This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in The Bermudian in February 1985. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
Modern motorists whiz through Flatts Village in less than a minute, and if they reflect on Flatts at all, they consider it a quaint but rather rundown place, just a halfway point between Hamilton and St. George’s. They fail to realise that the area has a wealth of 18th century buildings, memorials of a time when the village was thriving point, long before its harbour was silted up as it is today. The buildings are also memorials to the Mussons, the prominent family that dominated Flatts village in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The old buildings at Flatts are not the only memorials that remain to the Mussons. Old letters and anecdotes, newspapers and wills tell of long-ago achievements. Sifting through these records, one can form a picture of these vanished people and of a way of life in Bermuda that has vanished too. It is all too common to view this far-off time of one and two hundred years ago with romantic affection. But the records tell of a life that was incredibly precarious by today’s standards. Disease could wipe out many memebers of a family; men were often lost at sea; and a merchant family’s prosperity could be ruined by the loss of a ship or by the failure of a banking house abroad. Men and women worked incredibly hard to eke what advantages they could out of a difficult and unpredictable world.
In the first section of the article we saw that the Mussons were established in Flatts Village early in the 18th century. By the mid 1700’s there were two branches of the family – William Musson and his descendants who lived at “Fairview,” on Flatts Hill, and James Musson and his family who lived at “Frascati,” hard by the family’s wharf on Flatts Harbour. Both houses still stand. “Fairview” is now the home of Mr. Colin Cooke, and “Frascati” forms part of the Coral Island complex, soon to be demolished.
We have taken a brief look at the lives of some of James Musson’s children, including Elizabeth, wife of the Hon. Samuel Trott; Susan, a successful business woman, who was also renowned miser; and John, who was one of the wealthiest men in Bermuda in the early 1800’s, but who lost much of his fortune later in life. We shall now look at the live of three more of James’s children – James Jr., Giles and Samuel, all of whom lived at Flatts Village.
James Musson Jr. was born at Flatts in 1758, and followed the sea as a young man, like the vast majority of his peers. Although he was referred to as ‘Captain Jim’ throughout his life, at some point in his career he decided to return to land and established himself as a merchant in St. George’s. He did well in trade, and eventually owned a considerable amount of real estate in St. George’s, including a substantial house on the north side of King’s Square.
Despite his business interest in St. George’s, James Musson held on to his father’s old home at Flatts, and it was apparently he who named it “Frascati.” Why he chose to name his paternal home after a town a few miles outside of Rome remains a mystery. In his will, made in 1849, he mentions the ‘dwelling house in which I now reside and have resided for many years past called “Frascati.”‘ He must have moved to “Frascati” when he retired from business in St. George’s. By this time, in the middle of the 19th century, Flatts was no longer a thriving commercial centre, but had become a quiet fishing port with several shops, far more peaceful than St. George’s.
James Musson married three times, and there are many descendants of his in Bermuda today through his first marriage to a Miss Paynter. Their eldest daughter, Sarah, married Samuel Green Trott of “Verdmont,” and her two granddaughters married Nathaniel A. Butterfield and James Harvey Trimingham of Paget, whose descendants include Sir Harry Butterfield and Sir Eldon Trimingham.
James Musson’s second daughter, Mary, married Thomas S. J. Trott of “Winterhaven Farm,” the Devil’s Hole cottage which now belongs to the National Trust. This couple’s grandchildren included Mr. Reid Trott and Mrs. Thompson North, and among their descendants are Messrs Toby Trott, Reid Youn, I. Stuart Outerbridge, John Bourne and Miss Natalie North.
There is a curious story told about James Musson’s third marriage. It must be true, as it was told by Miss Anna Maria Outerbridge, whose father knew James Musson’s third wife well. There was an attractive widow in her 30s, Mrs. Frances Hunter, who lived with her brother, Thomas S. J. Trott at Devil’s Hole (T.S.J. Trott, as we have already mentioned, married James Musson’s daughter). James’ son, Augustus Musson, found Mrs. Hunter attractive and desirable, and one morning told his father that he was going to propose to her. James told Augustus to wait until evening, as he had some business he wished Augustus to attend to in St. George’s.
