The Dutch part in the slave trade.
After painstaking research, Philip Curtin has concluded that a total of 9,566,000 slaves were transported to the New World during the transatlantic phase of the slave trade. This number suggests a level of accuracy not wholly warranted, but “it is extremely unlikely that the ultimate total will turn out to be less than 8,000,000 or more than 10,500,000”. These estimates are much less extreme than the earlier ones, which varied between 3,5 and 25 million. From 1630 to 1795, Dutch slavers carried 477,782 of those slaves, according to Johannes Postma (The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade). This represents barely 5% of the total. Despite this apparently modest part, the Dutch practically monopolized the trade for a while during the 17th century. Before this could come about, several hurdles, both moral and material, had to be taken.
Contrary to the Mediterranean area, the northwestern part of Europe had no continuing tradition of slavery, although the experience with serfdom, especially villeinage, had not been entirely forgotten. The Protestant nations hesitated to jump at the opportunities slave trading and slavery afforded and were somewhat reluctant to let this dubious institution make inroads on their own territory. In time, Liverpool developed into a bustling slave trading station (slaves were openly sold at auctions there) and Antwerp too seemed to make a cautious stride in this direction, but these cities could never hold a candle to the flourishing slave markets that developed in Lisbon and Seville in the 16th and 17th centuries. As long as the northern countries lacked plantation colonies of their own, they were barely involved in the slave trade. In the United Provinces, public sentiment was definitely against it. When in 1596 some brigands brought hundred slaves from Guinea to the Zeelandian capital Middelburg, this initiative created an uproar and the ruling magistrate did not waver to restore them to their ‘natural liberty’. This was a pivotal decision, for it spared the northern Netherlands the creation of an internal slave market. Dutch privateers occasionally captured a load of slaves by accident and often they did not know how to dispose of the tainted cargo. At times, they set them free at sea, which for the Negroes, ignorant of navigation, meant an almost certain death. If they took a fancy to the ship, they put them ashore somewhere and leave them to their fate.
It is not surprising that such a sentiment cannot survive for very long when serious money is at stake. As early as 1605, some Dutch traders concluded a contract for the delivery of 500 slaves to the Spanish planters of Trinidad, but there is no proof that they fulfilled it. In 1619, a Dutch ‘man o’ warre’ sold the first slaves in Jamestown, Virginia. These had probably been captured at sea accidentally, but the fact that there existed a willing market for them was not lost on the Dutch merchants. From selling an occasional prize to the conscious pursuit of slave trading was thereafter only a small step. Once the WIC got involved, the Dutch were committed to replace the Portuguese as the most successful slave carriers. In 1626, the Zeelandian Chamber of the WIC decided to outfit a slaver itself, for the supply of workers to its colonies on the Amazon and the Wild Coast. The moral objections to the trade disappeared almost overnight once to economic interests of the Dutch colonies became the first priority.
The main stimulus for the growth of the Dutch slave trade was provided by the conquest of Pernambuco in 1636. Governor Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen informed the WIC forthwith that he needed at least 15,000 slaves to revive the former prosperity of the colony. The directors were eager to oblige. Between 1637 and 1645, they shipped no less than 23,163 slaves to Brazil, representing a total value of 6,714,423 guilders. Some of the needed slaves were ‘found’ aboard enemy ships, but a more regular supply was essential and that was only available at the source.
Therefore, the Dutch needed trading posts on the coast of West Africa, which was the undisputed hunting ground of the Portuguese in the beginning of the 17th century. The first expeditions were aimed more at harassing the enemy than at securing a source of slaves. The WIC made its first incursions on the Gold Coast at the end of the 16th century and in 1611 or 1612 established a fort (Nassau) in Mori (Moree). It was built to guard the trade in gold, elephant tusks and camlet, not slaves. After this feat, the Dutch went after their Portuguese rivals in earnest and they managed to uproot them everywhere -often aided by the local population who preferred their wares to those of the competition. The Dutch conquerors concentrated most of their efforts on the Gold Coast. In 1637, they captured a vital Portuguese stronghold, São Jorge Da Mina (Elmina), where they built a mighty castle (Fort Coenraadsburg). The Portuguese were driven from the Gold Coast entirely when Axim fell into Dutch hands in 1642. The capture of Coromantin by Admiral De Ruyter in 1663 crowned their efforts and made the WIC the master of the Gold Coast trade. Only the English managed to hold on to their Cape Coast castle and offered some competition. Elmina became the Dutch headquarters for the whole of Guinea and remained in their possession until it was sold to the English in 1872.
The Dutch were just as active, though somewhat less victorious, in other areas. They rented the isle of Goree, near Senegal, from a local ruler in 1617 and constructed a fort there, as well as on the mainland opposite the island. In 1634, the son of Abraham van Peere, Lord Protector of Berbice, conquered Arguin and became the first governor. These possessions were soon lost, however. In Angola, the Dutch were no more fortunate. During a large-scale offensive in 1641, Captain ‘Peg-Leg’ Jol managed to secure São Paulo de Luanda, the largest slave depot in these parts. The Portuguese reclaimed it seven years later. The same happened with Benguela and São Thomé. On the Slave Coast, the WIC never established a stronghold and neither did the other European powers. The native rulers did not permit them to build forts, only a series of temporary lodges. The WIC had ‘factories’ for a while at Ouidah (1670-1724), Jacquin (1726-1734) and Popo (1738-1740; 1744; 1752-1760). The English were the most serious rivals, but other contenders, like the French, the Danes, the Swedes and the Brandenburgers, demanded a share in the spoils of the slave trade as well. Following the Treaty of Breda (1667), the Dutch had to give up many of their claims. Except for those on the Gold Coast, they lost most of their West-African possessions.
Like the United Provinces (with the WIC), the other countries were represented by private trading companies (the Scandinavian ones were set up and financed by disgruntled expatriate Dutchmen). In England it went by the name of the Company of Royal Adventurers of England, later the Royal Africa Company, which, as the name suggested, stood under the protection of the King. The companies had to keep up and man the forts, which was a serious drain on their resources. They fiercely competed with each other, which drove up the prices of the slaves, and interlopers often stole away with the best merchandise. Consequently, most of them went bankrupt soon, or had to be heavily subsidized by their respective governments.
The Dutch strengthened their position by striving for amicable relations with the local peoples. They offered protection and, although in general they were loath to incite animosities (because these hampered trade), they sometimes even participated in the wars of their allies against hostile neighbors. They usually managed to gain favor with the winning side, but their failure on the Slave Coast was partly due to the fact that they twice betted on the wrong horse.
After the loss of Pernambuco, the Dutch slave trade floundered for a while, mostly due to the lack of a suitable trading center in the Caribbean. Soon, however, the traffic picked up again, since the Dutch had stumbled upon a golden opportunity when they conquered the island of Curacao. Its rise as a burgeoning slave market started modestly in 1636, when Captain Jol was instructed to bring the slaves captured on foreign ships there. Dutch traders easily secured eager customers for the growing number of slaves delivered to the island, because in 1640 Portugal had broken away from Spain and was barred from bringing any slaves to the Spanish possessions in the New World. Since Spain did not take part in the slave trade herself, Spanish planters had to find other suppliers. As a result, Spain was forced to award the Asiento, the coveted monopoly for the delivery of slaves, to outsiders.
In 1662, the Genoese merchants Grillo and Lomelio managed to secure it (by bribing the right officials). They had no plans to fetch the necessary slaves from Africa themselves and bought them from the Dutch and the English, to the detriment of the Spanish planters, who had to purchase them at inflated prices. When to Asiento was renewed in 1668, Grillo and Lomelio entered into a contract with the WIC for the delivery of 2000 slaves a year on Curacao. The later Asientista Antonio Garcia was only a figurehead for the Amsterdam bankers B. and J. Coymans, who took over the Asiento officially in 1684. Following protests by Spaniards who did not want their precious slaves spoiled by contacts with heretics, the Spanish king revoked the contract in 1687. Thereafter, the WIC gradually gave way to the English, until the Asiento was turned over to them entirely, in accordance with the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713. The loss of the Asiento sealed the doom of Curacao as a crucial link in the slave trade, although the Dutch kept supplying the Spanish colonies, as well as some of the French territories, illegally. From the beginning of the 18th century on, the dwindling stream of slaves handled by Dutch traders was mainly directed towards Surinam.
The manner of trade.
At first, the traffic in slaves was only a byproduct of the more important trade in commodities – in particular gold, ivory and pepper. Occasionally, some slaves were offered alongside these wares and were accepted mostly out of curiosity. Other times, adventurers would ‘hunt’ some innocent passers-by, just for ‘sport’. It soon became apparent that there was a market for them, if only as pets for the rich. Therefore, the search for slaves became a serious business. Ships would anchor somewhere along the African coast; the men would row ashore; they would grab a few natives and make off. This did not promote good will and in retaliation, the Africans would launch a furious attack as soon as they saw sails, often targeting sailors totally unaware of the breech in relations. This method did not deliver many slaves either. The traders came to realize that they needed the help of the local population. Therefore, all but the most stupid soon abandoned the hit-and-run tactic. Peaceable trade was much easier and yielded much more profit. The Portuguese first bartered horses against slaves (fourteen men for a horse), but this made little sense in the jungle areas where most slaves were to be had. Fortunately for the traders, the locals yearned for all kinds of European goods and would stop at nothing (including selling their own relatives) to obtain them. This way a large-scale, well-organized industry developed.
As Curtin has pointed out, ‘Africa’ appears to have supplied slaves solely in response to demand, but the individual coastal regions provided slaves in quantities dictated by their specific circumstances, such as the political organization, level of anarchy and involvement in civil or external warfare. In the 16th century, for instance, the Wolof of Senegal were torn by internal strife and many of them ended up in the slave barracoons, while in later years they were only found among the offered slaves sporadically. In the following centuries, the Yoruba civil wars and the Fulani jihads produced large numbers of Yoruba and Hausa slaves. The white buyers were largely dependent on these developments, although they sometimes tried to set up neighbor against neighbor. Because of changing circumstances, the locus of the slave trade shifted continuously.
The first African states to engage in slave trading in a professional way were the savanna states of the northwest: Mali (14th/15th centuries), Songhai (16th century) and Bornu (17th century). Their traffic was oriented towards the Mediterranean. The demand in the Caribbean diverted the stream of slaves and these states gradually lost their prominence to the emerging coastal empires of Benin, Oyo, Dahomey and Ashanti, which prospered during the late 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Along the coast, the center of the trade moved in southeastern direction: Senegambia lost its position to the Gold Coast and later Benin and Angola became the main suppliers. The evolution of the Dutch trade followed a somewhat different pattern, however.
All African societies were familiar with the phenomenon of slavery and many of them harbored a fair number of slaves themselves. Some of those chattels were ‘family slaves’ and would not be sold, except in cases of emergency. In many tribes, however, there existed a lively internal slave traffic and some bondsmen were sold countless times during their lifespan. This way, they might eventually end up in the hands of white buyers. Most of the unfortunates sold in the early stages of the transatlantic slave trade belonged to this category. Soon, there were not enough slaves to satisfy demand and the native sellers sought other sources. Traditionally, free people could be degraded to bondage for a number of reasons: for example as a penalty for serious crimes (like witchcraft); as result of being taken prisoner in a war; or because of the failure to pay one’s debts.
These sources of new slaves were exploited to the utmost. The English factor Francis Moore observed: “Since this Slave-Trade has been us’d all Punishments are chang’d into Slavery”. Unscrupulous rulers tricked their subjects into committing crimes for which they could be punished with bondage. They would, for example, marry all the young girls in a certain village, leave them to their fate and enslave both the girls and their lovers if these abandoned brides became involved with other men, since adultery with the wife of a king was a capital crime. Political rivals were disposed off in the same manner, along with their whole family. Prisoners of war were sold without compunction. In some instances, this may even have been a blessing in disguise, because, as Latham remarked about the evolution of slavery in Old Calabar, “t was a simple development from eating prisoners of war to selling them”. The difference between wars and raiding expeditions blurred, because bona fide war did not yield enough captives. When there were no genuine foes available, some rulers did not scruple to raid their own villages, not even bothering to seek a pretext. Although it happened less frequently than Europeans believed, some people even stooped so low as to sell their closest relatives. The Moravian Brother Riemer encountered a young slave in Surinam, who, along with his brother, had been disposed of by his father in return for a case of pipes, simply because of mutual dislike. This kind of betrayal was extremely grieving, so it is no surprise that his brother had died at sea, consumed by hatred. People in debt who had surrendered themselves or members of their family as pawns, found to their horror that they were sold off before they had the chance to repay the loan. Consequently, most of the unfortunate Africans that filled the holds of the slave ships had been born free.
