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.

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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

Contraband

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

Rage

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.

Unknown slavery stories behind famous Rembrandt paintings

Translation of spoken column in 2018. Read the original in Dutch at Over de Muur

We know Rembrandt van Rijn mainly for works such as The Night Watch and The Jewish Bride, but in the course of his career he also painted and drew various black women and men. He was able to do this in his masterly way because he lived in a multicultural seventeenth-century neighbourhood in Amsterdam: the area around today’s Jodenbreestraat, where dozens of people of African descent also lived. People he encountered on the street and could invite to his studio.

The highlight of Rembrandt’s ‘Black’ oeuvre is of course the painting Two African men – appropriately enough – in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Appropriate because, like Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, most of the Africans who lived in Rembrandt’s neighbourhood had a history in Dutch Brazil, albeit on a very different rung of the social ladder. Not only did all kinds of returning colonists take enslaved men and women as servants to Amsterdam, but a group of black sailors and soldiers settled here as well. Men who had often been in the service of the West India Company. Some of these sailors knew the entire Atlantic World, from Angola, Brazil and the Caribbean to New Amsterdam, today’s New York.

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Two African men, by Rembrandt (1656/1661), Mauritshuis

But not only paintings with black sitters can tell a story about slavery and related themes. Other Rembrandts also lend themselves perfectly to this. Anyone who has visited a bookshop in the Netherlands the past two years will undoubtedly be familiar with the portrait of Jan Six from 1654, which features prominently on the front cover of Geert Mak’s popular book. Whether Six had anything to do with the VOC or WIC I do not know, it could well be that he had shares in that direction.

We know very little about what specific Amsterdammers actually experienced when they went out on the streets, let alone how often someone like Jan Six encountered a black townsman. Did he have friends with black servants in the house?


Jan Six, by Rembrandt (1654),
Collectie Six

There was at least one important moment when, in the sources, the life of Jan Six crossed that of a young black boy. On Friday 10 February 1668, in the Oude Kerk, in the presence of mayor Nicolaas Tulp, Jan’s son was baptised. Both father Jan Six and grandfather Nicolaas Tulp were painted by Rembrandt, mother Margareta Tulp by Govert Flinck. A chic baptism, therefore, of a member of the highest echelons of the Amsterdam patrician class.

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Baptisms Old Church, 10 February 1668, Stadsarchief Amsterdam

On the same day three other children were baptised, who did not belong to the upper class at all. After Jan the girls Maria and Hester were baptised. The last one to be baptised that day was Dominicus: “A swart [black] about 10 or 12 years of age”, who lived with Claes Philipsoon on Oude Waal; I imagine that Dominicus sat at a distance watching the babies Jan, Maria and Hester being baptised, before it was his turn.

Even the portraits of Marten and Oopjen, the other two Rembrandts, which have received a lot of attention in recent years, can tell several stories that touch on the history of slavery. Marten Soolmans was the son of a wealthy sugar trader and refiner who had settled in Amsterdam after the fall of Antwerp. The relationship between sugar and slavery is not worth explaining here. After the death of Soolmans, Oopjen Coppit remarried to WIC captain and Brazil veteran Maarten Daey.


Portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, by Rembrand (1634)
Rijksmuseum / Musée du Louvre

While researching documents about Dutch Brazil, I came across Maarten Daey in a journal of the Reformed Church in Paraiba. In it, the moving story of the black woman Francesca was recorded. Francesca, we read, was captured and locked up in Captain Daey’s house. Francesca was raped by Daey. When it appears that she was pregnant, Daey sent Francesca out of his house, because he wanted nothing to do with the child. Would his son Hendrick Daey, who later owned these two paintings, have known about his Brazilian half-sister Elunam, who was almost twenty years older?

Exhibiton

This is a translation of a spoken column in 2018. The story of Oopjen is now part of the exhibition Slavery. Ten true stories in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Black History Month

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

1 – Franciscus Thomas from Sierra Leone

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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

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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

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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

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‘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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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8 – Louis Zamore van Wicky

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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?


‘Almost all of their servants are slaves and Moors’

This article is part of the essay that I wrote for the exhibition ‘Here. Black in Rembrandt’s Time’, please order the book to read the full essay and support the Rembrandthuis Museum (available in English and Dutch).

