You may not be familiar with the name George John Scipio Africanus, neither was I until I recently saw his name on a Blue Plaque in Nottingham and wanted to find out more about his life and family.
George arrived in England from Sierra Leone, aged about three and was raised by the affluent Molineux family. Baptised in Wolverhampton, George was given to one of the family as ‘a gift’.
|31 Mar 1766||AFRICANUS||George John Scipio-a negro boy of Benjamin Molineux’s|
He was well liked by the family who arranged for him to be educated and then sent to complete an apprenticeship in the family town of Wolverhampton.
After completing his apprenticeship, John moved to Nottingham, a county where the Molineux family had connections. There he met a Nottingham girl, Esther Shaw, who, according to the marriage certificate, unlike George, was unable to write, simply signing her name with the usual mark X.
Despite the obvious issues of Esther being unable to write and George being non-white, at a time before slavery had been abolished, the couple settled down to produce seven children – Elizabeth, Samuel, Sarah, Hannah, Ann, Samuel and George. Tragically, only one child was to survive into adulthood – Hannah.
In spite of the tragedy in their lives, George and Esther were hard workers, Esther ran a milliners and then together they ran an employment agency, employing servants for the wealthy which they set up early 1793. George had been a servant in the Molineux household, so understood what an employer would be looking for from potential employees. The couple remained in Nottingham for the remainder of their lives, continually expanding their business.
In 1834 George died, leaving Esther to continue the family business until her death in 1853, which was quite something for a woman to do alone at that time.
Esther was clearly not someone to be trifled with as we’ll shortly discover; on 7th April 1838, she was convicted and fined two shillings and six pence, plus twelve shillings and sixpence, for assaulting George Smith, a sweep, aged 9, with a brush.
Their daughter, Hannah, it would appear married unwisely, and clearly not really with her father’s blessing. Her husband was a watch and clock maker from Boston, Lincolnshire, one Samuel Cropper. They went on to have three children, Sarah who died in 1842 and was described as ‘sickly and infirm‘. George Africanus, named in honour of Hannah’s father, who died at just one year, and Esther Africanus Cropper who was born 1840.
George, having become something of an entrepreneur and businessman was to leave a will, in which he left his wife Esther well provided for and also a bequest to his daughter Hannah – for her use only, under no circumstances was her husband to have any control of it. To say he didn’t approve of her choice would be putting it mildly. There could be absolutely no misunderstanding of his views in his will whatsoever.
A couple of years or so after George died, Esther, being a canny business woman took Hannah’s husband to court requiring back payment of maintenance for her daughter and her children. Apparently, Samuel had left the family home around 1825, when their youngest eldest child, Sarah was around three months old. Sarah required nurses to care for her, which presumably Esther funded. When Samuel eventually returned, he said he’d been working in France, Austria and Switzerland during that time. Esther decided it was payback time, and sued him for ten shilling per week for the time he had been away, which amounted to around £290 over the 10 years!
Samuel and Esther met again in the courtroom, this time due to Samuel becoming insolvent.
I would have thought it highly likely that George would have been impressed by his wife for her actions. Samuel’s behaviour clearly explains George’s will and George, it appears was ‘spot on’ with making sure his daughter benefited from his will to the exclusion of Samuel.
Whether Samuel sorted his debts remains unanswered, but for some reason Hannah and Samuel were reunited and produced their second and third children in fairly quick succession.
We now step very much out of our usual era but having disappeared down this proverbial rabbit hole, I wanted to know what became of George’s one and only granddaughter Esther Africanus Cropper, named after her grandmother, and whether any of George’s descendants are still alive today, so the hunt continued.
Esther and her husband to be, Charles Edward Turnbull, the son of a pianoforte maker from London, had their marriage banns read over the three weekends commencing 27th August 1865 at St Paul’s, St Pancras, London. The couple didn’t marry in London, but instead returned to Nottingham and married the following year, choosing however, to settle in London, where Charles was a toy merchant and ran a very successful business, founding Charterhouse Toys in 1872 (probably best known for their doll houses and miniature furnishings and toys).
On his death in 1929, he left Esther extremely well provided for with around £32,000 (just over £2 million in today’s money). The couple had two boys, who worked in the family firm, but who never married, and a daughter, Margaret Hannah (George’s great granddaughter).
Margaret married in 1899, in Surbiton, Surrey and the couple had one son, Charles John Stuart Allen, who emigrated to Canada in the 1920’s, where he married Mary Georgina Stewart Williams in 1925. They had at least two children who, it seems feasible are either still alive today or who may have living descendants.
Charles died in 1960 in New York. It would be fascinating to know if this is the case and whether they know how important their ancestor George John Scipio Africanus was in both Nottingham and British history.
There is a black and white image of a portrait of George in existence, but it would be lovely to know where the original is, but I’ve had no luck as yet, tracking it down.
To find out more about George and to see some of the original documents visit MyLearning
To find out more about Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s brother who had connections with slavery and Sierra Leone click on this link
Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties 30 May 1834
Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties 17 March 1837
Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties 17 November 1837
Nottingham Journal 13 April 1838
Wolverhampton St Peter’s Parish Registers Index, baptisms (1538-1875)
Nottingham Market Place. William Goodacre. Nottingham Castle Museum and At Gallery. c1827.