From Willemstad to Stadtholder William V

Afrikaanse bedienden aan het Haagse Hof
Above: documents written by Guan Athony Sideron (from the Royal Archives)
(c) Dutch Royal Collections

In 2017 my book about Willem Frederik Cupido and Guan Anthony Sideron was published. It is about two boys who were given as gifts to Stadtholder William V. These two boys are not the two, now famous, Ashanti princes in the novel by Arthur Japin, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, but two enslaved children. One came from Africa the other from Curaçao in the Caribbean. I was able to reconstruct most of their lives on the basis of thousands of documents and letters from the Royal Archives, the National Archives and other archives. At the same time of the publication there was an exhibition in the Historical Museum of The Hague that I was asked to curate as a guest curator. The book was only published in Dutch.

I will publish parts from chapters translated in English on this site (It has not been translated by an official translator).

Afrikaanse bedienden aan het Haagse Hof
Exhibition in the Haags Historisch Museum 2017-2018
Uitgeverij Balans ISBN 078 94 6000 3508 1

Parts from chapter 1

From Willemstad in Curaçao to stadtholder William V in The Hague

It is certain that in 1763 a Curaçaoan boy by the name of Guan Anthony Sideron walked around in the Stadhouderlijk Kwartier (The Dutch court) near the Binnenhof in The Hague. There is no doubt about that. From the first years, documents have been preserved in which it can be found that there was no skimping on the expenses for the boy. The treasurer noted, in elegant letters, in the financial statement of 1763: “De Hof Fourier W.C. Neuwirth, for various payments made for the Moor Guan Sidron: 107.50 [guilders]. “The amount was for the months of April, May and June of that year. And it did not stop at these expenses. The boy was given a costly striking livery (uniform) in red, white and blue, with matching headgear. The treasurer noted, “For a Moore Cap [a turban]: 3.-.” And: “For a bouquet of feathers to a Moore Hat: 4.16.” The three plumes were also in red, white, and blue.

Sideron around 10 years old. coll Rijksmuseum

The purchase of a turban for Sideron is not really surprising. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, black soldiers and musicians were dressed in Turkish style with a turban at parades, festivities and tournaments. For example, in 1638 Rembrandt van Rijn captured two black drummers with turbans in The Hague during a marriage of high-borns. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the turban became a fashion throughout Europe for court and house servants of Turkish, Asian or African descent, due to the Turkomania and fascination with Islam in literature and arts. Especially at the court of August the Strong of Saxony this took off at the end of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. It affected the rest of Europe. During the Blijde intrede (Happy Entry) of Maria Elisabeth of Austria, governor of the Southern Netherlands, in Brussels in 1725, two young black children in turbans hold her train.

Leonard Schenk intrede Elizabeth van Oostenrijk in Brussel 1725 RP-P-OB-83.652
Leonard Schenk intrede Elizabeth van Oostenrijk in Brussel 1725 coll. rijksmuseum

The arrival of Sideron to the court in 1763 was about the same time, or possibly shortly after William V took a seat in the council of the States General and the Council of State. This ceremony took place on March 9, one day after his fifteenth birthday. The Leydse Courant reported: “Introduction of His Highness to the Council of State by Mr. Van Wassenaar Twickel in the gem. Council of State. Who said in the last sentence: “The more powerful our free state is, the higher the magnificence of Your Serene Highness must climb; It is more glorious to be at the head of a free people than to command a cowardly heap of slaves. ” A month after the ceremony, the first expenses for “the little moortje Cedron” were noted. He will hereafter be found in the documents under the name: Citron, Citroen, Cederon, Cideron and more. He later signed himself with Sideron.

collectie Koninklijke Verzamelingen (c)

How Sideron came to the court in The Hague has not yet been discovered. What is certain is that he came from Curaçao. Curaçao was especially important to the Republic as the headquarters of the wic (the West Indian Company) in the Caribbean and as a enslaved Africans distribution center. Otherwise, the island was not very profitable: agriculture and livestock farming did not yield much. Poor harvests once in a while caused famine, as in 1762 and 1763.

Curaçao, Bijzondere collecties Universiteit van Amsterdam

The first years of Sideron’s life can be described with a few certainties and a number of assumptions. Guan Anthony Sideron was almost certainly baptized with these first names. In 1756, the year that Sideron would have been born, several babies with this name were registered in the Catholic baptismal registers. We know this thanks to missionary priests. They were admitted to the island by the WIC, with reluctance, and the Protestant WIC regents on the island, allowed them to baptize children and adults who were born into slavery or were brought from Africa. Many Guan Anthony’s can be found in old microfilms of now burned church archives. The Catholic Sint-Annaparochie, in Willemstad, the oldest on the island, baptized most of the children of enslaved people who lived on the island. In 1756 all names were written in a Latin variant: Guan (Juan) Anthony became Joannis Antonius. For example, a Joannis Antonius was baptized in April of that year, with Philipo and Mary Magdalene as parents. His godfather was Johannis Rodrigo.

This Johannis Rodrigo could well be a Latin / Spanish version of the name Jean Rodier. Rodier owned fifty enslaved. Around 1762-1763, Jean Rodier wanted to succeed the recently deceased governor Jacob Bosvelt in Curaçao. If Philipo and Mary Magdalene were Rodiers property, it was very easy for him to take their young son Guan Anthony away and give the young boy as a present to someone else. But whether Rodier gave Sideron as a present is still speculation. Sideron may also be one of many other Guan Anthony’s on the baptismal register. Anyway it is certain that Sideron never saw his family again in Curaçao.

