Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chapter 11: Facing the law.

Justice in Surinam.

The judicial system of Surinam retained the characteristics of the ancient Dutch penal law for a long time. One of the main guiding principles was the fact that for a condemnation either the testimony of two eyewitnesses or the confession of the accused was needed. Circumstantial evidence was not legally acceptable. To get the confession of a suspect, all means were permitted: the use of threat or intimidation, withholding food or sleep, even physical torture. In normal circumstances, the manner of tormenting was regulated, but since it usually was not done in public, the most horrible abuses could take place undetected. An admission under torture did not constitute legal proof: it had to be repeated ‘voluntary’ during the court case. Naturally, when a victim renounced a previous confession, he would be tortured even worse afterwards, but the principle had to be adhered to formally. A truly voluntary confession was considered much more valuable, of course. A second feature of Surinam justice was the lack of jurisprudence. The judges were not lawyers by profession, most of them were wealthy plantation owners or administrators. They decided every case on its own merits, often guided more by their own delusions and prejudices than by sound juridical principles.

These observations hold true for white suspects as well as black ones. The Surinam whites were better off than their counterparts in the Low Countries in some respects. Often, mere fines were given for felonies which back home would have merited a long detention. On the other hand, the penalties could be considerably more severe as well. This was most apparent in the treatment of soldiers. The Surinam planters and civil servants regarded soldiers as scum. They had to be kept in line by strict discipline. The display of a mutinous disposition was unforgivable. Deserters were punished harshly as an example to the others. They were not condemned to death automatically, but in time of war (or slave resistance on a grand scale), they could expect little clemency. A few examples from the second quarter of the 18th century, when the worst excesses were already a thing of the past, suffice. In 1731, five deserters were sentenced by the Military Court to be hung, and their bodies to be left to vultures and vermin. Governor De Cheusses felt obliged to interfere and changed the sentence: the erring soldiers had to draw lots and the two losers would be harquebused. In 1741, several deserters were hanged, while five others had to draw lots with the loser having to face the firing squad as well.

The execution of whites was somewhat problematic. There were no white executioners, only black ones, and to be disposed of by a black was to be subjected to insult as well as injury. In 1739, the whole garrison pleaded with the authorities to let condemned soldiers be shot by a firing squad of their peers, instead of letting them suffer the indignity of being killed by an inferior. The Court of Police agreed, for it had experienced “how the Negroes, who are used here to do Criminal Justice often go to work very unwisely, which creates all the more disgust, when one had to see, that white people were mistreated thus”. They asked for a white executioner to be sent to the colony, but as far as I know, he never materialized.

Not all deserters were condemned to death. As a rule, only the ones who ran off in times of war, spilled blood, or resisted their capture were executed. The others were usually obliged to ‘run the gauntlet’. For example: in 1704, Hendrik Claesse van Nimwegen was sentenced “to run the gauntlet of the whole garrison three days in a row four times, and to be severely beaten with rods, also to be chained to the mill to work here in the fortress Zeelandia a year long from the date of this sentence on, enjoying nothing but provisions and clothes”.

Although there was little mercy for murderers, the worst punishments were reserved for sexual offenders, especially sodomites. Sometimes these were even meted out without the benefit of the Court, as Captain Jacob Corse Visscher of the ship Morgen Star did. He wrote to the directors of the Society of Surinam in 1691 that “the 10th [of July] in the evening the first mate Anthonij de Wilde and one of his cabin boys were brought from here and each in a sack were thrown into [the water at] the mouth of the River because they had had relations with each other”. In official custody such a culprit was hardly better off, as Matthijs de Goyer [a son of the former governor] found out. He was sentenced “to be half strangled and then further scorched and strangled until he will have died”. After his demise, he was thrown into the sea with a weight attached. Christiaan Junkas had been propositioned by De Goyer and, instead of showing holy indignation, had demanded money of him. Not receiving it, he had nevertheless refrained from reporting the ‘crime’, so he was sentenced to be soundly whipped and banished from the colony, after having witnessed the execution of De Goyer. Jan Brouwer was sentenced in 1731 to be tied to a stake and strangled for the same crime, although the Raad-Fiscaal had demanded that he would be “smothered in a barrel of water”. Captain Dirck Swart and his accomplice, also a cabin boy, met the same fate as De Goyer. Not only homosexuality was punishable by death. Jan Laurensen, a forty-year-old soldier, earned the rope for having violated and killed a cabriet (goat). He was not alone in paying dearly for his ‘perverted’ appetites. It seems however, that only (lowly placed) soldiers and sailors were held to such high moral standards: the behavior of neither white planters and civil servants, nor that of Negroes was scrutinized in quite the same way.

