Headstone of enslaved African man vandalised in Bristol

The grave of an enslaved African man has been vandalised in an apparent “retaliation attack” following the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Two headstones in memory of Scipio Africanus, who lived in the city in the 18th century, were smashed and a message was scrawled in chalk on flagstones nearby.

It called for the statue of Colston to be put back or “things will really heat up”.

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Two gravestones were smashed in the churchyard (Ben Birchall/PA)

The Grade II-listed, brightly painted memorial to Scipio Africanus, who died aged 18 in 1720, is situated in St Mary’s churchyard in Henbury, Bristol.

Conservative councillor Mark Weston, who represents Henbury and Brentry, said the grave had been “badly damaged” in the attack.

He said: “This looks like a retaliation attack for the recent events involving the Colston statue.

“I am deeply saddened by what is happening. We have seen war memorials defaced and statues vandalised and I have to wonder where this will end.”

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said: “We have received a report of criminal damage to a monument at Henbury Parish Church.

“We believe the incident occurred between 12pm on Tuesday June 16 and 8am on Wednesday June 17.

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A headstone in the entrance to St Mary’s church in Henbury (Ben Birchall/PA)

“Our investigation into what happened is at an early stage. Officers have been at the scene and have carried out house-to-house and CCTV inquiries.

“Anyone with information is asked to call 101 and give reference number 5220132067.”

The tomb is an early example of a memorial to a man born into slavery and who ended his life as a servant in an English aristocratic household, Historic England states on its website.

Most of the available information about Scipio Africanus is “inscribed on his tomb”, it says.

During his life, Scipio Africanus was servant to Charles Howard, the 7th Earl of Suffolk.

The headstone, which features black cherubs, states he was born in about 1702 and died on December 12 1720.

Scipio Africanus was given his name by the Earl or by a previous “owner” – names of Roman origin were frequently chosen for enslaved people, Historic England states.

Marvin Rees, the mayor of Bristol, described the memorial as an “iconic piece of Bristol’s history”.

On June 7, protesters used ropes to pull the Colston statue, which was erected in 1895, from its plinth in Bristol city centre.

It was then dragged to the harbourside, where it was thrown into the water near Pero’s Bridge – named in honour of enslaved man Pero Jones who lived and died in the city.

Bristol City Council retrieved the statue, which will be displayed in a museum along with placards from the Black Lives Matter protest, from the water on June 11.

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