Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

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Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle (1760?–1804) (Wikipedia)

Dido Belle's case was unusual among the mixed-race offspring of unions between European aristocrats and enslaved Africans in the Caribbean. Her father, Captain (and later Admiral) John Lindsay of the Royal Navy, brought her back to England where she grew up as a free mixed-race woman in a white European household. This double portrait depicts Dido with her white cousin, Elizabeth Murray, both of whom were raised by Lindsay's uncle William Murray (first Earl of Mansfield) and his wife. DCALAB author Kathleen Chater writes, "Belle seems to have had the same ambiguous status as other illegitimate natural children, like the (white) daughter of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Her family supported her, but she was neither given the full privileges of legitimate offspring nor treated as a menial servant. She received an allowance, was given expensive presents, and people knew that she lived in the household." As Lord Chief Justice of England, Belle's great-uncle William Murray presided over important cases related to slavery (notably, Somersett v Stewart 1772 and Zong 1783).

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