The penalties for non-capital crimes were sometimes quite baroque as well. When Aubin Nepveu, a lawyer and the older brother of the later Governor Jan Nepveu, had insulted Pierre Dupeyroux, a member of the Court of Police, the Raad-Fiscaal Van Sandik, who happened to be Dupeyroux’s brother-in-law, wanted him whipped, branded and above all to have his tongue pierced a by glowing awl. This last refinement was the usual punishment for blasphemy, because the Raad-Fiscaal was of the opinion that the members of the Court were “Gods on earth”, so any insult to them was blasphemous. Luckily for Nepveu, Governor Mauricius would have none of such nonsense.

Detention was not a regular feature of 17th and 18th century justice. Forced labor abounded, with the convict usually being chained to a mill. Corporal punishment, banishment and fines (often very heavy fines) were the mainstay of justice. Only rarely, an offending white was put on water and bread in Fort Zeelandia for a couple of days. An exception was the sentence meted out to Lucia Susanna Nawick, who was condemned to 50 years in prison -despite the fact that being of advanced age she could hardly be expected to last that long. Formerly, she had been banned from Paramaribo for ‘scheming’ and for selling dram to slaves, but she had continued her deplorable habits in Para. Later, she had moved back to Paramaribo and had resumed her old vices immediately. The Court felt its patience had been taxed enough. A sentence like forced labor was much more often demanded than actually executed. When Raad-Fiscaal Cornelis de Huybert wanted Joost Lont, who had threatened and insulted Councilor Gerhard Wobma and had cut one of his slaves, to be chained to the mill of Fort Zeelandia for six years, he was merely sentenced to a fine of 500 guilders instead.

The system of justice in Surinam had very much the character of class justice. Rich planters with connections at the courts could get away with practically every crime, while the poor and despised, black and white -sailor, soldier, or slave- had to drink the cup of pain and humiliation to the bottom.

The cases mentioned above prove without doubt that Surinam justice could be quite callous towards whites as well, but there remained, of course, important differences between the treatment of whites and blacks by the law. One of the most important factors was the recognition (included in the slave regulations of 1686) that any planter had domestic jurisdiction over his slaves and (in a more limited sense) also over other slaves found on his premises. This entailed that they had to obey him in everything and that he had the right to punish a slave physically if he refused him respect or obedience, failed to perform his tasks properly, or broke any plantation rules. It did, however, not entail the right to kill or maim the slave, as Governor Van Aerssen established early during his reign. White (and black) plantation supervisors were only allowed to beat slaves with a whip and were forbidden to use sticks or kick them, on the penalty of losing half a year's wages in addition to paying for the damage and getting a fine. Slaves had in many respects the same position as minors, but were nevertheless liable for their actions and had to answer for their misdeeds. As the master was ultimately responsible for any damage his slaves did (since most of them were penniless), domestic jurisdiction could result in heavy expenses.

The primacy of the authorities with regard to the punishment of slaves is illustrated by the trial of Christiaan Bisschop (1733). An investigation by the Court of Criminal Justice (after complaints by his slaves) revealed that he had beaten a mulatto woman so badly that pieces of flesh had fallen from her body and the inquiring councilors also found the heads of two slaves he had killed on a stake. He was forbidden ever to set foot on his plantation again and was obliged to install a director because “notwithstanding that they are his slaves he is not permitted, not according to worldly even less to divine laws to beat them to death, but this is left only to the government.” When bondsmen were guilty of crimes seriously enough to merit capital punishment or maiming, they had to be turned over to the Raad-Fiscaal. In the early period, the Court promised another slave in return for an excecuted villain. Later a sum of money (never enough of course) was paid for the loss of the slave or his full capacities.

When a suspect was the slave of someone else, dispatching him to the Court of Police was even more urgent, for no owner accepted that his property was dispoiled by someone not in his employ. So, when Mr. Gossling, the owner of the plantation De Uytvlucht, caught the runaways Cesar and Bienvenue, who had “molested and violated” the house of his bastiaan, and did not deliver them to the authorities, but instead “arrogating himself the right of justice” had them punished in an “inhuman and totally unpermitted way”, he caused a serious moral dilemma for the Raad-Fiscaal. Cesar and Bienvenue had “in the light of their perpetrated malicious and prolonged desertion and display of violence … incurred capital punishment”, but “against this the gross mistreatment they had suffered now runs counter”.

When an owner viciously abused his own slave, the case became even more sensitive. The Court of Police voiced the opinion that “although an owner never can arrogate himself the right over life and death of the slaves, it is nevertheless of the utmost importance, that the slaves are not led to think, that their masters do not have the Jus Vitae Denecis, and that they could not be restrained, if they were aware that their master could imperil body or life for beating a slave to death”. The servants of the Society shared this view. Moreover, every colonist was convinced that no man would voluntary destroy his own property, so any excessive mistreatment by an owner must be accidental. It was also very difficult to prove satisfactorily that a master had acted on purpose when a slave died during, or as the delayed result of a ‘not unusual’ punishment.

