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Paramaribo anno 1769: Prachtige natuur, maar “Everything is extravagantly dear in this place…”

Epistels van Dr. Samuel Kissam

door William Man A Hing

Na het ter perse gaan van het vorig nummer (*) ontving ik spontaan van Robert Kissam kopie van twee brieven die door Samuel Kissam vanuit Paramaribo in 1769 waren geschreven naar zijn broer Benjamin, advocaat in New York. Deze door een (ander) familielid getranscribeerde epistels zijn niet eerder gepubliceerd.

Gezicht op Paramaribo 1787-1818 – Johan Antonie Kaldenbach. Bron Ketens en banden

Robert is een directe nazaat in de 10e generatie van Joseph II, een broer van Samuel; hij is gepensioneerd leraar wiskunde en thans fungerend directeur van het Huntington Historical Society.
In 1967 heeft het historisch genootschap een pand aangekocht van Daniel Whitehead Kissam waarin deze en later ook diens zoon Charles Sturgis Kissam tot midden negentiende eeuw een medische praktijk had uitgeoefend. In het Daniel Whitehead Kissam House, gelegen te Huntington, Long Island, (New York) wordt het archief en de collectie artefacten van de familie Kissam gehuisvest.
Het voorgaande staat in grote lijnen vermeld in de uitvoerige website van de “Kissam Family Association” . (1)
Volgens Robert staat de volgende samenkomst van de nogal uitgebreide Kissam familie gepland voor 2011.



Post uit Paramaribo
Van Samuel Kissam zijn zes brieven gepubliceerd die zijn geschreven aan zijn vriend John Jay in de periode van 1769 – 1775. (2) Er zijn tot dusver nog geen brieven te voorschijn gekomen van de correspondentie die hij regelmatig met Stedman plaatselijk heeft gevoerd. Aantekeningen hierover kunnen worden aangetroffen in de dagboeken van de militair die zich voor zijn werk veelvuldig buiten de hoofdstad bevond. De twee brieven die hier in extenso worden weergegeven zijn door Samuel in 1769, het jaar van zijn aankomst in Suriname, geschreven. Hij beschrijft de natuur van Paramaribo op lyrische wijze en stelt de omgeving tamelijk idyllisch voor. Ook vond hij het bepaald niet goedkoop in Paramaribo, reden waarom hij zijn broer vroeg hem verschillende soorten proviand en andere zaken op te sturen. Saillant is dat hij daarbij eveneens duidelijke informatie verschaft over zijn invoer van (zaden van) niet nader genoemde planten en boompjes uit Noord-Amerika.
Zijn vriend J. Destrade, die toen in goede doen was en een mooi huis bewoonde, had zo’n grote indruk op hem gemaakt dat hij deze aan het thuisfront uitvoerig introduceerde. Van deze Fransman treft men een aantal beschrijvingen aan in de literatuur met betrekking tot zijn poging de indigocultuur opnieuw leven in te blazen. Voor een volledig beeld van deze episode wordt eveneens een beknopte beschrijving opgesteld van Destrade die nakomelingen en al dan niet meerdere verwante naamdragers moet hebben gehad.

Paramaribo 25 Nov 1769

Dear Brother,
When ever my mind suggests to me (which by the by is much too often for my tranquility) that I have been in this place near five months and have not received a single letter from anyone; I am almost ready to conclude that miy Friends have forgot me, and that at this distance I am but little the subject of reflection. Otherwise by the way of Providence in Rhode Island there certainly might have been opportunities before now, however this is a circumstance perhaps with which you have not been acquainted. I shall for this reason think more favourably of my disappointment. But after the receipt of this, there can be no excuse especially as we have already openend a channel through which you may convey your letters with the greatest ease. I mean by the way of Providence from whence near half the vessels which use this trade clear out. There is a passage boat constantly plying between New York and that place. The owners are Warner & Company. They have been recommended as very attentive to their business & very obliging; a brother-in-law to Warner who left this place not long ago has engaged to speak to him particularly with respect to us, so that every three months at least with good luck, I may receive a letter by this conveyance.
I have my dear Ben just returned from one of the most agreeable rides this country affords and what makes it still more agreeable I can command it whenever I please, This is through the means of Mr. Destrade, a French gentleman and a man of fortune in this place. He lives about half a mile from the town in the greatest elegance and taste imaginable. I generally dine or breakfast with him twice a week by particular invitation, and have likewise repeated genereal invitations to use his house with the same freedom that I would my own. When I go out in the morning to breakfast with him, he orders his carriage as soon as breakfast is over, and we generally ride about three miles, the road is very pleasant, and adorned on one side with several delightful country seats and on the other with (the most striking contrast) a thick dark wood. There is I confess a great deal of serenity and simplicity in this, but yet in my opinion it adds much to the beauty of the ride. The natural simplicity of the wood gives an additional life to the opposing improvements and the eye never becomes satiated either with the beauties of nature or ornaments of humen invention. After this route, I am generally landed at my own door or on the Parade, Was it not for the company of this gentleman and the ride he favors me with, which serve to alleviate the mind and rid it from disagreeable reflections, the delay of your letters would be insupportable.