In some parts of Africa, legends about the slavery era are still being told, although most people prefer to forget the part that their forbearers themselves played in this tragedy. During a trip in Dahomey, Melville Herskovits met a driver named Felix, who recounted the following family lore: “People we call Aguda [Portuguese], they buy plenty. If they buy they put for ship. That time no steamer. If man go out, man who be strong catch him and go sell. My grandfather he saw Aguda buy we people in Popo, than take go ‘way to place they now calls Freetown. Aguda make village there, then make we people born children. When children born, Aguda take away go sell.” [This proves that legends are not always trustworthy, because slave traders were not interested in young children: they did not want to wait more than a decade for them to mature sufficiently to be salable.]
Very soon, the majority of the slaves sold in the Caribbean had been procured through African intermediaries. Malcolm Cowley estimated the number of free Africans kidnapped by whites as only one or two of every hundred slaves. It has been suggested that the slaves were dragged to the West-African ports from all over the continent and there indeed seem to have been bondsmen from Mozambique who were sold at the mouth of the Congo River, but cases like this only formed a tiny minority. Slaves seldom originated from more than 200 miles inland.
The number of Africans who have fallen victim to the slave trade remains obscure. We have a rough idea of how many of them reached the New World alive and how many died during the transatlantic voyage. However, nobody knows how many people were killed during raids, succumbed during the arduous trek to the coast, perished in the slave barracoons, or committed suicide rather than be shipped off. Stanley Elkins guessed that two thirds of the captives died en route, but this seems overly pessimistic. One in two is probably a more realistic estimate, which brings the number of victims of the slave trade to about 20 million. Strangely enough, there is no sign that any coastal tribe has been exterminated by the slave raids. Curtin has called attention to the fact that the traffic in human beings had many unforeseen consequences, not all of them bad for the continent. African diseases that migrated to other parts of the world seem to have wrought considerably more havoc than the diseases that ‘invaded’ Africa, and the import of foodstuffs like manioc and corn enabled an unprecedented growth of the African population. He concluded that the ‘net demographic effect’ may well have been positive rather than negative.
The Dutch way of slave trading differed little from that of the other countries, except that it was better organized. The WIC had a monopoly on this traffic until 1730 [along the Gold Coast to 1734], but even after that ended, the company retained much influence since it staffed and operated the factorijen (trading posts). The Director-General of the WIC on the Gold Coast resided in Elmina. He was assisted by a council, consisting of the military commander, the fiscal and the most important factoors. The other factoors had to obey their decisions, but as communication was difficult, they were often left to their own devises. During the era of the WIC-monopoly, the slave trade was administered centrally. The directors awarded tourbeurten (annual assignments) to the participating chambers. From 1663 to 1674, there was a special fund for the equipment of slave ships. Thereafter, the chambers had to supply the money themselves. They never lacked participants.
The way the traffic in slaves was conducted depended on the region. On the Gold Coast, the WIC had leased land from the local rulers and constructed forts at strategic places. These also functioned as trading posts. The ships could anchor there and fill their holds with a cargo of slaves (called armasoen), assembled by the factoor and the company brokers. Initially, the trade in gold was more profitable. Most slavers stopped only briefly in Elmina and, unable to procure enough slaves, sailed on to the Slave Coast. During the 18th century, the Gold Coast was able to supply an increasing number of slaves. The most important centers were Elmina and Coromantin. In the Senegambian area, the trade was structured the same way, but few Dutch slavers called there in the beginning.
On the Slave Coast, the local rulers kept the trade firmly in their own hands. At first, they only tolerated ships that anchored there more or less permanently (these ships were called leggers by the Dutch), later the Europeans were allowed to built warehouses on the beach, which developed into trading lodges. They barred the whites from procuring slaves on their own, or even through the offices of the African middlemen in the service of the companies. They either employed their own brokers, or traded directly with the various European nations, inciting strife to get them to open their purses wider. The different city-states (like Ardra and Ouidah) competed fiercely against each other as well and the Europeans could profit from this in turn. During the 18th century, the mighty kingdom of Dahomey came to overshadow all others and grew into an efficient slaving machine.
On the Windward Coast, the current was too strong and the shore too rocky to permit the establishment of harbors, so the ships were obliged resort to ‘smoke’ or (as the Dutch called it) lorredraayer (interloper) trade. The ships would anchor at a respectable distance and give (smoke) signals. The natives –if they had not been shied off- would then climb into their canoes and bring their wares. It took a long time to assemble a large enough an armasoen this way, so the skippers often sent out their own sloops to look for slaves upriver. In Angola, the Dutch were obliged to trade the same way, because they had been unable to retain their lodges.
The African middlemen, often called caboceer (from the Portuguese word caboceiro), could grow enormously rich and influential. Some of them, like Jon Conny and Pieter Pasop, became petty kings themselves. However, being so close with unscrupulous European merchants could be a risky business. The English slave trader John Atkins observed that “it is not unfrequent for him who sells you slaves to-day, to be a few days hence sold himself at some Neighbouring Town”. The private traders, eager for a quick profit and less concerned with maintaining good relations with the suppliers than the company representatives, resorted to panyaring (kidnapping) at a much greater rate. Many a ship sailed off with either the intermediaries themselves, or the pawns they had left as a security for trade goods on board. There were sometimes ‘princes’ among them.
The directors of the WIC were seriously worried about these transgressions, because they threatened their cherished reputation. Although there was little chance of finding the victims of kidnapping after they had been transported across the ocean, they tried their utmost to rescue them. The Court of Police in Surinam, for example, was ordered by the WIC and the States General in 1749 to search for seven Negroes who had been kidnapped by skipper Christiaan Hagerop of the Afrikaan and had been offered at a public auction. Six of them came from Elmina, whose native population was never sold as slaves, and one originated from the “Fantijn Country”. In the interest of the slave trade, they had to be returned to their country forthwith, or the authorities were at least to be informed of their deaths. Planters who held on to them were threatened with a charge of “menschendieverij” (man stealing). The authorities managed to retrieve at least two of the victims. Equally serious was the plight of an African who had worked as a company broker in Elmina and claimed to have been betrayed by Director-General Jan Pranger, who had sold him as a slave. The reason was that Pranger owed him 20 marks of gold, had cheated him out of 400 slaves and an additional 100 marks of gold and did not want to pay his debts. The WIC-commissioners in Surinam were charged with the task of tracking him down.
Trade was conducted in the form of barter. Most of the time, various kinds of goods were given for each slave, but the standard of calculation was the unity of the product most popular in each region. It could be a ‘bar’ (of iron), a ‘stick’ (of salt), an ‘ounce’ (of gold), a ‘string’ (of cowrie shells), or a ‘piece’ (of cloth). Some wares were popular everywhere: for example, guns, gunpowder, liquor and textiles. Other goods were much more in demand in one region than in the others. Iron and copper bars were especially prized on the Windward Coast and in Calabar, while in Angola textiles were favored. A wide variety of other wares was also bartered. The Dutch ship Geertruyd, for instance, carried kettles, brandy, crystal, knives, bells and mirrors to Calabar. All kinds of trinkets, like beads, rings, ruffled shirts, plumed hats, etc. found their way to African customers as well. Most of them, however, were shrewd enough to prefer hardware to finery. Van Dantzig has estimated that the cargasoenen (cargoes) of the Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, the largest of the Dutch private traders, consisted half of textiles and half of guns, gunpowder and liquor, with some trinkets thrown in.
Towards the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch often managed to get the better of the English by stationing spies along the coast who reported what kinds of goods they carried, whereupon they lowered their prices for these wares. In later times, the Dutch partly lost their prominent position because they became careless about the quality of their merchandise. The African traders, being no fools, then went to the competition. Of the liquors, for example, Dutch genever (Blankenheym) used to be the most popular, but it was replaced by brandy and rum. The prices of slaves along the coast fluctuated a lot, in response to changing circumstances, but they nevertheless rose steadily. During the 18th century, they more than quadrupled.
The slaves from the interior were sometimes sold from one tribe to the other over a period of months or even years, until in the end they found themselves in the barracoons of the whites. More often, however, they were taken to the coast straight away and forced to march the whole route, tied together in coffles that frequently stretched for miles. They were fettered with wooden yokes or leather tongues and driven on mercilessly, sometimes over a distance of more than 50 km a day. Many died along the road, or became too weak to continue and were left as a meal for the vultures. When, after an arduous trek, they finally reached the coast, they were exhausted and emaciated. Then they had to wait for buyers in the lodges and the forts. According to Johannes Postma, during the era of the WIC-monopoly 3 to 5% of the slaves died there, during the era of the free trade considerably less.
The trading lodges were simple wooden cabins. They stood under the protection of the local rulers, so there was no need for intricate defences, but it was of course necessary to make sure that no slave could get out. Therefore, they were surrounded by a stockade of sharply pointed stakes and sometimes by a moat filled with thorns. At times, some old canons were stationed at the four corners. The factoor usually lived alone, but was protected by a small army of black mercenaries, who proudly displayed their rusty muskets. The heart of the lodge was formed by the slave barracoon. It resembled a corral for cattle. In the center was a long wooden shed that protected the slaves from the sun and rain. Down the middle of the shed ran a long chain to which the men were fastened at intervals. The women and children were allowed to roam freely. At one corner of the ‘corral’, an armed guard stood watch over the slaves.
The slaves in the forts were generally worse off. These were often immense constructions, built to withstand any attack and they made sturdy prisons from which no escape was possible. In Elmina castle, the slaves were let into the yard during the day, but at night were secured in the slavengat (slave dungeon), a dark hole with room for 300 slaves, but usually many more occupants. The air often became unbearably foul. For lack of room, some of the human merchandise had to stay outside permanently. The healthy slaves were obliged to work during the day. The women, for example, had to prepare food for their fellow captives. The slaves were usually well fed to give them strength for the arduous sea voyage.
Some slaves were chosen to supervise the others. The Gold Coast slaves despised those originating from the Slave Coast and therefore were particularly eager to take on this job. They were issued a ‘cat o’ nine tails’ as a badge of their office, which they employed with gusto. With the English, this was only a temporary honor and the ones so distinguished were shipped off just like the others, but the Dutch employed ‘castle slaves’ (sometimes also freemen) for this job. They were called bomba(as) and ordinarily not sold overseas, except as punishment for a crime.
When the ships arrived, the slaves were driven into the yard and carefully examined by the chirurgijns (surgeons). They were divided into slaves that were ‘deliverable’ and macrons: those who were too sick, old, or handicapped to be acceptable. The WIC transported the latter to Nieuw Amsterdam, or tried to sell the best as contraband to Spanish planters and the more decrepit to the English and French. The requirements for ‘deliverable’ slaves were modeled after the regulations of the Asiento. Slaves were not counted as heads, but as piezas de India. A pieza (piece) was a healthy man between 15 and 36 years old, with a stature of at least ‘7 cuertas’ (1.60 m). Acceptable slaves were “those who are not Blind, Lame, nor Broken, and also those, who have no contagious diseases”. Greying hair, baldness, missing teeth and the loss of any limb, even a finger joint, condemned a captive to the macron class. Younger slaves were counted as parts of piezas: “from Fourteen to Eight Years [these were called mulecones], three for two; and from Seven to Two Years, three for one; shall those, who are under the two Years, be counted as Infants, and follow the mother”.
Those who met with approval were branded to make sure the captains would not replace them with less desirable specimens before bringing them on board. The WIC branded slaves on the chest, the private traders on the arm. Care was taken that they were not burned too harshly, especially the women, but the branding was still an inferno of smoke, cries and stench. The whole procedure was a terrible shock for the poor creatures, who believed that their end was near. They were convinced that they were sold to the whites to be eaten. Only the sophisticated Gold Coast Negroes knew better.
