Samuel, Mahamet and Hamet

Moroccans in seventeenth century Amsterdam

Translation of ‘Samuel, Mahamet en Hamet’ published in Ons Amsterdam, May 2021.

Amsterdam has been a migration city since the sixteenth century. The arrival of Moroccans – now one of the large migrant communities in the city – goes back to the early 17th century.

Drawing by Rembrandt

Many Moroccan migrants who settled in Amsterdam in the 17th century had a Jewish background. The most famous representatives were the Pallache (or Palache) family. They were also literal representatives, for Samuel Pallache (c. 1550-1616), his brother Joseph (c. 1570-1639 or 1649), his sons and his nephew David (1598-1650) acted as emissaries of the kings of Morocco.

Samuel Pallache was born in Fez to a Jewish family from Spain. The Pallaches were true cosmopolitans: they spoke Arabic and Spanish and travelled back and forth between North-Africa and Europe, formally as jewellery traders, but also as diplomats, spies and privateers. In 1605, Samuel Pallache offered his services to the King of Spain as an informer. He and his brother Joseph must have considered converting to Catholicism in order to settle in Spain, but in 1607 they had to leave Spain. They travelled on to the Netherlands and settled in Amsterdam a year later. Their families also made the journey north.

Rembrandt, circa 1640

Because of their ties with the Spanish court, the two Pallaches were initially not welcome in the Republic, but Samuel and Joseph managed to be appointed representatives of the Moroccan sultan Muley Zaydan (Zidan Abu Maali, ?-1627), then an ally of the Republic in the conflict with Spain. They played an important role as intermediaries in the relations between the Republic and Morocco and in the liberation of enslaved sailors in North Africa. After Samuel’s death in 1616, Joseph took over the ambassadorship; his son David often acted as his representative.

The Pallaches and other North African Jews must have stood out in Amsterdam for their dress, especially their turban, even though the population was diverse in the trading city. All kinds of ‘exotic’ appearances in the street scene inspired Rembrandt and others to make drawings of people in ‘oriental’ attire. A merchant wearing a turban can be seen in paintings of Dam Square.

Rembrandt's Orient: An Exhibition in Basel and Potsdam - CODART
School of Rembrandt, circa 1635,
National Gallery of Art, Washington


Moroccan immigrants also turn up in the archives of Amsterdam notaries. On 24 December 1672, two Moroccans make a declaration before the notary Dirck van der Groe, Mahamet Benbarck and Hamet Bin Hamet from Salé. Interpreter is the ‘Portuguese merchant’ Joseph Galaco; Galaco was also born in Salé and has a command of the ‘Nederlantse & Moorse spraecke’ (Dutch and ‘Moorish’ language).

Benbarck and Bin Hamet make a statement at the request of the skipper Gerrit Jansz. A few days earlier they had boarded the ship the Koning David, which was to take them to North Africa. The ship lay at anchor on the Rede van Texel, waiting for the skipper, who was still ashore. One Monday, around ten o’clock, the two passengers and almost the entire crew were below deck when they noticed that the ship began to sway and drift.

Mahamet and Hamet rushed upstairs, where they found the helmsman and an axe lying on the ground. Both anchors appeared to be unshackled and the jib unbuttoned. Bin Hamet shouted to the helmsman: “What kind of a helmsman are you, cutting the anchors? Let us go ashore”, to which the helmsman had replied: “Go and eat below”.

Apparently the mate and the ‘hoogbootsman’ Isaack had some nefarious plans. Possibly contraband was involved: according to the Moroccan passengers the mate had “a packet of good in his hand without being able to say what it was”. In any case, the journey was cancelled for the time being. The passengers and crew left the Koning David, after which the ship was left with “only the dog and the cat”.

Signatures Hamet Bin Hamet and
Mahamet Benbarck


Relations between North African Jews and other Jews were generally good, as were those between North Africans and other Amsterdammers. But there were sometimes tensions in the streets. A confrontation between Samuel Pallache’s nephew David and one ‘Moses Rosado’, in all likelihood Moses Curiel Rosado (1614-1678), is striking. On Monday 2 May 1639 David Pallache was attacked by Rosado in broad daylight on Vlooienburg. While shouting “Oh, Turk!”, Rosado punches him in the face and hits him with a stick and a sabre.