When Augustus arrived at the Trott home that evening to ask Mrs. Hunter for her hand in marriage, he found that his father had visited her earlier, proposed and she had accepted! James Musson and Frances Hunter were married in 1836 and must have appeared an odd couple. He was 78, twice her age; she was attractive and vivacious, but he had financial security and a highly respected position in the community.
James Musson lived for another 18 years, during many of which he was afflicted with skin cancer. His new wife nursed him faithfully, but by the time he died in 1854, she was no longer a young woman. He left her a comfortable estate and income, but on the condition that she not remarry or live outside Bermuda.
Any animosity that may have existed between James and Augustus Musson over the courtship of Mrs. Hunter had long since cleared by the time James made his will, as he appointed Augustus sole executor. While Augustus inherited most of his father’s estate, his job as executor must have been onerous, as the estate was large and the will complex. One of the many interesting features of James’s will is his instruction for no monies of his estate to be placed in “any private banking institution or company,” showing the suspicion with which many people regarded banks. For in the early 19th century several London banking firms had collapsed, ruining Bermudian investors.
James Musson was regarded with great respect in Bermuda when he died, at the remarkable age of 96. The Gazette wrote that “Mr. Musson was for many years a Member of the House of Assembly, in which capacity as well as in every other relation of life he was remarkable for correctness of judgement, decision of character, energy of mind and honesty of purpose. He was followed to the grave yesterday by a very large and respectable assemblage of persons from all parts of the Island, and among them children and grandchildren to the fifth generation.”
As we have seen, Augustus Musson was James’s principal heir, but James also had another son, James William Musson. James William does not seem to have been a successful businessman. He was left very little of his father’s estate, and his father’s will mentions a large, outstanding loan made to him which he could not apparently pay off. He married a Musson cousin, daughter of his Uncle Samuel, but he had no children by her. Since both of her parents were Mussons, it was probably considered wise that they not have issue. James William and his wife rented the eastern part of “Frascati” after his father’s death, and lived there until their deaths in the 1870’s. They were hospitable, and in 1868 hosted a two day fete for the Harrington Christian Association, which was attended by the Governor.
Augustus Musson, in contrast, was an extremely able businessman and politician, and is perhaps the most prominent Musson on record. Born in 1792, his name first appeared in the Gazette when he was in his early twenties. He had set himself up as an auctioneer and was having difficulty collecting payment from his clients. This picture of an inexperienced young man, prey to the dishonesty of others, is very different from that painted of him in his eulogy in the Gazette in 1887, when he was rightly regarded as one of Bermuda’s grand old men.
Augustus joined the family mercantile business in St. George’s and eventually had the “Long House” building, presently owned by Meyer & Co., as his office and warehouse. A man of great energy, he was a member of the Corporation of St. George’s and Mayor of the town from 1824 – 1833, and again in 1851. He represented St. George’s in the House of Assembly for many years, and in 1848 he was appointed to the Legislative Council. He was to occupy his seat on the Council for 36 years.
After a long business career in St. George’s, Augustus Musson eventually retired and decided to live in a tranquil place far from life’s turmoil, even though he intended to retain his seat on the Legislative Council. He owned “Frascati” and had lived there from time to time, but wanted to retire to a place even more remote and peaceful. As he had already bought Trunk Island in the middle of Harrington Sound, he decided to build a house there, and so lived in serene isolation.
His wife, however, balked at the plan. She was born Amanda Harvey, daughter of a prominent lawyer and sister of a mayor of St. George’s. She loved social life and did not want to be stuck in the middle of Harrington Sound. She finally conceded, but on the condition that Augustus give her a trip to England, which was something she had always wanted. The trip was made, but Amanda Musson never had to fulfil her part of the bargain as she died in 1874 shortly after her return from England. Augustus proceeded with his plans, and built the two storey house with a spacious verandah, which still stands on Trunk Island today. As Mr. W.E.S. Zuill describes it, Augustus Musson “lived on the island happily enough through his declining years and created a unique atmosphere of gracious hospitality accented by venerable isolation.”
