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Book source: Elisabeth Samson, Een Vrije, Zwarte Vrouw in het 18e Eeuwse Suriname, Cynthia Mc Leod, Uitgeverij Conserve, 1996. ISBN: 90-5429-054-4

Subject: [Literature] Elisabeth Samson


Cynthia McLeod is the author of a book Elisabeth Samson (A free black woman in 18th century Suriname). It took the author 6 years of examining various archives in Holland and Suriname. Although the author intended this book to be a historical novel it is more a genealogical study of Elisabet Samson and her family. The name Elisabeth Samson appears in numerous history books about Surniame. Elisabeth was the first black woman in Suriname who desired in 1764 to marry a white husband.

She was born in 1715 as a free African-Surinamese. She was enterprising, assertive and with numerous connections to high places in Suriname society of the 18th century. She got into trouble and was accused of spreading false rumors. She even travelled to Holland to defend herself before the States general. Elisabeth request in 1764 to marry a white husband caused the necessary consternation in Suriname that her request was referred to Holland for approval. As there was no law on the books to prohibit such a marriage the case was sent back with the note to approve the marriage.

In the mean time it took so long for the decision was made that the prospective groom had died. She married than a 22 year younger white husband Hermanus Daniel Zobre. Before that she was the concubine of Carl Otto Creutz. Through these marriages and being an astute business woman she had become very wealthy.

18th Century society in Suriname was a segregated society. Besides the Dutch, you had citizens from other European countries. There were French Hugenots, swiss and German farmers. There were also a foreign mercenary military force. The white population consisted primarily of plantation owners. At the end of the 18th century almost all plantation owners resided in Holland.

An important group of society in Suriname were the Jewish citizens. They kept themselves segregated from the other people. They were mostly Potuguese jews. Later on Jews from germany also arrived in Suriname. The jews could not become a member of the local colonial government nor the courts. There was discrimination of the Jewish settlers.

The period of 1740 to 1773 is often called the golden century as most plantation owners were wealthy. wealth was demonstrated based on the number of slaves kept. Elisabeth Samson lived together with Otto Creuz during this period and then married Hermanus Zobre. Colored Surinamers and free African-Surinamese who were well to do also demonstrated their wealth by keeping many slaves. There were cases where a free African-Surinamese had relatives as slaves. Several cases existed where the mother was a slave of the free African-Surinamese. Free African-Surinamese were allowed to marry free husbands or wives but they were not permitted to marry a slave. White bachelors lived with a colored or African-Surinamese female. They were called 'huishoudster' or housekeeper. Married white males often had also a concubine or 'bijzit'.

Elisabeth Samson was born in 1715. Her mother Mariana was a free slave and Elisabeth was a free person. Elisabeth went to Holland in 1743 to defend herself against charges of spreading rumors. She also did some business while in Holland. Not much is known how Elisabeth got her name Samson. It is unlikely that the name was derived from a Jewish plantation owner. It is believed that it is the name of a free African-Surinamese named Samson.

Carl Otto Creutz was born on the 3rd of January 1715 in Emmerich, county of Cleve, Germany. He arrived in Suriname in 1773 as a military cadet. He was promoted to vaandrig in 1736. He was a lieutenant in 1741 and in 1745 he became a captain-lieutenant. He was also a member of the court of police in 1753. He died in 1762. Elisabeth Samson had as her business manager the business office of Pieter Reydemius and sons in Amsterdam. This office helped Elisabeth who earned an income of 40-60,000 guilders a year from the plantations. Elisabeth herself managed the plantations. She did all the purchases and sales and did all the administration. In 1764 Elisabeth and Christoph Policarpus Braband submitted their request of their intention to marry. However when the final approval came down Braband had died in 1766. Then in 1767 she married Hermanus Daniel Zobre. Zobre was born in the Hague in 1737.

One can assume that Elisabeth had certain motives to marry Zobre. As she was almost 50 it can be assumed that her marriage was not about having children. She was wealthy and black. she married Zobre to achieve equal standing as the white wives of the plantation directors. Elisabeth and her husband lived in Paramaribo where some 40 slaves pampered them. 1768-1769 were great years for the coffee harvest and coffee shipped to Holland was sold at a good price. Also cotton and cocoa had a great harvest year. However there was trouble on the horizon as the Boni wars began. Plantations were attacked and the directors and their families moved to Paramaribo. Then in 1770 the harvest was extremely poor and the prices of coffee and cocoa on the world market plumeted. A financial crisis was close at hand when Elisabeth Samson died in 1771.

When Elisabeth Samson died in 1771 she left an estate of 1,138,000 guilders. The Governor General's yearly salary was 10,000 guilders. A pastor of the Reformed Church was paid 2,000 guilders. The price of a slave at this time was 260 guilders. Elisabeth was an excellent business woman. Her assets were estimated to be 200,000 guilders in 1762. Then in 1771 the year of her death it was worth more than 1 million guilders. Her husband did not even buy a tombstone for her and her grave is unmarked and the location unknown. Zobre who inherited his share of the estate sold those plantations which were not profitable or had a large mortgage left. He also borrowed money to those plantation owners who needed the money to pay their mortgages. On the other hand Nanette Samson (Elisabeth's sister) was declared bankrupt in 1778 because of business failures. When Nanette died in 1793 she had only a couple houses left.

Zobre died on 6 October 1784. He left 1000 guilders to his sister in Holland while the other heirs turned down their share of the inheritance as they could not pay the delinquent mortgages of the plantations.

Met dank aan Albert Buys

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