From the late sixteenth century onwards, more and more Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal found their way to Amsterdam. They settled mainly in the east of the city, near Jodenbreestraat; south of that street on Vlooienburg; and north, on the city island of Marken. In previous centuries these Portuguese, as they were usually called, were actually Jews who had been forced to live as Christians on the Iberian Peninsula. In Amsterdam, which was relatively tolerant of Judaism, many returned to the faith of their ancestors. With the arrival of the Portuguese, larger numbers of people of African descent came to the city for the first time. From the fifteenth century onwards, enslaved African men and women were traded on the Iberian Peninsula. Usually they had to work as domestic servants. For instance, various Jewish families brought black servants with them to the Netherlands. In addition, there were Sephardic families with relatives of mixed descent. Already in the early seventeenth century, Ernst Brinck, the later burgomaster of Harderwijk, wrote about his visit to Amsterdam after a grand tour through the Low Countries:

Most of the Portuguese, being largely Jews, live in [Joden]breestraat, and also have a house where they gather [i.e., holding services in a house synagogue]. Almost all of their servants are slaves and Moors’.


Rembrandt lived in the middle of a busy neighborhood full of migrants, like Sephardic Jews from Spain, Portugal and Brazil, Persians, Africans, sailors from all over Europe. The man on the left could well be a black Amsterdammer.

Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘Three Orientals Conversing’, Amsterdam, c. 1645 (Rijksmuseum)

The oldest registers of the Portuguese cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel mention ‘negras,’ ‘escravas’ (enslaved women) and ‘mulattas’ buried there. On 28 September 1629, for example, an ‘escrava’ of Abraham Aboaf was buried next to an ‘escrava’ of David Netto. Occasionally, black servants appeared before a notary to give a statement. On 3 August 1612, Domingos, a ‘black slave’ of Dr Francisco Lopes Henriques (David Farar), declared that he had been incited by a certain Lijsbet, who lived in a cellar in Jodenbreestraat, to steal Farar’s silverware and other items. On 14 March 1622, 27-year-old Marguerita Fonco ‘moca negra’ (black girl) authorised two Portuguese merchants to claim her salary from the inheritance of Felipa de Sa, for whom she had worked for six years. On 7 May 1616, the black sailor Bastiaan from Angola and Lijsbeth Jans from Angola were wed; the couple’s address was Vlooienburg, the island behind Jodenbreestraat. It is not inconceivable that the black men Rembrandt’s teacher Pieter Lastman featured in his history paintings of 1615-1625 came from this group.

Romeijn de Hooghe’s prints

The presence of black servants in the Sephardic community can also be seen in Romeijn de Hooghe’s prints of the Portuguese community from the last quarter of the seventeenth century. In the print of Huis de Pinto in Sint Antoniesbreestraat are several black figures: one standing prominently in a beautiful costume and the other somewhat hidden behind two ladies sporting late seventeenth-century fontange coiffures. Also interesting is the print of the pulpit in the new Portuguese synagogue, in which in the right foreground behind two white men in discussion – one holding a book – is a black man who quite remarkably does not wear a head covering, counter to Jewish laws.

Detail from:
De teba (bima) in de Portugese Synagoge te Amsterdam, ca. 1695, Romeyn de Hooghe, c. 1695

In addition to this group of servants, there were also people of mixed descent within the Sephardic community. When the Afro-European Debora Nassy was about to leave for the Guianas with the Portuguese Nassy family, she wanted certification of her freedom. At an Amsterdam notary’s office, David Nassy declared that Debora ‘sijnde een bruijn vrouwspersoon ofte mulata’ (being a brown female or mulatto) was a free woman, and in his house ‘in vrijheijt geteelt & gebooren & als soodanigh oock opgevoet, sonder dat iemant ter werelt op haer persoon iets heeft te preteenderen’ (conceived & born in freedom & and also raised as such, without anyone in the world having any kind of claim on her person). Like many women of colour, Debora also worked as a servant, including for Hester Belmonte, the sister-in-law of Rembrandt’s rear neighbour David Belmonte. In her will, Sara Moreno, who had migrated to Amsterdam via Brazil and lived on Houtgracht, the canal south of Jodenbreestraat, left money and clothing to ‘haar swartin’ (her black woman) Luna and her daughter Esther.

Detail from:
Huis van David de Pinto aan de Sint-Antoniesbreestraat te Amsterdam, Romeyn de Hooghe, ca. 1695

Slavery in Amsterdam

Most of these black servants probably had a background in slavery, a phenomenon that had no longer existed in the Low Countries for hundreds of years. It is significant that in the course of the seventeenth century the ban on slavery was explicitly incorporated in the printed codes of law. From 1644, under the heading ‘Van den Staet ende conditie van persoonen’ (on the status and condition of persons) the legal codes included the following stipulation: ‘Within the city of Amsterdam and its jurisdiction, all men are free, and none are slaves.’ This was a clear statement that the city did not condone slavery, and that every person was free. The second article determined how this freedom could be claimed: ‘The same [applies to] all slaves who come or are brought to this city and its jurisdiction; [they] are free and beyond the control and authority of their masters and [the latters’] wives; and in so far as their masters and mistresses wish to keep their slaves, and make them serve against their will, the persons concerned can arraign said masters and mistresses in the court of law of this city, where they then shall formally and legally declare them to be free.’This was literally adopted from an older Antwerp law.

