A Brief Look at People of Colour before the 20th Century: Part 3

"Portrait of Gustav Badin" (1775) by Gustaf Lundberg

Portrait of Gustav Badin (1775) by Gustaf Lundberg; Public Domain Image

     Gustav Badin was given to Queen Louisa of Sweden as a gift. She, in turn, educated him on the same level as her children. He was in charge of 3 Royal Palaces, had an extensive library of his own containing more than 800 books, and was, at one point, the Swedish Ambassador to France.  While Gustav many have been a slave initially, it’s clear he was a member of the Royal Family and was treated as a member of the Court. His diary is currently being translated and the original is housed at the University of Uppsala. I start off with this tidbit because now we’re entering a time period that I know very well, which is the Late Georgian/Regency period. It has always bothered me that any film depicting anything from this era has no one of colour in it, expect as an oddity or experiment. Clearly, while Gustav may have been an oddity, he became vital to the Queen and her family.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, by Olivier Pichat (1883)

     General Dumas should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever read the Three Musketeers or the Man in the Iron Mask ( or seen the film versions). Born in St Domingue to a white Nobleman (Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie) and his enslaved mistress (Marie-Cessette Dumas), the father did the right thing and shipped Dumas to France, where slavery had been illegal since 1315 CE, thus setting his son free. He also helped his son enter the military. Dumas was one of 2 men of colour to have high military ranking in Europe until the 1970s. He was a major pivotal figure in the French Revolutionary Wars. He married a white French woman and had a son, Alexandre Dumas (aka Dumas-Pére), who wrote the Three Musketeers, Man in the Iron Mask, etc. Dumas-fils (his grandson) was a well-known playwright. Dumas-fils’s illegitimate half brother, Henry Bauër was also involved in Theatre at this same time, as a critic. So yes, this is someone who’s never been portrayed in any film or television show about Napoleon, which is oddly weird considering how many battles this man won for Napoleon. Sidenote, “enslaved mistress” seems to convey consent where most scholars agree that consent is never given when a person is a slave. While I use the term “enslaed mistress”, it is under extreme distaste and only being used as many historical sources (published sources) list her in this pseduo state of consent while being enslaved.

Петровское. Бюст А.П. Ганнибала.jpg

Bust of Abram Petrovich Gannibal, located in Petrovskoe, Russia.

     Like Guztav, Abram was gifted to Peter the Great as a gift. There has always been a trend of “gifting” slaves to royalty and the aristocracy, but as in the case of Guztav, the “gifting” meant freedom. The Tsar freed Abram, educated him, and bestowed on Abram the status of Godson. Such a status not only made him important in the eyes of the Court, but made him a Peer of the Realm. This man was Dumas’ counterpart. He was a military engineer and General in the Russian Army. He trained in France and fought on behalf of France in the 1720s. Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, considered Abram to be a member of her family, placing him in a position of power. Elizabeth put him in charge of a large Estate in Estonia, which was one of the wealthier private Estates of the Tsars. Abram was married twice-once to a Greek woman (who proved to be unfaithful) and married (secretly while still married to wife #1) a woman of Swedish and Germanic noble descent. His oldest son, Ivan, became a well-known Naval Officer who helped found the city of Kherson and who himself attained the second-highest military ranking in Russia. When his first wife was forced to join a convent, the second marriage was considered valid and legal. Author and Poet Alexander Puskin is his great-grandson. Other descendants of this man include Natalia Grosvenor (Duchess of Westminster), Alexandra Hamilton (Duchess of Abercorn), George Mountbatten (4th Marquess of Milford Haven & cousin to QEII). Yet not many people want to learn about this man. And he’s never shown in any documentary of film about Peter the Great.

Dido Elizabeth Belle - Wikipedia

Dido Elizabeth Belle (cropped from a larger portrait by David Martin)

Dido Elizabeth Belle has become a more well-known woman of colour in recent years due to a new interpretation of the David Martin portrait of her and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. The film Belle (2013) is an exercise in trying to tell her story but also explain slavery during this time in English History. This is what we do know: her father was Sir John Lindsay (he passed in 1788) and her mother was a slave Maria Belle. Dido was technically born into slavery in 1761. She was brought to live with William Murray, her great-uncle, in 1765. Her father let her to be educated as a free person. Very little is known about her life, except she was educated and even though treated as a member of the family, was still technically a slave in the eyes of British Law. She lived with her great-uncle 31 years, and seemed to take on the role of a secretary according to observations by Thomas Hutchinson (former governor of Massachusetts) and in the second volume of James Beattie’s Elements  of Moral Science. For now, these are the only contemporary insights we have into Dido’s daily life and existence. William Murray seemingly ruled against slavery in 1772. Dido married Frenchman John Danvinier in 1793. She was left money by her father, her great-uncle (who also confirmed her freedom in his will) and by his wife, her great aunt. She died in 1805 at the age of 43 and her last decedent died in 1975. While not much is known, the mere fact we do have a film about this person clearly shows that people of colour existed in England prior to the 20th Century.

There is another person, or two, or three, I wish to include in this posting. Yet I feel that because these people were influential and important, they each deserve their own write up and not to be included with the ones I have listed here. I did consider making a post just about the Dumas’, and may yet do so.

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