When he grew very old, Augustus Musson moved to the home of his wife’s niece, Miss Gertrude Trott, in Tucker’s town (now “Old House”) and she nursed him though his final illness. He died in 1887, aged 94, only two years younger than his father had been when he died.
The Gazette paid the following tribute to Augustus Musson on his death: “Ever ready to do his duty, utterly ignorant of any nature but that which was good, a true friend, a loyal faithful public servant, in the fullness of a ripe old age, honoured by all who knew him, and loved by those near to him, he at last has attained that rest for which he had waited during these latter years with so much patience and resignation.” On the day of his funeral, every flag was lowered in Hamilton and St. George’s.
Augustus Musson was married twice, but had no children. He left his estate to a large number of nieces and nephews. he bequeathed “Frascati” to a total of eight beneficiaries, who decided to sell the houses and split the proceeds. Mr. Harley Trott bought them, and hired a succession of managers to run them as a boarding house. The Trotts expanded the operation in the early 20th century, adding buildings to the west of the old house to create the Frascati Hotel, which eventually became the Coral Island Hotel and was enlarged even further.
Augustus and James Musson’s branch of family was not the only part of the Musson tribe to leave descendants in Bermuda. James Musson Jr. had two younger brothers, Giles and Samuel, whose progeny have also left their mark on the island.
Giles Musson was born at the Flatts and, like his father, James Sr., became a mariner. As a young man, he had the misfortune to be captured by Americans in the War of Independence, and his ship was lost at a Prize Court in New York.
Despite this setback, he went on to become a highly respected sea captain, and it was he who carried the news of Nelson’s victory at Copenhagen back to Bermuda in 1801.
Giles lived in the western house at “Frascati,” which had been built in the 1770’s by the Hon. Samuel Trott and his his wife, Elizabeth Musson, side by side with the older, eastern house of James Musson Sr. Giles owned ten slaves who lived in or near his house at “Frascati.” They were people about whom very little is recorded, except for their names and ages in the Government Slave-Owners Register. They ranged from women in their 40’s to young children; some worked in the house and a few of the men were hired out as labourers. Some of the men must have worked on Giles’ ship during his years as a sea captain. Slaves were not the only members of the Musson household about whom history has recorded very little. We know very little about Giles Musson’s mother, and scarcely more about some of his sisters and his wife. We know who his wife’s parents were, and who her children were, but not much else. Unfortunately, in that day only fairly prominent males tended to be recorded in newspapers and pubic documents, which give us clues today of their activities and personalities. For the most part, women were recored only in the birth, death and marriage records of churches, and perhaps in deeds and wills which actually shed little light on their personalities. Generally, it is only through references in letters, diaries and anecdotes that we can form some sort of picture of what individual women were like.
When Giles Musson died, his brother, James, who lived in the eastern house at “Frascati,” bought the western house from Giles’ estate. It is curious to note that during the long Musson ownership of the adjoining houses, each house was traded as a separate piece of real estate, and was left to different heirs. Both James Musson and his son Augustus had to buy out other heirs to own both houses. Even Augustus left each house to different sets of heirs.
Giles had two sons who settled in the West Indies. Many ambitious Bermudians, eager to make mercantile fortunes, moved south in the early 19th century, as those islands were larger and richer than Bermuda. One of Giles’ sons settled in Anguilla, but his wife, a Bermudian, returned home because she was mortified that her husband kept a West Indian mistress.
Another of Giles’ sons, Giles Spencer Musson, became a successful merchant in Antigua, and had lived there for fifty years when he died in 1855. Giles Spencer had a daughter who married Frederick Rees, a doctor, who settled in Bermuda. The Reeses lived on Reid St., where Phillips House now is, and raised three daughters who lived to be old spinster ladies and were among the grande dames of Hamilton in the early 20th century. Nellie’s Walk, in front of the City Hall, was named for one of them, Miss Nellie Rees. The ladies were public-spirited and founded the Arbour Society which was responsible for planting many of the shade trees that still stand in Hamilton today.