Freedom from slavery thus applied to everyone in the city. If someone was held as a slave, that person could take the owner to municipal court and be declared free there. The initiative for this lay with the person who was enslaved. It is not known how often people took such steps. In 1656, 24-year-old Juliana, who had come to Amsterdam with Eliau de Burgos from Brazil, decided to run away instead of move to Barbados with the Burgos family. Occasionally, someone was declared free at a notary’s office, such as Zabelinha from Guinea and her children, who had come to Amsterdam with Simon Correa. They were granted their freedom on 30 October 1642.

Mark Ponte

Translation: Kist & Kilian

Winter in the 17th Century

Life was tough in seventeenth century Amsterdam. The winters were very cold. This extraordinary painting by Jan de Bray (1662) makes you think about what it was like for migrants from warmer areas like Angola, Sao Tome or Pernambuco to live in the cities of the Dutch Republic?

“Zwarte jongen warmt zijn handen aan kooltjes”, Jan de Braij, 1662

Jan de Bray (1626/1627-1697) lived and worked in Haarlem. The painting is in the collection ‘Groot Constantia Homestead’ in Cape Town.

Maria Gay

Zuiderkerk, Amsterdam, 1663

Probably the most poignant example of how harsh the conditions were in Amsterdam, is that of the 18 year old black woman Maria Gay who was baptized in the Dutch Reformed Zuiderkerk in the 1650’s. After her feet were frozen, her legs had to be amputated in the hospital in Amsterdam. Maria Gay ‘with wooden legs’ lived in Amsterdam until the late 1670’s

Swarte Klaas

Swarte Klaas, circa 1770 (Collection Stadsarchief)

Maria Gay’s story also reminds us of the images of the famous Amsterdam street figure ‘Swarte Klaas’. A black man without legs, who lived in Amsterdam in the second half of the eighteenth century. Maybe a former sailor, like Joseph Johnson in London in the early nineteenth century.

Swarte Klaas in front of the CIty Theater of Amsterdam, 1775 (Collection Stadsarchief)

Zabynaja – a play

On 2 March 1648, the première performance of the theater play Zabynaja took place in the Stadsschouwburg (City Theatre) on the Amsterdamse Keizersgracht. Zabynaja is a black woman, referred to in the play as both a moris and a swartin. She is enslaved by a the Portuguese nobleman called Claudio. The play was translated from Spanish by the alderman Gerard Pietersz Schaep and adapted by the author Jan Zoet. Aside from Bredero’s Moortje, it was probably the only play with a black woman in the title role.

Engravure of the Playhouse Van Campen in 1658 by Salomon Savery

Spanish theatre was very popular in Amsterdam. Gerard Schaep made the striking choice not only to translate the names, but also to move the place of the action from Spain to Amsterdam, more specifically to the island of Vlooienburg, near Jodenbreestraat. That was surely no coincidence, as Vlooienburg was home to many Spanish and Portuguese Jews, some of whom had black servants in their households. Apparently, this was a recognizable image to Amsterdam theatre public in the mid-seventeenth century.

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Vlooienburg (5)

The play also refers to Rembrandt, who lived in the same area. Two men – Claudio and Pedro de Burgos – are trying to seduce Dorothea, who is married to Bonifacio. But neither one has yet succeeded. When Zabynaja sees what her ‘master’ is up to, she devises a trick.

Jan Zoet - Zabynaja - 1648

Dorothea is a buyer of gold and silver thread. Using money from Claudio, Zabynaja pretends that she has been sent by a Spanish noblewoman and that she is an artist who embroiders with such skill that she ‘overshadows the paintings of Rembrandt himself with her needle, which serves as a brush with which she paints in gold. The lady [Dorothea] is thereby so ‘inflamed’ that she would like an opportunity to speak to her about art’.

The trick works; Zabynaja persuades Dorothea to come first to a party at Claudio’s house and then, with sweet wine and flattering words, to Claudio’s bedchamber – where the two of them are caught and arrested on the charge of adultery. Zabynaja is ultimately able to buy Dorothea’s freedom with Claudio’s money, and Claudio is released because he is unmarried.

The theatre’s accounts show that the play was performed only three times, on 2, 5, and 9 March 1648. The role of Zabynaja was probably played by a man in the theatre’s regular, all-white ensemble. But the accounts show that not only white people performed in the city theatre that year; On 30 July 1648, five guilders was paid to a black woman singer: ‘to a Moorish girl for singing 20 times

Mark Ponte

Francesca, free black woman in Amsterdam, Easter 1632

At the time when Rembrandt settled on Jodenbreestraat (7), dozens of people of African descent lived in the area. An important neighbor was Francisca, who lived with several black men, women and children in a basement near the Leper House (2) .

