Black History in Surrey Parish Registers

The archive catalogues at Surrey History Centre let us explore the origins and lives of some of the Black people who appear in the parish records a little further. Many clearly were servants, enslaved under another name, and recorded as belonging to the households of wealthy European white families:

The Cuffee Family

The language in these quotes reflects the attitudes of the time.

In Putney, the parish records ‘two blacks’ starting a family in the early 18th century: Thomas and Sarah Russel baptised their daughter Mary in 1714 and their son John in 1717 but high infant mortality meant that sadly, John was buried within a year and Mary only lived to the age of fourteen.

16th May, 1752, ‘George Cuffee, a black youth’ was buried in Putney. The ‘Cuffee’ – or ‘Coffee’ – family seem to have been a Putney-based Black or mixed-race family in the 18th century and were given a surname which crudely reflected their skin colour. This unfortunate child is possibly the George Cuffee mentioned in a previous entry: on 26th May 1749 ‘George & Robert, twins, sons of Richard Cuffe by Sarah his wife’ were baptised at St. Mary’s, Putney.

Before George and Robert came another son, Richard, baptised on 31st May 1747. As for the previous generations of the Cuffee family, the registers for the parish of St. Mary’s provide us with some further clues. Two different people named Richard Cuffee lived in the same generation in Putney, one baptised in May 1729 to Thomas and his wife Hannah, and one baptised in September 1726 to Richard and his wife Rebecca.

It is difficult to trace the Cuffee family history. This is not because there are too few records of the surname ‘Cuffee’, or variants, such as ‘Cuffe’ or ‘Cuff’, in the St Mary’s parish register, but because there are too many. We also know from slave registers (see for example the list attached to the deed to John Trevanion, SHC ref 4376/1/3) that ‘Cuffee’ and its variants made popular names for the enslaved.


On 6th January, 1715, ‘Caesar, a black of riper years of Mr. Vandeput’ was baptised in Richmond. ‘Mr. Vandeput’ may be Edward Vandeput (who was around 25 years of age in 1715), the son of Sir Peter and Dame Margaret Vandeput, mentioned in the same parish register. Sir Peter and Dame Margaret married in August 1674 and had a family of 22 children, all of whom lived in Richmond. Caesar could have belonged to any of their sons’ households. The Vandeput family were descended from a Huguenot refugees from Antwerp, who came to England at the end of the 16th century. When Sir Peter died in 1707, his widow, Dame Margaret, was left to take charge of the children and in 1713, she founded Christ’s School in Richmond, a charitable school for boys and girls.


On 25th July, 1742, ‘Peter, an adult black of John Fredericks Esq.’ was baptised in Walton-on-Thames. John Frederick is almost certainly a member of the local land-owning Frederick family of Burwood Park in Walton-on-Thames (see SHC ref 183). The entry could refer to Sir John Frederick of Burwood (1708-83), created 4th Baronet in 1723. The wealthy and Frederick family descended from Christopher Frederick, the serjeant surgeon to James I.

Image of Peter's baptism as recorded in Walton-on-Thames parish records (SHC ref: 2381/1/2)

Peter’s baptism is recorded in the Walton-on-Thames parish records (SHC ref: 2381/1/2).

Surrey History Centre holds a collection of deeds belonging to the Frederick family for their properties throughout Surrey, London, Sussex, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire and elsewhere. Sir John was the son of Sir Thomas Frederick (1650-1720), who served in the East India Company and became governor of Fort St. David and Fort St. George in Madras.

The international connection does not end there; Sir John Frederick of Burwood married Sussane, the youngest daughter of Sir Roger Hudson of Sunbury, director of the South Sea Company. The South Sea Company was associated with the Royal African Company and the trade supply of West Africans to Jamaica. So Peter might have arrived in Walton-on-Thames courtesy of Sir Roger Hudson.

Interestingly, the next century saw the Burwood estate inhabited by John Nicolas Fazakerley, a Whig politician – the Whig party being supporters of the economic benefits provided by the West Indian plantations. Fazakerley’s marriage settlement on his marriage to Eleanor Montagu (dated 8th and 10th July 1843), feature the signature of Henry Goulburn (SHC ref 183/1/99-100). Goulburn was one of Surrey’s most notable West Indian ‘planters’ or plantation-owners, and was witness to the marriage settlement, indicating either a friendship or other valued connection with the parties (see Slave Plantations with Surrey connections).

Fatima Hamilton

The parish registers for Merton include the baptism of Fatima Nelson, Lady Emma Hamilton’s Nubian maid, who was baptised on 26th April 1802. At this time, in a rather unusual arrangement, Admiral Nelson was living with his mistress, Emma Hamilton, and her husband in Merton Place. Sir William Hamilton was resigned to the presence of Nelson in the property and died in 1803, leaving Nelson and Lady Hamilton in a short-lived period of domestic happiness before the lead-up to the fateful Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805.

Nelson had previously defeated Napoleon’s fleet near Alexandria at the Battle of the Nile (1798) and Fatima, described as ‘a Negress’, would almost certainly have been brought to Lady Hamilton by Admiral Nelson during the short initial period of British occupation in Egypt (1801-3).

Image of the record of the baptism of Fatima Hamilton (SHC ref: 3185/1/4)

Fatima Hamilton was brought to Merton by Admiral Nelson to act as Lady Hamilton’s maid. Previously from Nubia in Egypt, she was baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Merton (SHC ref; 3185/1/4).

Fatima’s story highlights a fascinating connection between a little-known part of Surrey’s past and a decisive and historic naval victory by Nelson, one of the most famous men of the period.

Sean Canty

Sources at Surrey History Centre:

Parish Registers: Richmond Baptisms & Burials 1682-1759, marriages 1654-1751 (SHC ref P7/1/3).
Marriage settlement: lease and release of lands at Burwood, Painshill and elsewhere to John Nicholas Fazakerley with Henry Goulburn as signatory, 1843 (SHC ref 183/1/99-100).
Parish Registers: Walton-on-Thames burials 1639-1840 (SHC ref 2381/1/1-3; 2381/5/1).
Parish Registers: Mortlake burials 1748-1840 (SHC ref 2397/1/3; -/28).
Parish Registers: Merton baptisms 1789-1813 (SHC ref 3185/1/4).
Bannerman, W. Bruce (ed.), The Parish Register of Putney, Co. Surrey 1620-1734, transcribed by Amy C. Hare (Croydon: Bannerman, 1913).
The Parish Register of Putney, Co. Surrey 1734-1812, transcr. Amy C Hare (Croydon: Bannerman, 1915).


Crooks, Paul, A Tree Without Roots (London: Arcadia Books, 2008).
Gerhold, Dorian, ‘Black People in 17th & 18th Century Putney’, The Wandsworth Historian, No. 42 (1984).


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