The chosen slaves were loaded into canoes and rowed to the waiting ships, where they were issued a simple piece of cloth to cover their nakedness. As long as the coast was visible, they entertained hopes of escape, and rebellion often occurred in this phase of the journey. The slaves who did manage to get away generally did not get far. They were usually caught on the beach and either brought back to the ship, or sold to another trader. Once the vessel reached the open sea, all hope of deliverance was lost, although many slaves continued to look for a way out –if only by death. Before the ship sailed away, the crew discharged the canons, loaded with scarp-iron, to scare the slaves. Later, they secretly reloaded them with peas, to avoid damaging their wares too much if they were forced to shoot at them.
The Middle Passage.
Conditions on board.
Daniel Mannix distinguished two categories of slave traders: the loose packers and the tight packers. Although few slavers really stacked their holds to the brim, some carried considerably more slaves in the same space than others. The Dutch were clearly on the ‘loose’ side. Careful merchants as they were, they preferred higher profits on fewer slaves. They often employed fast ships that were specifically adapted to the slave trade, such as the pinas and the flute. Most of these ships could carry 240 to 300 tons and had room for 300 to 400 slaves. The armasoenen tended to get smaller during the 18th century. The private traders more often used ordinary vessels, which were refitted for the Middle Passage on the African coast. These ships were manned by unusually large crews to ensure mastery over the slaves. The vessels involved in the slave trade mostly originated from Vlissingen and Middelburg in the Province of Zeeland. In later times, Rotterdam sent out large numbers of slavers as well, while Amsterdam supplied relatively few.
Even on the ‘loose packing’ Dutch ships, the slaves had little space to spare in the hold. They lay on the bare boards, which often scraped their flesh to the bone in rough weather. They had no room to sit and often had to lie side by side like spoons in a box. Sometimes, they could hardly turn around. Men and women were separated. The men were chained to each other, the women and children could move around freely. In each compartment stood several jars, where the slaves had to relieve themselves. Since it was difficult to climb over the bodies of others in order to reach them, many slaves did not bother and discharged their waste where they lay. When the weather was bad, the slaves often had to stay in the hold for days on end with the hatches closed and the atmosphere becoming more and more unbreathable. After such a spell, many slaves were carried from the hold dead.
When the circumstances were favorable, the slaves were allowed to stay on deck during the day, with the men chained to the bulwarks. At about nine o’clock, they ate breakfast. For the Windward slaves this consisted of boiled rice, millet, or cornmeal with tiny bits of salted meat. The slaves from Calabar preferred stewed yams and the slaves from Angola and Congo received manioc and plantains. When nothing else was available, the slaves were served horse peas, which most of them detested. To ward off melancholy and to keep their muscles from slackening too much, the captives were forced to dance to the music of drums and kettles, sometimes until their ankles bled from the chafing of the leg-irons. At the end of the 18th century, this exercise was considered so vital that those unwilling to participate were whipped. Around four o’clock in the afternoon, the slaves were fed dinner, which consisted of the same food as breakfast. Once the origins of scurvy had been discovered, they were regularly issued lemon juice. Otherwise, they had to drink water, often in reduced quantity because towards the end of the journey the stocks of food and water usually were nearly depleted.
During the time the slaves spent on deck, the crews cleaned the quarters. On some ships, this happened every day, but on others it was limited to once a week and a few skippers left the slaves to wallow in their own filth for the entire journey. In all these matters, the Dutch compared favorably with the other nationalities. They permitted their slaves more space and, in the opinion of the English slaver John Barbot, their ships were exceptionally clean. Not a single case has been recorded in which Dutchmen threw slaves overboard (either because they suffered from contagious diseases, or because food and water were scarce), while the English and other competitors frequently resorted to this practice. This humanity was largely the result of pressure from the WIC, which, as Cornelis Goslinga observed, “once involved in the slave trade … meticulously insisted upon good treatment for the Negroes.” The crews were strictly forbidden to meddle with the women, for example, and the ‘Instructions for the Skippers in the Service of the West India Company sailing in the Slave Trade’ described their duties in detail.
Because of the relatively good treatment, the average death toll on board Dutch slavers was fairly low: 16 to 17% in the 17th century and 12 to 13% in the 18th century, according to Van Dantzig. It could be almost negligible: the Adrichem, carrying more than 600 slaves, lost only 8 during the entire journey in 1710. Mortality was primarily the result of epidemics and difficulties with preserving food and water, rarely of overcrowding. Dysentery was the prime cause of death, through contamination of food and water. It usually occurred in waves. Truly astronomical death rates were caused by the most infectious diseases, such as smallpox and measles. The origins of the slaves could be influential too: when they were already weakened by failing harvests in their own country, they had less resistance. According to Klein, the experience and humanity of the skippers in the end had little bearing on mortality. Also, the death rates of transported slaves must be put in perspective: in the early period of the trade (until the middle of the 18th century), they were barely higher than those found among other reluctant seafarers, like convicts, emigrants, or soldiers. This also suggests that overcrowding was not the main cause of death (because white passengers were given at least twice as much space). However, their mortality decreased much steeper than the death toll among the slaves, which leads to the conclusion that they profited more from the expansion of medical knowledge.
Surprisingly, the mortality among the crews of the slave ships remained at a higher level than that of the slaves: Curtin believed that the slave trade claimed the life of “one sailor out of five”. The sailors weren't valuable merchandise and sometimes they had to give up their rations in favor of the slaves. They were mercilessly punished for any breach of the rules and even more susceptible to disease than the slaves were. The greater vulnerability of the sailors is illustrated by the fate of the Stat en Lande. In July 1732, this ship arrived from Jacquin with 131 slaves and 5 crew members. It had departed with 300 blacks and 37 whites. Among the dead were the mates and the surgeons. In March 1743, the Lammerenburg had only 8 crew members left when it reached the mouth of the Suriname River, with the exception of the mate and two boys all incapacitated. The captain and the rest of the crew had died from scurvy.
Mortality in general depended largely on the length of the journey. Curtin calculated that it was 10% higher on a voyage that lasted longer than 50 days than on a voyage that took less time. In this respect, the Dutch slave traders were handicapped, because their trade routes were among the longest. The ships from Guinea, for instance, sailed north first and took in provisions at São Thomé or another island. Then they journeyed westward for about 1000 miles and continued in northwestern direction to the Cape Verdian islands. This part often took a long time, because they had to pass the doldrums. Near the Cape Verdian islands, they picked up the trade winds and from then on, they could travel very fast. The ships from Angola often made better time, even though they had to cover more miles. If the journey lasted much longer than foreseen, the food supplies ran out and the slaves nearly starved. Lack of fresh water affected them even worse. Kuhn mentioned a voyage during which 79 out of 220 slaves died within a few days, because in their anguish they had resorted to drinking seawater. The slave ships sometimes arrived in a really sorry condition, as did Captain Jonker with the Watervliet. He had departed with 600 slaves “of which he had lost the greatest part because of a long and sad journey”, reported the papers of the Government Secretariat in 1747.
The slaves did not all accept their fate without a fight, though many of them were in such a shock that they did not know how to react. Many were determined not to reach the dreaded destination alive. Some jumped overboard as soon as they had the chance. Others cut their throats, or hanged themselves. Most of the time, they were watched too closely to be able to resort to such desperate measures, though. The sailors were convinced that some slaves succeeded in killing themselves by holding in their breath until they expired, but this is physiologically impossible. They could, however, swallow their tongue and suffocate themselves this way. Countless slaves steadfastly refused to eat. To force them, glowing coals were pressed to their lips, but some held their mouth firmly shut even then. For such emergencies, the slave traders took along a speculum oris, an instrument designed to wrench open their jaws, so food could be poured in through a funnel. Often, slaves simply put their head between their knees and ‘mourned’ themselves to death. The crew members stood by helplessly, but they got revenge by destroying the hope of these slaves to return to their homeland after death: “in order to obviate this idea, [some captains] thought of an expedient viz. to cut off the heads of those who died intimating to them that if determined to go, they must return without heads”. It did not help much. Rebellions aboard slave ships were legion, though few were successful. Most of them were suppressed brutally by the crew (sometimes with the aid of other ships), but even when the slaves managed to overpower the sailors, they usually perished at sea.
The voyage of the Coninck Salomon.
The description of the journey of the Coninck Salomon in 1686 gives a good impression of the situation on a WIC-vessel during the Middle Passage. It arrived in Surinam with 454 slaves that were in a horrible condition and was singled out by Governor Van Aerssen as a convincing example of the way the Surinam people were conned by Dutch traders: “we are shorn with the buying of goods, with the import of slaves and with the return of sugar”. Because of this complaint, the journal of the WIC-commissioner Jan Wils has survived in the archives of the Society of Surinam.
When the slaves were loaded in Elmina, Wils recorded that they were already “as bad as I have ever seen”. No less than a quarter were macrons, “who are so grey and sick that they are not deliverable”. Moreover, when they departed, more than 19 slaves were “already half and nearly dead”. So, the Coninck Salomon sailed forth with an armasoen of old, sick and miserable slaves and the crew had to treat them with the utmost care to keep them alive.
Their health was checked continuously. When they showed signs of weakness, they were immediately unchained and they received double rations and palm oil. The skinniest slaves got bread. They were also regularly treated to a soopje (alcohol ration) to cheer them up. Hygienic rules were rigidly adhered to. All slaves had to give up their paantjes (loincloths) to ensure that they would get no lice. The bombas incurred heavy penalties if they failed “to take good care that when the Negroes washed themselves no unwashed passed without washing themselves”. The holds were regularly scrubbed, smoked out and sprinkled with vinegar. After anchoring at Cape ‘de Loop’, the slaves were treated to an orange and three buffaloes were slaughtered for their consumption. At the next stop, on the isle of Anneboo, the captain bought ample provisions: 4000 oranges, 5000 lemons, 40 coconuts, 40 chickens, 2 billy goats and 2 pigs. Women as well as men were also issued pipes and four leaves of tobacco each.
All these precautions could not stop contagious diseases from breaking out. When it was discovered that one slave had contracted the Spanish pox, he was quarantined at the back of the ship, because two women who suffered from smallpox already took up the front space. This did not prevent the contamination of others. The slaves infected by pox and scabies received doses of gunpowder and an extra soopje of genever as medicine. This was the limit of the medical knowledge of the crew.
The only serious difficulty arose when bomba Swaen told the slaves that “the whites were going to sell them all at Cape de Loop, to be slaughtered there like cows and sheep, and that the Negroes of Cape de Loop were going to eat them then”. Swaen had been a company servant for four years and knew the habits of the whites, so he ought not to have been amazed when his ears were cut off as punishment for steering up trouble. In revenge, he incited the slaves to attack the sailors, but they were surprised when they were trying to break from their shackles and the revolt was put down without much difficulty. Swaen was hung after a summary trial, but the other conspirators were left alone.
This journey lasted two months. The remarkable fact is that in spite of the weak condition the slaves had to begin with, the occurrence of pox and other highly infectious diseases on board and the suppression of a revolt, only 54 of the 508 slaves died at sea and one in Surinam before the auction -a testimony to the skill of some Dutch slave traders.
The favored and the despised.
The preferences of the slave traders and buyers differed according to region and time. The area from which the slaves were recruited stretched from Senegambia in the north to Angola in the south, but they were not exploited in proportions equal to their capacity. In the beginning, the northern regions attracted the majority of traders, but the core of the slave traffic slowly moved south because of the mounting prices of Senegambian slaves. In the early period, the traders and planters undoubtedly bought whatever they could lay their hands on and the traders never really cared, but the planters soon developed a special regard for one nation or the other. These preferences were undoubtedly related to practical considerations (many planters happened to favor the slaves from the regions dominated by their own compatriots), but the kind of work the slaves had to perform and their temperament were important factors as well.
