Born c.1755 Died 1836
In the year 1761 a British army officer named Captain Parr, who had been serving in Senegambia, presented John Philipps, 6th Baronet with a six year old African boy together with "a parakeet and a foreign duck". No one is quite certain how or why Captain Parr came into possession of the boy, although it is generally assumed that he purchased the boy from slavers since Senegambia was one the major sources of slaves at the time; neither is it known why Parr decided to hand the boy over to John Philipps. As it happens the Phillips family were known abolitionists, and it may be that Captain Parr had either rescued the boy with the intention of handing him over to such a family, or had later been morally persuaded to do so on his arrival in Britain. But all this is of course speculation, and in truth no one can say anything with certainty of the boy's origins.
Although it seems most probable that the boy had been born and raised as a Muslim (being the dominant religion in the Senegambia), he was baptised into the Church of England on the 6th December 1761 when he was given the baptismal name of Caesar, although he seems to have later preferred the variant of Cesar. As John Philipps was to note in his diary, Cesar was kitted out with a velvet turban costing 10s. 6d. in honour of the occasion, such expenditure signalling the fact that Cesar was to be treated as an honoured and valued servant, and indeed was never regarded as a slave whilst he was in Britain, no matter what his origins might have been.
Cesar spent the summer of 1762 at Picton Castle in Pembrokeshire being trained in his duties and subsequently become a particular favourite of Lady Elizabeth Philipps and her three daughters. After the 6th Baronet died in 1764, the women took up residence at Norbiton Place, a mansion house on the outskirts of Kingston-on-Thames. There Cesar appears to have become their principal servant, and when Horace Walpole visited the family in 1788, he was moved to record that "the sisters of Lord Milford ... have a favourite black, who has been with them a great many years and is remarkably sensible".
After Elizabeth Philipps died in 1788, shortly before Walpole's visit, the 7th baronet Richard Philipps, by then the Baron Milford, decided to sell Norbiton Place. His three unmarried sisters moved to Hampton Court and Cesar was left to fend for himself. He had however received a bequest of £100 in Lady Elizabeth's will, a fairly substantial sum of money at the time, which he used to acquire a coach house and stables at No.52 High Street in Kingston-on-Thames. Having adopted the surname of Picton, which he took from the family home at Picton Castle, he set up in business as a coal merchant, being required to pay Kingston Corporation the sum of £10 for the privilege.
Of course the Picton family had interests in the coal business back in Pembrokshire, and it may well have been that Cesar had acquired a certain amount of personal knowledge of the industry during his time in service. In any case his business appears to have prospered as he acquired further property, including a malthouse and a wharf on the Thames. Neither was he forgotten by the three Philipps sisters; Mary Philipps left him a further bequest of £100 at her death in 1801, and Cesar received another £100 in 1820, together with the further sum £50 and an annuity of £30 later in that same year following the death of the other two sisters.
However by this time it seems unlikely that Cesar had any need of such generosity. In 1794, only some six years after starting up in business, he felt sufficiently prosperous to move to a cottage in nearby Tolworth and to let out the Kingston properties, whilst in February 1816 Cesar moved again, this time to Thames Ditton, where he bought the property at 56 High Street for the reasonably colossal sum of £4,000. Indeed the move to Thames Ditton, seems to have signalled Cesar's retirement from business and spent the next twenty years enjoying the life of an affluent gentleman. He eventually died in 1836, when he was very likely in his early eighties, and was buried on the 16th June 1836 at All Saints' Church in Kingston, where he received in accordance with his instructions, a "plain but decently buried within the Parish Church, Kingston".
One indication of the prosperity of his later years is given by the fact that at the time of his death he was described as a man of "immense bulk", and that it was necessary to use a four-wheeled trolley in order to bring his body to the church. It was also necessary to use an arrangement of planks and rollers in order to manouevre his remains into the vault in the south aisle of the church, later marked with a floor plaque inscribed "CP 1836".
Cesar does not appear to have ever married, certainly his will mentions no wife or indeed children, although it does mention his "horse and chaise, two watches with gold chains and seals, brooches, gold rings and shirt pins, a tortoiseshell tea chest, and silver spoons and tongs". He gave instructions that mourning rings, to cost no more than five pounds each, should be given to sixteen named friends, and also left a number of portraits to his friend Thomas Bushell, including one of himself, although its whereabouts are now unknown. The principal beneficiary of his will turned out to be his god-daughter, Sarah Lock, and the wife of William Pamphilon who later became the Mayor of Kingston in 1850.
As a successful black immigrant to Britain in the days when skin colour was looked on as nothing more than a novelty, Cesar Picton was remembered long after his death. His property at 52 High Street in Kingston was for many years known as Picton House (although it now boasts the name of Amari House) as indeed was his property at Thames Ditton, until it was later renamed as Sunnyside House. The local authorities in Kingston still take a certain amount of pride in the fact that their town once boasted one of the country's earliest African immigrants, although they have since been forced to admit that the picture that they displayed for many years as being that of Cesar, was more likely that of Ignatius Sancho.
The local Kingston University holds an annual Cesar Picton Lecture, whilst there is a plaque mounted on the building at 52 High Street, Kingston in commemoration of his life.
- Tim Everson, ‘Picton, Cesar (1754/5–1836)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Howard Benge, Cesar Picton, A Black Merchant In 18th Century Kingston, 01/12/2006
- David Lindsell, Thames Ditton Today: Cesar Picton - The black slave who became a respected local gentleman, from the Esher News and Mail reproduced at
- Cesar Picton