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4 Oct 2017

Exploring Culzean Castle: The Life of Scipio Kennedy (Part 7)

Culzean castle
Part seven of a journey following a young African boy named Scipio to Culzean Castle in Scotland.

Hello again! I am back with the next instalment of the blog series that follows the journey of a slave named Scipio Kennedy. Last week we discussed Scipio and his wife Margaret’s seven children. Although there is little known about their children, we know that at least one person has traced his lineage back to their eldest child Elizabeth, and we also know that their first son Duglass may have found financial security as Thomas Kennedy, 9th Earl of Cassillis’ personal servant. This week we will be looking at how Scipio’s responsibilities evolved at Culzean after he was married.

As discussed in an earlier blog post, young Scipio’s role at Culzean would have likely been that of a page boy. He would have performed personal errands for the Kennedy family or perhaps for Jean Kennedy (the 2nd Baronet’s wife) exclusively. But records indicate that Scipio’s role changed over time. Soon after Scipio and Margaret married, they became involved in weaving cotton and linen goods. The Kennedys’ biographer Michael Moss discovered that in 1735 John McIlvane paid Scipio for a pair of dark ‘wistet stocken given to Mr Kennedy jr. summer last’. Furthermore, in 1742 Scipio gave McIlvane cotton yarn and linen napkins. This means that Scipio had, at some point, expanded his expertise beyond the realm of domestic service and was instructed in a trade.

Additionally, in the decades following his marriage, it seems that Scipio’s autonomy increased. This conclusion is based on one very important piece of evidence: a 1755 estate map. On the map, a sizeable square is marked about 800 metres from Culzean Castle. Inside this square, a single word is written that is altogether unexpected: ‘Scipios’. Does this indicate that this piece of land was given to Scipio and his family? It is difficult to say for sure, but such a map is in alignment with contemporary records that indicate the Kennedy family built a separate house for Scipio at a cost of around £90. This is quite a hefty price for a modest house in the mid-1700s – it is likely that the house was made of stone with a slate roof. Scipio and Margaret both lived and worked in this house, but interestingly there are records that also indicate that the house was used as a rendezvous for smugglers. Moss discovered that a well-known local smuggler, John Allan of Ballantrae, ‘often met his customers in Scipio’s house’.


Unfortunately, the house does not still stand today and it is difficult to ascertain exactly where it was located. In 2007 (the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act), an archaeological excavation was carried out to try and locate it, but to no avail. In the report, the archaeologists wrote that ‘the map evidence appears quite conclusive about the location of Scipio’s House […] [but] excavation […] did not locate any well-preserved in situ remains of the house, such as foundations or wall footings’. However, they did find fragmented sandstone and a range of artefacts that could indicate the site of a demolished house nearby. Additionally, they found a lead seal, which might have been a cloth seal, further supporting evidence that this site was used for weaving and linen manufacture. Unfortunately, this seal couldn’t be identified conclusively.


The aforementioned evidence suggests that Scipio’s life with the Kennedy family evolved after his manumission and marriage. He developed a trade skill in weaving and it is likely he lived in a separate house. It is also likely that he was at least ‘in the loop’  of the smuggling enterprise at Culzean – his house was used as a smugglers’ meeting point and his wages include the cryptic allusion to Scipio’s share of smuggling profits (‘drink money’). The term ‘drink money’ would certainly be a fitting phrase to use since the Kennedys smuggled port, claret, rum and Congo ea.

Join me next time as we recount the end of Scipio’s long life in Scotland.