Some kinds of slaves earned a lot of praise. The Senegambians (Bamana and Wolof), for example, were very popular with the French. The English liked them as well, although they considered them less suitable for agricultural labor. John Barbot, the 17th century trader, described them as “genteel and courteous … but lewd and lazy to excess … For this reason they are not reckoned so proper for working in the American plantations as are those of the Gold Coast of Ardra and Angola, but the cleanliest and fittest for house servant being very handy and intelligent”. The Brazilians imported many Senegambians as well, until they discovered that these were the instigators of the most awe-inspiring rebellions. Many of these slaves were Muslims and some were literate in Arabic. Bondsmen from the Slave Coast were also well thought of since both the Yoruba and the Dahomeans were disciplined, industrious tribes used to cultivating the soil. The French had a special preference for slaves from Dahomey, while the Spaniards favored the Lucumi, as they called the Yoruba.
The French had ambivalent feelings with regard to Gold Coast slaves: on the one hand, they admired them; on the other hand, they feared their rebellious nature. The English, although well aware of their fierce temperament, sometimes became almost lyrical about their qualities. They were cooperative and worked hard, as long as they were treated justly. William Snelgrave observed: “I know that many of the Coromantine Negroes despise punishment and even death itself, it having often happened that on their being any ways hardly dealth with twenty or more hang'd themselves at a time”. This was not a sign of cowardice, on the contrary. Many authors lauded the 'Coromantees' (slaves from Coromantin, mostly Ashanti and Fanti) for their courage and pride. Christopher Codrington, Governor of the Leeward Islands, judged them as follows: “They are not only the best and most faithful of our slaves but really all born heroes. There is a difference between them and all other Negroes beyond what ‘tis possible for your Lordships to conceive. There never was a raskal or coward of that nation.” When a Coromantee was insulted or humiliated, he might kill himself out of revenge, but it was more likely that he rebelled. Coromantees were the leaders of most of the slave revolts in Jamaica. The Gold Coast slaves seemed oblivious to pain and withstood the cruelest tortures without uttering a sound. Michael Craton summed up the verdict of the English planters as follows: “Coromantine slaves were thought to be hardy and resourceful, excellent workers once tamed, but tenacious of their culture and prone to rebellion.”
The slaves from the other regions had fewer fans. Congolese and Angolan slaves were imported in large quantities everywhere, but were popular nowhere. The English in particular had little sympathy for them: “an Angolan Negro is a Proverb for worthlessness”, was the opinion of John Atkins. Since they were cheap and in ample supply, however, they were gradually appreciated more. According to Cornelis Goslinga, they were considered more tractable and more easily domesticated than others and were even thought by some to be “the best and strongest of them all”. Positively despised were the slaves from Calabar. They were mostly Ibo (New Calabar) or Efik and Ibibio (Old Calabar). Some observers considered them gentle and tractable, but in the eyes of others they were stubborn and malicious, they died in scores from ‘melancholy’ and they were reputed to take their own life (by eating dirt) at the slightest provocation. A WIC-pamphlet contained the following warning: “at Rio Calvary the Negroes are cross and stubborn and prone to suicide, and none of the potential buyers in the Caribbean are very eager to buy this particular group of slaves”. Slaves from Benin, Gabon and Cameroon were not in much demand either. Since the Asientistas refused to take such slaves, the WIC carried few of them.
Surinam planters shared a preference for Gold Coast slaves with their English counterparts. In 1729, for example, Governor De Cheusses reported that ‘Delmina’ slaves were of “a very good nation” and that they “are much wanted and will always fetch a good price in my opinion”. Governor Van Aerssen rather had one Elmina slave, even if “old and bad” than six from Calabar. The authorities were well aware of the risks though: the Court of Police warned in 1689 against having too many Coromantees (a “very Brusque, and rebellious as well as malicious people”), on one plantation; that would only lead to “much mishap and revolt”. Goslinga claimed that in the 17th century the planters decided that Elmina slaves were not strong enough for fieldwork and employed most of them for domestic services. If so, they changed their opinion soon. It is true that the Surinam planters considered them less suitable for ordinary fieldwork, but they preferred them for supervisory positions and as craftsmen. Few of them ever waited on tables in Surinam.
Bondsmen from the Slave Coast were imported in large numbers and well liked, although they had fewer ardent fans than the Gold Coast slaves. Their neighbours from the Bight of Benin were resented though. Governor Van Aerssen was adamant on this subject. He called the ‘Callibary’ slaves a “Pestilence in the Colony”: when they could not hurt others, they would hurt themselves. In 1684, he begged the Society: “in the name and on behalf of the whole colony [I] request very seriously to please resolve that no Callibary slaves may be brought here anymore”. Commissioner Marcus Broen reported in 1685 that one planter tried to give away his Calabarian slaves for free, but nobody had wanted to take them. Slaves from Gabon and Cameroon were hardly ever imported, so they incited less repugnance.
The Congolese and Angolan slaves were a different matter. The Dutch referred to the whole area indiscriminately as Angola, but they got most of their slaves from the northern part: Loango. In the middle of the 17th century, they occupied São Paulo de Luanda for a while and they enjoyed an excellent relationship with the famous queen Nzinga, so they had access to a steady stream of slaves from these parts. In later times too, the Dutch could get all the Loango slaves they wanted through contraband trade, or legally by way of their lodges, but Surinam planters (with the exception of the Jews) seem to have grown weary of them quickly.
Governor Van der Veen advised the Society in 1698 to bring more Loango children instead of adults. The trade would benefit, since “this Kind of adult Slaves is hated here (because they always run into the forest) as much as the young Kind is wanted”. Other sources pointed to the fact that the women were well regarded, but the men were not. Governor Coutier reported to the Society in 1720 (after loosing six newly bought Loango slaves, who had absconded into the forest although they did not have the slightest reason to complain), that careful research had led him to the conclusion that this was a common occurrence all over the colony: more than two thirds of the recently imported Loango males had run away. Governor De Cheusses implored the WIC in 1730 to send no more Loangos, because “in these threatening times [they are] Very dangerous, and always inclined to run away”. The Loango slaves were believed to be rather stupid, but this was not exactly a handicap in a field slave.
The fact remains that slaves from Angola continued to form a large part of the slave imports in Surinam, so one might conclude that Surinam planters did not always get the chance to practice what they preached. They tried though: many contracts made with private traders explicitly forbade the procurement of slaves from Angola. When entering the colony, the skipper and his mate sometimes had to declare under oath that they had no Loangos on board. Surinam planters obviously only took Angolan slaves when they could get nothing else. This is proved beyond doubt by the developments after the economic crisis of 1773. The planters suddenly lost their easy access to credit and could no longer afford to buy all the slaves they could get their hands on. The slave trade did not adapt to the changing circumstances right away. Consequently, the number of ships arriving in 1774 and 1775 did not decrease much. During this period, the Angolan trade was hit hard. Thirteen ships loaded with Loango slaves arrived in the colony and nine of them were obliged to leave without selling a single slave. Another could only dispose of 20 of the 320 bondsmen at a reasonable price. Just one of the eleven ships from Guinea that docked in Paramaribo during these years met with the same fate, although they were not always able to sell their whole armasoen.
In general, the Dutch operated in accordance with the maxim “the more to the East and the South the worse the Negroes turn out”. One can therefore regard Angola as a kind of supplementary depot for the Dutch slave trade. Most slavers would first search along the Gold Coast and the Slave Coast and only when not enough captives were available, they would continue to Angola. Likewise, the Surinam planters only bought Angolan slaves when no other could be had: so the higher the demand, the more Angolans would be sold.
The three phases of the Surinam slave trade.
The WIC monopoly (1667-1730).
When Abraham Crijnssen occupied in Surinam in 1667, there were several thousand slaves in the colony. This number fell drastically when the vengeful Henry Willoughby managed to persuade most English planters to leave for Jamaica. The Zeelandian authorities reluctantly permitted their departure, but ordered that “they shall Leave behinde them, Such negros and Slaves, as theij púrchased, of the inhabitants of the Said Colonij sincer the Súrrende thereof”. They urgently wanted to help the planters get the needed hands. In theory, they accepted the monopoly of the WIC, but in practice they let in any trader who wanted to sell slaves. Crijnssen himself made a deal with the English captain Robert Bartlett, on behalf of three English and two Jewish planters, to deliver “six and ninety negroes, young as well as old men, women and children, the infants inclusive, for the price of three thousand five hundred pieces of good deliverable Bally wood tree for every negro”.
Governor and councilors were even bold enough to disregard the WIC. Concluding in 1669 that “because of inducement and persuasion by contracts made with them [the skippers] sometimes come to leave from here”, they decided to declare these contracts null and void if the captains wanted to sell their slaves in the colony. To make matters worse, some inhabitants sold the passing traders ignames and other foodstuffs, which enabled them to continue their journey. Some merchants, who owned no plantations themselves, took advantage of the scarcity by buying up slaves and reselling them to the planters at an enormous profit. These practices were outlawed.
Only with the chartering of the Society of Surinam, the monopoly of the WIC was fully established. No other party, not even the Society itself, was permitted to transport a single slave to the colony, on the penalty of incurring a fine of fifty ‘pieces of eight’ (= 2,50 guilders). The WIC stationed commissioners in Surinam, who organized of the sale of the slaves and who collaborated closely with government employees, and the company paid the Society a 'recognition' fee of 15 guilders per slave.
The imported bondsmen were zealously guarded. The Governor and the Court of Police decided in 1686 that “those who move their slaves from this Colony without the consent of the Lord Governor will forfeit the slave or slaves and furthermore be fined a hundred pieces of eight for each slave”. A colonist who immigrated with his slaves was forbidden to sell any of them within a year. Informers were awarded a commission of 15 ‘pieces of eight’ for any illegally transferred slave they denounced.
The WIC was obliged to fetch as many slaves as were needed, but was never able to fulfill this task -nor willing to do so, it seems. Supplying slaves to the Spaniards under the Asiento was much more profitable and Surinam planters were often lax in paying their debts. From the beginning of the rule of the Society, the planters bitterly complained about the scarcity of slaves and the abominable quality of the few that were delivered. They longed for the return of the Zeelandian system of ‘anarchy galore’.
The letters of Governor Van Aerssen identified the labor shortage as the most pressing problem of the budding colony. He noted in 1684: “The lack of slaves here is so great, that this year more than a million pounds of Sugar that cannot be milled is or shall be burned”. He believed that the “continuous supply of slaves” was “the only way to make this colony great in a very short time”. He ceaselessly tried to persuade the Society to open the slave trade to Surinam to everyone. The Court of Police complained that during the government of Van Aerssen more slaves had died in the colony than had been brought in and continued: “with regard to the import and open market of Curaçao we can say that [it is] Easier to bring [the slaves] here from the coast of africa than from said Curaçao. [We] dare not take a chance with the macaron Slaves that are brought here, and the planters are just as willing to buy good Slaves as the Spaniards to whom the peces d’ Indes were offered”. The colonists even went so far as to lament to the States-General that the WIC was trying to “put us the foot in the Neck here, and this way keep us forever as their Workslaves which is no encouragement, for others to come here”.
The consequences of the lack of slaves were indeed disastrous, as many observers stated. Governor Van Scharphuys revealed in 1694 that some of the sugar estates that formerly boasted more than 100 slaves only had about a dozen left. He was convinced that the colony could produce twice the amount of sugar, if it would only get sufficient slaves and that “the inhabitants are much weakened by the lack and mortality of the slaves”. Governor Van der Veen, his successor, witnessed no improvement: “as the Hon. Lords Directors who now have the hands full of work to bring enough slaves in Cartagena and thereby find much more profit too, according to their Hon. opinion, than by the Equipment [of ships] for Surinam [I propose] to leave the import of Slaves here to everyone wholly free or free under some recognition during the time that their Contract with the Spaniard will run and I am sure that in such case the Court will concur and guarantee that after 4 to 5 years all the old debts to the Hon. Comp. will be paid off.” The planters of Surinam found themselves in a vicious circle: because of the lack of slaves and the high mortality among them their plantations deteriorated, as a result they could not pay their debts to the WIC, which took this as an excuse to bring in even fewer slaves.
The slaves that survived the transatlantic voyage often arrived in such a deplorable condition that in one case Governor Van Aerssen complained that it would have been better if the long –awaited vessel ‘t Huys te Loirheym had sunk into the waves, instead of completing the trip with “three hundred and three miserable Slaves who barely have the power, to carry their own bodies, let alone work”. To alleviate the situation, the WIC experimented with hired ships, but Van Aerssen concluded that these were unsuitable for the transport of slaves, their provisions were for the most part inferior and their crews were ‘godless’.
