Queeny’s grave

Wandering in the churchyard at Martock, a village not far from where I live, I came across a tombstone with a rather touching story behind it. The inscription, almost obscured by time and the growth of lichens, read:


negro from Barbados

departed this life

July 20th 1790

Aged 18 years

The story, as far as I have been able to piece it together, is that one Captain Anstice, a seafaring man and a resident of Martock, returned from a voyage to the West Indies, bringing young Queeny with him – most probably having offered her employment as a servant in his household. This was a not uncommon practice at this time. Sadly, though, poor Queeny soon succumbed to the climate, or perhaps to some illness to which she had no resistance.

The vicar at the time refused her burial in the churchyard, on the grounds that he had no proof that she was a baptised Christian. So Captain Anstice, who seems to have been a kindly man, arranged for her to be buried in his own garden, and put his own surname on her headstone. Only when a new and more liberal vicar arrived was Queeny finally re-buried in hallowed ground.

I found myself imagining the feelings of this young girl, the daughter presumably of slaves on a Barbados sugar-plantation: the mixture of excitement and apprehension as she faced the prospect of a long sea voyage to a strange land, where she would live among ‘white folks’; and her fear and desolation as, far from family and all she had known, she fell ill and died, with all her hopes unfulfilled.

A sad tale. But at least her brief life is still commemorated, 218 years later.

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