass to be his personal body servant, taking him with him on his extensive foreign tours.’ [1] It seems that Douglas may have found some financial success as he, not the Kennedy family, erected Scipio’s gravestone in Kirkoswald churchyard (pictured below). The gravestone reads: ‘This stone is erected by Douglas Kennedy in Memory of his Father Scipio Kennedy, who died June 24 1774. Aged 80 years. Also here lieth the body of Said Douglas Kennedy who died July 21 1781 Aged 49 years.’ As gravestones and cemetery plots were certainly not cheap in the late 1700s, such an act suggests that Douglas was financially secure, even though he died young.

A close-up photo of Scipio Kennedy's engraved gravestone.
Scipio’s gravestone

As Scipio and Margaret became involved in textile manufacture, perhaps their children took part in this trade as well. However, I cannot confirm this for certain. I also did not find the headstones of Scipio and Margaret’s other children; perhaps they are out there somewhere in Scotland, waiting to be rediscovered.

In the next instalment, we delve into Scipio’s work with textiles and explore the house built for him at Culzean, which may have doubled as a smugglers’ meeting place.

[1] Michael Moss, ‘Scipio Kennedy’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published online May 2016