My name is Annemieke van der Vegt and I am a grand-, grand-, grand-, granddaughter (his grand-, grandson is my grand-, grandfather) of Christiaan van der Vegt and I try to find as much as possible information about him and about his life.
With pride I carry my surname and my curly hair, inherited from him.
A few years ago, I typed my name into the Google search engine. The outcome never let me go. This is what I found:
“Christiaan van der VECHT, turf and graincarrier, fair traveller, born about 1750 in Guinee, baptised 19-10-1777 in Weesp, deceased 11-01-1825 in Weesp. Christiaan van der Vegt was the former slave of the mayor of Weesp, Abraham D’Arrest sr., who was on such good terms with stadholder prince Willem V, that the latter dined regularly at his house. The governor had “no fear for a strange colour of men, on the contrary, a lot of fun” about this slave. After his release and baptism, he took the name Christiaan van der Vegt. Later he worked for a travelling carnival where he performed as the “King of Candia”.”
In 2013, slavery had been abolished in the Netherlands for 150 years, and my thoughts are often with my ancestor Christiaan van der Vegt and I decided to find out about his life and if all I read was true.
About my search I write in this blog and I hope to find answers to my questions. I try to do everything in public and there is a
– Facebook page with +600 followers
– Pinterest board with +700 paintings of African Pages (+170 followers)
– MyHeritage has the familytree with all known decendents
– Spotifylist with the music he heard at the house of D’Arrest
– Google Drive has a public archive with all documents and certificates found. You will find here transcripts of all letters too.
My dream is one day to know the name given to him by his parents at his birth at the Coast of Guinea, therefore my question:
“What was Christiaan’s name?”
Because I noticed that regularly new readers appear, I made a summery in chronological order about the information I found. The links mentioned are to connected blog posts making it possible to select the information you wish to read about. The blogs are written in Dutch, on the left side you have the possibility to translate.
Questions? Please let me know!
Annemieke van der Vegt
(Signature Christiaan 31 juli 1788)
HIS LIFE AS IS KNOWN UNTIL NOW:
Christiaan was born around 1743.
This I know by his letter from 1815: (translated from Dutch) “Letting you gratefully know Christiaan van der Vecht, born at the Coast of Guinea, 73 years of age and living in Weesp.”
Where at the Coast of Guinea he was born I don’t know and also how he came to the Netherlands is unknown to me. His daughter Antje writes in her letter that her father was stolen when he was a small child. I have no information about his parents too.
On the 20th of April 1748 Carolina, at the age of 5 years, received two little boys from Africa with an hammock as a present. Now I am doing the research if one of those boys was Christiaan. The other boy’s name was Fortuin, he dies a year later, February 1749.
Maybe the hammock can bring me to the place were the two little boys came from.
In his third letter to King Willem I, Christiaan writes (translated from ancient and not always correct Dutch):
“He had already the honour to serve your Majesties Aunt Her Illustrious Highness Madame the Princes Carolina of Oranje Nassau but also to serve the late His Illustrious Highness the well beloved Prince Stadthouder, Your Majesties father, the petitioner’s benefactor.”
This letter was also signed by Thomas Alexander Holland, solicitor and lawyer in Den Haag.
Caroline of Oranje Nassau and Karl Christian of Nassau Weilburg married on the 5th of March 1760 in the Grote Kerk (Main Church) in the Hague. A drawing has been made of this event, showing an African footboy sitting at the side. Is this Christiaan? Further investigations must proof that.
In his fifth letter to the King he confirms this again:
“Because the undersigned served in the year 1762 His Highness the Prince of Weisburg.”
About his life from his 20th year he says:
“That the petitioner in the year 1764, together with two of his countrymen Coridon and Citron came into the service of the late Royal Highness madam the dowager of Oranje Nassau and Vriesland”.
By this he means Maria Louise of Hessen Kassel, also named Marijke Meu, she was the mother of governor Willem IV and in this quality regent for him from 1711 till 1731.
She was also regent for her infant grandson governor Willem V from 1759 till 1765.
Maria Louise of Hessen Kassel dies on the 9th of April 1765. Was Christiaan present with her court members at the funeral procession?
It seems that at that time he still was called Presto and hereafter he came into the service of Abraham D’Arrest mayor of Weesp. He (Presto) writes:
“That the petitioner as a reward of 23 years of service to the Lord Mayor D’Arrest of Weesp was favoured with the functions of poulter, lamp-lighter en market-porter in that city.”
This fits exactly with information found about 1788 (1765 + 23 = 1788).
