Do our ancestors matter – what they did or what was done to them? Andrea Stuart, prize-winning author of The Rose of Martinique: A Biography of Napoleon’s Josephine, has traced her family tree back to the birth of a child in eighteenth-century Barbados who is the result of a union between a powerful white slave owner and an unnamed black female slave. From here she follows the white side of the family further back to the moment in the 1630s when a Leicestershire blacksmith called George Ashby audaciously emigrated to Barbados.
It is not without ‘some heartache’ for the author that the white side of the family dominates the early part of her book. As Stuart writes, ‘the unknowability’ of the pasts, and indeed everyday lives, of the enslaved blacks is ‘one of the many terrible by-products of slavery, when people,