Early church burials in Torarica

Torarica Map

After the arrival of the Dutch in 1667 and the relocation of the administrative center to Paramaribo, the population of Torarica declined rapidly, from 1500 residents in 1667 to 500 in 1669. The decline was caused not only because people moved, but also because many Englishmen left Suriname.[1] 

In Torarica was a “oude vervallen kercke, cleijn, rondom open en van boven met gaten, in ’t midden van ’t bosch staande” (old dilapidated churhc, smalll, open all around and with holes at the top, standing in the middle of the forest[2], which is also known to have been buried therein. In a letter from 1672 from skipper Jan Dimmesen, addressed to his wife in Middelburg, he mentions the death of his brother Jacob and that he was buried 'in the church of Torarijca', ‘aen de zijde van de heer Abraham Qurijnsen saligher’ (on the side of the late Mr Abraham Qurijnsen'. [3] Crijnssen died on 1 February 1669 and was buried the same day. [4] It is still unclear whether Crijnssen died in the fort and was initially buried there, to be reburied later in the church of Torarica. Or that he was immediately buried in Torarica. Probably the first, but this is not certain.

Burial in the church was not cheap. Sugar was legal tender in those days and the cost of burial was expressed in pounds of sugar. [5] On 8 January 1695, the cost of burial in the church was determined:

Iemant voor sijne familie een grafstede in de kercke begeerende sal daervoor moeten betaelen…. 20000 pond; Iemant particulier in de kercke willende begraven wesen, moet betaelen… 10000 pond; Iemant tsy man ofte vrouw een suijckerwerck [plantage] hebbende, en op het kerckhoff off haere plantage begraven werdende, sal aen de kerck van sijn off haere divisie moeten betalen… 400 pond; Ieder kint sijn ouders hebbende… 200 pond; Ieder persoon die in dienst van de planter is… 100 pond; Ieder kostplanter en vrije arbeijtsluij moeten betaelen… 200 pond; Voor haere kinderen…100 pond. [6]

(Someone who wants a burial place for his family in church must pay …. 20,000 pounds; Someone who wants to bury a freeman in the church, has to pay… 10,000 pounds; A man or woman having a 'suijckerwerck' [plantation], and being buried on the churchyard of their plantation, will have to pay the church of his off his division… 400 pounds; Each child … 200 pounds; Anyone employed by the planter… 100 pounds; Every field worker and free worker must pay… 200 pounds; For her kids… 100 pounds.)

The church in Torarica was built by the English and was used for Protestant worship after the arrival of the Dutch. It is unknown whether the English buried in the church before, but based on European customs this seems likely.[7] However, the church of Torarica was short-lived. After the death of Reverend Ter Maath in 1699, no new pastor was appointed and the Reformed municipality of Torarica was merged with that of Paramaribo. And the following year, the sale of materials from the now dilapidated church began. What happened to the remains of Crijnssen and the other dead remains unknown for the time being.



[1] Bye, John H. de. Torarica – De oude hoofdstad van Suriname (2017), pag. 25

[2] Ds. Johan Basseliers, the first Dutch minister in Suriname, in 1676 in a letter to the classis in Middelburg; via Oudschans Dentz pag. 355

[3] Dimmisen's letter was sent from Fort Zeelandia in 1672, but on its way to the Netherlands, the ship with the letter was captured by English privateers. The letter was discovered at the beginning of this century as part of the Prize Papers in The National Archives, a British archive containing approximately 38,000 Dutch letters and documents that were transported on Dutch ships in the 17th and 18th centuries. The letter in question was found by Nettie Schwartz, who conducted research as part of her master's thesis at the University of Amsterdam.

[4] Zeeuws Archief - Archief van de Staten van Zeeland en hunne Gecommitteerde Raden, (1574) 1578-1795 (1799) [toegang 2.1], inv.nrs 2035.1 en 2035.2 via https://www.archieven.nl/ (geraadpleegd 7-1-2018)

[5] The value of a pound of sugar was set at two 'stuivers' in 1669 and one 'stuiver' from 1679 onwards. A stuiver is 1/20 of a Dutch guilder (gulden).

[6] NL-HaNA, Raad van Politie Suriname,, inv.nr. 213A

[7] In the same period there were also burials in or near Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo, the administrative center of the Dutch colony.

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