Wolphert Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos Majorin Elizabeth Bijval Pollux Ernst Matroos Castor Jacob Matroos Adjuba Mini tree diagram


also known as Betje Van Beeldsnijder

1742 - 1830

Life History


Born in Suriname

28th Nov 1776

Birth of daughter Majorin Elizabeth Bijval in Suriname

27th Oct 1779

Birth of son Castor Jacob Matroos in Suriname

27th Oct 1779

Birth of son Pollux Ernst Matroos in Suriname


Death of Wolphert Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos in The Hague, Zuid-Holland, The Netherlands


Death of son Castor Jacob Matroos

11th Mar 1830

Died in Paramaribo, Suriname

image source


The picture on the right is of a beautiful, proud Nzema woman (a model). Did Betje (Elizabeth) look like her?

Martha Tjoe Nij, a Surinamese genealogist, says the following about Betje:

"Betje van Beeldsnijder born 1742 - deceased 1830 - belonging to Wolfert Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos is a mullatin. She is a daughter of the 'Free Adjuba van Betje van Beeldsnijder' that died in 1808."

Betje died in her late eighties, outliving her 'Surinamese husband', Wolphert Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos, by 37 years.

'Surinamese marriage' was the term given to the relationships between whites and (generally) mulatto women. Read more

These 'marriages' and their families were an accepted norm in Suriname - with the offspring sometimes recognised as relatives by the 'legitimate' family in Holland. This is certainly the case with Betje's sons. Betje's son, Jacob, for example, is buried in a family crypt in Holland. See also the family tree on the page of Wolphert Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos

"A Surinam marriage was certainly not a random sexual relationship. There were conventions to be observed, the most important of which was obtaining the consent of the mother of the housekeeper or common-law wife. The Mother also negotiated a bride price or wedding present. Van Breugel mentions. too, that a simple ceremony inaugurated a Suriname marriage to signify the 'permanence' of the relationship. The mother, often accompanied by a female neighbour, would lead her daughter to the bedroom of the groom. The next morning mother and neighbour visited the room again and then announced that the marriage had been concluded." [Beyond Bondage: Free Women of Color in the Americas, p.155, David Barry Gaspar, ‎Darlene Clark Hine, 2010]

"Housewives and housekeepers The overwhelming majority of urban free men in Suriname had a non-white partner, most of them free women. .. Concubinage was popularly called 'Suriname marriage'. By the late 18 century, it was accepted by all social strata and by both sexes. That coloured and black women accepted Suriname marriages is not surprising; both civil and church marriages were European conventions. In the Old World, concubinage was punishable and labelled as 'whoring'. Of course, in Suriname Dutch law prevailed, but it was socially accepted." [Beyond Bondage]

"As early as 1751, a military officer noticed that many Suriname dignitaries 'preferred black women to their wives'. He observed that the awe in which blacks formerly held whites was rapidly decreasing." [Beyond Bondage, p.153]

Our first glimpse of Betje is in the recorded baptism of her children.

From the register, Dutch Reformed Church, December 14,1780 [source]

.. baptized in the church of Paramaribo three illegitimate mustise children with names
The first Elizabeth Bijval born November 28, 1776,
The second Castor Jacob van Matroosen
and the third Polux Ernst van Matroosen, born October 27, 1779 being twins.
All three were born from the mulatto Elisabeth now belonging to W. J. Beeldsnijders Matroos.
Witnesses Daniel van Claveren (was get:) J: C: de Cros V:D:M:

In 'Anda Suriname' (page no longer available), Nico Eigenhuis ('an ardent Suriname connoisseur') said that:

"Wolphert Jacob Beeldsnijder Matroos had children with the slave girl Adjuba. In 1781 mother and children were manumitted, after which mother Adjuba (1742-1830) went through life as Elizabeth 'Betje' van Beeldsnijder, their daughter as Majorin Elizabeth Bijval, and their (twin) sons were given the names Castor Jacob Matroos and Pollux Matroos. Both brothers were sent by him to Amsterdam for their training." [translation]

Wolphert and Betje

In 1770 Wolphert arrived in Suriname for the first time (on the 'Rebecca'). Six years later, in June 1776, he embarks on the 'Lady Francoise Hermina', leaving Suriname to spend two years in the Netherlands. on September 23, 1778, he returns to Suriname. (And becomes Accountant General).

When did Wolphert and Betje get to know each other? and could Wolphert be the father of Elizabeth Bijval?

The dates of Wolphert's presence in Suriname (1770-1776) certainly means that he could be Elizabeth's father. She would have been born while he was in the Netherlands, conceived before he left. It all depends on when he 'married' Betje. If Betje is born in 1742, and this does appear to be corroborated, then in 1770, when Wolphert arrives in Suriname she would be 28 with no children. In 1778, when he returns to Suriname, Betje is 36 with a daughter. I would like to think that Betje was waiting for Wolphert with his daughter; that he named her 'Bijval' to mark his pleasure, and that he did not give her the Matroos name since it was not necessary to do so. 'Bijval' can be translated as 'acclaim', 'approval', 'applause' or 'cheers'. The fact that the daughter, Elizabeth Bijval, already has a surname at the baptism suggests that she is not a slave, though the baptism record does appear to state that Betje is owned by Wolphert - soon to be freed.

I imagine that Betje was set free to regularise her relationship with Wolphert. As his 'Suriname wife' and the mother of his children, she would now be a woman of some standing in Paramaribo society. (If she was not already.)