Their superiors in Holland, who had gotten wind of the abuses going on in Surinam and who did not want to be associated with that, exerted pressure on the Surinam authorities. The directors of the Society advised their employees in 1760: “to watch with all vigilance, and have the Fiscals watch, the behavior and conduct of the Patrons and Owners there, in dealing with their slaves, but to treat them as humans and not as animals; castigating them moderately and in case they have committed crimes that merit a more severe punishment than a moderate beating they will have to turn them over to the [Court of] Justice to be punished by them with a proper Punishment as an example to the others: and insofar whites have overacted by cutting off the ears and noses of their slaves, or mutilated them in any other way and have punished them unreasonably or have mistreated them grossly or have even killed them such whites shall be responsible for this before the law, as will be decided according to the exigency of the matter”.

Their views were largely ignored by the planters of Surinam and even by their own representatives, as these lacked the means to enforce such recommendations. The planters behaved as they saw fit and the authorities tried to steer a course between the Scylla of disorder and the Charybdis of unrestrained cruelty. As Raad-Fiscaal Wichers mused: “It will always be a Gordian Knot for the government of these lands to find the right balance, so that on the one Hand the authority of the Master over his Slaves is not undermined, A limitless licentiousness introduced; and the Land exposed to disorder and dangers: and on the other Hand the Slaves are not driven by dispear to leave their master’s property because of arbitrary treatment and severe punishments; run into the forest and together with others like them; because of the hatred against their masters, against all of the same statue and color, seething with a bitter rage, inflict irreparable harm to the Land”.

It turned out to be nearly impossible to solve this problem. Until far into the 18th century, the government did very little to combat the mistreatment of slaves by callous overseers. With the threat from Maroons mounting, however, the conviction grew that the aberrations of cruel and sadistic masters could set the whole colony aflame. The authorities were aware that it was their duty to act as fireguards, but since they had few official representatives in the more remote areas, their hands were tied. Officially, it was one of the duties of the burgerkapiteins to keep an eye on their neighbors, but as they were mostly planters themselves, they were loath to mingle in the ‘private affairs’ of others. Moreover, they lacked the means for effective action. When a witness to cruelty did interfere, it often only made things worse. Therefore, the authorities for the most part only stepped in when law or order were threatened, not to ensure the well-being of individual slaves. Most civil servants were no unfeeling louts and they were often genuinely shocked by the abuses that came to their knowledge, but this did not prompt them to act more forcefully.

Complaints of slaves were often only taken seriously when they were corroborated by white witnesses. These would only speak out against their peers in special circumstances, for example, when they suffered themselves from the consequences of the abuse (a planter who did not feed his slaves properly, for instance, provoked them into stealing food from his neighbors). Not a few planters were sincerely concerned when confronted with the piteous victims of abuse and rightly feared unrest among their own slaves because of this. Sympathetic whites were stormed by complaining slaves whenever they set foot on a plantation. In the 1770’s, for example, the political councilors Bedloo and Van der Mey enjoyed an overwhelming popularity as mediators. A second reason for action might be that the interfering white had ulterior motives. In the case of owners and administrators who denounced abusive employees, these were often very apparent. The law gave them the possibility to sue for compensation if someone had harmed one of their slaves and they were naturally eager to reclaim as much of their losses as possible.

Mr. Lestrade, the owner of the plantation Mon Souci, for example, lodged a complaint against his director Runge, who had beaten a slave to death and, being fearful of the consequences, had run away and hid in the forest. The blankofficieren were willing to testify against him to oblige their patron. The Court of Police decided that Runge had gone too far in his attempts to discipline the slave and had to compensate Lestrade. Repeated offenses occasioned more drastic measures: director Agenbach of Montauban was banished from the colony in 1772 for mistreating slaves (children not excluded).

Some owners even tried to retrieve their money when the director was not directly responsible for the death of the slave. One day Mr. Hieronymie, the director of Anna’s Rust, ordered some slaves to drain the bottom of a sluice and when they did not succeed, he condemned them to 25 lashes. The master carpenter Geluk managed to escape after five lashes. He later came back to the plantation, fetched his gun, returned to the forest and, feeling dishonored, shot himself through the head. His owner Sydow demanded a compensation of 1500 guilders from the hapless director and when he refused to pay, Sydow lodged a complaint against him. The Court of Police did not grant him the compensation and limited the punishment to a fine of 100 guilders.

