George Edward Doney Gravestone
One of Cassiobury's black servants.
by Watford Museum
A gravestone in St Mary’s churchyard still marks the resting place for one of Cassiobury’s black servants, George Edward Doney c. 1758-1809. It is a headstone, rather than a chest tomb. This is a very significant grave, of national significance, and represents a notable aspect of the social history of the town.
In the 18th century it was fashionable to have black servants. Although the slave trade was abolished in 1807 it was still legal to own slaves in this country until 1838. We do not know how he came to be working for the Earls of Essex nor how he came to England or who freed him. However, the Earl of Essex is known to have supported the campaign to end slavery altogether so it seems likely that Doney was freed by the Capels and then given paid employment.
We know that George, known as Edward, was born in Gambia in West Africa. He was sold into slavery in Virginia, USA before starting work as a servant to the Earls of Essex on the Cassiobury Estate, for whom he worked for 44 years. He was buried in the St Mary’s Church Graveyard in 1809 and we know from the parish registers that he had also been christened at St Mary’s Church 35 years earlier, in 1774.
The inscription on his gravestone…
Poor Edward blest the pirate bark which bore
His captive infancy from Gambia’s shore
To where in willing servitude he won
Those blest rewards for every duty done –
Kindness and praise, the wages of the heart;
None else to him could joy or pride impart,
And gave him, born a pagan and a slave,
A freeman’s charter and a Christian’s grave.