Benedict Cumberbatch’s family may be forced to pay reparations for slave-owning ancestors

The family of Benedict Cumberbatch, the Oscar-nominated actor who plays Doctor Strange and Sherlock, could be forced to pay reparations for slavery in Barbados due to their ancestral ties to a sugar plantation in the Caribbean nation

According to a report in The Telegraph, Abraham Cumberbatch, the seventh great-grandfather of the actor, purchased the Cleland plantation in 1728, which housed 250 slaves for more than a century and reportedly generated a small fortune for the Cumberbatch family. After slavery was abolished in the 1830s, Cumberbatch’s ancestors and other slave owners received a compensation payment, which would be worth millions today.

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Barbados, which became a republic after removing Elizabeth II as head of state in 2021, is seeking reparations from the families of past slave owners and Cumberbatch could potentially be involved in a legal battle over his ancestors’ ownership of the plantation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Last November, The Guardian reported that the Barbados government plans to ask for reparations from Richard Drax, a conservative member of British Parliament who inherited the island’s largest plantation, Drax Hall. If Drax refuses to give up his family’s land, Barbados will request that an international arbitration court make a decision on the matter.

If Barbados’ challenge is successful in court, it could set a precedent for the government to seek compensation from other descendants of slave owners, including Cumberbatch. David Comissiong, Barbados’ deputy chairman of the national commission on reparations, has stated that he wants the ancestors of slave-owning families to pay damages. “Any descendants of white plantation owners who have benefited from the slave trade should be asked to pay reparations, including the Cumberbatch family,” said David Denny, General Secretary of the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration. The reparations could be used to improve local infrastructure, housing, schools, and healthcare, according to Denny.

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Cumberbatch, who played a slave owner in the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, has previously acknowledged his ancestors’ slave ownership. In a 2007 interview, he stated that his mother had encouraged him to consider using a stage name due to the possibility of being targeted for reparations by descendants of slaves. In 2014, Stacey Cumberbatch, New York’s commissioner of citywide administrative services, revealed that her ancestors were slaves in Barbados owned by the actor’s forefathers.

In a 2018 interview with The Telegraph, Cumberbatch said he was troubled by his family’s history, stating,  “We have our past – you don’t have to look far to see the slave-owning past. We were part of the whole sugar industry, which is a shocker.”

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