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Historic grave of African slave, Rasselas Belfield to be restored

The grave of African slave, Rasselas Belfield

Embrace African Heritage, a social enterprise organisation based in the northwest set up to promote African History and the African Slave Trade in the UK, has started a JustGiving campaign to restore the headstone of one of the UK’s little known African slaves Rasselas Belfield.

Rasselas was an African boy acquired by Major Taylor, a military family in Bowness-On-Windermere, the Lake District, in 1803. Major Taylor purchased Rasselas in Africa (in what would be modern day Ethiopia) from the child’s mother for the equivalent of around £5.

Many believe that Taylor took pity on the poor boy and brought him back to England for a better life. Whatever the intentions were, Rasselas spent his life as a servant and valet to the Taylor family. He is buried in St Martin’s Churchyard in Bowness-on-Windermere. It is here that the headstone and garden surrounding the grave will be restored and a formal plague of remembrance will be erected in his memory.

“The presence of a black servant in the 17 and 18th centuries was considered a status symbol. Many of these servant were enslaved people and were not regarded as human beings in their own right,” says Nadia Fitzsimons, founder and director of Embrace African Heritage. “Rasselas, however, was a bit different. Major Taylor’s views on slavery was that black people should be free. He valued their lives. In fact, the quality of Rasselas’ grave in Windermere indicates that he was more than just a mere servant. Rasselas was also a much loved part of the Taylor family.”

Embrace African Heritage will be opening an African Heritage Centre in the northwest and producing original documentaries about walking in footsteps of the slave trade in the UK. Their main mission as an enterprise is to promote diversity and understanding of Black History in the UK. “At Embrace African Heritage, we acknowledge we cannot change the past. What we can do is be a custodian to the stories of the African Slave Trade in the United Kingdom and the slaves’ lives that were impacted by it. We want to tell the untold stories of those who have lived and died”, says Fitzsimons.

Their projects of work will include an African Heritage Centre, the production of documentaries, a hospitality centre for events such as cultural fashion, music, arts, literature and food events/festivals throughout the year. They plan to collaborate with local, national, and international partners to educate and create leisure activities for everyone to enjoy and experience; breakdown barriers to ensure a mind-set of mutual cultural respect and work towards creating a more inclusive society.

“Our intention is to tell the untold stories of slaves that had been transported from Africa to the UK during the transatlantic slave trade” says Fitzsimons. “Together we can embrace one another’s cultures and celebrate their similarities and differences. Overall we want to acknowledge, embrace, educate and celebrate. We are starting with Rassellas and resorting his gravestone to its former grandeur. We are about preserving the unique heritage of the north and other towns and cities across the United Kingdom. This is everyone’s history!”

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