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Scipio Kennedy

Scipio Kennedy (c1694-1774) was a slave taken as a child from Guinea in West Africa. After being purchased at the age of five or six by Captain Andrew Douglas of Mains in Dumbartonshire, he served as a slave under his daughter, Lady Jean, wife of Sir John, the 2nd Baronet Kennedy of Culzean in Ayrshire. He was granted a manumission (freedom from slavery) in 1725, but continued to work for the Kennedy family and was given land on the estate.[1] He married in 1728 and had at least eight children.[2] At least one living descendant is known from the West of Scotland and has published the story of his ancestor in a Scottish national newspaper.[3]

African slaves in Scotland[edit]

The commercial success of the slave-worked plantations of the late seventeenth century led to a fashion for Scottish families of the gentry class to keep black African servants. Merchants importing goods from the Carribean and Americas made regular contact with slave ships and some were "redeemed" (purchased) for domestic service.[4]

Men and boys were more likely than women and girls to be taken into service, often as highly visible roles such as page boys or footmen. They might be given pet names, or names that sarcastically poked fun at their powerlessness, such as "Caesar".[5] Their lives were often much easier than that of their counterparts in the New World plantations, and they were often given an education so that they could read and write.[6] They were also expected to become Christians and therefore after their baptism, they became recognised as having a soul. By the end of the eigtheenth century, they were seen as equal human beings under the law.[7]

Scipio's journey to Ayrshire[edit]

In about the year 1700, when Scipio was aged five or six, he was captured in West Africa and taken onto a slave ship in the area known as the Gulf of Guinea. Given the normal route that these ships took, it is likely that he was transported to an island in the Carribean before being redeemed by Andrew Douglas of Mains and transported to Scotland in 1702. Douglas would probably have chosen the name Scipio, whose namesake Scipio Africanus served the Roman Empire, defeating the numerically superior forces of Hannibal in the Punic Wars.[8] Douglas had a daughter, Jean, who married John Kennedy in 1705, and Scipio moved to Culzean with them. In March 1711, John Kennedy assumed the title of Baronet Kennedy of Culzean from his father, the first Baronet.[9]

Life after freedom[edit]

Scipio's manumission document is held at the National Archives of Scotland. It is dated 1725 and grants Scipio the freedom to take employment elsewhere. The document records the clothing, maintenance and education with more than ordinary kindness already given to Scipio by the Kennedy family. It also details the terms of his further employment by them in a 19-year contract, to be rewarded with the sum of twelve pounds Scots money yearly besides my share of the drink money. The document is signed by John Kennedy and Scipio[10][11]

In 1728, Scipio is recorded as fathering a daughter, Sarah, by fornication with Margaret Gray. This would have been considered a scandalous event within the parish.[12] He married Margaret later that year and went on to father more children.[13]

Scipio's house[edit]

An estate map was drawn up in the 1750's by John Foulis of Redburn, a copy of which is kept in Culzean Castle. The map shows a building and an adjacent piece of land with the word "Sipios" on it, positioned about 800 metres from the castle, where the current walled garden is.[14]

The area of the grounds where the house once stood was excavated in 2007. The house cost £90 to build when new, and was probably an impressive building made of stone. some artifacts were found during the excavation which may have been Scipio's personal property.[1]

Lady Jean's Will[edit]

Jean Kennedy's will dated 1751, records the gift from her estate to Scipio Kennedy my old servant, the sum of ten pounds sterling. As this figure is of a similar order to the amount given to each of her grandchildren (£13/6/8), this seems to show that Scipio was considered to be part of the Kennedy family. [11]

Memorial Stone[edit]

In Kirkoswald Old Church graveyard, there is a stone commemorating the life of Scipio, erected by one of his sons. The stone does not explicitly say that Scipio is buried in that place, but that his son is. The stone 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.[13]


Some authors have raised the question of Scipio's descendents.[13] In May 2012, The Scotsman published a story written by Jonathan Sharp, who detailed his personal research into his family history. He traced his lineage back through to one of Scipio's daughters, Elizabeth Kennedy in Kirkoswald, and thence to Scipio himself.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Dig for freed slave's castle home". BBC News Glasgow and West. BBC. 26 October 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "Slavery, the transatlantic slave trade and Scotland". National Archives of Scotland. National Records of Scotland. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Case Study: Searching for Scipio". Scottish Archeological Reseach Framework. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "Black Servants in Ayrshire". Ayrshire Archives. Ayrshire councils. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  5. ^ "LR2 – Slavery in the Caribbean Topic 7 Slave names and identities" (PDF). University of Aberdeen. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  6. ^ "Slave Trade". National Trust for Scotland. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  7. ^ "Slavery, the transatlantic slave trade and Scotland". National Archives of Scotland. National Records of Scotland. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  8. ^ "Scipio Kennedy and Culzean". National Trust for Scotland. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  9. ^ "Cassillis, Earl of (S, 1509)". Cracroft's Peerage. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Sharp, Jonathan (6 May 2012). "How family tree search revealed slavery roots in 18th-century Ayrshire". The Scotsman. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "Hidden Histories - Scotland and the Slave Trade" (PDF). National Trust for Scotland. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  12. ^ A Compendium of the laws of the Church of Scotland. (2nd ed.). 1837. p. 390-391. Retrieved 30 December 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c Rice, Alan (2003). Radical Narratives of the Black Atlantic. p. 212. ISBN 0826456065. 
  14. ^ Jackson, Debbie. A History of Culzean Castle Gardens, Ayrshire 1597 - 1846. University of St Andrews. p. 21.