By this opportunity I enclose Capt. Thomas Seymours first Bill of Exchange drawn on Mr. David Matthews for 200 Holland Guilders at the current exchange which is never less than three shillings a guilder tho often three and three pence. I shall send my second and third of the same Tender and rates by the prevalence of your slow action. This is I believe and fancy my obligations to the kind superintendant, since by this means I am to have from your Pen what my own brain could never have suggested.

Adieu Dear Ben
PS: How often I shall trouble you with the perusal of such accidental letters I know not – but this depend on, I shall take great liberties in thinking aloud to you, by giving my intuitions full play.



Boven: Gezicht op Paramaribo en Fort Zeelandia, 8 maart 1772 Onder: Gezicht op Paramaribo, 8 maart 1772

(This letter was written by Dr. Samuel Kissam to his brother Benj. Kissam)

Parimaribo 25 Nov. 1769

Dear Brother,
You will undoubtedly think it strange that I should trouble you with long and tedious letters, upon subjects that do not concern me, and from which I can expect but little or no benefit; but my Dear Ben, when I am writing to you, I do not so much consult the propriety of the subject, but for my own ease (and I wish I could say for your amusement), my Pen is guided by the uninterupted dictates of a mind not much elated in the prospect of Temporal advantages, nor depressed with expectations of misfortune.
This morning in my walk contemplating the beauties of an elegant garden; the variety of fruit trees which it contained, (they being all the production of this country), led me into a train of reflections on the Bounty of Providence in the distribution of necessities to Mankind.
In considering the vast variety of Countries there are inhabited, and how different the productions of each, I can easily conceive that a state of society is that in which Providence designed His creatures to live; and from our very make and constitution, I believe it to be the most natural state of man. Was it not for Society and the progress of Arts, Sciences, and Commerce; how indifferently would many of the inhabitants of the the earth fare. They might indeed live from the productions of nature, and it is the opinion of some, be much happier than those possessed with more than the most luxuriant fancy could wish. This is an opinion that I know not how to reconcile, and yet the argument in support of it are not without some weight.
First say they it never could have been the intention of Providence, to put mankind in such a situation, as to be favourable to the growth of those passions the exercise of which is directly contrary to the will of the Divine Being and will prove the most effectual bar to the only Bliss prepared by Divine Benificense as a reward for the virtues of His creatures. Now a state of Society gives rise to many evils; Pride, Luxury, and the whole train of moral imperfections are her children. To charge Providence as the agent and promoter of these, would be to charge Him with all the sin commited in the world. This say they, can never be, because God cannot be the author of sin, as and as many evils are the natural consequence of society, therefore it cannot be the design of Heaven that men should enter into such a state as to be productive by those evils. Again men are happy in proportion to the gratification of their desires, now it is evident that in a state of nature, where people are less acquainted with the extravagancies of life; as in a state of society, they have less desires to gratify and as their happiness depends upon gratification of their desires, and their desires are abundantly more gratified in a state of nature, therefore it is concluded that a state of nature must be the happiest.
Such are the reasons advanced by some in support of this opinion, that a state of nature is most conformable to the will of Heaven, and most conducive to the happiness of man. For my part, however plausible these arguments may appear, I cannot be of this opinion. As to the first, if we only advert to one particular circumstance, without being at the pains of answering those gentlemen agreeable to the strict Rules of Rhetoric; then there will be great weight added to the opposite scale. Let it be as to what purpose the Soul of Man was endowed with the power of constant perpetual improvement if such powers were not to be exercised and as they are the most distinguishing faculties of Humanity, it woud be criminal to suppose them created in vain. It is certainly then a probable conjecture that they were to be fully exercised and used for the purposes of Gods glory and our happiness. If this consideration can have any weight, I believe it will be granted that a state of Society is most favourable to the improvement of the Human Faculties; and therefore I should think it more reasonable to charge the evils naturally resulting from such a state to the acquired depravity of the human heart than to Omnipotence; because upon the same Principles all human imperfections might with equaljustice be charged upon a Being who is too good to behold Iniquity. How would such reasoners