Dido Elizabeth Belle was born into slavery as the biological daughter of Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, and Sir John Lindsay, a British career naval officer. Lindsay was later knighted and promoted to admiral. He returned to England in 1765 after the death of Maria Belle and took his daughter with him. Lindsay entrusted his uncle, 1st Earl of Mansfield, and his wife, Countess of Mansfield, to raise and educate Belle as their own child, such as they were doing with Belle’s soon-to-be cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray.
As Belle grew older, she often assisted Mansfield by taking dictation of his letters, which showed that she had been properly educated. She was raised as a free woman and lived at the home of the Murrays for 30 years. In 1784, Belle witnessed the death of Lady Mansfield, and the following year, the marriage of Lady Elizabeth Murray. However, she remained at Kenwood House for nearly another decade, finally leaving the estate upon the death of Lord Mansfield in 1793. After the death of Lord Mansfield, her freedom was confirmed and a sum paid to her, making her an heiress.
Belle’s father died in 1788 without legitimate heirs. However, whatever assets he left were to be shared by his illegitimate heirs, John and Elizabeth Lindsay. It is believed by historians that Belle’s father referred to her as Elizabeth in his will. However, there were other people who believed he had another daughter named Elizabeth Palmer, who lived in Scotland.
Belle married John Davinier, a Frenchman who worked as a gentleman’s steward. They had three sons, two of whom were twins, Charles, John, and William. Belle died in 1804 at the age of 43.