Throughout October, we want to bring awareness to important Black figures. By highlighting the challenges that the Black community has endured, we hope to help understand and support the modern community that continues to thrive today.
Born in West Africa, Joseph Emidy survived two long periods of being enslaved before arriving in Cornwall. He was a talented musician and composer, leading the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra.
His life is commemorated in Truro Cathedral with a painted wooden carving featuring a violin and a map of Africa. There is also a plaque in Falmouth marking his life and contributions to music in Cornwall.
Emidy was enslaved from the age of 12 until his release in 1799, he was forced to work on plantations in Brazil and then his owner moved to Lisbon in Portugal taking Emidy there too.
In Lisbon, Emidy achieved the position of second violin in the orchestra of the opera at Lisbon. He learned to play in three to four years, manifesting his love and skill in music.
Emidy’s time in Lisbon was cut short when he was kidnapped the English naval commander, Edward Pellew. Pellew visited the opera house, heard Emidy play and decided to kidnap him so that he could play for his sailors.
He spent four years trapped on Pellew’s ship as the ship fiddler. He was finally released in Falmouth on 28th February 1799.
Joseph Emidy had to rebuild his life again in Cornwall and chose to continue sharing his musical talent with the county. Emidy married a local woman, taught music to a number of students and led the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra at the Assembly Rooms from 1816 to 1826.
Emidy had eight children whose descendants still live locally.
He died in 1835 and was buried in Kenwyn Churchyard, just outside of Truro. You can see his headstone in the churchyard still!
To see more Black History Month profiles, news, resources and events, visit the SU Black History Month hub.