His daughter Antje writes about it in 1830 to King Willem I:
“Who has adopted him as an antiquity […] raised him as his own, teached and supported him.”
The next time when we hear of Presto/Christiaan is in a statement by a notary about the events on the 24th of December 1770. There is a riot at the Rapenburgergracht in Amsterdam..
“the black boy who lives at the home of Dame the widow of Willem Couderq.”
The widow of Willem Couderq is Magdelena D’Arrest, youngest sister of Abraham sr.
According to various sources Presto/Christiaan lives at hers.
On the 19th of February 1772 Abraham D’Arrest jr. lays the first brick of the new town Hal of Weesp. A day filled with festivities extensively reported about. It is almost impossible that Christiaan wasn’t involved in it.
In this third letter Christiaan also tells that he had: “To carry on his arms The noble triplet of Royal Favourites but also Your Majesty, now his beloved King.”
This must have happened during the time he stayed at the home of D’Arrest. King Willem I was born in 1772, his sister Louise in 1770 and brother Frederik in 1774. So this means there was still contact between the Court and Christiaan in the time he lived with D’Arrest.
Antje (his youngest daughter) writes also that Christiaan has carried King Willem I (born in 1772) during visits of governor Willem V to Abraham D’Arrest (translation of old fashioned Dutch):
“That the Lord Mayor mentioned before de Witt (sic) during his life had the honour to be very respected and known by His Illustrious Highness the Lord Prince Willem the Fifth of Orange and Nassauw and even several times was invited at the Court and also the petitioner’s father, because of his alien ship and kindness most of the time enjoyed the high honour of being present too, at which occasions her father mentioned before, also had the Honour and pleasure of Your Royal Majesty being a child to carry you several times on the arm, which pleased His Illustrious Prince Willem the Fifth very much, because Your Royal Majesty didn’t fear humans with a strange colour but on the contrary in the presence of her father showed a lot of pleasure.”
Around the 16th of October 1772 Willem V, Prince of Orange pays an extensive visit to the house of D’Arrest when Christiaan was living there as well. This was not the visit written about by daughter Antje, because young Willem was not present at this visit.
There is a note from 1830 that says that the Prince of Orange also was at D’Arrest for dinner in 1775, how did they know? Maybe I can find it in the archive of Weesp.
During the funeral of Magdalena D’Arrest in October 1776 there is a riot in the church of Weesp between the Mayors Van Marken Nicolaasz and D’Arrest. In a notarial statement about the events there is also a reference to the ‘black servant’ of D’Arrest.
‘as when They were met by Lord Mayor D’Arrest, mentioned before, and his Son and Black servant”.
In 1776 there is a pamphlet written as a play in three acts about the testament of Magdalena D’Arrest, sister of Abraham sr. One of the characters in this play is for Presto/Christiaan, his name in this play is Marocco and he is the house-steward of Magdalena. The play can be read as an ebook via Google.
There was played a lot of music at the house of D’Arrest. Chistiaan played the flute and because of the inventoylists of the house, I know which music was played. On this Spotifylist you can here the music with flute. This is what he must have been playing.
In the years before his baptism he was called Presto, a name given by Europeans. The name Presto came forward by a report from 1777 where was stated:
‘the negro Presto, who works as a servant for Mayor d’Arrest at Weesp’
On the 7th of March 1777 between 4 and 5 in the afternoon on the street he quarrels about 300 guilders promised to him by Magdalena D’Arrest.
On the 19th of October 1777 he was baptised in the Grote Kerk or Laurenskerk of Weesp and from that moment on his name was Christiaan van der Vegt. So I know exactly the date when my surname was mentioned for the first time.
One and a half year later, the 8th of May 1779, he marries in the same church with Kaatje (Catharina) de Bas, a girl from Weesp. His wedding day ended with an enormous thunderstorm.
It seems more and more that Kaatje worked as chambermaid at the place of D’Arrest.
Together they get ten children: Catharina, Christina, Cornelis, Grietje, Mietje & Jan I, Teunis, Jan II, Christiaan jr., and Antje.
The names origin from parents and members of the De Bas family.
Until now I know that five of their children created descendants.
It seems that in 1788 Christiaan, 45 years of age, becomes independent of D’Arrest family after served there for 23 years, as he writes.
“That the petitioner as a reward of 23 years of service to the Lord Mayor D’Arrest of Weesp was favoured with the functions of poulter, lamp-lighter en market-porter in that city.”
