Scherin Barlow Massay

Social Anthropologist – Scherin Barlow Massay

Elisabeth grew up in the mansion of her elder half sister, Maria, who was married to a rich Swiss planter.

Having no children of her own, Maria pampered and indulged her youngest sister. Later, when she remarried, her new husband, Frederik Coeneraad Bosse, taught Elisabeth to read and write, which was illegal for African-Surinamese.

Aged nineteen, Elisabeth had already inherited wealth, owned slaves, land and coffee plantations.

She amassed her fortune through several business enterprises including the acquisition of real estate, selling clothes and materials, as well as luxury porcelain and silverware. She was also a moneylender and extended credit to her store clients. By the time she was forty-five years old, Samson was the richest woman in Suriname.

In 1736, Elisabeth Samson was involved in an incident leading to a wrong conviction for slander and perjury for which she was banished to Holland. While there, her lawyer appealed to the State General and in 1739, the verdict was reversed against the prosecuting counsel of Paramaribo.

A victorious, Elisabeth returned home to her family and the love of her life, German officer Carl Otto Creutz, but not before making more business contacts.

No stranger to controversy, in 1764, she caused uproar in colonial Suriname when she decided that she wanted to marry a white man. Women of mixed parentage could marry white men however, a marriage between an African Surinamese woman and a white man was forbidden in Paramaribo.

Cynthia Mc Leod.

Cynthia Mc Leod. Courtesy

By challenging the law, she set a precedent against colonial legislation in Suriname. When permission was refused, she petitioned Holland. The case which took three years to be resolved stated that she had nineteen arguments against her, but only one in her favour; the fact that she was rich and more importantly, upon her death her wealth would go to her husband. She was granted permission to marry.

However, during that time, Christoph Braband, the man she intended to marry, died so she married another white man in 1767. He was twenty-two years her junior and an opportunist. When she died in 1771, the vast amount of her fortune went to him. He in turn, buried her in an unmarked grave. This would have made Caribbean news.

Why was it so important for her to marry a white man? She wanted to achieve the same social standing as the white wives of the plantation directors. Despite her great wealth, she lacked prestige and acceptance into Dutch colonial society.

Moreover, she knew that a legal union with a white man would give her that status so she pursued until she finally realised her ambition. However, some would say at a high cost.

Elisabeth Samson appears in the history of Suriname only because she had the audacity to want to marry a white man. Nonetheless, there was much more to her than that. She overcame many barriers and was determined to achieve success.

Author Cynthia Mc Leod (nee Ferrier) was born in 1936 in Paramaribo, Suriname. A trained teacher, she later studied for a degree in Dutch language and literature. She is the daughter of Suriname’s first president Dr. Johann Ferrier and widow of Dr. DA Mc leod, ambassador to the Republic of Suriname.