Rosado was arrested and sentenced to two months in the Rasphouse, but a year later he was again the instigator of skirmishes. In June 1640 he assaulted Pallache’s servant in Jodenbreestraat and there was also a confrontation in Ververstraat, during which the servant and Pallache’s nephew fled into a tailor’s shop. Again Moses Rosado is convicted.

Convicts in the Rasphouse, 1663

Another Moroccan – “a certain Moor named Achma” – was handcuffed by the sheriff on 20 August 1656, because he had “committed great violence & misconduct on the street”, according to a deed. Achma, apparently drunk, had attacked butcher Thomas Lodewijcksz near the Turfpakhuizen (now: the Academy of Architecture, Waterlooplein). He had pulled Lodewijcksz.’s butcher’s knife from his quiver, “in order to take his life with it”.

It did not come to that: a bystander had come to the butcher’s aid and taken the knife from Achma. Achma moved through the streets, so furious “that everyone fled from him and made a great shouting & roaring noise along the streets, yes so that the people fell over each other and kept lying on the street”. Witnesses mentioned several wounded; Jacob Bueno, at whose request the deed was drawn up, was supposedly beaten so badly that he could hardly stand on his legs and was still in bed a day later.

Bueno’s statement may well have been a little exaggerated. The confession book of the sheriff only mentions that the 35-year old Hamet Bar “from Salé in Barbary” had been arrested for the uproar. The notarial document was translated into French for Hamet Bar, but he denied everything and that was the end of it for the authorities. A year later, however, he was arrested again for knife crime. He was clearly not a sweetheart, with his bad temper.

Op schaatsen uit Ouderkerk

Jan Beerstraaten, Wintergezicht Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, 1659.
Collectie Amsterdam Museum.

Nieuwjaarsavond 1653 schaatste Abraham Chamis van Ouderkerk a/d Amstel naar Amsterdam. Omdat hij bang was dat hij de stad niet meer in zou komen – ’s avonds werden de poorten gesloten – klopte hij aan bij Hilletje Jans buiten de Regulierspoort.


De stadswal met de tweede Regulierspoort. De houten poort werd in 1655 vervangen door een nieuwe poort van steen, Reinier Nooms, 1652-1655. Collectie Stadsarchief Amsterdam.

Het kostte Chamis enige moeite om Hilletje ervan te overtuigen, maar uiteindelijk mocht hij daar logeren en heeft hij er gegegeten, geslapen en de volgende ochtend keurig betaald. Blijkbaar waren er geruchten ontstaan naar aanleiding van deze avond. Want twee maanden verklaarde Hilletje het bovenstaande bij een notaris. Bovendien ontkende zij met klem de valse beschuldiging dat Abraham in haar huis met een zekere ‘lichte vrouw’ Anna geslapen zou hebben.

Black History Month

During #BlackHistoryMonth everyday a tweet about Amsterdam’s Black History.

1 – Franciscus Thomas from Sierra Leone


On 1 february 1698 Franciscus Thomas from ‘Sierra Liona in Africa’ and Truijtje Hendricx from Amsterdam posted their banns in Amsterdam. Two weeks later they married in the Old Church. Franciscus Thomas was working as a ‘droogscheerder’ in the textile industry. He lived in the Egelantierstraat in de Jordaan area. #1

2 – Francisco from Angola – ensign in Brazil


Francisco from #Angola was a vaandrig (ensign) in the Dutch army in #Brazil, after the Portuguese takeover in 1654, he settled in #Amsterdam, where he lived in the Jodenbreestraat on the corner of the Markensteeg, ‘under the angel’. He died in January 1659. #2

3 – Alida Clara Carles from Berbice


On 25 December 1784 Alida Clara Karles/ Charles was buried at St Anthonies Cemetery in #Amsterdam. She was born in the Dutch colony of #Berbice, her mother was the free black woman Quassiba. Together with her husband she ran a bar in Pieter Jacobszdwarsstraat. #3

4 – Swarte Klaas


‘Swarte Klaas’ (Black Klaas) was a famous street figure in #Amsterdam in the 18th century. Klaas was a Black man who had lost his legs, maybe as a sailor. He was portrayed by different artists. Klaas died around 1800 in Amsterdam. #4


5 – Pieter Claesz Bruin and Lijsbeth Pieters

In 1649 44-year old sailor Pieter Claesz Bruin from Brazil married Lijsbeth Pieters from Angola. They were an important couple in the small black community around de Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam. They were the godparents of different Black children born in the area. Like Pieter, the son of Alexander van Angola and Lijsbeth Dames and Catharina, the daughter of Louis and Esperanza Alphonse. The children were baptized in the House Moyses.