The Surinam authorities agreed that the import of at least 2000 slaves a year was necessary to satisfy demand in the colony. Requests to this end were voiced repeatedly in the beginning of the 18th century. Such a volume of imports would have meant the entry of at least four slave ships a year and this hardly ever happened. In 1689, the Court of Police bitterly noted that since 1686 only three ships had arrived and they had carried the “dregs of the Spanish”. Four meager years later, only five additional loads of slaves had entered the harbor, barely sufficient to replace the ones that had perished. In 1704, the burgerofficieren recorded that in 15 years only 24 ships had supplied Surinam, which had carried an average of 300 piezas and an undetermined number of macrons. This meant that only about 480 hands a year were added to the Surinam work force “except the Macrons and Dregs who as soon as they are sold, mostly have died and only have burdened the inhabitants”.
Often, planters had to wait for years before the next slave ship arrived, especially when times were dangerous, such as during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The ships had to sail in convoy during this period and the WIC had little desire to risk their vessels and cargo for the meager profit to be made in Surinam. So, it is no surprise that in 1712 not a single slave ship had reached the colony in more than 22 months. Even when peace prevailed for a short time, the flow of slaves left much to be desired for Surinam planters. This was all the more upsetting since they repeatedly learned that WIC ships loaded slaves that were reserved for other buyers. The skipper of the Leusden (on his way to Berbice), for example, informed Governor Temming (1722-1727) that three more slavers had been waiting on the African coast, but they were bound for St. Eustatius. The slaves they carried went straight to the Spanish colonies. Even worse, Brazilian ships were allowed to acquire armasoenen in Elmina, so not enough slaves remained to supply the WIC-vessels. These transgressions greatly angered the colonists.
When the ships arrived, they often carried sick slaves, so strict precautions had to be taken. A placard published in 1669 warned: “To prevent all infections the skippers of negro ships will have to bury their dead negroes on land, or at least when throwing them into the river, attach so much weight to the body that they sink, on penalty of forfeiting for every negro who will be found floating in the river a fine of five hundred pounds of sugar”. The healthy slaves were marched to temporary barracks. Stedman witnessed such a parade and was shocked by their appearance: they resembled skeletons covered with brown leather. The slaves were washed and given new clothes. They were well fed to regain the weight they had lost during the voyage and they were exercised to get their strength back.
In Jamaica, the sale of slaves often ended in an undignified scramble. They were sold ‘by the candle’ (the last bid before the candle went out was valid), or ‘by the run’ (the slaves were put in a dark shed and buyers carrying ropes and handkerchiefs grabbed what they could). In Surinam, the sale was more organized, but for the slaves a humiliating experience just the same. The Charter stipulated that all slaves ought to be sold at public auctions, to give poor planters an equal chance to buy slaves as their more affluent neighbors, but selling by the candle was not unheard off. According to Herlein, the proper procedure went as follows: the slaves were “sold publicly in couples, usually Male and Female sex auctioned off together, as they are also, like a Creature, mustered first, and trot to and fro in front of you, spreading the arms apart, moving the legs also in every way, and finally opening the mouth [to reveal] if there is something amiss with them”.
Since the WIC-skippers were obliged to bring an armasoen consisting for about two thirds of men and one third of women, there were twice as many men as women sold. It was the habit to sell pairs (called loten) existing of a man and a woman first and then the rest of the men in twosomes or threesomes (although occasionally pairs of women were sold as well, usually to planters who had a severe shortage of females). To equalize the chances of planters to get their hands on a desired lot, the price might be announced in advance and the planters who wished to make a bid could depose their pledges in a box, from which one was chosen at random. Most of the time, however, the merchandise went to the highest bidder.
Until the beginning of the 18th century, most of the slaves were paid for in sugar (valued at 5 cents a pound). During the government of Cornelis van Aerssen, one quarter of the purchase price had to be paid on the spot (or within eight weeks), one quarter within four months and the remainder within fourteen months. In case of default, a fine of 25% was added when the debt was settled within three months and a fine of 30% when it took longer. Soon the system was changed to the one prescribed in the Charter: the purchase price was divided into three installments to be paid every six months and no down payment was required. Debts incurred for the purchase of slaves were treated as preferential.
The WIC-commissioners soon discovered it was next to impossible to collect the outstanding debts, even when the terms were favorable. As long as these did not preclude them from buying more slaves, the planters were not bothered by their debts at all. Employees of the Society were obliged to help the WIC-commissioners get their due. Since all sugar had to be checked by the keurmeesters before shipping, they were told to seize (part of) a planter’s produce if there were debts outstanding. Luckily for the planters, these functionaries could be bribed easily. Colonists were forbidden to sell any slave that had not been paid for in full without the permission of the Governor, on penalty of forfeiting the slave -who reverted to the WIC. The buyer had to pay the price anyway, while not being able to reclaim the slave. These measures were all to no avail. Even prominent employees of the Society failed to settle their debts: in 1713, for example, the WIC was forced to put an embargo on the salary of Commander De Raineval. Governor Van der Veen concluded that “from the year 1684 until now not much more than half of the pledged price of the sold slaves has been received from which it is easy to deduce that the remainder will come in much slower because it is outstanding for the largest part among [the] unfortunate and powerless and that among the Planters on the Commewijne River few debts are outstanding”.
The colonists were of course of the opinion that their failure to pay what they owed should not be held against them: “these are personal debts, a man is not responsible for another man, and many people are not all people, and therefore it is against all fairness, that one has tried by obstructing, or impeding the necessary supply of slaves, by conditions, of which the result has shown that they are not executable, to force the defaulting to payment”. They proposed to sell the slaves for cash or letters of exchange. A similar proposal had been made by the planters during the government of Cornelis van Aerssen, but had been refused by the WIC then.
After 1710, however, the problems with the collection of the sugar owed by its debtors had become so acute that the WIC was willing to consider change. Ever more planters drew wissels on their Amsterdam correspondents, who rather loaned them the money than wait for shipments of sugar indefinitely. This did not prove to be a solution for the troubles of the WIC either. The planters were slow in settling their debts with their partners as well and often did not send enough sugar to cover them, so the annoyed correspondents started to refuse to cosign the wissels and sent them back under protest.
To minimize risks, the WIC-commissioners employed an innovative strategy. In 1688, the first planters were allowed to enter into a contract for the delivery of a stipulated number of slaves through their associates in Holland. These slaves had either to be paid for in advance, or their payment had to be guaranteed to the satisfaction of the WIC. The initial price was 160 guilders per pieza de India. This was soon raised to 180 guilders and more. At first, only a limited number of planters used this opportunity, because it was only feasible for the most prosperous, but it soon became clear that this was the only way to insure the delivery of the required number of slaves. For the unfortunate planters who were unable to find anyone to vouch for them, the practice of contracting left only the worst macrons. These were sold on the auction block at prices that were even more scandalous than those of the contracted slaves. They fetched 550 guilders a lot in 1703.
At the end of the 17th century, the raden proposed the WIC a contract for the supply of 20,000 slaves at an agreed price of 210 guilders per pieza. They were rebuffed, because the growing demand for slaves made it possible for the company to impose blatantly unfavorable conditions on the planters. In 1703, for instance, when the price of a contracted pieza had already risen to 250 guilders, the WIC nevertheless refused to equip a ship for the voyage to Africa unless at least 200 slaves were contracted in advance. This number was later increased to 300 slaves. In 1714, an uproar ensued when to WIC threatened to send the Emmenes, on which 400 piezas had been contracted, to Curacao, if another hundred slaves were not paid for in advance. Despite the habit of contracting, it remained a regular occurrence that ships bound for Surinam were diverted to one of the other Dutch colonies (Berbice, Curacao, St. Eustatius). The inhabitants became so desperate that they dispatched a special envoy, Harman van Hagen, to Holland, with instructions to persuade the WIC to settle for a steady price of 250 guilders a pieza.
Some private citizens managed to profit from the system as well: Samuel Nassy contracted 500 slaves on the Brigdamme and sold them to other planters. Governor Van Scharphuys flatly denounced this “double sort of double monopoly”.
Occasionally, the WIC deemed it profitable to comply with the wishes of the colonists, if extra profit was involved. It magnanimously offered, for instance, to supply them wholly with slaves from Fida and Ardra, if they were willing to pay a bonus of 20 guilders per pieza on top of the agreed price (as seems to have been the habit in Curacao). The Governor and councilors rejected this ‘generous’ proposal and preferred to stick with the old arrangement of two thirds Dahomean and one third Loango slaves in each armasoen.
It riled the planters that government employees had the first choice of the imported slaves, whether they bought them for the Society or for their own use. They were rightly suspicious: of the 367 slaves the Keurvorst van Brandenburg delivered, for example, (it had started with 509 slaves, of which 137 had died at sea and 11 in the harbor) 328 were purchased by the Society and only 39 were left for the planters. Governor Van der Veen, attacked on this point, fervently denied that he chose the best slaves for himself. On the contrary, he claimed to have taken a woman “who has been cut loose three times in a fortnight because she had hung herself each time”.
Even the Governor could not get hold of good slaves if the commissioners did not cooperate. Van der Veen reported that he had wanted to buy two boys from the Gideon and had sent the director of his sister’s plantation to fetch them. When the man came on board, he saw nothing but malinker (sickly) boys with swollen bellies and ulcers. An old slave of the Society, who served as an interpreter, asked the boys if there were no other slaves present and they answered that these had been hidden in “kettles and cupboards”.
Though offered the first choice, the governors did not always display much wisdom in the selection of slaves. Van der Veen was enlightened by an old planter, who told him: “that he believed that the choice of Negroes was for a large part the cause that their Hon. High Might. had lost So many Negroes on their Plantation for reason that they had been deceived by the Most Beautiful and Strongest Bodies, but if I wanted to follow the Advice of an old planter I had to look out for Such Pieces who had been Slaves in their Country and who could swim that their work here would not seem heavier than in their own country that they would not be distressed by it, and would probably stay alive; That one was in a country here in which for doing the least errand with a neighbor, one was obliged to Send a canoe with two slaves onto the River which as a result of the heavy rains and strong winds capsizes easily whereby one loses one's slaves if they cannot swim; That if one prefers the Most Beautiful and Well-made bodies it oftentimes happens that having been Squires in their Country, [they] hate the work, become distressed by it and oftentimes die, or kill Themselves”.
Van der Veen decided to heed his advice and informed the commissioner that he would send two slaves (a ‘Coromantee’ and a ‘Papa’) to help select the twelve slaves that he needed, to question them about the work they had performed back home and to ascertain that they could swim. Furthermore, they had to check if the new slaves were all Coromantees and Papas as had been claimed, for there were rumors that the captain tried to sneak in some of the hated ‘Calibaries’ as well.
The organization of the trade left the door wide open for corruption of all kinds. The reason for this was perfectly clear to Governor Van der Veen: “it is easy to foresee for me that there will come few commissionaires who will not be tempted, especially as long as they continue to understand that they are allowed to dispose of the Slaves who are left over from the contracts the way they see fit, because then they will certainly follow the Example of the former commissionaires, that is to say that they will keep the best Slaves behind and under pretext that these have been sold at a public auction manage to pass them on to Themselves, to their Friends, and to those who succeed in buying their Friendship”. Often there were not enough piezas to go around. Many planters who had contracted slaves and had paid for them beforehand were asked to take only part of the slaves they had ordered (with the Governor giving the good example). Some did not get any pieza at all and had the choice between accepting macrons and waiting for the next ship to arrive (which could take months, if not years).
Adrian de Lier, for example, had contracted 15 piezas and received none at all, while several loten had gone to an unknown buyer and no less than 31 slaves to Simon van den Broek (the pseudonym of a former director of the WIC, who was a notorious troublemaker). Pierre Prunier received a slave who suffered from dysentery and returned him. He was promised a replacement from the next ship. When it arrived, he could only choose one of the outcasts. The one he selected had dysentery as well and died soon, but the commissioners refused to give him another one. Because of cases like this, the planters demanded the right to return sick slaves within a period of six weeks.