When a director had the audacity to seriously wound, maim, or kill a slave belonging to another plantation, he could be certain of being denounced by the enraged owner. Director Ossenbrugge of Bellevue once caught two slaves of Munnikendam, Hendrik and Manille, on his premises. He had them strung up and horribly beaten. Hendrik was taken home in bad shape and his director brought him to a doctor in Paramaribo immediately. Manille, who had been put in chains after his ordeal, was sent back to his plantation a few days later. He was wounded so grieviously that he could not speak anymore and although the director, who had just returned from Paramaribo, took him to the doctor as well, it was too late: he died shortly after arriving in the hospital. The administrator of Munnikendam lost no time in bringing Ossenbrugge to justice and in demanding a generous compensation, which was duly awarded: he had to pay 550 guilders for the dead slave, 100 guilders for the doctor’s fee and in addition a fine of 100 guilders.

This had little to do with real justice, of course. The Court did not protect the slaves as persons, only as property of their masters. Nevertheless, the prospect of losing so much money probably restrained sadistic directors somewhat and it gave the slaves a tiny measure of retribution. The crux of the matter is however, that these were more civil cases than criminal ones (although they were dealt with by the Criminal Court) and that the owners had to act in their own behalf. The authorities did not take the initiative.

Although the civil servants were fearful of giving the slaves an opportunity to ‘divide and conquer’ the white front, they were sometimes obliged to lend a willing ear to the grievances of the slaves. Most of the time, mistreated bondsmen appealed to their owner or administrator first, rather naively believing that he would never condone the abuses perpetrated in his name. More often than not, they were sent back to the plantation after a good thrashing. Sometimes, especially when this happened frequently, a grootmeester visited his estate to investigate the charges, but more often, he let the director do as he pleased, as long as he did not kill too many slaves and produced a satisfactory crop. When the slaves realized that they could not expect help from this quarter, they appealed to the authorities; sometimes to councilors living nearby, more often directly to the Raad-Fiscaal.

They were not assured of a sympathetic ear there either, as the slaves of Mr. Bendt, who came to complain about the fact that they were obliged to work on Sundays, found out. Because they had permitted themselves certain ‘insolences’ on the plantation, the Court of Police decided to punish “everyone with a Spaanse Bok, the principal culprits around Paramaribo for reason of Opposition and Disrespect towards their masters”. If repeated complaints reached them, the authorities would in most cases command the owner or administrator to go to his plantation to sort out his business. Sometimes, official representatives were dispatched, because the government could not risk ignoring the plight of bondsmen living in a sensitive area. When 23 slaves from a plantation in the Perica region came to voice their annoyance about the behavior of their master Kurth, they were (with the exception of the rowers) all detained in Fort Zeelandia, but the deputy bailiff and the burgerluitenant of the Cottica Division were sent to the estate to investigate the matter.

In most instances, the envoys decided that the complaints were largely unfounded and then they threatened the slaves with corporal punishment if they did not shape up. To be on the safe side, they sometimes gave in partly to their demands, for example by warning the director who had incited their wrath to govern them with more mildness. Occasionally, they even agreed that the director had overstepped his bounds and recommended his dismissal. When no slaves had been killed or maimed such a brutal director would rarely be indicted for his mismanagement and it was usually not even possible to prevent him from taking another post.

If the misdeeds of his slaves did not harm a planter’s own interests, he was often not very eager to hand them over to the authorities for punishment. Although he would be compensated if they were executed, the payment was usually not generous enough to cover the loss of a valuable slave. If they were ‘only’ whipped, this could endanger their capacity to work, or make them harder to handle. Even if a planter did suffer damage himself, the fear of escalation of the problems often made it preferable to overlook crimes for which the law demanded a stiff penalty.

Many cases featuring slaveholders who had sadistically abused their slaves can be found in the archives, but it is naïve to suppose that all Surinam sadists were white. The planters were children of their time –and that time was still rather brutish.

Blacks could be extremely ruthless towards other blacks. The Moravian Brother Riemer was greatly shocked when he witnessed the execution of a Negro suspected of wisi: “The relatives of the deceased, with their chosen helpers, put the delinquent in a boat, and bring him to a remote spot, where they have already built a pyre the day before. Here they tie him to a thorny tree standing near the pyre, cut off first of all his nose and ears, roast these over a coal fire and constrain him with violence, to eat these whole. Then they cut open his back, rub pepper and salt in the wounds, and drag him with his mutilated back several times up and down the thorny tree, to which he is tied, during that one can often hear his pitiful wails at a great distance. After this they subject him to every possible barbarity, for which the human nature shudders and which the morality forbids to mention. Finally they light the pyre erected next to him, and they let him roast little by little, so the unfortunate must often languish slowly and torturously for several hours more, without awakening the slightest pity in his executioners and the assembled onlookers.”