Read more about Pieter Claesz Bruijn and Lijsbeth Pieters in ‘Black in Rembrandt’s Time‘ and in Dutch in TSEG.


6 – Francisca

In the 1630’s Francesca clearly played a important role in the the formation of a Black community in #Amsterdam. According witnesses, Francisca would ‘receive in her house all the black men who come to this city.’

7 – Theatre

"Dito voor drie morijanen in Salomon f3"

Monday 11 April 1650 three Black men were paid a guilder each to perform in the play ‘Salomon’ in the Municipal Theatre. Unfortunately their names were not registered, but entries like this show that Black people performed in theatre in C17th Amsterdam. The anonymous performers were almost certainly members of the same community as Pieter Claesz Bruin and Lijsbeth Pieters.


They were ‘extras’ in the play, but were paid considerably more than the 10 soldiers in ‘De gestrafte kroonzught’ (La crueldad por el honor) later that month. The 10 soldiers had to share 3 guilders, earning only 6 nickels each.


8 – Louis Zamore van Wicky


This is Louis Zamore van Wicky (1778-1805) hours before his early death in #Amsterdam in 1805. Louis Zamore was a draughtsman born in the plantation colony of #Berbice (now part of #Guyana).


Louis was the son of a Black woman and plantation owner Emanuel de Correvont. The name of his mother is unknown. He had a sister in the Netherlands named Lisette, who is almost certainly watching over het brother’s deathbed in this drawing.


In 1802, Louis Zamore enrolled at Municipal Drawing Academy. He was a student of painter Jurriaan Andriessen and lived with the Andriessen family. In July 1805, Louis suddenly contracted a severe fever and died two days later. He was buried at the Zuiderkerkhof cemetery.


As far as I know, no artworks by Louis Zamore van Wicky are known. Zamore van Wicky was one of the main characters in the @Stadsarchief exhibition ‘Amsterdammers and slavery’ in the summer of 2020.

9 – The Charles Family

Maria Santje Charles (1838-1914) and Hendrik van Guinea Charles (1827-1899). Maria and Hendrik were children of Johannes Charles (1793-1872), survivor of the transatlantic slave trade.

Their father was born in (present day) Ghana, as a child he was captured, enslaved and taken to Suriname, where he was sold to a merchant. In 1817, J. Charles was emancipated to move to the Netherlands as the servant of Majorin Elisabeth Bijval, herself born in slavery in 1776.

Majorin Elisabeth Bijval was a sister of Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos. Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos is buried at the @OudeKerkAMS on September 27, 1817.

Johannes Charles had to leave his two-year old son Gideon and hist wife Charlotte in Suriname, where they lived in slavery until januari 1863. Half a year before the legal abolition of slavery in the Dutch colony.

In the Netherlands, Johannes Charles married Elisabeth van Eijbergen from Rotterdam. They settled in Amsterdam and had ten children. Thanks to several letters that survived, we know that Gideon, who was left behind in Suriname, was in touch with his family in The Netherlands.

A few years ago the Charles Family brought Gideon’s letters, some of them written when he was still enslaved, the photo’s and othere family documents to the @stadsarchief. The letters are digitized and are available for research.

10 – Dominicus


On 10 February 1668 Dominicus, “a Black out about 10 or 12 years of age”, was baptized in de Oude Kerk in #Amsterdam. Dominicus lived with Claes Philipsoon on Oude Waal.


We don’t know much about Dominicus. Was he brought to the city as an enslaved child? Was he a child servant in the house of Claes Philipsoon? Like this boy in Haarlem, painted by Frans Hals?


On the same day in the same church a son of Jan Six was baptized, in presence of mayor Nicolaas Tulp his grandfather. Both Jan Six and Nicolaas Tulp were painted by Rembrandt, mother Margareta Tulp by Govert Flinck. Did they see Dominicus in the church that day? What did Dominicus think?

