Dido Elizabeth Belle: The lucky slave in 1770s West Indies who became a British heiress 

Farida Dawkins Jun 27, 2018 at 04:01pm

June 27, 2018 at 04:01 pm | History

Farida Dawkins

Farida Dawkins | Contributor

June 27, 2018 at 04:01 pm | History

Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle was born into slavery in 1761 or 1763 in the British West Indies. Afterwards, she traveled to England with her father, Sir John Lindsay of the Lindsay family of Evelix branch of the Clan Lindsay.

Upon their arrival, Belle was sent to live with Lindsay’s uncle and aunt, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, and Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Mansfield.  Because Belle’s father was an admiral, Belle was bestowed with the title of Heiress.  As the daughter of an admiral, Belle was given the role of a lady’s companion rather than a servant or slave.

Belle’s mother was Maria Belle, an African slave and more than likely, a concubine of Sir John Lindsay, a British career naval officer.   The senior Belle and Lindsay’s relationship ensued while Lindsay was stationed in the British West Indies.

Belle was raised at the Kenwood House in Hampstead, the outskirts of London.  She was raised alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray.  Belle eventually became Murray’s companion, personal assistant and dictation assistant to Mansfield. She was afforded a quality education. Belle was also paid what would equate to $39.46 today.  This wage was ten times higher than that of a domestic worker.

Though Belle was able to have free reigns to a certain extent, Belle couldn’t partake in activities such as having dinner with guests. She was acknowledged as a member of the family, yet excluded from certain functions.

As she got older, Belle was given the opportunity to manage a poultry and dairy farm. This was a typical job of the gentry; well-reared people in a high-class society who were of less nobility.

Lindsay died in 1788. There were three additional heirs. All three were legitimate children of Lindsay.

In 1783, Mansfield annotated in his will that Belle was indeed free.  He left her $657.74 and an annuity of $131.55. Belle also inherited $131.55 from Lady Margery Murray, another relative.

After Mansfield’s death in 1793, Belle married John Davinier, a gentleman’s steward of French descent.  They both lived at the Parish.  They had three sons.

In July 1804, Belle died and was interred at St. George’s Fields, Westminster.  Her burial site was later moved due to redevelopment.  She was 43 years old.

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