And it is almost certain that the characteristic silhouettes of the frigate birds were the last he saw of the island. He was shipped from Willemstad, directly or indirectly, to Willem V. The journey took about two months and was not without danger. Along the way, one could get caught in storms and hurricanes or fall victim to hijackers. Rodier reported on hijackings in 1763: “Seven Dutch ships of their cargoes taken on a voyage from Curaçao to Amsterdam by the armateur Pedro Garijcochea.” The crossing remained risky up to and including the last stretch, because even in the Channel ships regularly sank.

The transition that the Curaçao boy made from the warm, tropical, dry and poor island to the cold and damp Holland must have been huge. He was probably already in the Republic when an extremely cold winter ravaged the Seven Provinces at the end of 1762, early 1763. The temperature regularly dropped below minus 10 degrees. Part of the transport that winter went by horse-drawn sleigh over the frozen rivers and the Zuiderzee. The ports were no longer accessible to the ships. But at the court, Sideron did not have to suffer from the cold. Tons of firewood, peat and coal had been purchased and delivered by the peat carriers. The boy had entered a world of material wealth and abundant food. There was plenty of chocolate, tea, coffee, six kinds of sugar, beer and wine. Some of this was for the servants, to whom Sideron belonged. Instead of eating corn every day – which he probably did in Curaçao – he could now choose between German or French bread at breakfast.

1748 Twee Afrikaanse moortjes voor Caroline
1748 Twee Afrikaanse moortjes voor Caroline

If Sideron was a gift to William V, he was by no means the first human gift to the family. His sister Carolina received two “African moortjes” as a present in 1748 at the baptism of William V. However, these two children disappeared from the archives. One of them died a year later can be found in the church registers: “February 1 Princess Caroline’s little moor buried in Scheveningen.” The boy turned out to be thirteen years old and had been named Fortuin. Seven years later, Governor-General of Batavia, Jacob Mossel, sent to Princess Anna of Hanover, the mother of Willem v and Carolina, a Moorish or Indian youth as a present for the seven-year-old Willem V. Mossel wrote in the accompanying letter: ‘Hoping that one or the other will at some point please his illustrious highness the lord hereditary stadtholder.” Top of his list is: A Dwarf. This gift stood out. The Leeuwarder Courant reported: ‘With the last East Indian Company return ships, a certain native Indian, eighteen years old and only two and a half feet long, has arrived here, who was given by Mr. Governor General Mossel to his Serene Highness the Prince Hereditary Stadholder.” A report in another newspaper suggests that the teen is about eighty centimeters tall, “well-groomed,” and nicknamed Goliath. Captain J. Outjes, who brought the boy with him on the ship “De Keukenhof”, personally presented him at the court. The Keukenhof’s persons list contains three enslaved persons. He was probably one of them. “Goliath” was admitted to the court and baptized a year later on April 4 in the apartment of Anna of Hanover by the English court chaplain, given the names Carel Willem. Willem V and his sister Carolina were present at his baptism. Court painter Johann David Cristian (J.D.C.) Haag captured the boy life-size in a painting for the stadholder’s court. The work hung among the paintings of exotic animals in 1763, when Sideron arrived at court. But Carel Willem Goliath appears to have disappeared.

(Carel Willem (Goliath) turned out to have died, I discovered after publication of my book)

Portret van Jacob Mossel, Jacob van der Schley, 1763
Portret van Jacob Mossel, Jacob van der Schley, 1763, coll. Rijksmuseum

From the foregoing it can be concluded that the little Sideron with his African appearance was not something new for young Willem V. In the first years Sideron will have been regarded as a beautiful and cute boy. This assumption is underlined by the assignment that the painter Jean Humbert received almost immediately, in 1763, to portray the boy for the Stadholder’s Quarter. The painting has disappeared.

Jean Humbert opdracht portret Sideron
Jean Humbert opdracht portret Sideron coll Koninklijke Verzamelingen (c)

So far parts from chapter 1

About me:

In 2008 I was guest curator of the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. Important advisors Elizabeth McGrath (Rubens and colleagues, Warburg institute Image of the Black in Western Art collection), Carl Haarnack (slavery in books), Elmer Kolfin (slavery in prints and paintings) en Adi Martis (contemporary art). Gary Schwartz made his research for The Image of the Black in Western Art available to me.

Black beautiful Rubens to Dumas cover

In 2012 my Anniversary book: 100 years Schiller 1912-2012 was published. Initiative, idea, text and editing (ES). Design and photography Monica Schokkenbroek.

Schiller in Parool boekje 26-11-2012 Paul Arnoldussen
Schiller in Parool boekje 26-11-2012 Paul Arnoldussen

In 2013 my book Cobra aan de gracht / Cobra on the Canal was published by Samsara publications.

In 2014 my essay ‘Painted Blacks and Radical Imagery in the Netherlands (1900-1940)’ was published in The Image of the Black in Western Art Volume V (I). (ed. David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates jr.)

(About f.i. On the terras, by Nola Hatterman but also Jan Sluijters, Kees van Dongen, Irma Stern and more)

In 2017 I published a book about the black servants at the Court of the Royal Van Oranje family. More than a thousand documents have been found about their lives. (only in Dutch)

Cupido en Sideron Cover 30-8-2017

All photos on this site are not intended for any commercial purpose. I have tried to trace all the rules and rights of all images. As far as I know, these images can be used in this way. If you ar a copyright holder and would like a piece of your work removed or the creditline changed then please do not hesitate to contact me.

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