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Story of newspaper founder’s slave ancestry

Fresh historical research has revealed that one of Bermuda's prominent journalists was also a direct descendant of ex-slaves.

Samuel Seward “S.S.” Toddings, publisher and editor of the Colonist newspaper from 1869 to 1911, and founder of the Mid-Ocean News in 1911, had both a mother and grandmother who were once enslaved.

The details was uncovered by Meredith Ebbin, the founder of the site bermudabiographies.bm, with research by LeYoni Junos. Ms Ebbin has posted the full story online.

Born in St David's, Mr Toddings was of mixed race, being the son of a white Bermudian, Thomas Toddings, and Charlotte Outerbridge Musson.

Both Charlotte and her mother, Rebecca Outerbridge, had been slaves who were freed prior to emancipation in 1834.

Mr Toddings went on to serve as a Member of Parliament and a church organist — first at St Peter's, then at St Theresa's.

He was also an Overseer of the Poor in St George's and chairman of the St John Ambulance.

He published and edited the paper up until his death in 1935 at the age of 88. Although he did not speak of his black ancestry, Ms Ebbin said the paper under his stewardship showed an interest in black affairs, and the black-owned Bermuda Recorder referred to him as “our newspaperman” in his obituary.

“He was an exceptionally talented man,” Ms Ebbin added. “He had a bachelor's degree from Mount Allison University and his first wife was the niece of the university's founder.

“He was socially progressive and was an advocate for the Town of St George.

“Given the racial restrictions of the time, Toddings would have had to downplay his black ancestry in order to become a successful publisher of two newspapers. He made an outstanding contribution to Bermuda on many fronts and the discovery of his family history makes his life story more compelling.”

There are no direct descendants of Mr Toddings living in Bermuda, but a retired policeman, St Clair “Brinky” Tucker, is a blood relative.

“I knew of it but you didn't talk much about it,” Mr Tucker said, who touched on the story in his own history of St David's.

“The atmosphere with regard to racism in Bermuda was a bit tense. Certain things were discussed at the kitchen table, not openly.”

Mr Toddings's elder son, Samuel Toddings Jr, succeeded him as editor of the Mid-Ocean News, and was also an MP.

Mr Tucker recalled seeing him at his grandfather's funeral in 1956, and was told by his mother that they had been cousins and very close.

“I thought, ‘Yeah, right',” he recalled — but later, in researching his genealogy, it was confirmed.

Mr Tucker, who once sold copies of the newspaper, recalled seeing the junior Toddings from time to time.

“Back then, those who could pass, did,” Mr Tucker said. “Meredith has dug deeper than I did, and found out more.”

Hidden history: Samuel Seward “S.S.” Toddings had a mother an grandmother who were slaves

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Published August 04, 2016 at 5:57 pm (Updated August 05, 2016 at 11:52 pm)

Story of newspaper founder’s slave ancestry

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