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Charles Bacchus

The gravestone of Charles Bacchus The gravestone of Charles Bacchus

In July 1985, English Heritage compiled a list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest situated in Culworth.  The list is quite long and besides 28 buildings, includes the market cross, walls, gate piers, headstones and chest tombs in the churchyard and the telephone box on The Green.  All are Grade ll listed.  However in 2008 the inclusion of the headstone of Charles Bacchus was amended as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act. This listing was amended because it is of particular historical interest, having been erected to commemorate a black servant who may have begun life as a slave in the West Indies; his headstone is a demonstration of the high regard in which black servants might be held.

The following information comes from the English Heritage submission that the headstone should be awarded a listed status.

Charles Bacchus probably began his life in Jamaica, where the two brothers of his master, Richard Bond, had sugar and coffee plantations. If so, he was almost certainly born into a slave family, but it is likely that he was favoured from early life, since by the age of eight he had been brought back to England to work as a domestic servant. The fact that he was given a stone memorial, with a lengthy and affectionate epitaph, demonstrates that by the time he died, the 16 year old had won a valued place in the Bond family.

We do not know when or how Charles Bacchus entered the service of Richard Bond, but certainly he was living with Bond at Haselbech, near Daventry, by 18 October 1754 when the baptism is registered of 'Charles Bacchus, a Negro belonging to Richard Bond.' 'Bacchus', the name of the Roman god of wine, is one known to have been given to slaves; it may have been chosen by Bond at the time of his baptism, especially if the boy had recently come into his service, or it may have been given to him by a previous owner. If Charles Bacchus was indeed born into slavery, it is not known whether or not he was ever legally freed.

It is possible that, like his brothers, Richard Bond had West Indian interests, either on his own account, or through his wife, Dorcas, whose first husband had had property in Jamaica. Dorcas had made Bond the largest landowner in Haselbech; when she died in 1757 he moved to Culworth. Richard Bond had two daughters, Sarah and Rebecca. The daughters presumably formed part of the family by whom Bacchus was 'beloved and lamented'. Bacchus died on 31 March 1762 and was buried on 6 April. The verse on the headstone suggests that, to the Bonds, Bacchus's status as a servant, or a slave, was a worldly matter, and that as a good man he would now rightfully find himself equal with other good men.

The grave has long been an object of interest in Culworth. In the late 1970's Anne Lindsey Brookes had the headstone restored in memory of her parents, who had lived in the village since the 1920's; her mother had been concerned about the increasingly decayed condition of the headstone.

We know very little about the lives of individual men, women and children brought to England as slaves. Graves represent one of the few forms of tangible evidence regarding the existence of slaves in England, and such graves are rare; the vast majority died without trace. The survival of a tomb commemorating Charles Bacchus, and the little we are able to surmise about his life, makes him exceptional. Such memorials may help us understand more about the lives of others, whose graves were not marked; this fragment of Bacchus's history serves to remind us of the many histories which have been lost.

The headstone itself is a very simple rectangular headstone, crowned with a shallow segmental arch. The inscription reads:

'In memory of

CHARLES BACCHUS (an African ) who died March 31, 1762. He was belov'd and lamented by the family he serv'd,  was Grateful and Humane and gave hopes of Proving a faithful servant and a Good Man. Aged 16.
Here titles cease! Ambitions o’er! And Slave of Monarch is no more.
The Good alone will find in Heav'n, Rewards assign'd and Honour giv’n.'

The headstone was re-tooled and the inscription re-cut in the late 1970's. On the back of the gravestone are the intertwined initials 'ED' and 'CB'.