There was yet another branch of Mussons in Bermuda. This was the family of Samuel Musson, one of the youngest sons of James Sr. Samuel was a merchant in St. George’s in partnership with his older brother, John. Their advertisements in the Gazette show that they imported a wide variety of goods, from foodstuffs to pine planking and geese – whatever they thought would sell. They also worked as auctioneers, and secured contracts to provide British troops in St. George’s with provisions.
Samuel married his cousin, Susannah Musson, daughter of Paynter Musson of “Fairview” on Flatts Hill. Susannah had a brother, Samuel Paynter, who settled in Barbados and became a very prominent merchant there. He gave Samuel and Susannah land stretching from Flatts Inlet to Harrington Sound, and it was on this property that Samuel built a fine home, “Palmetto Grove,” probably around 1820. “Palmetto Grove” still stands as the main building of the Palmetto Bay Hotel complex. Its interior has been changed completely, but Samuel Musson, were he alive today, would still recognise the building’s handsome main facade.
Samuel may well have ben affected by his brother John’s financial collapse, but it appears that he was assisted by his wealthy brother-in-law in Barbados, which may have got him though hard times. He continued to live at “Palmetto Grove,” where he died in 1872 at the venerable age of 95. As an old man, Samuel would sit by the roadside under the shade of a mahogany tree he had planted as a young man (this tree still stands at the entrance of Palmetto Bay Hotel). He would offer passing friends a glass of sangaree and spend the afternoon in conversation with them. When he died, the Gazette wrote that “the deceased gentleman was esteemed universally.”
Although Samuel Musson had several children, only one daughter, Anne, left descendants in Bermuda. Anne married William James Trott, a grandson of the Hon. Samuel Trott and Elizabeth Musson, and they lived at “Rose Cottage,” in what is presently Kilderry Estate, Smiths Parish. William James Trott and Anne Musson had several sons, including Harley Trott, who became one of the most prominent merchants in Bermuda in the second half of the 19th century, and who was the original owner of the Princess Hotel. It was he who bought “Frascati” from Augustus Musson’s heirs and had it run as a guest house. Harley Trott’s son, Dr. Dudley Trott, was a highly respected doctor and businessman, and his children include the late Mrs. St. George Butterfield, the late Lady Hall, Lady Conyers and Mrs. Charles Burland.
William James Trott and Anne Musson had another son, Thaddeus Trott, who was a farmer in Smith’s Parish. He had nine daughters and one son, Sir Howard Trott, whose accomplishments are legion. One could almost fill a page listing Thaddeus Trott’s descendants, but in this mall space we will only mention Lady Claire Dill, Mrs. Polly Hornburg, Mr. W.E.S. Zuill, Sir Henry Tucker, Mr. Hereward Watlington, Sir James Pearman and Mr. Jay Bluck.
Although there are scores of descendants of the Flatts Mussons in Bermuda today, most of them know little or nothing of their Musson forbears, and most Bermudians have never ever heard of the Musson family of Flatts Village. It is surprising how memories of people who were so prominent a century and quarter ago have faded almost into oblivion.
Yet for those who want to look, there is considerable documentation available on the family in general, certainly enough to make a study far more profound and inclusive than the one we have made in this article. And, as we have seen, the old Musson homes at Flatts still stand, although “Frascati” will not stand much longer. We can hope that every effort will be made to preserve the other Musson houses at Flatts Village, both for their architectural importance as fine examples of old Bermudian buildings, and for their historical importance as the homes of an old and prominent Bermudian family which was an integral part of Flatts Village for close to 200 years.
Photo at top: Samuel Musson of “Palmetto Grove” – 1778 – 1872, from a miniature probably painted in England. (Courtesy of Mrs. Charles I. Burland.)