Elisabeth Samson, Forbidden Bride
by C.V. Hamilton
Swift House Press

"You force us to live in sin against the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church! You should honor my desire for a legal marriage because I have no heirs, and when I die the property you so covet would thus return into white hands!"

Elizabeth Samson was born a free black woman in the Dutch colony of Suriname in the early 1700s. She was raised, educated, and groomed for high society by her sister and white brother-in-law and, as an adult, owned plantations. She couldn't marry her true love, the German soldier Carl Otto (with whom she lived and managed their property), due to the island law forbidding the legal union between blacks and whites. After his death, she confronted this law.

Based on journals the author discovered in an island museum, the novel tracks day-to-day events that, taken together, weave a context in which Samson's marriage pursuit is explored. Scenes of dinner parties, afternoon teas with family and friends, trips, and business dealings show how Suriname's culture, religions, politics, conventions, and landscape influence its laws. Sibling rivalries, a pet monkey, and complex liaisons provide levity, while luscious menus, lilting language, and tropical warmth satisfy the senses.

Samson lived in Suriname's Golden Age, replete with grand sugar and coffee plantations, opulent European imports, and African slaves. The book does not spare modern readers from many graphic depictions of slave treatment. Runaway slaves called Maroons form rebelling bands who steal from and attack colonists. Otto leads the governor's mission to negotiate with the Maroons, ultimately leading to his death. This process increases black-white tensions. The verbal abuse reaped on Samson for being black intensifies during her involvement in a scandal surrounding the governor and his own verbal abusers. Marriage is a form of combat against this racially charged society, which she executes through persistent letter writing and business acumen. In the end, Samson marries a young man. As Samson is successful, so, too, is the novel in robustly and colorfully filling out a groundbreaking but little-known historical heroine.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home