The Indians showed their foes little clemency either. Commander Laurens Verboom, for example, wrote about the Arawaks who were his alies during the Indian War: “They had also caught one of our enemies who they first wanted to burn alive and then eat … The 26th of December last we beheld that spectacle, they danced with the captive three days long, inflicting in the meantime every possible torture on him, one whole night they have continuously tormented his naked body with torches. Being wholly naked half roasted and scorched, [he] was finally dispatched of with an arrow in his chest and his arms [were] cut off to cook that was the end of this unhappy and at the same time heathenish tragedy.”

The (lack of) punishment of slave abusers.

The authorities took their responsibility for maintaining law and order seriously and this led them occasionally to the point of revenging slaves that had been abused by their master. They were rather handicapped, though: for the conviction of any criminal they needed the testimonies of two eyewitnesses and when a Negro had been mistreated, these were often hard to find. Not surprisingly, the Court of Criminal Justice was adamant in its refusal to have whites tortured in cases involving the abuse of slaves. [In fact, it was reluctant to torture whites at all, except when sodomy was suspected.] Negroes were not allowed to testify against whites, so only white witnesses could secure a sentence. It can be safely concluded that these were not very keen to testify against their peers on behalf of a slave, unless, as we have seen, they had a stake in a condemnation themselves.

Sometimes, the abuses were so horrible that there was sincere indignation in the white community. An example was the case of Jacob Watsch, who had viciously tortured his slave Januari by way of “having cut the tendons of his heels, and furthermore having cut out both his [testicles] with a knife and thereafter having broken off or chiseled off some of his teeth, and then, wanting to pull out one of his eyes with a corkscrew, the apple of the eye emptied, and the eye water ran out of it, so he cannot see from that eye anymore ... his master has furthermore given him a Spaanse Bok and thrashed him with a whip, the scars of which are visible”. All of this because Januari had gone into hiding out of fear of being beaten. Confronted with the physical evidence, Watsch denied the charges categorically and maintained that “Januari had surely been treated this way in other places, because every time the negro had been caught again he heard that he suffered from one or the other of the defects, that have been listed”. Though the Court was little inclined to believe this, it is doubtful that he was punished with more than a fine.

A similar case was that of Hermanus Beeke, a former baker, who had rented a tract of land and played at being a planter there. He sold timber and demanded of his slaves that they cut two vaams (=12 feet) of wood a day. When they complained that this was too much and that they received insufficient food, he slashed the ears of the spokesmen. Furthermore, he had cut a woman named Sophie in her ‘femaleness’ and he had put her in a tube of scalding water with a cask over her head, which she did not survive. The chirurgijn, who examined her body, testified that Sophie had severe external and internal injuries, which without doubt had caused her death. The neighbors of Beeke agreed that he was an incorrigible drunkard and a troublemaker, who chased his slaves away with his aberrations, so they were driven to stealing food elsewhere. However, since none of them had been an eyewitness to the abuses, the Court concluded that there was “no complete proof” of any misdeed, but there were only “strong presumptions” against Beeke. Therefore, he could not be sentenced to corporal punishment. His plantation and slaves were nevertheless taken from him.

Some whites who proved willing to testify on behalf of a slave clearly had their own benefit in mind. Director Schröder of the plantations Meulwijk and Sophiasburg made such a mess of things that two of his own officers submitted written complaints. Christiaan Veyth, the blankofficier of Sophiasburg, declared that Schröder and his crony Degon indulged in overconsumption of liquor and that they “did not behave like humans but like mad and raving animals”. They beat up innocent slaves and chased after them with loaded guns. His colleague Jacob van Dorp of Meulwijk testified that the cook Januari, who had been visiting the plantation Brouwershaven to wish the owner, Mrs. Dahlberg, a pleasant journey back to Paramaribo, had been accused by Schröder of having informed her of the intolerable situation on Meulwijk, in the hope that she would warn the owner. Schröder had Januari lashed so viciously by two bastiaans that he “was fleeced from head to toe” and from then on had him beaten for the smallest infraction. When Januari failed to track down two runaways, Schröder thrashed him so mercilessly with a stick that he collapsed and he forbade Van Dorp to take care of him. The poor cook succumbed to his injuries soon after. This remarkable willingness to testify was not only inspired by reasons of morality. Veyth had gotten into an argument with Degon and Schröder had taken the side of the latter. Even more important, their patron had made it clear that the behavior of Schröder repugned him and that he wanted compensation for the dead slave. In such cases it was possible to get a convinction: Schröder was recommended by the Raad-Fiscaal for “arbitrary correction”.

