Saturday, 27 August 2016

Looking for a hammock: A guest blog

Long-standing collaborator to the Hoe Heette Christiaan website Lieve sent us an elaborate reaction in response to our questions on hammocks, well worth publishing in full. The original text was in Dutch and has been translated by us.

A hammock: some thoughts

Hammock: When one writes about a 'hammock' in the newspaper article, 'hangmat' in Dutch, one most likely meant this litterally, as in 'a hanging mat, ' i.e. a piece of textile with a carrying-stick. It is less likely that one meant a more solid structure in wood; one might have used a term like 'carrying chair' or 'litter' (Dutch: 'draagstoel'). So one most likely referred to a proper hammock rather than a palanquin.

Woven patterns: Textile gave the opportunity to work with beautiful weaving patterns (see photos for examples)a.

Awning or umbrella: Examples of hammocks and palanquins carrying African kings or other imporant people often had an awning or umbrella. As it concerned a 'costly' (Dutch: 'kostbaere') hammock here, destined as gift for a Dutch princess, it most likely had an awning or umbrella.

European colonial officials carried in hammocks, Ivory Coast. Postcard

Ivory Coast, Abengourou, the King in a hammock. Postcard.

“Un fils behanzin en hamac à Abomey”,  Bénin, ca. 1930-1950, Musée du Quai Branly (inv. PP0131863)

Sculpture in metal of a 'Person carried in a hammock', West-Africa, Bénin, Zou, Abomey
Musée du quai Branly, Paris (inv. 73.1963.0.940)

Examples of adorned hammocks

On the website of the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam we can find several examples of woven hammocks from Liberia and Sierra Leone, unfortunately without dates. They do give a clear example of the possible adornments.

Hammock, Liberia, Mande Region. Wereldmuseum Rotterdam.

Hammock, Liberia, Western Guinea Coastal Area. Wereldmuseum Rotterdam.

Hammock, Sierra Leone. Wereldmuseum Rotterdam.

On this statue one can also see how the hammock itself was decorated with motifs in the woven cloth:

Hammock bearers, anonymous artist, Congo, Lower Zaire River, ca. 1800 (Wereldmuseum Rotterdam).

The website of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris also gives several examples of woven hammocks. These are all dated nineteenth century. The bright, beautiful colours are remarkable. All examples are of cotton cloth.

Hammock, cotton, Bénin (Dahomey), 1891 (inv. 71.1891.22.88)

Hammock, Bénin (Dahomey), bef. 1891 (inv. 71.1891.22.56)

Hammock, cotton, Bénin (Dahomey), bef. 1899 (inv. 71.1923.1.76)

Hammock, cotton, Bénin (Dahomey), bef. 1880 (inv. 71.1931.21.15)

There are also examples of hammocks made from plant fibres, which are less colourful.

Hammock, plant fibre, Sierra Leone, undated (inv. 71.1901.53.27)

Or embellished with pompoms or fringe:

Hammock, cotton, Cameroon (inv. 75.15608.53)
Hammock, natural plant fibre, Burkina Faso (inv. 73.2012.0.771)

Hammocks in the Congo

There are also images available of hammocks from the Congo, with additional information about adornments of the carrying sticks and the style of carrying.

Giovanni Antonia Cavazzi da Montecuccolo (1621-1678) was a Portuguese missionary who made several voyages to Angola and parts of the Congo. For a discussion of the original manuscripts by Cavazzi see Cavazzi, Missione Evangelica: General introduction.

An example of a carved carrying stick:

Different methods of travel in Congo, ca. 1790.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Looking for a hammock: First results

Our request for assistance with the hammock or palanquin given to the Dutch princess Carolina has led to several valuable suggestions and discussions, with some preliminary results as well.

An example of the type of palanquin that could have been given is in the Musée des Civilisations de Côte d'Ivoire.

"An employee presents an Akan royal hammock from the 17th century used to transport an eastern [Ghanaian chief]." Getty Images, copyright uncertain.