Francois Greenwaut had ordered twelve slaves on the Winthond in 1702, but was allotted only three. Since there were several slaves left who could not pass for piezas, he proposed that he would take three of them for every two piezas still due to him. Commissioner Van Sandick refused this because he could sell these cripples for the same price as healthy slaves and promised him three slaves from the next ship, if he kept quiet (which he obviously did not). He was not the only one who was short-changed on this occasion and there followed quite an uproar when the slaves of the Beurs van Amsterdam were sold a couple of months later. The planters whose contracts for slaves from the Winthond had not been fulfilled, demanded substitutes from this ship, what their colleagues who had contracted these slaves opposed. Governor Van der Veen decided to confiscate all the slaves commissioner Houtcoper had reserved for himself and his wife and half of the ones contracted by his business partner Cuylenburgh in order to give them satisfaction.
The commissioners even made colonists beg sometimes for the privilege of buying ailing slaves at exorbitant prices. A planter named Boudens had pleaded in vain with them to let him buy just one lot. After the auction, when it became clear “that there were still some sick negroes left whom nobody wanted to buy anymore they asked said Boudens if he wanted to select a lot from them who thanked them with tears in his eyes”. At the same time, men who did not even own a plantation had received 10 to 40 slaves from this ship. In such circumstances, it is understandable that the colonists became furious when an eagerly awaited vessel arrived with only 160 slaves, instead of the 450 that had been contracted, and 70 of them were sold at a public auction.
The commissioners soon discovered that they could force the planters to pay handsome regaalen (bribes) for their intercession. Albert van Heijst was promised he could buy two pairs of slaves for 1300 guilders, if he paid four hogsheads of sugar (worth about 160 guilders) to the commissioner. Gerrit van Egten (who had contracted no slaves on the Beurs van Amsterdam) was offered two loten from this ship if he paid a fee of 300 guilders. Elias Chayne managed to get three male slaves for a bribe of ‘only’ two hogsheads of sugar. Several planters refused to be blackmailed this way. The commissioners did not hesitate to cheat the Society as well. Governor Temming discovered that they had entered several fictional buyers into their books to cover up their “base trade”. Commissioner Houtcoper was eventually fired for corruption.
Often, the slaves were not as healthy in body and mind as the standards for a pieza prescribed, but the planters had little possibility for redress. Sold slaves were rarely taken back, not when they soon succumbed to a contagious disease like dysentery, not when they proved “mad and incompetent”. These irregularities threatened to give the WIC a bad reputation, which it did not mind as long as it enjoyed a monopoly. The company only started to take the complaints seriously after 1730. The Amsterdam Chamber chastised the commissioners Lever and Hoevenaar for selling three epileptic slaves, taking them back after complaints and then selling them again. They were warned to make sure that “upon sale all the infirmities of the slaves are revealed to the buyers with all accuracy, [and] if they are sold with some infirmities, not to take them back”. The directors of the WIC forbade any special consideration for certain buyers (for example, letting them examine slaves that were sold at public auctions in advance).
It is not surprising that in circumstances like these the inhabitants were tempted to buy from interlopers. Postma found, however, that these smugglers (called enterlopers or lorredraayers in Surinam) scorned dealing in slaves and preferred gold and ivory. Moreover, it was rather difficult to enter the inhabited part of Surinam undetected: the ship had to pass by way of the Mot Creek, where a military post was situated. Governor Van der Veen was convinced that the planters were not very keen on buying slaves from interlopers and would never consider it if the WIC would only mend its ways: “firstly because they are always Loango slaves; a nation that is not successful at all nor is wanted here, that apart from the hazard of being cheated one has to take them of the ship at unseasonable times, and try to get them to the plantations over untracked roads, if there are cripples among them, one has to keep them and remain silent, since they ordinarily have been paid for on delivery; what is spared [by paying] such a lorrendraayere instead of the Comp. can at most be thirty or thirty-six guilders; and for that money they will not take the chance if only enough slaves were supplied by the Comp”.
The Governor and the Court of Police were obliged to punish interlopers, but the raden were often unwilling to be very strict. In the case of the slave smuggler Saint Joseph, the Raad-Fiscaal demanded the death penalty for the whole crew (35 sailors) and wanted the cargo confiscated on his own behalf, but the Court refused to comply and merely confiscated the ship. Sometimes foreign vessels were damaged near the coast of Surinam and asked permission to enter the harbor for repairs and the purchase of provisions. In those cases, the Court willingly allowed them to sell some slaves to cover the charges.
Although the WIC gave up its monopoly in 1730, it immediately made a deal with the Society for the delivery of 2500 slaves a year to Surinam. Of course, the company proved unable to honor the contract, although during the period august 1731 to august 1738 it was ‘only’ 4438 piezas short. In 1736, the Society was informed that the losses the WIC incurred in the slave trade increased steadily and that it could not continue this way. The WIC proposed to reduce the agreed number of slaves to 1250 a year and to oblige the planters to pay the regular price in Holland in sugar or wissels. The Society thereupon decided to install her own commissioner for the slave trade. Although the Surinam authorities tried to force the WIC to keep its end of the bargain, the part of the company in the slave imports to Surinam dwindled to almost nil. It took the WIC quite a while to settle her affairs in the colony. The commissioners tried hard to collect payment of outstanding debts, but although the Society ordered the Governor to help, they failed miserably. All in all, the WIC profited little from the high slave prices: it did not succeed in collecting more than half the money owed by the planters.
The Dutch private trade (1730-1782).
When it became clear that the WIC would never be able to supply a sufficient number of slaves, the Society decided to place advertisements for private traders, even though it considered this primarily the responsibility of the planters. Soon it issued one permit after the other, especially to captains from Zeeland. The partners often drew up intricate contracts. An example is the contract made with skipper Dirk Winnia of the Watervliet in 1741, which stated unequivocally that he was not allowed to bring Loango slaves: three officers had to declare this under oath upon arrival. Furthermore, he was to buy 400 to 500 slaves, one third of them women, and two thirds at most should be contracted in advance. To stimulate the trade, it was decided that the auction master was only to receive 2,5 % of the proceeds, of which 1 % was turned over to the Cassa van Modique Lasten. The sellers were absolved from taxes.
As a result, the trade bustled as never before: from 1738 to 1745, 63 slave ships entered the colony and in 1646-47 15 more. On the Gold Coast, where the WIC retained its power, the company carried on a profitable business, for it received a recognition of twenty guilders for every slave, in addition to 60 guilders per last (reduced to 42,50 guilders in 1760) from the skippers, one third of which had to be paid upon departure from Holland.
For the private traders, however, it was often tempting to bypass Surinam: the colony was located outside the main trade routes and the slaves could often fetch a greater return elsewhere. Consequently, the Surinam planters had to match the offers of the competition, or the skippers simply left, as did Cornelis Baene, though the slaves sold at a “reasonable price”. The planters often got stuck with sickly slaves left over from a trip along the more prosperous colonies. Still, the private traders were instrumental in creating the two peaks in Surinam slave imports: from 1742 to 1744 (when sugar and coffee prices were relatively high) and from 1763 tot 1773 (when credit was easy and plentiful). During both these periods, the imports reached a level of more than 8000 slaves a year. Nearly all the planters paid for their slaves with wissels by this time.
The private traders were officially obliged to offer their slaves at a public auction, but they were more inclined to sell them ‘out of hand’. Governor Nepveu lamented in 1770 that practically no slaves appeared at auctions anymore. Even the worst specimens, “outcasts and very bad Angolans”, were sold directly. Only the slaves the traders could not get rid off were still offered at auctions. The Court of Police voiced few objections, probably because the members were preferred customers. The inflation of slave prices was gigantic: “now with the largest credit the good [slaves] are rather bought too expensive than the bad for a low Price, Nepveu commented. It is not surprising that the traders preferred selling this way, because the office of the Venduemeester often kept the proceeds for months before turning them over to the skipper or his associate. One captain tried to sue the office for his money in 1767, but to no avail.
When the traders did stoop to selling their slaves at an auction, they sometimes tried to drive up the prices by bidding themselves. If they did not find buyers willing to pay a king's ransom right away, they repeated their performance at the next auction. The planters, led to believe others valued these slaves that high, often paid too much for them. Alternatively, the sellers employed stooges to make fake bids. The Society outlawed this practice: representatives were only allowed on the premises if they could present a ‘billet of authorization’ from a prospective buyer.
Private traders were even less particular in selecting their merchandise than the WIC-captains, so the measures to prevent the introduction of contagious diseases into the colony had to be sharpened. The surgeon of the Society examined all imported slaves and the afflicted (or suspected) cases were quarantined at the Braamspunt, where hundreds of them wasted away miserably.
Some of the private traders operated on their own, often with the aid of small investors, but most were sent by large companies. In Rotterdam, the Hudig Company was prominent and the most active outfit in Middelburg was the Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, which kept its captains on a very short leash. The briefest voyage made by a ship of this company was 11 months (by the classical triangular route) and the longest three years and two months. From 1755 to 1807, the MCC equipped 92 ships for the slave trade; only half of them were destined for Surinam and Berbice.
The private companies were no more fortunate in collecting their money than the WIC had been. Wissels were so often ‘protested’ that after the economic crisis of 1773 many traders refused this medium and demanded payment in products again. Nevertheless, ships were often forced to sail back to Holland with only ballast, because they could not get a return cargo. The MCC’s representatives were still trying to extract payment in 1818, 15 years after the last delivery to Surinam.
The war between England and the Netherlands put a stop to the Dutch slave trade in 1780 and after 1782, it resumed at a level much lower than before. Therefore, the colonial authorities put increased pressure on the Society to allow foreign traders access to the Surinam market. Finally the Society relented: the French schooner Gabriel became the first foreign vessel with official permission to land slaves in the colony. This inaugurated a new phase in the history of Surinam slave imports.
Foreign and illegal trade (1782 to ????).
The opening of the colony to foreign traders did not mean that no Dutch vessels entered Surinam after that: until 1795 an occasional ship from Elmina still called. However, this could certainly not satisfy demand. Neither could the sprinkling of slaves brought in by the rare foreign vessels with official permission. Therefore, the Surinam planters (if their finances permitted it) illegally purchased slaves from English and American interlopers. After the English occupation of the colony in 1799, they no longer had to sneak in. Since these nationalities were the most active slave traders of the period, Surinam was well provided for. This luxury did not last long: in 1806, the English government decided that its colonies could import no more slaves than 3% of the number already present per year and in 1807, the transatlantic slave trade was abolished once and for all. Fortunately for the planters, the treaty (accepted by the Netherlands in 1814) did not apply to the traffic within the West-Indian territory and there the Surinam planters found a new supply.
Although Stedman claimed that American ships brought in mulattoes (half white) and quarteroons (three quarters white) from the Leeward Islands in the 1770’s (who were not meant to work in the fields and fetched a suspiciously high price), the West-Indian islands formed a minor source of supply during this period. This changed in the 19th century. The French islands in particular sent a steady stream of slaves to Surinam. The English judges of the Mixed Court maintained that during the first six months of their stay (1819-1820) 2800 ‘French’ slaves had been imported, most of whom seemed to have come directly from Africa. They were probably right, because the French authorities did not hesitate to supply these so-called zoutwaternegers (saltwater Negroes) with false papers, establishing them as longtime residents of their colonies. The Lammens Papers recorded the origins of these ships, including Martinique, Guadeloupe and Cayenne. Further deliveries came from the English possessions St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Vincent, Barbados and Trinidad and even from Brazil and Argentine. The imports from the French colonies were stopped in April 1821. Those from the English territories, however, increased during the 1820s. When slavery was abolished in the English colonies in 1833, many planters, especially from Barbados, settled in Surinam with their slaves. As late as 1843, the English judge Shenley found 200 slaves from Barbados on a plantation.
The Surinam government aided the import of slaves from the West Indies by a subsidy of 25 guilders for every able-bodied hand. This was considered necessary because the traders would otherwise offer these slaves to the more prosperous planters of Cuba and Brazil. At the same time, the export of slaves was hampered, not only by a sales tax of 100 guilders per hand, but also by a caution of 1000 guilders to insure that the slave was indeed brought to the designated territory.