Often, the testimony of one white was not enough. For example: the master carpenter Zondervan testified in court that Mr. Meyer, the director of Eedenburg, had ordered the slave Primo to be strung up and had him beaten so horribly that he fainted three times during the ordeal. Each time Meyer had brought him to his senses by sticking a piece of burning coal in his mouth. The next day, he had him hauled into the fields and tied to a pole along the road. When Zondervan came back after an absence of two weeks, he heard that the tormented slave had died. The bastiaan of Edenburg, Minos, corroborated this testimony and told the Court that Meyer had forbidden the slaves to give Primo any water or food. Minos had tried to feed him something, but his mouth was burned so badly that he could not eat. In spite of these frank statements, Meyer could not be convicted, because the testimony of only one white, even when supported by those of all the slaves in the world, did not constitute “complete proof”. He could only be fined.

Sometimes, these rules harmed the interests of the white colonists themselves: namely, when slaves were the only eyewitnesses to a crime perpetrated by a white against another white. This is illustrated by the case of the blankofficier Meyer of the plantation Charlottenburg. In a state of intoxication, he had beaten director Heuver half to death and had pushed him out of a corjaer, with fatal consequences. The only witness to this crime was the slave woman Patientie (who had ample reason to resent the defendant because he had the habit of forcing her to share his hammock and raping her). Therefore, premeditated murder could not be proven and Meyer could only be banished from the colony for inflicting grievious bodily harm.

A white could be convicted solely on the testimony of slaves only in special circumstances. These included cases of high treason, when the safety of the colony as a whole was endangered, and cases involving the sale of alcohol to slaves. The fine for the latter misdeed was often much higher than the fine for killing or maiming a slave. Jan Pens, for example, had to cough up 300 guilders for “felonies committed by giving the possibility for drinking bouts to slaves and selling liquor to them”. Christian Crewitz earned a fine of 500 guilders for “having given beer and drinks to several slaves sitting in his house at his table”.

By the end of the 18th century, the rules regarding the admission of testimonies of slaves were somewhat relaxed, due to the influence of Raad-Fiscaal J. G. Wichers. He wrote: “It is true that the testimony of negroes cannot lawfully constitute sufficient evidence but it should be considered that in cases, in which one cannot get complete proof because of the place or manner of the crime, one may then give some credence to presumptions”. Later he added that the testimony of slaves was admissible when it was corroborated by: (a) the “general rumor”, or the testimony of neighbors that the accused was guilty of “severe government”; (b) signs of abuse on the bodies of the slaves; or (c) the fact that such accusations had been lodged before.

Not only was it difficult to get whites to testify on behalf of slaves, but there was also little willingness to interfere when they witnessed acts of cruelty themselves. This inevitably led to tragedies that did not leave public opinion unruffled, but changed nothing in public behavior. The principle of non-intervention was strictly adhered to.

One of the most tragic cases was the death of the slave girl Premiere. Her mistress, Judig Aron, was held in contempt by most whites because of her “scandalous and unpermitted cohabitation” with the much older Jacob d’ Oliveira. Yet nobody cared to intervene when she took out her frustrations on Premiere (who was weakened by a long ilness and could not perform the work demanded of her) and tortured her so mercilessly that her screams could be heard far and wide. Only when this kept going on for days, the deputy bailiff Vriend went to investigate, urged by a free mulatto woman who had witnessed some of the abuse. He found Premiere in a horrible state. Judig Aron had let her be beaten so viciously (by the slave girl Eva) that she was swollen from her waist to her feet and her lower intestine hung from her rectum. She had prodded Premiere in her ‘femaleness’ and anus with a red-hot poker, had burned her all over her body and had wrenched open her mouth to force her to eat. The late intervention of the bailiff was of no avail, of course: she died the same night.

Even when the circumstances permitted action, most colonists were too cowardly to risk antagonizing another white, who might retaliate in an unpredictable way. When the carpenter Samson of the plantation Ephrata was caught on the premises of Geertruidenberg, director Hulzebosch warned his colleague Wagenaar of Ephrata. The latter hurried to Geertruidenberg and had the fugitive strung up with a weight of 50 pounds tied to his feet. After that he had him whipped so furiously, that the whip was shredded. Hulzebosch could not bear the sight and repeatedly asked him to terminate the punishment, but Wagenaar advised him to mind his own business. When he finally released to tortured slave, Samson could not stand up. Hulzebosch gave him a soopje and Samson dragged himself with his last strength to the porch of the kokerom (cooking shed) where he succumbed. When Hulzebosch was demanded by the Court why he did not stop this scandalous treatment (on his own terrain he had every right to do so), he excused himself feebly by maintaining that in the beginning he had not realized the seriousness of the situation. Samson had received ‘only’ 80 to 100 lashes and he had seen young Negroes brave 300 to 400 lashes without any lasting damage.

