Website technical difficulties
See all stories
4 Oct 2017

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

A close-up of Culzean Castle seen from the lawn in front.
This is the seventh part of our blog series about the journey of a young, enslaved, African boy named Scipio to Culzean Castle.

In the last instalment, 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 Douglass may have found financial security as Thomas Kennedy, 9th Earl of Cassillis’ personal servant. In this post 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 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 it has also been put forward by Michael Moss that the house was used as a rendezvous for smugglers. Moss suggests that a well-known local smuggler, John Allan of Ballantrae, ‘often met his customers in Scipio’s house’.

An old yellowing map shows the estate around Culzean Castle in the mid-1700s. Farmland, gardens and cow grazing are all marked, as well as a small plot labelled Scipios. A superimposed red arrow points to this place.
The 1755 estate map showing ‘Scipios’ plot

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.

Four people kneel in a shallow rectangular trench cut in a lawn. They use small trowels to scrape the earth in front of them. A large mound of earth is behind them. Two cars are parked in the background.
Archaeological excavation at Culzean

The aforementioned evidence suggests that Scipio’s life with the Kennedy family continued to evolve after his manumission and marriage. He developed a trade skill in weaving and it is likely he lived in a separate house.

In the next instalment we recount the end of Scipio’s long life in Scotland.