Samuel Moulton-Barrett (uncle)

Samuel Barrett Moulton-Barrett (1787–1837)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 1, 288–289.

Born on 31 March 1787 at the Cinnamon Hill estate of his maternal grandfather, Edward Barrett, in Jamaica, he was the third child and second son of Charles and Elizabeth Moulton. The biographical sketch of his elder brother Edward (EBB’s father) describes the childhood of both, their taking of the name Barrett, being sent to England for schooling, and inheriting the bulk of their grandfather’s estate. Sam had little or no formal schooling but did receive tutoring, including that of William Lewis Rahm, with whom he spent time in Scotland and on the Continent. He was in Denmark at the time of Britain’s 1807 bombardment of Copenhagen. There was a special relationship between Sam and EBB from the beginning of her life. In the first letter she is known to have received, from her father, this uncle is mentioned as “your Sam” (letter 1). There was no formality between them: she never called him anything but just “Sam.” He reportedly claimed to love her more than did even her father. He was with her during a substantial part of her stay, for health reasons, at the Spa Hotel, Gloucester, in 1821 and 1822. In 1824 there apparently was a serious quarrel between Sam and his brother, EBB’s father, and there is evidence that she played a key role in patching it up (see letters 195 and 196). Sam is generally described as a person whose friendships were genuine and lasting, a person far more outgoing and congenial than his brother Edward. In comparing the two, EBB wrote to Sam (letter 227), “There is a great difference between yourself, & him, at least in one respect—for if your reveries are upon a rose his are under it.” His amiable instincts may sometimes have gone too far. On 19 September 1808, shortly after Sam’s coming of age, James Scarlett wrote to Edward Moulton-Barrett as follows: “… he is very popular. I wish we could prevail upon him to be less liberal in making gifts. It is not the value of the money that I should care about; but it is the character it gives him of carelessness & extravagances. He will always find people to receive his presents, but they will laugh at him & others will join them. … I have reason to believe that many respectable persons who would be very glad to court his society are rather afraid of doing so lest they should be either thought to have their own interest in view, or be put to the necessity of refusing his presents. At present this is the only fault I have to find with Sam” (SD114).

Sam’s seat was Carlton, an estate located in Yorkshire, near Richmond, and about seven miles south of Darlington. Sam entered the British Parliament, representing the Borough of Richmond, North Riding, Yorkshire, in 1820, and remained its member until 1828. While the House was sitting, the Moulton-Barretts took full advantage of his privilege of franking letters, so that they could be sent free of postal charges. Bundles of letters would be sent to him by various members of the family for franking; as Mary Moulton-Barrett said in letter 228, “he is very kind to be so plagued by our letters.” Until his marriage, he used his mother’s London residence in Baker Street while sitting in the House. His marriage to Mary Clementina Cay-Adams occurred at Gloucester, 20 March 1823. Their residence while in the south was at Walthamstow.

Growing British agitation against slavery in the colonies must have been deeply troubling to Sam as a member of Parliament. The Moulton-Barretts recognized the evils of slavery, yet their family empire in Jamaica had been built upon it. Sam himself was to leave England for Jamaica before the issue was resolved. He and his wife went there in 1827 in an effort to untangle problems on the Moulton-Barrett plantations. They took Cinnamon Hill as their chief residence. Biographers note the kindness and compassion shown by Sam and Mary toward the Jamaican slaves. This treatment is credited with helping the Moulton-Barretts to weather storms of slave revolt far better than did most planters. Mary Clementina died in 1831. Two years later Sam married Anne Elizabeth Gordon, who survived him (and whom EBB did not particularly like). Sam died at Kingston, 23 December 1837, while involved with government business at Spanish Town, leaving a legacy of several thousand pounds and shares in the ship David Lyon to EBB. His burial place is Cinnamon Hill. The death of this favourite uncle was among those deeply mourned by EBB.

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