The Mussons of Bermuda, Barbados and Croydon


By - Tuesday 25th September, 2018

Croydon’s links to colonised Bermuda and the West Indies


All Saints Church, Upper Norwood, where a number of Musson children were baptised and married.
Photo author’s own.

In January 2001, two portrait paintings sold together at auction – one of Samuel Paynter Musson and the other, of ‘Maid De-ah’, who had been “…the faithful and loving nurse of the Musson family in Barbados and England”. She had lived with the Mussons for several decades in Upper Norwood, prior to her death in 1914. Unfortunately, no copies of the paintings are available, but their stories provide an opportunity to examine Croydon’s connections to colonised Bermuda and the West Indies from contrasting perspectives.

Samuel Paynter Musson was born in 1795 in the British colony of Bermuda, the son of Paynter and Anne Musson (née Peniston). The Mussons had risen from the working-class immigrants to the island in the early 1720s to being ‘aristocratic’ and ‘gentlemen’, as one description of the family put it. Based in the town of Flatts, where some of their buildings remain, and also in Hamilton, the Mussons had attained wealth through becoming sea captains and merchants, using Bermuda’s location in the north Atlantic and its maritime industry boom, enabled by slave labour, to connect trade between the West Indies, north America and Europe.

Although there was not the mass importation of slave labour in Bermuda on the scale seen in the plantation economies of, for example, the Caribbean, slave labour was important to the tobacco industry which then gave way to the maritime industry. By 1740, one in four Bermudan sailors is thought to have been a slave and slaves performed skilled roles as sawyers, caulkers and carpenters, building ships. Harvesting salt was also an important industry utilising slaves and indentured labour.

A ‘Samuel Musson’ is recorded as owning seven slaves outright

In William Musson’s 1758 will, a negro boy was left to each of his children, including Paynter Musson, who became father to Samuel Paynter Musson. By 1821, the Bermuda slave register recorded the Musson family as amongst the wealthiest on the island, owning a total of more than eighty slaves, the majority of whom are identified as serving in house-servant roles. A ‘Samuel Musson’ (possibly Samuel Paynter Musson, though he had two relations with the same name) is recorded as owning seven slaves outright and also eight slaves as agent of his father’s estate. When slave ownership was abolished in the colonies in 1833, the British government paid out £20 million in compensation to around 3,000 slave-owning families. The money borrowed to make this payout was only paid off in 2015. Samuel Paynter Musson successfully claimed for the loss of at least seven slaves.

By this time, Samuel Paynter Musson was in Barbados, where Britain had developed the slave-plantation model in the 1640s and had, initially, turned the island into their most populous and wealthy colony in the region. Deforested and carved into large estates of sugar plantations worked upon by slaves, this model would be exported to the USA. At first, indentured labourers from Britain and Ireland were relied upon but the demand for labour caused plantation owners to import African slaves, particularly from what is now Ghana and Nigeria. During the 180 years between the colonisation of Barbados and parliament outlawing the slave trade in 1807, an estimated 387,000 Africans were shipped to Barbados. Demand was high because “(a)ctivity stress and abuse, coupled with disease and malnutrition, culminated in high mortality and replacement”, a study on a sample of skeletons found.

Former slaves would continue to work for their masters for no more than forty-five hours a week

After the abolishment of slavery in Barbados in 1834, the sugar plantations that Samuel Paynter Musson’s company contracted with to supply and export for implemented the ‘apprenticeships’ scheme. Former slaves would continue to work for their masters for no more than forty-five hours a week and have one day free to earn their own income. The workload on the plantations did not change and may have increased as worker numbers fell. The scheme was abandoned in 1838.

Samuel Paynter Musson had three children born in Barbados, one of whom, Samuel James Musson, would later joined his father as a partner in S.P. Musson & Co. Around this time, in 1860, the Mussons selected Maria Herbert, a black girl born in Barbados, to work as a nurse. She is thought to have been thirteen or fourteen at the time. It is possible that Herbert’s family had been former Musson slaves.

Lifelong service to the Mussons commenced for Maria Herbert, who was known as ‘De-ah’, to the family, She would likely have helped to raise Samuel James Musson’s first children born in Barbados. When Samuel James Musson moved his family to Croydon in the late 1860s, possibly to escape sickness such as yellow fever which affected other family members, Maria Herbert, in her twenties, went with them.