Another example of a historical palanquin is in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, England. It is a so-called gold-weight figure in brass, showing a chief being carried in a palanquin, with a group of people around standing around. This one has a board at both ends, probably in wood. This could be a feature on which one could make carvings.

We thank George Homs for his efforts on the second example. Further suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Looking for a hammock

For a change, a request for help, to identify the 'hammock' which accompanied the boys sent to princess Carolina.
So far, this blog has addressed the issue of children sent from Ghana to Europe and the question if we could give Presto a place among the identified children, being procured, or serving in the castle of St. George d'Elmina.

However, there is something else to look for. After all, we are working with the hypothesis that Presto and Fortuin were the boys given as a gift to the Princess Carolina of Orange-Nassau in 1748. That gift comprised of the two boys, and a 'costly' or 'richly adorned' hammock.'

Newspaper clipping mentioning 'een kostbare hangmat uit dat Weereld-deel;' 'a costly hammock from that Continent'

What was this 'hammock' made of, what did it look like, and what was its function? We soon came to the conclusion that what was described as a 'hammock' in the Dutch newspaper, must have been a so-called palanquin, a contraption in which Ghanaian Akan chiefs were and are transported during festivals. Nowadays the palanquin is usually constructed from a hollowed piece of wood, shaped in the form of a bed, with cushions to rest on, and covered with high-quality cloth. On the cloth there can be adornments symbolically depicting the identity of the chief and his personal or family history.

Chief of Elmina in palanquin at Bakatue Festival 2016. Photo by (c) Michel R. Doortmont

In Elmina we asked about the palanquin in history. My long-standing research assistant and fixer, Frank Kwesi Tweneboa-Kodua, came with a valuable suggestion. Frank noted that when he was a child, in the 1970s, a different type of palanquin was still quite common.

It consisted of two bamboo sticks, with in-between a plaited fibre mat. On both ends, two shorter bamboo sticks, secured with rope or fibre, allowed for it to be carried by four persons.

Possible form of the hammock / palanquin given to Princess Carolina. Drawing by (c) Michel R. Doortmont

The sketch gives an impression of what it could have looked like. So far, we have not found any real-life examples of this type of palanquin, or any drawings, for that matter. So we ask the question here, to fellow researchers and local parties: do you know of this type of palanquin / hammock, as means of transport for Akan chiefs? If so, leave your comments below.

Additionally: How does one 'adorn' a palanquin of this type, or what makes it 'costly'? Were there items (beads, brass bells or other objects, etc.) attached to it? Was it painted or carved?

It seems this type needs to be carried by four persons, so would one not expect four boys to accompany the hammock for the princess? Or is there a type that can be carried by two people too?

We are keenly awaiting your suggestions.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Boy-servants at Elmina Castle

Living at Elmina Castle

The Castle of St. George d'Elmina was home to Dutch officials, soldiers, labourers, and servants from 1637 to 1872. In the eighteenth century, the castle also housed the enslaved men and women - a home to them it was certainly not - in the so-called dungeons.

The senior officials had relatively comfortable and spacious rooms, and the director-general had a multi-room appartment. This was were they organised their lives and spent much of their private time.

Elmina Castle, with view of living quarters of the officials in the high building on the left.

Ditto, looking at living quarters.


Officials and servants

The social-economic status of the senior officials was such, that they could maintain some sort of household, including servants. As far as we can establish these servants were always boys of various ages.

The social position of these boy-servants can best be compared to that of high-valued domestic slaves in the households of the African elite in the town of Elmina, next to the castle. Domestic slaves were often considered to be part of the family, could have lots of freedom of movement, and in some cases were able to work independently.

Prof. Akosua Perbi of the University of Ghana is a specialist in the history of indigenous slavery and wrote a book about it: A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana: From the 15th to the 19th Century.