Names in Surinam - Slave origin is indicated by 'van' - i.e. 'from' some plantation or 'of' some person. Read more

Donna Mendez informed us that

"Illegitimate and mixed race people assumed a dizzying spectrum of surnames. They could be named after their father of course, but could also be given the name of:

the plantation from which they originated;
the owner of the plantation;
the person who represented them in their bid for freedom;
their mother's maiden name (which could also have been invented);
their paternal grandmother's maiden name;
a part of a surname (like Vries instead of de Vries);
a surname with letters inverted (like the bizarre Tdlohreg for Gerholdt);
a totally fantasized name (though these were more common later in the 19th century).

The only thing that really mattered was having a surname, because that meant you were free."

Manumission in Suriname existed from the time slavery started (c. 1650), and it was mainly an urban phenomenon. Read more

"As far as the urban context is concerned, a development with major social consequences was manumission, i.e. the freeing of slaves on an individual basis, which in Suriname did not begin on a significant scale until well into the 18th century. (Brana-Sute 1985}

Since manumission was largely restricted to Paramaribo, its implications were especially important in the urban context. The most important of these implications was the emergence of a new class of free blacks and free coloureds. The latter of which were more numerous since they were more often manumitted than blacks. As a result of this the proportion of the free blacks/coloured to the overall free population rose from around 22% in 1738 to some 60% in 1811 (p. 99).

Since manumitted slaves were concentrated in Paramaribo, their proportion to the overall free population there must have been even higher. This means that Paramaribo had not only become very much a black town but also one in which there were far more free blacks than there were three whites." [Language and Slavery]

"Few plantation slaves were manumitted. The ones who were generally belonged to a minority group – house servants. Frequently they were women who, by rendering domestic service and fulfilling the role of concubine, again the affections of the plantation manager." [Beyond Bondage, p.149]

"According to a report of 1791, Suriname had 1,763 non-white inhabitants, the great majority of whom lived in Paramaribo. By 1805 there were reportedly 2889 free Coloreds and blacks in the colony as a whole. Perhaps at least 2500 of them lived in town, and mostly women – 1,328 adult females as opposed to only 640 adult males." [Beyond Bondage, p.148]

In the 1790s (1792 and 1798) records show Betje Beeldsnyder living at 18 Joode Straat in Paramaribo.

In 1793 Wolphert dies in The Hague. He left Suriname in 1790. Apparently he did not leave Betje penniless. The Suriname House Rental Registers from 1827 to 1832 list Betje as owner of two houses in Joode Straat (18 & 19) and two more houses in Domineestraat and Hoogestraat.
Betje's son Jacob Matroos (or his estate) owned a house in Steenbakkerijstraat during those years. The lists are available only for 1827-1832. We know that Betje lived in 18 Joode Straat in 1792 so it is probable that Betje and Jacob owned the houses outside that time period.

In 1808 Betje's mother the 'Free' Adjuba van Betje van Beeldsnijder dies.

In 1810 - Elizabeth's Baptism is recorded in the Dutch Archives:

Name:Beetje van Beeldsnijder Matroos
Baptismal Name:Elisabeth Sabina
Date of Baptism: 11 November 1810
Date of Death: 11 March 1830
Source Reference Nummer toegang:, inventarisnummer: 22, folionummer: 13

The above is curious in that Betje is around 68 years old when she is baptized, while her children (see below) had been baptized 30 years previously. Her 'husband', Beeldsnijder Matroos, has been dead 17 years. Is Betje baptized with the name she is known by in the Dutch community? Was this a baptism within the Evangelical Brotherhood chursh?

The Census of 1811

"In October 1811, Charles Bentinck, governor of Suriname under British rule, informed the public that he had received orders from London 'to transmit without delay to His Majesty's Ministers of State an accurate statement and return of the population of this colony in general, end of each colour and sex in particular, including whites, free people of colour [& negroes and slaves. All free citizens were ordered to register themselves and their slaves before the end of November. .. The colonial administration received information about 5,104 free individuals, 9,714 non-plantation slaves, and 42,223 plantation slaves." [Beyond Bondage, p.156]

"According to the 1811 census, 2,029 individuals were registered as whites and 3,075 as free coloreds and blacks. The data, however, cannot be taken at face value. A number of persons of mixed descent were categorized as whites, and several individuals failed to turn in their census forms." [Beyond Bondage, p.147]

In the census, Betje, 69 years old, is recorded as Betje von Beeldsnyder, a 'free', 'coloured' woman. Living with her is Anna von Betje von Beeldsnyder. (Her name implies a slave once owned but now freed by Betje).

The census form is signed on her behalf by her son Jacob Matroos.

"Ernst Matroos was heir to his Mother Betje van Beeldsnijder, who lived on La C nr 44 until her death on the Joden Breedestraat in Paramaribo.." [Martha Tjoe Nij]

Death Announcement, 1830

Betjes_death.jpg Announcement of the death of Betje van Beeldsnijder, in the local paper - placed by her daughter Marjorin Buschman and her son Ernst Matroos.

The fact that Elizabeth/Betje lived to 88 in the rather hostile environment of Suriname is probably extraordinary.

Courtesy of Google translate:

"Family report, 'Surinaamsche Courant' 28-03-1830
On this 11th our beloved Mother died here. Betje van Beeldsnijder; and thus left this temporary residence, in the blessed age of 88 years.
Rest in peace. Paramaribo March 25, 1830 M. E. Buschman, E. Matroos. On behalf of the further family."