Jacob Rühle

A wealthy Black merchant in Amsterdam’s Lutheran congregation

Born:
July 28, 1751, Elmina, in present-day Ghana (parents: Dutch West India Company worker Antony Rühle and Ghanian Jaba Botri)
Died:
November 22, 1828, Amsterdam (old age)
18th-century etchings of Elmina fort and Koepelkerk
Jacob van der Schley, Amsterdam Museum / Jan de Beijer, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Jacob Rühle

A wealthy Black merchant in Amsterdam’s Lutheran congregation

Born:
July 28, 1751, Elmina, in present-day Ghana (parents: Dutch West India Company worker Antony Rühle and Ghanian Jaba Botri)
Died:
November 22, 1828, Amsterdam (old age)
18th-century etchings of Elmina fort and Koepelkerk
Jacob van der Schley, Amsterdam Museum / Jan de Beijer, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Jacob Rühle's Connection to this Location

View of the Koepelkerk (Domed Church), as seen from across the Singel

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The Koepelkerk or The Round Lutheran Church

Known as the Round Lutheran Church, it was built by Amsterdam’s rapidly expanding 17th-century Lutheran community which had already outgrown their big church on today´s Spui. The City Council made a condition, though: it couldn’t look like a Dutch Protestant church. Instead of the sharp towers of Dutch Protestantism, the Lutherans built a huge dome. Amsterdam was about 20% Lutheran when the Koepelkerk was built, and the community grew to include, among others, a prominent Black family.

The Story

Antony Rühle, worked for the Dutch West India Company (WIC) at Elmina, the major Dutch settlement for transporting enslaved people. He had six children with a native woman named Jaba Botri, who we don’t know nearly enough about. Anthony tried to set his children up for life by ensuring they had a solid (European) education.

The second-youngest child, Jacob, was an exceptionally smart boy who grew up to become a wealthy merchant and the head of the family. He followed in his father’s footsteps working for the WIC, then started his own plantation near Elmina where he grew local products for trade. He became so wealthy that he sometimes loaned money to the colonial government.

In 1798, the Governor-General of the colony asked for another loan to pay his staff. This time, Jacob refused. The Governor-General wrote to the government in The Hague to complain about Jacob’s refusal. On the one hand, harsh words appear to be the extent of the Governor-General’s reprisal. On the other hand, Jacob moved to Amsterdam shortly after. In Amsterdam, Jacob built up the family business, helped support the rest of the family, and set up a profitable brickyard in Zwammerdam, a village 25 miles (40km) away.

Jacob’s story brings up many unanswered questions and contradicts many modern-day assumptions. That may be why his story comes up in art and Amsterdam storytelling. One notable example was the Amsterdam Museum exhibit “Hollandse Meesters Her-zien” (“Dutch Masters Remembered”), in which Jörgen Tjon a Fong got celebrity models and photographers to portray stories from Dutch BIPOC history. Jacob Rühle was portrayed by Ruud Gullit, one of only three Dutch footballers to win the Ballon d’Or.

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