There are some facts you learn and people you hear about that immediately make you wonder, “Why didn’t I learn about this in school?” The life and genius of Sarah Forbes Bonnetta is just one of those cases. Bonetta was born in West African and was captured by the King of Dahomey during a “slave-hunt” war, in which her parents were killed. Bonnetta was only eight and had been born into a dynasty, but became a slave and a prisoner of King Ghezo. But then King Ghezo gave Bonnetta to Captain Frederick E Forbes of the Royal Navy — and though at the moment she was totally objectified, that event changed her life.
“Of her own history she was only a confused idea. Her parents were decapitated; her brother and sisters she knows not what their fate might have been,” Captain Forbes wrote. “For her age supposed to be eight years. She is a perfect genius; she now speaks English well, and has a great talent for music. She has won the affections, with but few exceptions, of all who have known her, she is far in advance of any white child of her age, in aptness of learning, and strength of mind and affection.” Upon bringing her to England, she was given to Queen Victoria — who was immediately impressed at Bonnetta’s intellect. You can hear more about her impressive life story in this video from the National Portrait Gallery.
To live a life of objectification and back-and-forth, yet still have your intellect, wit, and musical talents shine through takes an extraordinary soul and incredible resilience. Bonetta’s story is one that we all should have learned about — and one that deserves to be shared.