Several notarial deeds regarding Francisca have been preserved. They were prompted by a fight in front of the residence of the sugar trader Manuel de Campos on Easter Sunday, 11 April 1632.

What exactly had happened before the skirmish isnot clear from the documents, but on Easter Sunday a group of five black women and two black men went to the house of De Campos. Rocks were thrown and sticks were brandished, resulting in injury to De Campos’ daughter.

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Maps of eastern part of Amsterdam (south up), 16

Two days later, Tuesday, 13 April, De Campos had several witnesses to the incident testify before a notary public. The various statements give detailed information about Francesca’s life as seen through the eyes of her neighbors. We learn that she was living with different black men, women and children in a cellar dwelling. Francisca clearly played a pivotal role in the formation of the black community at that time. According to one of the witnesses, Francisca would ‘receive in her house all the black men who come to this city and pair them off with black women.’

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Rembrandt, Study of a Standing African Woman, c. 1642. Present location unknown (Montreux, E.J. Reynolds Collection, until 1932).

The names of several of the inhabitants in her cellar are mentioned, including the women Hester and Dina and a man, Franscisco. Naturally, the statements were intended to discredit Francesca and her company, yet they also show us  an interesting picture of a free black woman in the 1630s, who successfully built up a community.

Mark Ponte

Mixed marriages in Amsterdam

Mixed marriages have been part of European cultures for centuries. Here you’ll find some examples first published in a Twitter thread (december 2019).

In 1593 Bastiaen Pieters from the kingdom of Manicongo in Africa maried the widow Trijn Pieters from Amsterdam.

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On the 5th of january 1658 Agnietje Cornelis from Lippstadt (Germany) and Anthoine Zanderts from Angola went to city hall Hall (now the Royal Palace) to registered their marriage in Amsterdam.

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In 1761 Augustinus Schut from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) married Aaltje Veld from Amsterdam. In 1752 he was baptized together with the Surinamese Johannes van West and Maria Magdalena in De Nieuwe Kerk at Damsquare.

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In 1806 Willemina Balk married Justus Gerardus Swaving in Amsterdam. Willemina was the daughter of a planter in Berbice (Guyana) and a free black woman. In the drawing she prepares a West-Indian meal for painter Christiaan Andriessen.
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In 1824 Johannes Charles married Elisabeth van Eijbergen in Rotterdam. Later they moved to Amsterdam. Charles was born in Ghana, sold in to slavery in Suriname, and came as a free servant to the Netherlands.

Mark Ponte

Children of Johannes Charles and Elisabeth van Eijbergen

Lea van Bali (ca. 1668-1738)

A life in documents

Lea was born or sold in slavery in Asia, but lived almost 50 years in Amsterdam. She arrived with Jan Parvé and Ida Castelijn from Batavia (Jakarta) in Amsterdam. Most probably in 1690 when Parvé was admiral of the VOC return fleet. In 1691 Lea lived with Ida Castelijn at the Keizersgracht, probably as a servant.

On 21 december 1691 ‘Lea van Balij gewesene slavinne’ (‘former slave’) is baptized in the Westerkerk.

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Doopinschrijving Lea van Balij
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Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam

It is not clear how long Lea stayed in the house of the Parvé/Castelijn family, but 17 year later she was living in the Leidse Dwarsstraat. In 1708 she marries Nicolaas Baltus from Ambon (Maluku Islands). Lea is then about 40 years old. A month before their daughter Hester is baptized in the the ‘Nieuwe Kerk’ at Damsquare. Interesting enough the witness Esther Jans van Bantam is also from Indonesia.

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31 July 1708, baptism of Esther

On 17 august 1712 daughter Elisabeth is baptized in the same church, again witnessed by (H)Ester Jans.

Nicolaas Baltus died a little more then six years later, in 1719. On the 12th of January Nicolaas was buried at the Karthuizer cemetery. According to the registry the family was living in the Goudsbloemdwarstraat in the Jordaan at that moment.

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Karthuizer cemetery, 1728

Almost a year after the dead of her first husband Lea van Bali marries Jan Davidse van den Heuvel from Amsterdam.

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Lea’s second marriage
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1728 is a sad year for Lea. In February, her second husband Jan dies and in July her daughter Hester. The family then lives in Goudsbloemstraat, between Brouwersgracht and the Eerste Bloemdwarsstraat. Jan leaves three children, probably from his first marriage.

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Brouwersgracht and the Eerste Bloemdwarsstraat

Ten years later, 21 march 1738, almost 50 year after her forced migration to Amsterdam, Lea passes away. She is buried at the Noorderkerkhof.

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Registration of the burial of Lea van Balij, 31 march 1738.
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Noorderkerk and cemetery

This post was first published as thread on Twitter (ook in het Nederlands)