Maria Herbert worked in a team of female servants for the next forty-five years

The Mussons settled in Upper Norwood, first at Upper Beulah Hill and later moving to Kinnaird House, 12 Highfield Hill, off Church Road. Musson and his wife, Martha, had ten children in total, nine surviving to adulthood. In Croydon, Maria Herbert worked in a team of female servants and over the next forty-five or so years, Herbert raised and cared for the Mussons. As new servants came and went, Herbert remained, as the relevant censuses show. A photograph in the National Maritime Museum’s archives, shows ‘De’ah’ caring for a Musson child.

Samuel James Musson died in October 1908, leaving an estate worth, in today’s terms, some £2-3 million to his family. The 1911 census shows that sixty-seven-year-old Maria Herbert continued to work as a nurse, serving Musson’s widow, Martha, seventy years old, and four of her adult daughters, Edith, Evelyn, Esther and Mildred, alongside four other servants. Samuel Peter Musson, Samuel James’ son, had settled in Thornton Heath and his wife stayed at Kinnaird House.

A couple of years later, in 1914, Maria Herbert died. John Hardy Musson, Samuel Peter Musson’s son, who had painted the portrait of her that hung in Kinnaird House, 12 Highfield Hill, was killed in July 1915 during the First World War. S.P. Musson & Co merged with another major shipping and trading company, DaCosta, but the name was revived and continues in Barbados and Jamaica, operating as a conglomerate involved in real estate and property management, amongst other services.

Samuel Ali

Samuel Ali

Samuel recently worked as a Heritage Trainee with the Museum of Croydon, in conjunction with arts and heritage charity, Culture&. He is interested in opening archives and museum collections to engage diverse and under-represented audiences. All views are his own. Contact: sam491812 (at) protonmail (dot) com or @museumpoetry

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  • Sean Creighton

    Thanks Sam for doing this research piece. It adds considerably to my mention of Samual Paynter in my essay ‘Croydon ‘s Connections with the British Slavery Business’ published by CHNSS in its Proceedings (Vol. 20. Part 1) last September. I have drawn it to the attention of the Legacies of British Slave ownership project at UCL so the team can up-date their entry on Samuel Paynter. The picture of their servant that your link provides is yet more visual evidence of Black people in Britain. The latest contribution to their history is Jeffrey Green’s ‘Black Americans in Victorian Britain’ just published by Pen & Sword (see my blog posting at . https://seancreighton1947.wordpress.com/2018/09/22/black-americans-in-victorian-britain-new-book-by-jeffrey-green

  • Sam A

    Update – Samuel Paynter Musson (b. 1795) had four children (one son and three daughters), as identified in his will, rather than three children which was stated in the article.

    Thanks, Sean, I’ve read your essay and article on this site, ‘Croydon’s slave-trading history: the evidence grows’ which helped inform the research: https://thecroydoncitizen.com/history/evidence-grows-croydons-slavery-links/

    This 1897 description of SP Musson, Son and Co may be of interest:

    “This well known firm are wholesale commission merchants and importers, as also extensive exporters of sugar and molasses. This business was founded some seventy years ago and Mr SP Musson may be said to have spent his life and acquired fortune and mercantile fame in it. After his death which occurred in 1873, his surviving partners, Mr SJ Musson (his son), Mr M Trott and Mr SW Collymore continued the business…In 1886, Mr SJ Musson, the only surviving representative of the firm’s name, retired and went to England, leaving the business under the proprietorship of Messrs SW Collymore and JHC Leacock…The firm style has always been the same. SP Musson Son and Company is one of the most reputable and best-rated firms in Barbados. They handle all kinds of breadstuffs on commission and do an especially large business in salt fish of different kinds, exported from Newfoundland and LockePort, Nova Scotia. They are agents for the Guardian Fire Assurance Co. of London and the Providence of Rhode Island, and has established business connections in New York, Philadelphia and other cities in the USA, as well as throughout the Dominion of Canada.”

    p73 The Monthly Illustrator, Dec 1897 (Barbados)

  • Sean Creighton

    This article has now been referenced under Samuel Paynter Musson on the Legacies of British Salve-ownership database.