“The Aristocrat, Dido Elizabeth Belle”
Mixed Media on paper
11 inches x 14 inches
Dido Elizabeth Belle was born into slavery during the 18th century. Her mother was Maria Belle who was an enslaved African woman in the British West Indies and her father was Sir John Lindsay of the Lindsay family of Evelix—who met Maria when his naval forces captured a Spanish ship in the Caribbean during the Battle of Havana. Enchanted by Maria, he took her as a concubine and sired a daughter—who he took with him to England once his military affairs were concluded and Maria had long since passed. It was then he left for another military campaign after having dispatched his young daughter, Dido Belle, to live with his relatives.
Once living with her father’s uncle—William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield—along with his wife and was educated as a gentlewoman alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray at the Kenwood House in Hampstead. Despite the social statuses of black people in the 18th century, the Murrays went to great lengths to raise and educate Dido as a Lady. After the passing of her father, Dido was left a sum of more than £1,000 and noted salaries in his will, making Dido Elizabeth Belle an heiress. She later married John Davinier, who worked as her father’s steward, and bore him two sons.
Dido Elizabeth Belle’s position as an aristocrat and given quality education challenged the social stigma of how black women in her stead were treated by society at the time.