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Sambo's grave at Sunderland point.


Sambo's grave is a remote and lonely site. One of Lancashire's many contacts with the slave trade.

Sunderland Point was once a busy port and now cut off twice a day by the tide. At one time, ships delivered their trade in cotton, sugar, rum and was part of 18th century slave trade.

Sambo’s grave (spelt Samboo at the head of the marker on his flat grave stone) is now so remote as time, tides and nature has changed the landscape. A lady called Elizabeth Ashworth has written the most plausible explanation I have read.  Her notes on a website reads, “He was an African and probably no more than a boy. He was a black slave who arrived at the port with his master. He was taken ill, probably with some European disease to which he had no immunity, and he died. Because he was black and not a Christian he was not buried in consecrated ground. His body was interred in land that was once behind the inn, but is now a remote spot on the windswept shore with nothing between him and the vast sea that brought him from his homeland so far away. For a long time the grave was unmarked, until some years later a retired schoolmaster (Reverend James Watson & H. Bell's names are on the plaque) discovered the story and raised some money for a memorial. He also wrote the epitaph that now marks the grave:

'There lies

poor Samboo

a faithfully negro


(attending his master from the West Indies)

died on his arrival in Sunderland.

Full sixty year the winter waves

has thundered dafhd this bleak & barren shore

since Sambo's head laid in this lonely grave.

lies still and ne'er will hear their turmoil more.

Full many a Sand-bird chirps upon the Sod
And many a moonlight Elfin round him trips
Full many a Summer's Sunbeam warms the Clod
And many a teeming cloud upon him drips.
But still he sleeps -- till the awakening Sounds
Of the Archangel's Trump now life impart
Then the great judge his approbation founds
Not on man's colour but his worth of heart.'


Its lovely to see the painted stones & mementos left by what appear to be children. Someone wants to let Sambo know we still care.

According to the legend, it seems that  before his death, the story was passed only by word of mouth. It was then recorded in the Lonsdale Magazine in 1822 like this:

"After she had discharged her cargo, he was placed at the inn ... with the intention of remaining there on board wages till the vessel was ready to sail; but supposing himself to be deserted by the master, without being able, probably from his ignorance of the language, to ascertain the cause, he fell into a complete state of stupefaction, even to such a degree that he secreted himself in the loft on the brewhouses and stretching himself out at full length on the bare boards refused all sustenance. He continued in this state only a few days, when death terminated the sufferings of poor Samboo. As soon as Samboo’s exit was known to the sailors who happened to be there, they excavated him in a grave in a lonely dell in a rabbit warren behind the village, within twenty yards of the sea shore, whither they conveyed his remains without either coffin or bier, being covered only with the clothes in which he died." 

 Lonsdale Magazine, 1822

Romantic stories of him dying from a broken heart a when his master left him, seemed common place now I would have thought. That he was the sole survivor of a ship wreck was another story from the period. The plaque came dated as 1796.

As its the 200th year since the abolition of slavery its a time to remember that Lancaster was the fourth biggest slave trading port in the UK - sending over 180 slave ships to sea. Preston also sent out ships to Africa to trade for slaves.

The presence of Black servants in Britain was confirmed in a report published in 1764. Africans and Asians were employed as domestic servants and footmen in a variety of households, some of them famous. Samuel Pepys, the 17th century diarist, employed a 'blackmore' cook, who, he said, 'dresses our meat mighty well'. Joseph Nollekens, Royal Academy sculptor, employed a Black female servant nicknamed 'Bronze'. For the English aristocracy and the newly rich, a Black page or handmaiden was an asset to be shown off as evidence of exotic wealth.

In modern British English, the term "Sambo" is now only used offensively. It was a stereotypical name for male black person it seems to have been used like many such names like Cuffy, Rastus, etc. it was a common personal name among U.S. blacks in the slavery days, first attested in 1704 in Boston. As Sambo's grave was from the 1730s this is a very early reference to the use of the name Sambo. It could probably be from an African source, Fulah (a member of a pastoral and nomadic people of mixed African and Mediterranean ancestry, scattered through W Africa from Senegal to Cameroon) where Sambo meant "uncle," or a similar Hausa word (northern Nigeria and southern Niger) meaning "second son." Used without conscious racism or contempt until around World War II. When the word fell from polite usage, collateral casualties included the enormously popular children's book "The Story of Little Black Sambo" (by Helen Bannerman), which actually is about an East Indian child and his problems with tigers! Hardly the slave trade from America. (which I remember well, as I had a copy).


Links for information about Sambo:

Elizabeth Ashworth's article

Another Sambo reference

Origins of the name.