As Natasha Gray states in her review of the book,
 'Perbi argues that slavery in Ghana was rooted in an African understanding of property rights based on kinship and reciprocity rather than individual ownership. Therefore, although slaves could be bought and sold, "the position of a slave in Ghana was 'that of a person in a state of servitude guarded by rights'" (p. 4). Interestingly, she notes that in precolonial Ghana there were five separate terms for different conditions of servitude: servant, pawn, slave, war captive, and slave under capital punishment (p. 3).'

On the legacy of indigenous slavery after abolition in 1874 Perbi gave a lecture that can be found on YouTube.

The historical evidence supports the hypothesis that the boy-servants can best be described as servants in the context of domestic slavery. This set them apart - literally and as a figure of speech - from the enslaved people that were kept imprisoned in the dungeons and slave camps, awaiting their shipment to the Americas and a life on the plantations.

Director-general Jan Pranger and his boy-servant in his quarters in Elmina Castle by Frans van der Mijn, 1742. Coll. Rijksmuseum.

The Dutch seventeenth-century poet and West India company official Focquenbroch wrote in 1678 about his boy-servant of about twelve years old:
' [Being] so kind, polite, and loyal, that I love the boy with all my Heart, and would (if he were a slave) not hesitate to pay a Pound of Gold for him.'
This confirms the idea that the boy-servant was a dependent and placed in a servile position, but not seen as a slave in the narrower sense of the word.

That they had freedom of movement and were staying with their 'masters', sleeping in a section of his accommodation is confirmed by a reference from the Dutch sources, where a West India Company official described how he, reporting to the rooms of fiscal Jan van Rijk, only found his two boy-servants there.

The personal relationship between European officials and their boy-servants, a relationship of mutual responsibility and care, also makes it plausible that many of these boys accompanied their 'masters' to the Netherlands when they returned. Or, alternatively, as evidence suggests, were sent to the Netherlands by themselves, to serve with family members or others.

In the quest for Presto it can be noted that in 1746-1747 fiscal Huibert van Rijk had his servants in the Castle, among whom the boy Accra Doura. He accompanied Van Rijk to the Netherlands and the town of Weesp in 1750, the town in which Presto would settle fifiteen years later. Also in 1746-1747, Presto was staying at Elmina Castle, purportedly in the service of director-general Jacob de Petersen, whom, we have already hypothesised, may well have been Presto's 'benefactor' and the reason he came to the Netherlands.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Presto returns to Ghana: Where to begin? (II)

Starting the search in Ghana

When this blog is published, Annemieke and I have arrived in Ghana and are on our way to Elmina, the place Presto departed from on his voyage to the Netherlands in the 1740s. We made the trip in reverse, but in a stunted manner. We did not travel by ship, arriving first at Axim in the west of Ghana, and then sailing on to Elmina, to anchor in the roadstead and be ferried ashore on a small boat or canoe. We arrived by plane at Kotoka International Airport Accra, spent the night in a comfortable hotel, and now travel to Elmina in an equally comfortable rental car.

And equally so, when we arrive in Elmina, this will be a very different place from the one Presto left some 270 years ago. One of the most important tasks therefore is for us to recreate the world Presto came from. In this last blog written from Europe, we once more revisit the clues and hints Christiaan left for us in his later life, as a starting point for the historical recreation of his world in the following blogs, which we will write from Ghana.

Clues on origin and arrival

Throughout his life, Christiaan left hints about his African origins and arrival in the Netherlands. That this is helpful for his identification has been shown in the earlier blogs. The letters Christiaan wrote to the King from 1815 onwards, and the letter his daughter Antje wrote in 1830 are most helpful here.

In all his letters to the King Christiaan wrote that he was born on the Coast of Guinea ('de kust van Guinea'), by way of introduction, and rather than emphasising his colour or former name of Presto. But he does not give many more details.

