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I have discovered a fascinating and scandalous story of one of my ancestors in the Genealogies of Barbados Families: From Caribbean and the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society By James C. Brandow. Read it in the image below.

de bretton of st croix

Baroness Judith De Bretton (1788 – 1821) is my 4th great grandmother. She married Captain John Johnstone Cumming (1786-1843) in 1811. The marriage was registered in Scotland in January but also in Guadeloupe in August of the same year. They had four children, the eldest of which Jane Forrester Cumming (1815-1894) who was born on 24th February 1815 on the island of St Lucia in the West Indies, is my ancestor. Her daughter with Joseph Richard Harwar (1823-1908) was Grace Margaret Amelia Harwar who married ship owner William Montgomery.

Captain J.J. Cumming

Captain JJ Cumming and his wife Judith with a child. Date thought to be 1817.

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St. Croix

Having checked out the story I realised that Judith’s father was not Lucas de Bretton, but is in fact the man Brandow said was her grandfather – Baron Frederick Moth Uytendaele de Bretton (1753-1813). Her grandfather was in fact Baron Lucas Uytendaele Von Bretton (1720-1786) which is why the monument in Barbados lists Judith as the daughter of Frederik de Bretton as does the listing of her wedding in The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 81, Part 2– which says…

At Guadaloupe, Lieut. Cumming, to Baroness Judith De Bretton, eldest daughter of Baron Frederic De B. of St Croix.

The De Brettons were not strictly French as the author says but were really Danish with a French origin. Their true name was Uytendale and they were a noble family of Copenhagen who first arrived in the Danish West Indies in the 18th century. The aforementioned Baron Lucas Uytendaele Von Bretton (1720-1786) married Margrethe Gertrud Elisabeth Moth (1734-1784), the daughter of Frederik Moth, Governor of the Danish West Indies. Her great great grandfather was Poul Moth (1600-1670) whose daughter was Sophie Amalie Moth, Countess of Samsøe (1654–1719) the officially acknowledged royal mistress of King Christian V of Denmark and Norway.

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Sophie Amalie Moth

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Poul Moth

Poor Judith was only 13 when she was involved in the shameful scandal in 1801. Her husband John Cumming may not have known of the scandal but he was no fool; he was a lieutenant of the 8th West India regiment by the time of their wedding in 1811 when Judith was 23. He had signed up as an ensign without purchase in 1805. In 1823 he wrote the letter below naming all the wealthy people he knew and thereby got the post as Military Knight of Windsor. By the time of his death in 1843 he was the Governor of the Military Knights of Windsor and residing in the lower ward of Windsor castle (his wife had died in Barbados 22 years earlier while he had been Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General of that island).

john cummings army record 1828

john cumming

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The dashing Scottish Lieutenant not only rescued the fallen Danish Baroness from shame, but may also have been involved in the liberation of slaves. St. Croix was conquered twice by the British during the Napoleonic wars (the Danes stupidly sided with Napoleon) when the de Brettons were a prominent family on the island.

The De Brettons had been plantation owners. Baron Lucas Uytendaele Von Bretton (1720-1786) owned plantation No. 1 and 2. in King’s quarter, St. Croix and had 401 slaves working these estates in 1769 (he acquired more property and slaves later). I don’t know if they still owned slaves by the 19th century but the British abolished slavery in 1808. The Danish didn’t abolish slavery until after a rebellion in 1848, but  St Croix was under British occupation from 1807 until 20 November 1815 – so I imagine slavery was not permitted during this time which is the same period in which Captain John Cummings would have met and married the young Baroness de Bretton.

Since slavery was illegal under British law, I expect the De Bretton family were required to free their slaves but it looks as if they had already done so prior to the British occupation. According to Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix by N. A. T. Hall and B. W. Higman, Judith’s brother Frederick de Bretton Junior was involved in a plot against Denmark to establish a Republic under British protection. He was recruiting freed black slaves as soldiers which suggests he was on the side of the British abolitionists (see below for the full story).

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Fort Frederiksted in St Croix (built in 1700s)

frederick de bretton jr rebellion

After his failed coup of 1807 the young Frederick De Bretton Jnr got into more trouble falling afoul of the British even though he was very pro-British. He held an ensign in the Royal West India Regiment and was transferred from St. Croix to Barbados – this may have been John Cummings’ attempt to save Frederick from the Danish authorities on St Croix. But the hot headed young man ended up getting into a duel with Captain Boardman of the 2nd battalion, 60th regiment. After killing Boardman, Frederick deserted his regiment and went into hiding. Below is an excerpt from a letter to the Home Office dated 11th February 1811 written by the Hon. George Beckwith, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Forces, Leeward and Windward Islands (quoted from Virgin Islands Daily News 10 June 1974). He turned himself in to the British authorities later that year in Trinidad and was shipped to St. Croix where he was imprisoned for five months.

frederick de bretton duel

Judith and John did not stay on St Croix either. They had two sons and two daughters, the first of which was born on St. Lucia and the last two in Guadeloupe, and one born in London. I have told this story to a couple of people who have said that it reminds them of War and Peace. It would make a good film I think!

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