Did Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ancestors Own Slaves? Yes, According To NYC Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch

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01.28.14 9 Comments

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE Benedict Cumberbatch

Was Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in 12 Years A Slave a little too convincing? Did you always think there was a dark secret being hidden somewhere behind that soul quaking voice? Do you enjoy blowing things out of proportion while having a little fun? If so, welcome.

The Telegraph has a story on newly appointed New York City commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch and her alleged connection to the Sherlock star: His ancestors once owned her ancestors. From the article:

Despite their very different backgrounds, Stacey Cumberbatch and Benedict Cumberbatch apparently do not just share a distinctively English-sounding surname. Ms Cumberbatch believes that the star’s fifth great-grandfather owned her ancestors on an 18th century sugar plantation on Barbados. They are “related”, not by blood, but by their shared roots in the brutal transatlantic slave trade, she told The New York Times after her appointment as a city commissioner.

Her ancestors were slaves on the island at the time when it was the practice for them to take the family names of plantation owners such as Abraham Cumberbatch. The star has previously discussed how his name became common among families from the Caribbean because of his forebear’s role on the island. Although there are no paper records to establish the link, it now seems that New York’s new chief of administrative services is among them.

Well that’s quite the thing to say. What is the word from the other side of the world?

Abraham Cumberbatch, who was born in Bristol in 1726 and died in 1785, came from a family of merchants and adventurers and built the clan’s fortune from a sugar plantation on Barbados. The actor said that it was a “sort of apology” for this history when he played William Pitt the Younger, the abolitionist prime minister, in the 2006 film Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce’s fight to eliminate the slave trade in the British empire.

In an interview, he once said that his mother, Wanda Ventham, the actress who also played his mother in the latest season of Sherlock, encouraged him not to use his real name in his professional career because she was concerned that he could face claims from reparations by slaves of descendants.

The Cumberbatch family has faced no such lawsuits. But 14 Caribbean nations last year said they would seek reparations from the former colonial powers of Britain, France and the Netherlands for the slave trade. (via)

Alrighty then. Seems like we’re going to be watching a lot of Sherlock in the coming years. And maybe Khan opens a bakery in San Francisco for the next Star Trek TV show. The man is going to need money I would assume.

I think the main thing to point out here is that it is always hard for someone to escape every detail their name carries along with it. But, as these folks represent, you can work to make your own story a little better and try to make repairs over time.

I don’t want to look back at my history just yet. Firstly because I feel that genealogy is a sign that you’ve given up on living. Second because I’d hate to find out my family name has terror connected to it. And not the fun, Michael Meyers kind of terror.

(Lead image via Regency / Telegraph)

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