dispose of the finer faculties of the Soul? Would they allow none, or but few exchanges of good offices? Would they allow no materials for innocent ambition to feed on? No pleasures resulting from the applauses of good and great men for meritorious actions? No excercice of reward for virtue in this world? Nor even the necessity for attaining wisdom for the direction of our Country here. To this; whither right or wrong, I never can subscribe and as to the latter opinion, I shall only make one or two observations; If we allow the desires to be more generally gratified in a state of nature, yet the argument is not conclusive, because when the nature of the temptations are considered, which spur us on to the commission of evil in a state of society, we shall find that the reflection arising from one restraint set upon our passions will perhaps derive to us more happiness than a number of instances in a state of nature for by living in society, custom and habit render our inclination to evil much more irresistable and at the same time gives a kind of sanction to the gratification of our crimson desires. The happiness resulting from one such instance of Christian fortitude will more than overbalance the pleasures arising from a long continued course of sin when there has been no remarkable inducement to pursue the contrary and vice-versa. From these observations I think society best, (that is) it is most comfortable to the will of the Diety (= Deity ?, auteur), and most conducive to the happiness of man.
Thus far I have pursued the argument exactly agreeable to the chain of my thoughts as they arose on this occasion; but to what it is now owing to that my contemplation on this subject grows languid I cannot determine unless it is the influence of some invisible being hovering around who inclines to contribute both to your ease and my advantage. To your ease in giving you a shorter letter to read than I intended and to my advantage in having the arguments I have omitted put on an elegant dress, ornamented with your state, and enforced by the first opportunities that offer.
I enclose an order for a variety of garden seeds, flower seeds, and fruit trees, by the request of the gentleman I have mentioned above from whom I receive so many civilities. If you could fulfill this order by the next opportunity so far as only to send the seeds, I should be glad, and as to the fruit trees, if it should not be convenient; and you may acquaint the person who brings them that Mr. Destrade will satisfy him for every rouble and expense he may see at in bringing them. I believe the best method of procuring them will be to send the order to Mr. Prince at Flushing, and let him have the management of them, and send his Acct. of Expense with them and I will remit you the money. If the trees should not come with the seeds, you will be so good as to mention the reason that I may satisfy Mr. Destrade.
From the nature of my business, I find it necessary to live alone. In January I shall commence Bachelor by myself. Everything is extravagantly dear in this place that I must endeavor get a few articles from New York by way of lessening my annual expenses. Permit me to give you a specimen: Ham at 15 & 20 pence/lb, cheese the same; Butter the same and more and very indifferent; Beer at 3 bits a bottle; Lb of sugar is now at 4 bitsand has been so for some time; Fresh Beef 1 pound/pound; Mutton 1/6; fowls if good 3 & 4 shill and everything in proportion. You may from this judge of the expenses which will be much less if I can get Hams, cheese, Beer in Barrels, Butter, and a few Tongues once in a while sent out from New York. If you could send me such articles and send me at the same time their expence, I shall make a point to remit just sufficient for a particular purpose which I’ll do in the spring, I shall make use of my money (if I should get any to spare) in this place because the percent is almost double in common, and very often three times as much as in NewYork. Oh – Pickle Cistern, if my cistern don’t pickle them they will rot, this we experienced on the passage as all on board spoilt except mine – Newspapers – Tell Jay, Bard Benson Dalancy, Nicoll to not to fail to
write.— send the enclosed order to Mr. Stewart. Give my love to Sister Caty, Peter, Bennie and all the rest of the children. My complements to all friends. Write your letters long and circumspect. I wrote in a former letter for a quart or cask of mediera of Mr. Sharp, the best; how goes he? – Does Peter course on in his Latin? Does Miss Helena grow? Does Sam the Second talk? If he does, tell him I love him and give him a kiss for me.


(This letter was written by Dr. Samuel Kissam to his brother Benj. Kissam)

(*) Deze bijdrage werd eerder geplaatst in Wi Rutu, jaargang 10 no.1, pp. 38-44, volgend op het essay over het proefschrift van Dr. Samuel Kissam in Wi Rutu, jaargang 9 no. 1, pp 16-23; – lees hier op deze site.

betr. Kissam Family Association; (raadpleegdatum 10-1-2008)

(2) Monaghan, Frank, 1933. ‘Samuel Kissam & John Jay’. Columbia University Quarterly Vol 25, afl. 2 (june), p. 127-133.

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