Johanna van Mallacka

Op 17 december 1716 werd tijdens de vergadering van de Kerkenraad Johanna ‘binnen gestaan’ met het verzoek om ‘nopens haar goet gedragh’ te mogen worden gedoopt. Johanna was, zo schrijft de notulist, ‘een Indiaansche doghter van Mallaca eertijds genaamt Grasia’.

Kerkenraadsnotulen Hervormde Kerk, 17 december 1716

Nadat zij werd ondervraagd over het geloof werd haar verzoek toegestaan en enkele dagen later, op 23 december, werd zij in de Nieuwe kerk gedoopt.

Doopinschrijving in de Nieuwe Kerk

De slaafgemaakte Grasia was door Anton Bitter en Appolonia Coisaart meebracht naar de Republiek, zoon en schoondochter van de door Leonard Blussé beroemd geworden jurist Joan Bitter. Of Johanna na haar doop als dienstbode bij de familie Bitter in huis bleef, een eigen leven in Amsterdam heeft opgebouwd of is teruggekeerd naar Azië is nog niet bekend.

Clara van Bengalen (ca. 1759-1771)

Onlangs werd dit prachtige portret van Joanna de Silva uit Bengalen aangekocht door het Metropolitan Museum. Joanna de Silva, zo blijkt uit een opschrift op het schilderij, verzorgde de kinderen van de Britse Luitenant Kolonel Charles Deare. Niet vaak kom je zo’n mooi portret van een (waarschijnlijk slaafgemaakte) bediende tegen. Het portret werd in 1792 geschilderd door William Wood (1769-1810).

De afgelopen jaren kwam ik in de Amsterdamse archieven meer dan twintig mannen, vrouwen en kinderen uit ‘Bengalen’ tegen, die voor korte of langere tijd in de stad verbleven in de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw. Vooral zeemannen en (slaafgemaakte) bedienden. Eén van hen was Clara, een jong meisje dat in 1771 werd begraven op het Leidse Kerkhof. Clara woonde in het Aalmoezeniersweeshuis, het armenweeshuis van Amsterdam. Waar het leven zeer hard was.


Het slaafgemaakte meisje Bietja, 1784. Jan Brandes (Rijksmuseum)

Midden in de winter van 1768 zwierf het kleine meisje moederziel alleen over straat in Amsterdam, totdat iemand haar tussen kerst en nieuwjaar naar het weeshuis bracht. Waar ze een klein deel van haar verhaal vertelde. Dit werd als volgt opgetekend in het ‘innameboek’ van het weeshuis:

Clara van Bengalen, oud 8 1/2 jaar

Sijnde als een Slaafvinne met Capt Johannes Sigismundis Hoeve omtrent een en half jaar geleden van Bengale alhier mede gebragt en is nu wederom met zijn vrouw met het schip De Vrouw Cornelia Hillegonda na Indien vertrokken en dit slavinnetje alhier gelaaten. t welk loopt swerven en niemand is die het zelve kint wil na sig neemen.”

Inschrijving Clara van Bengalen, 8 1/2 jaar oud in het Aalmoezeniersweeshuis.
Aalmoezeniersweeshuis, Stadsarchief Amsterdam

Clara zou de rest van haar korte leven in in het weeshuis wonen. Twee jaar en drie maanden later, op 18 april 1771, werd zij begraven op het Leidse Kerkhof, nog geen 11 jaar oud.

Tekening Leidse Kerkhof door Gerrit Lamberts, 1815 (Collectie Stadsarchief Amsterdam)

In de zomer van 1767was Clara, als 7-jarig meisje in slavernij, meegenomen naar Amsterdam door VOC-kapitein Johannes Sigismundis Hoeve. Toen Hoeve na een halfjaar weer naar Azië vertrok, liet hij Clara aan haar lot over in de stad.

Clara was niet het enige slaafgemaakte Aziatische kind dat in een stedelijke armeninstelling terecht kwam. In de tentoonstelling ‘Amsterdammers en slavernij’ in het Stadsarchief was afgelopen zomer het verhaal te zien van een baby die naar het weeshuis werd gebracht: Hanibal van Moston, kind van twee Aziatische ouders, die door een dominee naar de Republiek werden meegenomen.