In the 19th century, white supervisors who had killed a slave did not escape so easily. Director Veeger of La Solitude, who had killed a woman by mistreating her several days in a row, was sentenced to be whipped, branded and banished from the colony. Three other directors, who had been present but did not intervene, were also banished and fined 2000 guilders.

Not rarely, their reluctance to take decisive action against tyrants would cost the colonists dearly. The slaves took justice into their own hands and once they had wounded or killed a hated master, they had no option but to flee into the forest and resist their pursuers with all their might. The slaves of Timotibo, for instance, had visited the Court of Police repeatedly to complain about the actions of their owner. But the wise councilors had contented themselves with recommending the culprit “to abstain from all unbecoming behavior towards his slaves”. The owner was not very impressed by this admonission, but the Court did not dare to go any further because as a result of “the complaints that all who are corrected here do in Holland, the Raad-Fiscaal as well as the Government have become extremely cautious, if not much too fearful”. In 1778, the slaves finally took revenge themselves.

The punishment of blacks.

Maybe the most remarkable thing about the treatment of slaves by the guardians of justice was the fact that the sentences meted out to blacks differed from those meted out to whites (even in the Netherlands) more in degree than in kind. This may not be too obvious when we compare the punishments the masters were subjected to with the punishments the slaves could expect, but, as has been argued earlier, the system of justice in Surinam was very much a system of class justice. Consequently, the courts treated lower class whites (especially those equally subjected to a strict discipline, like soldiers and sailors) almost as harsh as slaves. For the members of all these groups ‘mutiny’ was a capital crime and, in some circumstances, desertion as well. The sentences heaped upon the slaves may generally have been more cruel, but on the other hand, no slave was ever punished, let alone executed, for ‘sexual perversions’ like sodomy or bestiality. The ruthlessness exhibited towards erring slaves was not unique. Most Surinam sentences will have been regarded as somewhat archaic in the heartland of the Low Countries, but they were not considered improper in the more unstable parts, as is proven by the treatment of the so-called Bokkerijders.

The Bokkerijders were a group of robbers and murderers who terrorized a large part of the province of Limburg in the 18th century. They consisted mostly of people of extremely lowly stature, who were heartily despised by the rest of society because of the infamy of their regular trade (skinning animals). It is important to note that Limburg had a very peripheral position during this period, being disputed by Holland and Austria, and that this increased the feelings of uncertainty among the inhabitants. On top of this, they were initially unable to combat the Bokkerijders successfully. This partly explains the ferocious retribution they lavished on any Bokkerijder they could lay their hands on. One can distinguish three phases in the procedures against Bokkerijders: during the first and second phase, torture was common and death penalties not only obligatory, but also executed with such cruelty that they were on a par with the worst excesses in the New World.

In 1743, for example, one of the Bokkerijders was condemned to be “tied to the scaffold by the executioner, with a rope around the neck, and then the right hand, covered with a combustible material and lighted, shall be cut off and thrown into the fire, after which [he shall be] slowly broken on the cross from below, stuck with a knife in the side, and hit on the head with a club four times, and then still alive be burned with the aforementioned cross, as an example and warning to others”. Fellow Bokkerijders were disemboweled before being roasted alive over a slow fire. The bodies of executed Bokkerijders were often hung in iron chains from the gallows and were left there until they had rotted away. During the last phase of the trials against Bokkerijders, the penalties were somewhat more ‘civilized’. Most of those found guilty were simply hung. Anton Blok called this kind of theatrical punishments spiegelstraffen: they mirrored the misdeeds of the condemned. The desire for them started to wane once the central government got a more impersonal and bureaucratic structure.

The situation of Surinam had close parallels to that of 18th century Limburg. The inhabitants felt themselves as being on the edge of the civilized world; misunderstood by the motherland and left on their own to deal with the enormous dangers inherent in being surrounded by a mass of slaves. For a long time, their attempts to stem the rising tide of absconding slaves were largely fruitless. Therefore, they came to believe that only by merciless retribution and making a disheartening example of the runaways (and other major offenders) that fell into their hands, they could keep their chattels subdued. Consequently, the executions of slaves had a strong theatrical flavor. This was most obvious with the execution of capital punishments. They were undeniably orchestrated as a horrifying spectacle for the slaves, who were often forced to attend (there is however little evidence that whites came in great numbers to gloat over the sufferings of the condemned). Unfortunately for the master class, the goal was hardly ever attained. Instead of being shocked by the unsavory proceedings, the slaves rejoiced at the intransigence of the men being tortured.

