From November 26 to March 19, 2023, Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar presents the exhibition Plantage Alkmaar. Alkmaar in Suriname 1745-present. Shedding light on the history of slavery in Alkmaar and specifically the story of Plantation Alkmaar in Suriname, a little-known and little-researched theme in Alkmaar’s history, the exhibition will feature a wide variety of objects such as tools, crockery, archival documents, maps and works of art. Very special is a series of watercolor drawings of plantation Alkmaar and its surroundings, made in the period 1811-1816 and never before exhibited in the Netherlands.
Like other cities in the Republic, Alkmaar was involved in slavery and the slave trade from the seventeenth century onward. For example, Alkmaar mayors took part in the administration of the West and East India Company, Alkmaar citizens were present at the conquests in Africa, America and Asia, and ships named Alkmaar sailed in the West and East Indian waters. Of course, the products of the plantations were also traded in Alkmaar, such as sugar, coffee and cacao. The story of Alkmaar’s history of slavery will be told through paintings, records, maps and special objects.
In 1745, plantation Alkmaar was established on the Commewijnerivier in Suriname. The plantation would grow into one of the largest sugar plantations in Suriname. After the plantation closed, Alkmaar continued to exist as a village, now with about 6,000 inhabitants. The second and most important part of the exhibition will be about this sugar plantation.
In 1745 the Alkmaar man Jacobus Hengevelt (1696-1746) bought a large piece of land on the Commewijnerivier in Suriname. Hengevelt had been living in Suriname for several decades, where, like his father in Alkmaar, he was a surveyor and mapmaker. Even before the plantation went into operation, Hengevelt died, but the Alkmaar name remained. His widow Catharina de Lies remarried in 1747 to Charles Godefroy (1704-1773), who is considered the founder of plantation Alkmaar.
Plantation Alkmaar, popularly called Goedoefrou, was one of the largest of its kind: where at one time more than 600 enslaved people were put to work. Coffee was first grown, and after the introduction of the steam engine, they switched to sugar. When slavery was abolished in 1863, there were 445 enslaved people living on the plantation (by comparison, there were 77 on neighboring Zorgvliet plantation). These people had to work on the plantation for another ten years, after which contract workers from India took over.
Plantation Alkmaar has had several owners. In 1811, Willem Benjamin van Panhuys (1764-1816) bought the plantation. His wife, Louise van Panhuys, made about eighty large watercolor drawings during the five years she lived in Suriname (1811-1816): from the crops being grown to the people around her and from the plantations in the neighborhood to the capital Paramaribo. Of these, 23 will be on display in the exhibition.
The story of plantation Alkmaar is told through personal stories and different perspectives, including enslaved Joanna, one of Suriname’s “most famous” enslaved women – the lover of Scottish-Dutch soldier John Gabriel Stedman (1744-1797). Stedman was one of the first to publish a comprehensive description of Suriname. When John returned to the Netherlands in 1777, he left Joanna and their infant son Johnny on plantation Alkmaar. Until her death in 1782, Joanna lived there.
Commissioned by Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar, artist Dimitri Madimin (1975) traveled to Alkmaar, Suriname, to create portraits of residents of the former plantation. These “last storytellers” have an important place in the exhibition. One of those portrayed is Madimin’s grandmother, who grew up in the children’s home on Alkmaar.