Jan Schenkman was a teacher until 1849 at his private school situated on the Anjeliersgracht. He was a prominent member of de Maatschappijtot Nut van 't Algemeen. A lot of people suppose that he portrayed the modern Sinterklaascelebration for the first time in a story in his book Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht (Amsterdam, 1850 and reprinted until1907). He used familiar elements as the horse, riding on rooftops and gift giving (or a switch) using the chimney and Sints arrival from Spain. He also introduced new elements: the steamboat on whicht Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam and the black page - from which the figure of Black Pete evolved - as helper of the Saint.
The above translation of the Dutch wikipedia site about Jan Schenkman contains two interesting pieces of information.
1. He was a member of the Maatschappij tot Nut van 't Algemeen. It is interesting to note that this organization was among the voices against slavery. In this light it makes no sense to use a slave in the Sinterklaasstory. It may well be an educational addition to get rid of the boisterous Sinterklaascelebrations that people like Schenkman wanted to get away from with the chainrattling scary, blackfaced or otherwise masked creatures that were going around on december 5th. We have seen in the contribution on the tab Before Schenkman in Christian times that there were most definately companions of Saint Nicholas going around the Netherlands. Sometimes they hid under other names but always to be recognized by their four characteristics of a black face, a bag a switch and a chain. In the book Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht it is interesting to see three of these four characteristics: the bag, the switch and a black face (portrayed by an african boy which looking back may have been a move that shouldn't have been made, even though there may have been positive reasons to add an african boy to the Sinterklaascelebrations.) It is interesting to see that in Schenkman's book there is no chain! This may be an important clue that Schenkman didn't want anything that could link this to a slave in the helper.
2. In this piece they say that the black helper is a new addition by Schenkman. As we have seen in the story of Matheus van Heyningen Bosch visiting his Grandmother on Saint Nicholas eve there were helpers. Also there were figures that used the name of Klaas in one form or another during the Reformation but always to be recognized by their characteristics of black face, switch, bag and chain that are earlier versions of Black Pete.(fe. the Zwarte Sinterklazen in Amsterdam, the Zwarte Sinterklaas van de Veluwe, the Groningse descriptions and pictures of these helpers and the figures that still exist on the waddenislands. Schenman most probably gave his own more educational targeted interpretation of the helper being a teacher. He could even have had the emancipation of black people in mind as well, but that is a far guess. The Meertensinstitute also has concluded that Piet is not a slave but a free servant as there were many (black and white servants) in those days. We conclude however that no thorough research has been done on the subject and point to the fact that there are lots of sources which have never been looked at or combined to draw a larger and more complete picture of the history of the Sinterklaascelebration and the black figure in it of which we find evidence at least dating back to 1718 and if we include the devils that were definately part of processions this goes back even further. Some people claim that Saint Nicholas never actually had a helper or Servant, but these people deliberately ignore the chained black devils and the legend of the Saint smacking Arius in the face during the Council of Nicea. Also a lot of pagan elements can be found in this figure which makes it likely to come from more than one source.
An interesting thing about the book Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht
Eugenie Boer-Dirks wrote an article in 1993 about het origins of Black Pete. Back then there was less evidence available than we have now and she concludes: It is generally assumed that the character of the black page formed part of an age-old tradition encompassing both Christian and pagan elements. This assumption, however, gives rise to some significant and hitherto unanswered questions about the cultural significance of his colourful appearance as well as the total absence of historical documentation supporting his existence" and :
"This article puts forward the suggestion that the representation of Sint-Nicolaas' assistant as a black page was inspired by the many portraits of black pages that were to be found throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This vision of the origin of the character of Zwarte Piet was reached on the basis of a study of iconography and is not based on mythology or Christian tradition."
It may be noted here that specifically leaving known sources of the celebration out has leaded to a very onesided conclusion on the part of this researcher and therefore the conclusions should be treated in that light and since we have ample evidence now of this characters history this conclusion should be discarded. It needs to be said that even back then there was more than enough evidence around to be suspicious as to the motives that led her to this kind of conclusion. In this piece she makes mention of the book Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht. Specificly about the copy that is kept in the digitale bibliotheek voor Nederlandse letteren. She noticed that the copy they keep there doesn't have a title page, so the name of the writer and the publisher are missing. A pencil was used to write J. Schenkman and 1850 in the book but Eugenie Boer-Dirks thinks that this can't be right. The book is missing a few pages and glued togeter with a newspaper. On a scrap the date 1832 is visible. She thinks this is not the work of Schenkman but of another author. Since originality and copyright weren't firmly established in those days she thinks Jan Schenkman made use of this preexisting work. She compares the work to the complete version of the book published bij Bom. This idea has been abandoned now and the dating of this work is now firmly established at 1850.
It can't be certain that this is true since there are some pieces missing. It is an interesting thing to keep in mind though that the servant is older than 1850 and that it wasn't Schenkman who thought him up. A Dutch source from 1836 speaks of the servant of Saint Nicholas for example and there is much more evidence found in sources that points to the existence of this servant in one form or the other.
An earlier mentioning of Sints black helper is in the year 1828, not a direct source but a memory from Alberdink Thijm form 1884. Pieter me knecht (My Servant Pete) being a negro with curly or frizzy hair. But as we saw in the poem of Hieronymus van Alphen mentioned in the section "Before Schenkman-Christian times"the combination of the names Klaasje and Pietje was already there and also the mentioning of the black man. This seems more of a personal interpretation than an actual stemming from...