In a churchyard in Kenwyn, in Truro, Cornwall is a gravestone marking the burial place of Joseph Antonia Emidy, who died aged sixty in 1835. He is described as a ‘native of Portugal’. He had spent years in Portugal but his birth place was in western Africa, for Emidy had been enslaved. In England he worked as a musician and composer, married Jane Hutchings in 1802 in Falmouth and raised eight children, settling in Truro around 1815.
One son, the ‘equestrian riding master’ James H. Emidy aged 53 was with his wife Eliza working in Norwich in 1871. James Hutchings Emidy died in Bristol in 1884. An older brother, Thomas Emidy was a musician like his African father, and he married a woman named Margery and they had six children. This branch of the African’s heirs is listed at Charles Street in Kenwyn in the British census in 1841, 1851 and in 1861. Thomas Emidy died aged 66 in Truro in the winter of 1870-1871. His wife Margery had died in Truro aged 70, four years before.
With the gravestone making no comment on the patriarch being African or a slave, clear evidence comes from a painting from 1808, ‘A Musical Club’. This absence suggests that Emidy and his family were part and parcel of the Cornish community. A dark-skinned person was not always defined by his/her colour in Victorian Britain. Nor can we expect accuracy where place of birth is stated. That these individuals were often appearing in public – and their unusual surname – makes them somewhat easy to trace.
The connections to the eastern United States see https://www.myheritage.com/names/joseph_emidy.
Richard McGrady’s study of Emidy (with the Musical Club image on its cover) was issued by the University of Exeter Press in 1991: Music and Musicians in Early Nineteenth Century Cornwall.
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