In her letter to the King, asking for assistance, his daughter Antje gave some additional information. She wrote:
'That in his lifetime, her [...] Grandfather was General on the Coast of Guinea, where her father was stolen as a child by the Guineans'
This is a very valuable clue. We may expect that this story came from her father. And the element of the 'grandfather-general' is new. Who can this 'General' be? The governor-in-chief of the Dutch Gold Coast had the official title of 'director general.' In daily practice this was often shortened to 'general,' in which form it even entered into official documents. When we then look at the period in which Presto came to the Netherlands, this coincided with the term of office of Jacob Baron de Petersen as director-general over the Dutch Gold Coast. He arrived in 1740, and left in 1747.
Prince-Stadtholder Willem V takes office as Superior Director of the W.I.C., Amsterdam 1768 (Simon Fokke, Coll. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam). Jacob de Petersen is purportedly seated to the right of the Prince.

But obviously, General Jacob de Petersen was not the biological father of Presto. So talking about him as 'grandfather' must be understood in a metaphorical or figurative sense. Apparently Christiaan had spoken to his family about De Petersen having been a fatherly figure to him. Possibly even making De Petersen his only connection to Africa.

In the last blog we showed how Jacob de Petersen was involved in the transfer of two young boys in Elmina in 1744. We here asked the question if these could be Presto and Fortuin. In view of Antje's statement, this suggestion becomes more plausible.

Jacob de Petersen registered on audience with Prince Willem V of Orange Nassau, 7 March 1771. Coll. Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag

Besides, De Petersen was in a position to bring children with him to the Netherlands. He was a very powerful person in the West India Company, and very wealthy as well. He had served the W.I.C. from 1725 onwards in executive positions, first in Curaçao and afterwards in West Africa. His relationships with the upper classes of Amsterdam and the Hague were strong, and he had a good relationship with the Court of Orange-Nassau as well. After his final return to the Netherlands in 1747 he first became a W.I.C. director, then the presiding director, and finally the representative of the Prince-Stadtholder Willem V in his capacity of governor-general of the W.I.C. By then De Petersen was the most powerful and influential figure in the running of the Dutch Atlantic slave trade and the Dutch West Indian colonies.

When Jacob de Petersen requested his dismissal as director-general of the Gold Coast in 1746, he had a clear idea about the remainder of his career. For starters he set up a private slave trading expedition. He hired the private slave trading ship Watervliet and prepared for a slave voyage that was to transport more than 700 enslaved men and women to Suriname. He travelled on the ship himself. The fortunes of the voyage are currently a matter of academic research.

The records show that in Paramaribo, Suriname, Jacob de Petersen changed ships and boarded the ship Jalousie, with his servants. It is very well possible that Presto and Fortuin travelled with Jacob de Petersen to the Netherlands in 1747, together with a richly adorned hammock, as present for the Princess Carolina.

Gouvernment Journal Suriname, General Jacob de Petersen and servants on board the ship Jalousie


Jacob de Petersen's Gold Coast

So now we know where to start: on Jacob de Petersen's Gold Coast. To recreate Presto's early years and experience in Ghana, we have to look for the Dutch Gold Coast as it was in Jacob de Petersen's time, the period between 1740 and 1747. Who was there, what did it look like, what activities were going on? And: how do you make such a reconstruction in an environment that has changed beyond recognition?

In the oncoming blogs we will address these questions. However, we cannot solve them alone, and all contributions from our virtual fellow travellers and followers are welcome. What do you think about Presto's early years?

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Procuring slave children on the Gold Coast (II): The Gold Coast position

A trade in children?

As indicated in the last blog, the number of child-servants, especially boys, seems to have been considerable, when we judge their presence at the courts of Europe and in well-to-do families from available paintings and records. And as there has been no structured research into the issue as yet, the true character of the presence of African children in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth century can not be properly interpreted as yet.

By extension, we do not know if there was, for instance, some sort of parallel (slave) trade for young children, directly from the the coast of West Africa to Europe, and if so how this was organised and executed. Also, we can not be sure - as indicated before - about the social position of these children as interpreted contemporeneously. It is obvious that they were seen in a different light than the chattel slaves destined for the plantation colonies in the West Indies. But in what way they may have been seen differently is not clear.