The legal trade was not sufficient to meet the needs of Surinam and some smuggling was going on as well. How much is uncertain. Wolbers, for example, estimated a number of 1000 a year for the whole period until emancipation. Emmer, on the contrary, claims that after the inauguration of slave registration in 1826, smuggling virtually came to an end, which in his eyes proved that plantation agriculture had become unprofitable in Surinam. In all probability, quite a few slaves were smuggled into the colony, even after 1826. Most of the Maroons caught in later times, even the young ones, were born Africans. A number of 1000 a year seems exaggerated, though.
A handicap in the efforts to stop smuggling was the lack of cooperation from Surinam authorities, especially those with plantation interests. One of the tasks of the Mixed Court, established in Paramaribo in 1819, was to pass judgment on those caught smuggling slaves. The English judges were all ardent abolitionists, the Dutch merely able jurists, who often did not care one way or the other. The English members soon concluded that they had no real power to carry out their task: once the slaves had been disposed of, they were unable to proof that a suspected ship had carried them. The Surinam authorities did everything possible to keep them from tracking down the unfortunate slaves. The situation was remedied somewhat when in 1822 an ‘equipment clause’ was added to the treaty: crews could now be convicted if they had shackles on board, or carried too much food for their own consumption.
Nevertheless, very few interlopers were ever convicted in Surinam. In 1825, for example, 250 African slaves were found aboard the French vessel A La Bonne Heure. The owners were brought to Paramaribo for trial, but managed to escape –with the aid of the Surinam authorities, the English judges suspected. When a ship and its cargo were confiscated for a change, the Surinam government was loath to award the slaves their freedom. They could hardly be expected to ship them back to Africa and it was difficult to set them free in the colony. Therefore, they kept them under strict surveillance. The 54 liberated slaves of the La Nueve of Snauw, for example, were treated as slaves of the government in the perception of the English judges and only after vehement protests and after 19 years had gone by, they were permitted to leave the colony. Most of them settled in Demerara. This vessel and the La Légère, caught in 1834 with 363 slaves on board, were about the only slavers ever confiscated.
The experience of working in Surinam turned out an extremely frustrating one for the English judges of the Mixed Court. They met open hostility everywhere. Not only from the public, but also from the authorities who were supposed to support them. Their physical safety could not be guaranteed: they were vilified in the streets, pelted with stones and in one case, their horses were poisoned. In 1845, no new judges were appointed, although the ones leaving did not consider the work finished. This signaled the end of the largely unsuccessful endeavors of the Mixed Court.
The internal slave trade.
On one level Surinam contrasted favorably with most other plantation colonies: it had virtually no internal slave trade, nor a regular export of slaves. The Surinam slaves were divided into two categories: the private slaves, registered under the name of their owner, and the plantation slaves, registered under the name of their plantation. The former could be traded within the boundaries of the colony, but even then there were many limitations. Mothers and children, for example, could not be sold separately, even when the children were adults. There were ways to circumvent this regulation, as we shall later see, but overall there were few such transactions and these mostly concerned particularly recalcitrant slaves, who often changed owner repeatedly. The plantation slaves could never be sold individually, only as a group when their estate was abandoned or joined with another. The lack of slaves in the colony was so great that severe limitations were also placed on the sale abroad. Most of the time only criminals who for some reason had not been put to death were disposed of this way.
Some unscrupulous persons took a chance at selling stolen slaves, but this was a hazardous venture in Surinam. The perpetrators were easily caught and the profit was certainly not worth the risk. George Metzger, for instance, was fined 1000 guilders for buying a slave from two sailors, very likely deserters. The thieves, who claimed to have found the slave, were whipped and banished. They had received 250 guilders for him. Boscriolen (children of former slaves who had been born in the forest) could be sold for the profit of their capturers.
The traffic in Indian slaves was always very limited in Surinam, although they were present on some plantations until the end of the 18th century. Most of them had been captured in the territory between the Corantijn and the Orinoco. Hunting or bartering for Indian slaves was not stimulated. They had only limited use and the traders might easily disturb the good relations with the free Indian tribes. The Court of Police deliberated each case at length. When Pieter de Laat wanted to sell some Indians from Essequibo in 1744, for instance, permission was granted only reluctantly.
Once they had arrived at their destination, Surinam slaves could be reasonably sure that they would stay there for the rest of their life.
The numbers game.
The origins of Surinam slaves.
The exact provenance of the slaves imported into Surinam is hard to determine. The main reason is the fact that planters were not very interested in fine distinctions and only applied rough labels. Furthermore, the search is hampered by the sometimes loose naming practices. Most of the time, tribal names were considered irrelevant and the slaves were named after their language group (Akan), the nation that sold them (Dahomeans), or the port they were shipped from (Minas). Sometimes, a proper tribal name was garbled so much by ignorant clerks that it is difficult to reconstruct. In the Dutch colonies it was the habit to name imported slaves after the city where they had been purchased: Coromantees (Cormantijnen) after the WIC-stronghold Coromantin, Minas after Elmina, Papas after Popo, Ardras after Ardra (Allada), Fidas after Fida (Ouidah), Abos after the Dahomean capital Abomey, Calabaries after (Old) Calabar, Loangos after Loango (Angola), etc. Consequently, these are the names found in the archival sources, who only rarely registered tribal names (they did distinguish the “Demakoekoe”, but these were cannibals, so they attracted special attention).
Various writers have given lists of ‘tribes’ who contributed to the Surinam slave force. It is not always clear where they got their information. Hartsinck presented an exhaustive one, but Van Lier claims it is worthless because he literally copied it from the work of Père Labat. Whatever the origin, the list does record most groups present in Surinam, although slaves belonging to the same tribe were sometimes recorded under different names.
(1) Ardra slaves (or Dongos), shipped form Ardra and Juda (Fida);
(2) Nago slaves (= Yoruba);
(3) Mallais slaves (brought in by people from Mali and shipped through Fida, Ardra and Jacquin);
(4) Aqueras slaves (unknown);
(5) Tchou slaves (unknown);
(6) Foin slaves (Fon from the Slave Coast);
(7) Guiamba slaves (probably Chamba from the Gold Coast);
(8) Fida and Jacquin slaves;
(9) Delmina slaves (Ashanti, Fanti, Wassa, Akim);
(10) Annamaboe slaves (Fanti);
(11) slaves from Accra;
(12) Abo and Papa slaves;
(13) Coromantee slaves;
(14) Ayois slaves (unknown);
(15) slaves from Goree;
(16) slaves from Sierra Leone;
(17) slaves from Cabo Monte;
(18) slaves from Cape La Hou (on the Gold Coast, he added that most of the slaves imported into Surinam came from there at the time);
Practically all the groups he mentioned dwelt on the Gold Coast or the Slave Coast and most can easily be identified. The only remarkable thing is that he does not mention slaves from Angola.
Hostmann, writing almost a century later, understandably came with a somewhat different list:
(1) Coromantee slaves;
(2) Sokko and Mandingo slaves (from Senegambia);
(3) Abo slaves;
(4) Foela or Foeloeppoe slaves (Fula from Senegambia);
(5) Mende slaves (from Senegambia);
(6) Tjamba slaves (Chamba from the Gold Coast);
(7) Loango and Congo slaves;
(8) Ibo or Hiboe slaves.
This reflects the shift in the slave trade after it had become illegal: Senegambia and the Congo Basin became more popular.
Van Lier has tried to identify some of the more obscure tribes, but made a few serious errors in the process: he placed the Abo in Cameroon, for example, although Dutch traders hardly ever called there, in fact positively despised these slaves. Both lists point to the same conclusion: most slaves came from the Gold and the Slave Coasts, in varying proportions. The slaves from Angola made an important contribution and during the 18th century, the Windward Coast gained ground as a major supplier. The 19th century saw an increased import of slaves from areas previously neglected by Dutch traders: especially Senegambia.
The most accurate picture of the distribution of these groups of slaves is not delivered by Surinam sources, but by the researches of Johannes Postma on the Dutch export from Africa. He summed up his conclusions in the following table:
1675-1700: L/A 34%; SC 64%; GC 2%; IC 0%; WC 0%
1701-1735: L/A 31%; SC 32%; GC 23%; IC 9%; WC 4%
1736-1795: L/A 24%; SC 1%; GC 26%; IC 35%; WC 14%
L/A = Loango/Angola; SC = Slave Coast; GC = Gold Coast; IC = Ivory Coast; WC = Windward Coast).
As can be seen, slaves from the Slave Coast were most sought after in the beginning. In the 18th century, the trade shifted more to the northwest, first to the Gold Coast, later to the Ivory and Windward Coast. The slaves from those regions were for a large part closely related to those of the Gold Coast. Cape La Hou was the most important trade center there (50% of the Dutch traffic). The procured slaves were mostly Beule (Akan speaking refugees from Senate), who warred with their neighbors the Senufo and Guro.
The question is whether the slaves Surinam received formed a faithful representation of the general trade. As has been remarked, the Surinam planters were not exactly the safest risk in the Caribbean and their competitors were more willing to offer ready money for the slaves they coveted. Moreover, despite their fierce objections the Surinam planters were continuously saddled with slaves they detested. This leads to the conclusion that they probably had to content themselves with a greater portion of the less desirable bondsmen. This is corroborated by my own research, which shows that the Angolan part of the imports came close to 40% between 1740 and 1780. Although the data are not complete, this warrants the conclusion that the Surinam planters took more than an equal share of those slaves. On the other hand, they probably suffered stiff competition from the English where Coromantee slaves were concerned. With these reservations in mind, the table of Postma can be taken as an indication for the provenance of slaves imported into Surinam.
Van Lier claimed that most of the Surinam slaves belonged to matrilineal tribes. He is surely mistaken here: the Gold Coast slaves were indeed matrilineal, but the Dahomeans, the Senegambians and the Angolans were not. Together, these slaves formed the majority of imports all through the slave era.
The number of slaves imported.
Similar problems arise when one tries to ascertain the number of slaves imported into Surinam. In this case, the lament of Curtin that “historians have copied over and over again the flimsy results of unsubstantial guesswork” is particularly valid. Ironically, Curtin himself resorted to some pretty unsubstantial guesswork himself when dealing with Surinam. Leaving aside the unrealistically high estimates of Noel Deerr (who believed that a total of 900.000 slaves had been brought to Surinam and the Dutch Antilles), the authors addressing this problem are more or less on the same page. I will focus on the estimates of Van Lier (1949), Curtin (1969) and Price (1976).
Rudolph van Lier has not wasted much ingenuity on this enigma. As a basis for his calculations, he took the number of slaves mentioned in the contract concluded with the WIC in 1730: 2500 a year. Although he acknowledged that the imports fluctuated considerably, he also believed that the fluctuations canceled each other. By simple multiplication, he reached a total of 315,000 slaves for the period 1682 to 1808. After 1826, the illegal imports were largely curbed, but he believed that during the interim at least 1000 slaves a year were smuggled in. This estimate was based on a note of Teenstra, who distilled this valuable piece of information from the casual remark of an “inhabitant of the colony”. All in all, Van Lier arrived at a projected import of about 350.000 slaves.
Philip Curtin, in his excellent study The Atlantic Slave Trade, depended entirely on written sources, which with regard to the situation in Surinam were not exactly plentiful and varied in their unsubstantial guesswork from 100.000 to 350.000 slaves. Inevitably, he based his estimates largely on the calculations of Van Lier, although he believed these were on the low side, considering the long period of the trade and the slave population at the end of the 18th century. He therefore produced an estimate of 500.000 imported slaves for the whole of Dutch America, which he later refined to 399.000 for Surinam: 345.000 before 1808 and 54.000 thereafter. He conceded, however, that the present state of research does not permit very accurate calculations.
Richard Price also leaned heavily on the work of Van Lier. He presented the following estimates: 1668-1670: 1,600; 1671-1750: 146,000; 1751-1800: 100,000 to 125,000; 1801-1813: 30,000; 1814-1823: 25,000. This adds up to a total between 300,000 and 325,000. His calculations are based on a supposed annual decrease of 4 to 5% and the fact that around 1735 the slave population had reached a level of 50,000 “the size it was to maintain, with little variation, until the end of the slave trade in the early nineteenth century”.