On the 9th of May 1788 it is confirmed that Christiaan is a member of the citizen soldiery as a fifer. It looks like he played the flute very well. Abraham D’Arrest is the Colonel and he no doubt will have supported his former servant in obtaining the membership.
About Abraham jr at the citizen soldiery during the Prussian attack on Weesp a poem has been written by Batavus ‘Song of honor to the beyond praise citizen friend Abraham D’Arrest, mayor of the city of Weesp”.
At the citizen soldiery Christiaan plays a wooden pipe. This must mean that he has got music lessons at the D’Arrest house or earlier in his life. Promptly I listen differently to the Spotifylist with music from the inventory papers of the D’Arrest house. There is a chance that Christiaan was able to play this music on an instrument.
On the 25th of December 1788 Christiaan calls for the first time at the church to obtain bread and turf en irregularly he comes back till 1806. The winter of 1788-1789 was extremely cold.
In 1791 Abraham D’Arrest dies, unmarried, en all possessions were described in inventory lists which gave me an impression about everything which was present in D’Arrest house, where Christiaan spent more than twenty years of his life. Pieter van Zoelen who signs as a witness for these lists was also witness at the marriage of Christiaan and Kaatje 13 years earlier. Pieter van Zoelen was also weigh-master of Weesp, why he was a witness is unknown yet.
On the inventory lists sheets of music present are mentioned en this music can be heard via a Spotifylist. By the presence of all the sheets of music and instruments it can be assumed that the inmates played music.
The total of D’Arrest processions was f 475,000 [f = NLG] (value in 2014 f 8,000,000 or € 3,636,363,-). The largest part was divided via Abraham’s sister Johanna to the Thuret family. The family they quarreled with for many years.
On a list for the city jobs of Weesp from 1798 specifying all functions performed for the city of Weesp Christiaan is mentioned as poulter.
In the newspaper Oprechte Haarlemse Courant he puts an advertisement on the 12th of March 1803 and on the 3rd of March 1804 in the Amsterdamse Courant offering swans for sale.
This fits with his function of poulter about which he also writes a letter to King Willem I.
In January 1815 Christiaan is arrested in Krefeld and deported to Weesp. On the Transport Paper we find a
description about his looks.
Name: Christiaan van der Vegte
Fatherland: Wesep in Holland
Age: 73 years
Hight: 1.67 m
Hair: curly black
Nose: flat, wide
Mouth: average full lips
Color of Face: black brown
Particulars: a Moor
Probably he tried to earn money here. As profession he called himself an actor. Would he have performed there as the King of Candia?
On the 13th of November 1815 Christiaan writes his first letter to King Willem I in which he tells about his life and he sees himself brought to poverty. He requests his jobs back as Poulter or Lamp Lighter or a pension. In the archive of the Province of Noord-Holland there are several documents but the original I haven’t found yet.
There is a document which describes the places the children were in 1815.
In 1816 he writes a second letter to King Willem I to express his unhappiness about salary not paid by the City of Weesp. He introduces himself:
‘With humble respect the undersigned Christiaan van der Vegt born at the Coast of Guinea and living presently at Weesp let you know that he petitioner, has been employed as a servant by Her Royal Highness Madam dowager Frederika Louisa Wilhelmina van Brunswijk.”
I am still looking for the employment he writes about in this letter.
30th of April 1817 does he write his third letter to the King. This time he tells about his employment by Princesse Carolina van Oranje Nasfau, aunt of the King. He also writes that de father of the King, Willem V, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic was his benefacor. Christiaan tells that he had carried the King as a child in his arms and also his brother and sister.
The mayor of Weesp was not amused about the persistence of Christiaan and writes an not so polite letter as an answer.
When in 1820 son Christiaan jr. marries, the profession of his father is mentioned to be turf- and corn carrier. His age is 77. At his signature can be seen that he is of age.
On the 21th of September 1821 writes Christiaan his fifth letter to the King. He stays in de Inn “De Kerseboom” in the Hague. He writes about having a fraction for 43 years. As respons on this letter, the mayor of Weesp writes that Christiaan is only in the winter in Weesp. In Summertime he travels from fair to fair, acting as Moren King in a play and making music on his flute.
On the 11th of January 1825 Christiaan dies in the house of his good friend Abraham Cos in Weesp. He was buried on January 14th outside the Great or Laurens Church. His age was 83, leaving children and grandchildren. In the third generation there are four Kaatjes and five Christiaans.
According to Antje he received a gratification during the last years of his life. I did not find any proof about this.