To organise our thoughts around this issue we can look at three cases involving the procurement of children in the Dutch possessions on the Coast of Guinea. All three are from the period that also saw Presto being sent to the Netherlands. We know about these cases, because there were financial and administrative issues, which caused them to be recorded in the administration. The first two are of a general nature, the third one brings us close to Presto and Fortuin.

Case 1: Two boys in Accra

In 1744, the commandant of Dutch Accra, Balthazar Coymans, bought 'two negro boys, named Sacresi and Aquambuni.' Payment was in kind, namely an exchange for 'two male slaves.' The case is interesting, because of several elements. In the first place, the transaction clearly indicates how the children were procured, namely in a monetary transaction. Also interesting is that the value of the boys, whose age is unknown, was equal to that of two adult male slaves destined for the plantations. Although no values are mentioned, this seems a high value, and indicates a bonus value for children who were not being sent to the plantations.

Interesting too is the fact that the two boys, although obviously enslaved, had their own (local) names, and were identified by these. However, the phonetic rendering of the names in script and probably also pronuciation make them difficult to recognise as local Akan or Ga names, or names from any neighbouring languages.

The fate of the boys was unrecorded. They are not mentioned in Coymans's estate, which was recorded after his death in 1748. The inventory of the estate does mention a large number of slaves, however, who were apparently meant to be transported to the West Indies. The report and references can be found here

Case 2: Children as gift for Curacao

The second case is linked to a crisis in the slave trade of the Dutch West India Company (W.I.C.) after the revocation in the 1730s of the monopoly this Company had. For a while, W.I.C. officials were allowed to trade in slaves privately and sell the enslaved persons they procured in West Africa either to the W.I.C. or to private traders. For several reasons, including abuse of the system, this privilege was fully revoked in 1745.

One of the abuses occurred around 1742-1743. It was in effect a tax evasion scheme set up by, or with the full assistance of Jacob de Petersen, the director-general or governor-in-chief of the Dutch Gold Coast from 1740 to 1747. For each enslaved person traded privately, a sales tax or 'recognition' had to be paid to the the W.I.C. In the 1740s the W.I.C. made a last effort to trade a large number of slaves to Curacao for their own account. The officials in Ghana, with the active support and official endorsement of director-general De Petersen, took this opportunity to send considerable numbers of African people to Curacao as 'gift' to friendly parties on that Carribean island. The scheme was intricate, as De Petersen let the possibility open for the W.I.C. to levy tax afterwards, shielding his position somewhat.

What is striking is that it concerned young people mainly: boys and girls. The records show that they were not intended to work on the plantations, but were directed towards the households of the named receivers, who were - obviously - not to pay for them. So at face value, one could see a comparison with the children directly sent to Europe here.

'IDP [...] tot een Vereeringe zijn gegeven geworden Neegen Negermeijsjes daerom alle fraude te vermijden zijn gemerkt met een bijsondere merk als in margine [...]'

On the other hand, when we look closely at the administration of the transport of these children given as gifts, the patterns are much closer to the trade of chattel slaves for the plantations: there is a value put on them by the ship's captains, and what is more, they were all branded with the mark of the person who sent them (the 'sellers'). In one special case, it was Jacob de Petersen himself who had his mark 'IDP' put on the bodies of a group of nine girls, as token that it concerned an 'official' and not a commercial transaction, and 'to avoid all fraud.'

And last but not least, for these children sent to Curacao, we cannot say in what circumstances they came to live. Differently from the children ending up in Europe, the ones going to Curacao ended up in a slave society. So we might surmise that for all intends and purposes they were socially and legally slaves like all others. In Europe the African children found themselves in total social dependence, but legally they had the same rights as everybody else.

An overview of the original records (in Dutch) can be found here.

