In the middle of the 19th century, this was the home of a merchant and his wife. Nothing unusual in the city of Amsterdam – or in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname where his wife was born. However, this couple and the wife’s family represent a side of history that keeps getting left out of the story.
Caro was likely born into slavery in Suriname. We know that she was enslaved on a plantation called Kortevreugd by 1787 because she bore her first daughter, Johanna, then. The father was the plantation director Hannis Emicke, to whom she bore three more girls. Hannis manumitted the four girls, but the process to manumit Caro was still underway when he died in 1800. His executors finally freed Caro in 1803.
His will left his house and goods to the four girls, but there were conditions. His daughters had to stay Christian and would only receive their full portion if they got married. Caro was left to hold the goods in trust until the girls came of age. Despite the conditions, the will set the girls up to live as free women in Suriname. The eldest and youngest girls seem to have gone on to become wealthy in their own right.
The eldest, Johanna, lived in Paramaribo with Jan Hendrik Geyer, an attorney with whom she had four children before he died. Eleven years later, when her daughter Carolina was 15, Johanna took her on a freighter for Holland. We can only guess as to why. We know Johanna left her sons in Suriname, because her eldest became the owner of a timber-producing plantation called The Four Hendriks. We know that when Johanna married a commission agent in Rotterdam the following year, she had an enormous dowry of 20,000 guilders.
Carolina eventually moved to Amsterdam. When she married a merchant from Angouleme, she changed her last name to Reyeg Emicke, which was her father’s last name spelled backward and her mother’s last name spelled forwards. The couple seemed prosperous, with a home on the bustling Rokin and a daughter born the year after Johanna passed away. Johanna and Carolina both moved through Surinamese and Dutch society as descendants of an enslaved woman, but they seem to have made their way largely on their own terms despite society’s restrictions.
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