These are Christiaan and Catharina (Kaatje) Britting, grandchildren of Christiaan van der Vegt through his daughter Antje. These are the first descendants of which I have a picture and they are named after their grandparents. They became known in Amsterdam as the Japanese street musicians at the Duvelshoek area.
Every now and then I write a blog about the life of a descendant:
Son Christiaan jr.
Granddaughter Kaatje Cornelisdr
Grandson Jan Christiaan
Grandson Christiaan Britting;
Grandson Alexis Britting
Grandson Cornelis Nassies
Great grandson Anthonie.
Great granddaughter Catherina Johanna
On the 20th of September 2014 there was a walk in Weesp ‘In the footsteps of Christiaan’ with a visit to the church. Also there was a visit to the town Hal built when Christiaan was with the D’Arrests and to the museum where a shield was unveiled at the painting showing Cocquamar Crenequie / Willem Philip Frederik. After 260 years he is no longer anonymous at the painting.
After a walk along the buildings which had a connection with Christiaan or his descendants, a visit was paid to the former distillery of Abraham D’Arrest.
At the picture seven descendants – sitting at the stairs of the church where Christiaan was baptized, got his name, married, got his children baptized and his funeral service took place – It was a very special moment.
By DNA research of his descendants we learn a lot about our roots in Africa but also about matches on African DNA. With a lot of help by Wim Penninx we created a gnome of Christiaan with all the African DNA of his descendants, it has now 19.1% African DNA and more descendants are testing.
This led to a match whit a person who is not a descendant of Christiaan but probably of his parents. She lives in the US, which implies that Christiaan his parents or siblings were in slavery….
During an investigation in 1830 was reported that Christiaan also earned money by exposing himself as the King of Candia. When daughter Antje was 14 she joined his father at the fun fair and she performs as the strong Indian lady. She first marries father Britting and later his son, they were owners of the puppet show called the Four Crowns. About the Britting family a Dutch book was writer wit the title ‘It is not always a fun fair’. Until now I have no proove of Christiaan being at the fair.
By the attachment to Antjes request for support, I know where in 1830 all children of Christiaan and Kaatje were. This is five years after Christiaan passed away and fifteen years after the first overview showing the residence of the children.
The most remarkable is the residence of son Jan, he is a corporal at the Indian Hunters army group in Surinam. What intrigues me most is the fact that the son of an African father was in Surinam when slavery still existed there.
During my search I found – until now – four African boys/men with a connection to Weesp.
Accra Dourra / Abraham Johannes – in 1742 bought on the market of Elmina – baptized in Weesp in 1754; There is a document of his baptising where there is cleary a an callling himself his owner.
Cocquamar Crenequie / Willem Philip Frederik, born in 1739 – baptized in Berlin Germany in 1754;
Presto / Christiaan van der Vegt, born 1743 – baptized in Weesp 1777
Amsterdam – he accompanied Hendrik Schimmel in 1781 and he got in Weesp an act of discharge in 1794.
In august 2016 I travelled with Michel Doortmont along the coast of Ghana, back to the birthgrounds of Christiaan. You can read about the special tour HERE.
In september 2015 the magazine GEN had an intervier with me about the journey of finding Christiaan his name. You can read it online, in Dutch.
The national newspaper Volkskrant published an article of six pages on 10th of december 2016. This is also online.
In 2017 there was an exhibition over the African servants in the Museum of Weesp, based on my research, called “Out of the Shadow”.
There is still enough to investigate and to research. I will update this description every time when there are new finds.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Christiaan and my research.
If there are any questions or remarks, I would be very pleased to hear them.
Annemieke van der Vegt
(Translated by Henk van der Vegt. thank you papa)
I very much enjoyed reading the very intriguing story of your African ancestor and his descendants in the Netherlands. I would like to congratulate you on your research and persistence. In WShington D.C. there is a university laboratory that specialises in African DNA . They might be able to match your African DNA with a more specific location in West Africa from which dna samples were obtained. If this is possible – and it has been done before- you can visit that place, and find out typical names used there. Some people have actually found the families there to which they are genetically related. The weblink of the laboratory is africanancestry.com. You can write to Gina Page , African Ancestry, 5614 Connecticut Ave, NW , #297, Washington DC, United States. email- info@ africanancestry.com. Telephone 2027230900. I have been doing some research myself into my Dutch ancestry. In my case it is the opposite of yours. A white Dutch becoming a black family in West Indies. I would very much like to correspond with you, and to ask you a couple of related questions. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org