Case 3: Two boys in Elmina

The third case also involved Jacob de Petersen, as the man who may or may not have been directly involved in the transfer of Presto from Africa to the Netherlands, and to which effect this case discussed here may hold the key.

In 1744, two local parties in the town of Elmina had a conflict over the death of a man named 'Coerantje.' The cause of his death could not be properly established, so neither could the question be answered whether it was a matter of foul play (murder, manslaughter) on the part of one of the parties. Arbitrage had taken place under the supervision of director-general De Petersen, and it was decided to settle the case with compensation. The wronged party - the family of the killed man - received, in accordance with local custom, a compensation in the form of 'two benda merchandise and two negro boys.'

'Soude werden gegeeven Twee Bende Coopmanschappen en Twee Neger Jongens [...]'

Two benda, or four ounces, of merchandise represented a value of 152 guilders in 1744 coin. The value of the boys is unclear. The merchandise was paid to the wronged party through the hands of Jacob de Petersen. For the boys, the guilty party handed over two so-called 'impias,' a pawn or security. In this case this was most likely an amount of gold, which one could not sell or use, but had to be kept until the original debt was paid.

The question is now what actually happened with the boys. No follow-up records were as yet found to shed light on this. One could consider the following though:
  • Jacob de Petersen was heavily involved in the case, as arbiter, and agent for the transfer of the compensation.
  • The guilty party handed the impias over directly, but was this also the case with the boys? Or could this have gone through De Petersen again?
  • Is it possible that De Petersen kept the boys for himself in exchange for the value of the security?
  • Could the two boys thus procured have been taken to the Netherlands by Jacob de Petersen in 1747? And could we then recognise them in the gift to Princess Carolina as Presto and Fortuin?
Details of this case, including a transcription (in Dutch only) and references to the original records, can be found here.


The three cases, lead to the following general considerations:
  • On the West African side children who were bought and sold in the same manner as chattel slaves for the plantation economies of the West Indies.
  • There seems to be a premium set on the price of (some) children, considering the boys from case 1 had the same value as an adult enslaved male.
  • Children that went to the West Indies were treated in the same manner as all chattel slaves, including their defacement with a branded mark indicating their seller. For the children that went directly to Europe, it is uncertain if they were branded. In the case of Presto / Christiaan we have a personal description from a German police report, which recorded as 'special mark' only the fact that he was 'a Moor.' Which was obviously a main characteristic of his fysique, but unfortunately leaves us in the dark about the question whether he was branded or not.
  • Children could be part of local transactions in Ghana, connected with local (legal) systems of compensation. This indicates that children who were in a dependent position could change hands in another manner than trade.
The general involvement of W.I.C. officials in the acquisition, handling (and trading) of children in Ghana confirms the image from our last blog: there was a special interest in African children parallel to the general Atlantic slave trade servicing the plantation economies of the West Indies. The how and why is a yet not completely clear, and questions remain about the way in which these children were regarded and treated.

With our focus on the 1740s, the period Presto came to the Netherlands, we have some indications that the powerful director-general Jacob de Petersen might have been the agent involved in his migration to the Netherlands. We will return to this topic in the next blog.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Procuring slave children on the Gold Coast (I): The European position

Children without names

When we study Africans in the Netherlands in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these individuals are denied their original African identity. This is of course also the case with Presto, whose African name, given to him by his parents, is unknown to us, and was possibly even unknown to Presto himself, as was his African family history. It makes looking for his origins in Ghana quite complicated.

However, it also poses questions about the social status of African children like Presto in general. Were they chattel slaves, like the enslaved people that were sent to the plantations in the Americas? Or were they a special category of captives, and if so, how did this play out in the way in which they were procured in Africa and treated in Europe? Let's first look at their European position, and then move back to Ghana in a second instalment of this blog, and see what we can find there with regard to these young children. Also as another point of interest for the field trip.

