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e lisabeth samson, a spinster aged forty-nine, had set her sights on becoming the wife of the organist of the Dutch Reformed Church in Paramaribo, the tiny capital of the colony of Suriname .¹ To this end, she had instructed her solicitors in the Netherlands to petition the Dutch States General,the highest authority for colonial affairs, requesting permission to marry.The year was 1764.The Political Council of Suriname had already refused her permission because eighty years earlier a ruling of the Suriname Company,which ran the place,had prohibited marriage between Europeans and Africans. Back in 1685, when the Suriname Company first sought to curtail the practice of Dutch men marrying their enslaved concubines, the principals would not have imagined that an African woman would seek to marry a Dutch man. Now this was exactly what Elisabeth Samson proposed, proudly affirming in her petition to the States General that she was “a freeborn Negress.” She wanted to be married to the man of her choice and was not about to be denied. Elisabeth Samson could buy and sell most of the Political Council of Suriname. She was a black woman, but she also was one of the wealthiest planters in the Atlantic world: the owner of a number of substantial properties in and around Paramaribo, including a very large mansion situated on prime land, six massive plantations, including one that was over a thousand acres, and many hundreds of slaves. Having personally visited the Netherlands , she knew Dutch law and understood the way the Dutch colonial system worked.To her great satisfaction,the Dutch States General declared that Dutch law did not prohibit interracial marriage and their ruling overrode that of the Suriname Company. The only problem was that the legal deliberations had taken three years, during which time her fiancé had died. Unperturbed, she promptly fixed upon another Dutch man, to whom she was married at her mansion in December 1767. Elisabeth and Her Sisters introduction 2 ~ introduction Elisabeth Samson was born in 1715 to an African woman called Nanoe, who had been enslaved but was manumitted on the death of her owner in 1713,along with her two mulatto children,Maria and Charlo.Nanoe had six other children with her enslaved African husband, and these children remained in bondage even when she was freed. Her last child, Elisabeth, was born free in 1715 because her mother was then a free woman.The manumitted son,Charlo,became a carpenter,and he purchased the six other children from his father’s widow,then progressively manumitted his siblings over the next decade until the whole family was emancipated. Elisabeth grew up in the household of her half sister Maria,who married a wealthy Swiss planter and, after his death, a German merchant. Elisabeth was highly literate and was trained by her brother-in-law in business matters, at which she proved remarkably adept. By nineteen she had begun to accumulate property, and by her midtwenties she was the owner of two small coffee plantations. Sometime in her twenties she acquired a business partner who was also her lover, a German army captain named Carl Creutz.He received a grant of one thousand acres in 1749, and with Elisabeth Samson’s capital and her two hundred slaves, the couple created a large and successful coffee plantation, which they called “Clevia.” “Clevia” was registered in their joint names, as were a second plantation, “La Solitude,” and two large houses they owned in the town.The slaves,however,were clearly demarcated as the property of Elisabeth Samson alone, and she retained sole ownership of her original plantations . It was she who controlled the operation of the plantations, managed the household, and transacted all the business, while Creutz attended to political matters and went off into the jungle to do battle with the Maroons. Despite living on the frontier, the couple lived in grand style, occupying a lavishly furnished mansion in Paramaribo that was staffed by forty-four slaves and filled with a cornucopia of luxury goods, including hundreds of bottles of wine and nineteen dozen Japanese porcelain teacups. The inventory of their household filled more than thirty folios. Elisabeth Samson and Carl Creutz wanted for nothing, unless it was legitimacy. Creutz was a member of the Political Council, so he knew that the local law of Suriname prohibited marriage between Europeans and Africans, but that did not restrain him from ostentatiously flaunting his relationship with a black...


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