Certainly, the ‘wet finger work’ of both Van Lier and Curtin must be regarded with the greatest caution. Price, at least, has attempted serious calculations, although in my opinion they rest on the wrong premises. The most vital error is the fact that the slave population of Surinam did not reach the 50,000 mark around 1735 (Price voiced some doubts about this as well). In reality, the slave population grew much slower than he claimed: the 25,000 mark was only reached in 1747 and the zenith probably not before the end of the 1760’s. This means that for about thirty years the slave population needed fewer replacements than Price calculated. Consequently, the import levels during the first half of the 18th century must have been considerably lower than he believed. The 30,000 slaves supposedly imported between 1801 and 1813 are equally unlikely. The English, having outlawed the transatlantic slave trade at a huge expense to themselves, would not have tolerated so much smuggling under their very noses, nor did the much more prosperous Caribbean islands send their superfluous slaves to poor cousin Surinam in such numbers. Moreover, the Napoleonic Wars slowed down all trade during this period. For the years between 1814 and 1823, he probably took the result of a top year and extrapolated this to cover the whole period. Since most of his estimates are (far) too high and none are too low, it can be hypothesized (even without further research) that the real number of slaves imported into Surinam will not be over 300,000 and that the estimates of Van Lier and Curtin are considerably beyond the mark.
There are three possible methods for obtaining an accurate picture of the number of slaves brought into Surinam: (a) to calculate the exact volume from archival sources; (b) to take the Dutch exports from Africa as a guideline, calculate the portion that went to Surinam and make provisions for the contributions of foreign traders and interlopers; (c) to calculate the imports from the population growth and mortality. Unfortunately, none of these methods is error free. To glean the imports from the archival sources would be an undertaking of several years in itself and worse, the data would never be complete. The Governor’s Journal seems to have faithfully listed all the ships that arrived and departed, including their cargoes, but many volumes have been lost, or cannot be scrutinized due to fragility. Furthermore, one cannot be sure that certain arrivals were not overlooked. A second problem is the comprehensiveness of the data. There is a definite tendency towards a greater level of superficiality as time goes by. In later years, the numbers of slaves brought in were often recorded in hundreds, or even not at all. Moreover, it is not certain that all imported slaves were actually sold in the colony. Many skippers left with part of their armasoen when the prices were not right. Especially after the crisis of 1773, this became a regular habit. No indication of the contribution of the interlopers can be inferred from these sources. However, I agree with Postma that they played only a minor part in the trade.
With regard to the African exports, the situation is more or less the same. Often, the destination of the ships was not indicated and even when this was the case, it is not certain that they actually went there. In many instances, they obviously did not. Postma has calculated that the total number of slaves carried by Dutch vessels between 1675 and 1795 was 407,000. Before 1713, many of these slaves (totaling at least 60,000) went to the Spaniards and the English by way of Curacao. Later, a larger percentage ended up in Surinam. Of a sample of 174 WIC-voyages, 96 were destined for Surinam and Guyana (55%). A sample of 125 runs of free traders indicated that 97 (80%) were destined for these parts. Moreover, it is undetermined how many of the ships destined for the South-American mainland went to Surinam and how many to Berbice, Essequibo and Demerara. It was not unusual that slave ships anchored in the Suriname River, only to proceed speedily to another colony, much to the chagrin of the inhabitants.
The population statistics of Surinam are far from complete. For the late 17th and first half of the 18th century adequate statistics are present in the archives of the Society of Surinam. These probably underestimate the slave population somewhat, since they were designed to determine the amount of poll tax a planter owed and new colonists did not have to pay such a tax (but these probably owned few slaves). On the other hand, it is impossible to separate the red from the black slaves, so the latter are overrepresented if one uses these statistics to measure the growth of the black population. All in all, the numbers of slaves indicated by these statistics will not be too far of the mark and it is extremely unlikely that an error of 100% (as is implied by the estimates of Price) will occur. Other demographic data are lacking, so the rate of natural decrease can only be guessed.
None of these perspectives offers a definite solution, but if they are combined, they can give insights that are more solidly founded in fact than the estimates of the authors mentioned above. My own calculations, made with the limitations outlined above in mind, lead to the following numbers: 1667-1684: 5,000; 1684-1730: 60,000; 1730-1750: 45,000; 1750-1760: 30,000; 1760-1780: 60,000; 1780-1800: 25,000; 1800-1863: 40,000; TOTAL: 265,000. This estimate is not only considerably lower than those of my esteemed predecessors, but I even believe it is on the high side. The following considerations are pertinent here.
In the earliest period, the Surinam planters had to start building their slave forces almost from scratch, since the English took along most of their slaves when they departed. In 1684, there were about 3000 slaves, the majority imported by Dutchmen. For this period, considering the effects of the unrest and the Indian War, I have hypothesized a ‘replacement rate’ of 10%. The estimated number of 5000 imports is made up of 3000 ‘replacements’ and 2000 ‘additions’.
In the beginning of the 18th century, most of the Lower Commewijne and Cottica divisions were cleared, but the real surge in production only took place in the 1750’s and 1760’s. The incessant complaints of the planters indicated a scarcity of slaves both in the absolute sense (the planters often could not even replace the slaves they lost) and in the relative sense (Surinam could not develop according to its potential because of this). The estimated imports are certainly sufficient to explain the expansion of the territory dedicated to plantations, but the sharp inflation of the slave prices (which was only remotely connected with the development of the purchase prices in Africa) points to the conclusion that the imports did not match the demand in Surinam.
The WIC would never have been able to drive up the prices so shamelessly, if the interlopers had formed a genuine alternative source of supply. It is undeniable that some lorredraayers have indeed ventured into Surinam waters, but I believe these were incidental occurrences. In the first place, slave trading was much riskier and no more profitable than smuggling gold or spices. In the days of monopolistic trading, it was not easy to procure bondsmen outside the regular channels and it took a lot of time and effort. Moreover, the lorredraayers had to sell their slaves for cash, which few Surinam planters had at hand in sufficient quantity. If even the WIC, which was able to charge substantially higher prices for its slaves, considered it more profitable to smuggle slaves into the Spanish territories than to sell them under monopolistic conditions in Surinam, then it seems likely that those lorredraayers who did resort to dealing in slaves would prefer the same option. Finally, even if the interlopers had contributed just as many slaves as the WIC (which is extremely unlikely), then this would not change my conclusions, since only half my projected imports are covered by certified WIC-trade.
For the years 1684 to 1730, the (incomplete) archival sources indicate an import of at least 32,000 slaves. The slave population grew from 3000 to 18,000 slaves. During the whole period complaints about the scarcity of slaves abounded. They came from so many different persons (including all the governors) and were so persistent, that they must have represented more than the usual lamentations of greedy entrepreneurs. Added to this was the fact that the slave population actually declined during a couple of years. For this period, I have again surmised a replacement rate of 10%, based on the estimates of the planters themselves. This means that on average 1000 slaves a year had to be brought in just to keep up the numbers. To make a population growth of 15,000 possible, that many extra had to be imported. This adds up to about 60,000 slaves.
During the period 1730 to 1750, the slave population grew with roughly 10,000 persons. At first, the rise was rather steeply, corresponding with a couple of active WIC-years when the target of 2500 slaves was almost met. Then there was a temporary relapse during the period the WIC dropped out and the free traders moved in. Once they were conveniently established, the free traders were instrumental in creating the first real hausse in slave imports in Surinam. These decades also witnessed the largest expansion of the cultivated area and the prices of the various products were high. Slaves were needed urgently, after 1740 they were increasingly available and the planters could afford to buy them. Considering the fact that about 15,000 slaves were brought in between 1731 and 1738, an estimate of 45,000 imports for the whole period seems reasonable.
The three decades from 1750 to 1780 may be classified as the top years of Surinam plantation agriculture. The slave population grew fast, production expanded and more than 30 million guilders in Dutch investments were poured into the colony. I have divided this period into two stages primarily because of the soundness of my own data: while for the decade 1750 to 1760 they are irregular, they are reasonably complete for the remaining decades. During these years, the slave population more than doubled to 55,000 – 60,000 persons. Up to 1773, the Surinam planters, thanks to the generous credit facilities and a regular supply, could buy all the slaves they wanted, even at highly inflated prices. After that year, the planters had to pass up many opportunities to buy slaves: although there were still plenty of ships plying their wares, some of them had to depart with most of their armasoen unsold. Meanwhile, the coming of age of the plantation system also ameliorated the situation of the slaves, so (following Stedman) I use a replacement rate of 5% per year. For the period 1750 to 1760 my estimate is pure conjecture, but with this replacement rate and a population growth of about 15,000 an estimate of 30,000 imports is warranted. For the next two decades, my own data add up to 58,500 slaves. I certainly missed some ships, but on the other hand, not all the slaves who were brought into the colony were sold, so 60,000 may not be too bad a guess.
From 1780 to 1784, the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War eliminated most of the Dutch slave trade and it never recovered from this blow. Alternative sources of supply were found in the intra-Caribbean trade and the contributions of foreign slavers. During this period, the slave population remained stable at most and at the end of the 18th century even started to decline gradually. My own data indicate that roughly 13,000 slaves were imported between 1785 and 1800. This number is probably too low, considering the replacements that were needed, but it is highly unlikely that more than the 25,000 indicated here were shipped into the colony.
The following observations can be made about the evolution of the slave population during the 19th century: (1) the number of slaves continued to drop steadily; (2) the rate of natural decrease diminished, while natural increase was larger than ever; (3) during the last decades of the slavery era, the decline cannot be explained by natural decrease: many slaves must have disappeared through manumission and marronage. During a few periods, there was a lively slave traffic. In the first eight years of the century, 8000 slaves were imported. From 1818 to 1821, an estimated number of 10,000 superfluous slaves from the (French) Caribbean islands flooded the colony. In the 1830s, after slavery had been abolished in the English territories, many English planters settled in Surinam with their slaves. According to Teenstra, about 13.000 slaves were brought to Surinam during this period.
The development of the slave population does not lent credence to the suggestion that there was a continuous absorption of large numbers of smuggled slaves during the 19th century, especially after 1830. The fact that African-born persons were found among the Maroons even in the later stages of the slavery era proves that some smuggling must have taken place. However, zoutwaternegers were always more prone to run away and in these circumstances (they entered plantations with a tightly knit Creole community hostile to outsiders) their motivation for flight was even greater than among their 18th century counterparts, so this was not representative of the situation on the plantations.
Apart from this, Surinam was hardly an interesting market for slave smugglers. Contraband slaves were expensive because of the enormous risks the brigands had to take: confiscation of ship and cargo, heavy fines and even the occasional death penalty. Moreover, prices had skyrocketed on the African coast as well. Surinam was a declining colony, where most of the plantations could hardly make ends meet, while on the other hand Cuba experienced a sugar boom and provided a much more lucrative market. Few slave ships have actually been caught near Surinam. Partly because of the laxity of the authorities to be sure, but those few ships attracted so much attention that it very unlikely that many other slavers will have been able to come and go without leaving a trace. An estimate of 10.000 contraband slaves seems high enough, which brings the total for the 19th century to about 40.000 hands.
The total of 265,000 imported slaves, which is calculated here, is considerably less than the lowest estimates of the authors mentioned before. Moreover, it is quite possible that more refined methods will push the numbers back even more.
Whatever the outcome of further research, it does not exonerate the Dutch for their part in the infamous slave trade. Perhaps the fact that they had a relatively good reputation among slavers and the fact that genuine excesses have been rare blunted the conscience of the Dutch population with regard to this unsavory phenomenon. As Pieter Emmer stated: “the Dutch slave trade succumbed only because of economic circumstances; the moral objections about the traffic in human beings has had no practical results in our country as it had in England and France with regard to the creation of associations for the abolishment of the slave trade”. Perhaps the restraint of the Dutch slave traders has even retarded the abolition of slavery in the Dutch colonies. In England, the viciousness of the traffic in human beings not only fueled public resentment against it, but also provided the stimulus for the crusades of repentant former traders, who formed the vanguard of the abolition movement. As the campaign against slavery was the logical outgrowth of the battle for the abolition of the slave trade, the abolitionist movement never gained much momentum in the Netherlands and economic opportunism prevailed over morality.
Turner's slave ship