Cesar Picton

Cesar Picton was a young man from Senegal who lived and made good in our locality over two hundred years ago.

We all know that humanity evolved in Africa and spread out from there across the world a very long time ago.

What many of us do not know is how long in recent times people of African origin have lived in Britain. During the Roman occupation of Britain most legions would have up to half their strength made up of people from North- and sub-Saharan Africa. These would almost certainly have left a significant genetic mark on the local population, which will have come down to
today.

More recently there have been records of black people living and working in Britain which go back as far as the time of Richard the Second. From the 18th Century onwards black communities have set up first in London and later in Cardiff and Liverpool.

Cesar Picton was born in Senegal in about 1755. This area of Africa was partly Moslem and he may well have been brought up in that religion. Senegal at that time was a source of dispute between France and Britain. Its value was based on the slave trade. Nearly all slaves were sent to the West Indies or to America.

In the middle of the 18th century the status of slaves was very much in question and a number of court cases had declared that slavery was contrary to English Law. This did not stop black people from being brought over and sold in Britain. Most of them were actually called servants but they were treated like quasi-slaves.

Cesar was very lucky, as he was given as a gift to Sir John Philipps, a wealthy Baronet, who came from Pembrokeshire and also had a house in Norbiton. Sir John was a generous philanthropist who spent money on schools in Wales and set up scholarships at Pembroke College Oxford. By nature he was not in favour of slavery.

Cesar was six when he arrived at Norbiton and although there was really not a post for him, he rapidly became almost a member of the family. It had
long been a tradition in England that a favourite black servant would be dressed in turbans and exotic clothes and this is what happened to Cesar. The evidence that Cesar was more than just a servant first lies in his baptism in 1761 when he was given three godparents and received his first name Cesar.

For the next few years Cesar was given an education and was increasingly treated as one of the family. When Sir John died, Cesar remained at Norbiton. Sir John’s son became Lord Milford and Cesar carried on as part servant and part family. When Sir John’s wife, Lady Philipps, died she bequeathed to Cesar the sum of £100.00 – a very large sum for that time.

Receiving his inheritance in 1788 Cesar rented a coach house and stables and also a wharf in Kingston. This became Cesar’s first home and the base for his business. Lord Milford sold the property at that time and his sisters all moved to Hampton Court. The sisters were to keep in touch with Cesar for a long time.

Sir John’s wealth had been based upon Welsh coal and so it was no surprise
when Cesar became a coal merchant. Up until this time Cesar had only one name but now he adopted the name of the family castle in Wales and was
henceforth called Cesar Picton. It was almost certain that, in his long time with the family, he had gained a significant knowledge of the coal trade and probably made several useful contacts.

We do not have all the details of his coal business, but we do know he amassed a considerable fortune and gained a place in local society, forming friendships with a number of local tradesmen and other businessmen. He was an active Christian and involved in the business of his local church.

In the early 19th century Cesar rented out his Kingston property and, after several moves, bought outright a large cottage in Thames Ditton for £400.00. He kept in contact with Lord Milford, who died in 1823, and was signatory to some of the codicils to the Lord’s will.

Cesar Picton never married and when he died at 81, he left most of his large estate to Sarah Lock Pinner, his goddaughter.

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