African children in Europe: made-up identities

The research into Presto's / Christiaan van der Vegt's origins, his stinge at the Court of the Prince-Stadtholder, and as servant to the mayor of Weesp, Abraham d'Arrest, has yielded a large amount of information about other African boys in the Netherlands and Europe too. One rich source for our knowledge about these boys - and some girls - are the formal portrait paintings in which African children figure, usually in the background, as servants to 'important people.' Annemieke is collecting them on a special Pinterest Board, titled Young Africans with Europeans in the 17th and 18th century. And indeed, at the time of writing this blog, the board counts 412 pins already.

Portrait of Cocquamar Crenequie
(Coll. Museum Weesp)

In art history there has long been a tendency, so it seems, to regard these young African servants as ornaments, rather than real people. In current museum collections this is still very much visible in the descriptions of these paintings, which never name the African servants, if mentioning them at all.

We take the position that most, if not all of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century portraits, should be seen as  real-life depictions in which all elements have meaning, and are part of the main figure's life. This includes servants, African or otherwise, pets, and inanimate ornaments and objects. Only by taking this position, it becomes possible to seriously study the prevalence of African child servants in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, no longer as something exceptional, but as a regular occurance. As Annemieke already stated: 'Christiaan was not the only one.'

 And more importantly, by naming the African children in these pictures, we make a start in giving them their identity back.

To prove the point that efforts to identify these pictured anonymous African boy-servants can be fruitful, there is the case of Cocquamar Crenequie, or Willem Philip Frederik, as he was called after his christening. He was born on 'the Coast of Guinea', i.e. in West Africa, around 1739. Since the middle of 1750 he was a member of the household of the Count Gronsfeld, special envoy of the Dutch States General to the Court at Berlin. Cocquamar Crenequie was christened in Berlin on Sunday  27 January 1754. The reason we know all this is that his christening was reported in a Dutch newspaper, which report coincides with our knowledge about the provenance of a painting of the same year in which he was pictured with the Countess zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Virneburg, Gronsfeld's wife.

Report on the christening of Cocquamar Crenequie in Berlin, in
Opregte Haerlemsche Courant 5 February 1754
In her blog postings, Annemieke has also shown that there were more boys like Presto who were brought to the Netherlands by (former) officials of the Dutch West India Company, sometimes identifiable by an African or African-sounding name, like Accra Doura, a contemporary of Presto and also living in Weesp for a while. In most cases African names are not known, and when they are, they are invariably too mangled to make sense of for purposes of regional identification or meaning (which includes Cocquamar Crenequie). Others were given fantasy names or exotic names, like Presto, Fortuin, Coridon, Cupido or Cedron, to name the boys touched upon in Annemieke's blog alone. When baptised the Christian name Christaan is prevalent, sometimes connected with a fantasy name of sorts, as was the case with Christiaan van Souburg, Christiaan Narcis and Christiaan Congo Loango. Proper African names usually do not occur.

From the Netherlands to West Africa

So far, we have a fair idea of the scope of these African boys living in Europe in higher-placed servile positions, through their appearance in paintings, and because of selected case studies from archival sources. That does not mean that the picture is complete yet, however, or that we fully understand the social positions of these boys and the social mechanisms governing their position and status, including Presto. This is a research topic in itself, which should be undertaken with some urgency.

During our trip, Annemieke and I will look into the context of the Atlantic slave trade and the position of enslaved people for that trade on the one hand, and into the physical and social context in which children were procured for service in the Netherlands on the other.

An important issue to consider is how the procurement of these children in Africa worked. The premise here is that the children brought directly to Europe cannot, in social terms, be compared to the huge numbers of chattel slaves shipped 'in bulk' - excuse the expression - and anonimity to the Americas. In the case of these children, one can ask whether their was some sort of 'parallel trade', considering the numbers found in Europe, or whether it was a more incidental occurance with its own rules and regulations?

In the next blog I will go into that more in detail, on the basis of several recorded cases from the era in which Presto and Fortuin were also brought from the Coast of Guinea to the Netherlands.