The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod

The Free Negress Elisabeth

by Cynthia Mc Leod
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published on 2008
Pages: 316
Format: Hardcover Source: Library
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Elisabeth Samson, a free black Surinamese woman who lived in 18th-century Dutch Guyana, is the central character in this compelling novel. Challenging the prevailing racial stereotypes by demonstrating her intelligence and business acumen, she is determined to marry a white man in defiance of all established norms and conventions. Set amidst the rich backdrop of the Golden Age of Suriname, this biographical account depicts the complex social and racial stratifications which were features of slave colonies of the era as well as this remarkable woman who overcame institutionalized discrimination and prejudice to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the slave colony of Dutch Guyana.

Sometimes a book is a perfect fit for what you are looking to read.  This book checked off all the boxes for me.

Set in a country that I’d never read about before?  Yep, Suriname.  Here’s where it is.  Elisabeth was most annoyed when people didn’t know.

Written about a person of color by a person of color who has lived in the area? Yep, Cynthia McLeod (right in the picture) was born in Suriname and is the daughter of the first President of the country.

Written in a language other than English? Yep, written in Dutch and translated to English.

I was so excited that I was getting that all in one book that before I started it I had a moment of panic.  “What if this book isn’t any good?”

I was worried for nothing though.  This is historical fiction about Elisabeth Samson.  She was born to a black woman who had been freed following the death of her owner who had fathered two of her children.  Elisabeth was born two years later and had no white blood in her.  Black women were the lowest rung of Suriname society but she was raised as a free child by her half-white older sister and her sister’s white husband.

Black women were caught in a logical loop.  They were not allowed to marry so many lived with men out of wedlock.  Because so many lived with men out of wedlock, they were considered too immoral to be allowed to marry.  Mulatto women could marry freely.  When she became one of the richest people in the colony, she decided to fight for her right to marry.

The author spent years researching her.  At the beginning of her work it was known that Samson had a fortune but everyone assumed it came from a white man who either freed her or was sleeping with her.  Going through the primary sources the author found that Samson was a self-made woman who was involved in several prominent court cases.  After publishing her research, she wrote this historical fiction version of Samson’s life.

She was a fascinating woman and is presented here faults and all.