Herlein has vividly described the execution of ‘a certain Slave’ who had fled from Paramaribo, but had frequently returned at night to conspire with others. He had finally been caught by his master, who had laid himself in ambush with four companions, waiting for his reappearance. He was so badly wounded that his master feared he could not be cured, so he gave him to the authorities to be made an example of: “His sentence was pronounced, that he would be quartered alive and the pieces thrown into the River; he was then put on the ground without chains, his head on a long beam, the first blow that he received in the lower abdomen, made all the water burst from his bladder, without him giving the slightest sound and [he] looked at it himself; the second blow with the Axe he wanted to ward off with his hand, but the hand and the upper abdomen were chopped through, still without a sound; the Slaves and Slave Women laughing about this, said to each other that is a Man! finally the third blow on the breast and heart killed him, his head was cut off, the body further in four pieces, and thrown into the River”

The Moravian Brother Riemer witnessed in 1779 how two condemned slaves, about to be beheaded, taunted their executioner: ”The executioner lifted his axe and chopped off his right hand, after which he lifted the bloody arm very resigned and shouted loudly: ‘Now I am free again, but my arm is too short.’ The only one left shouted to him laughing: ‘Your head will soon be shorter too’.”

Stedman was present at the execution of Neptunus, a ‘young and handsome’ freedman, who had killed the overseer of the plantation Altona (where he worked as a carpenter) and had been condemned to be broken on the wheel: “Informed of the dreadful sentence, he composedly laid himself down on his back on a strong cross, on which, with arms and legs expanded, he was fastened by ropes: the executioner, also a black man, having now with a hatchet chopped off his left hand, next took up a heavy iron bar, with which, by repeated blows, he broke his bones to shivers, till the marrow, blood, and splinters flew about the field; but the prisoner never uttered a groan or sigh. The ropes being next unlashed, I imagined him dead, and felt happy; till the magistrates stirring to depart, he writhed himself from the cross, when he fell on the grass, and damned them all, as a set of barbarous rascals; at the same time removing his right hand by the help of his teeth, he rested his head on part of the timber, and asked bystanders for a pipe of tobacco, which was infamously answered by kicking and spitting on him, till I, with some American seamen, thought proper to prevent it. He begged that his head might be chopped off; but to no purpose. At last, seeing no end to his misery, he declared ‘that though he had deserved death, he had not expected to die so many deaths: however … you christians have missed your aim at last, and now I care not, were I to remain thus a month longer’.”

Public execution remained an important principle, even though the whites knew very well that condemned slaves considered it a point of honor to defy the executioner as best as they could and that the involuntary spectators took pride in the fact that they bore even the worst tortures stoically. This may have increased the sufferings of the condemned considerably, because the executioners aimed to break their spirit before they expired. This haughtiness and contempt for pain was especially characteristic of the Coromantine slaves. It is not impossible that the slaves employed some kind of self-hypnosis to make themselves if not oblivious than at least much less sensitive to pain, but it is more likely that they prepared themselves for their ordeal the same way Indians did: by concentrating on showing defiance.

The death penalty was pronounced for slaves very frequently, often for ‘crimes’ that were only crimes when slaves were guilty of them, like defending oneself against an attempted murder. In the early years, the executions were carried out with a baroque creativity that resulted in spectacles unheard of even in other plantation colonies. The most perverse manner of execution was to hang a condemned from the gallows with a hook through one of his ribs and to leave him there to die, which often took many days. Although most of the criminals dispatched off this way were Negro slaves, at least one was white: a Portuguese sailor who had killed some English colleagues while trying to steal their ship. The most famous case, however, was the runaway Joosje, immortalized by Stedman, who was executed with ten companions in 1730. Wolbers named 11 other slaves that were executed in this fashion (2 of them were female). Such a sentence was not given frivolously, however: all the condemned were quilty of premeditated murder. Another horrible manner of execution was being roasted over a slow fire while being nipped with glowing tongs. Quartering was a favorite during of the early period, either by axe, or, more sporadically, by horses. The somewhat less culpable were (slowly) broken on the wheel and occasionally left to die (more often, they received a coup de grace on the heart). Most of these executions were preceded by ‘preliminary tortures’ that could last for hours. The bodies of the condamned were either left for the birds or (in later times) buried under the gallows.

The theatrical aspect of these sentences was clearly intended by judges and owners alike -even when the execution itself failed to take place. In 1689, Cornelis Snelleman reported that he had quartered one of his slaves and had exhibited the four parts on his plantation. The slave in question had killed a woman and had then jumped into the sugar kettle (out of remorse or fear of punishment). He succumbed to his injuries half an hour before Snelleman had returned on the plantation to execute him. He asked for compensation, which was granted. The head of a slave offender was always cut off and sometimes it was exhibited on a stake. As Mr. L. Chaillet, the owner of the executed slave Leopold wrote, in a letter asking for his head, his aim was “to stick it on a pole and place it on the riverbank of his plantation, to be exhibited there as an example for all such faithless slaves”. Usually, the head was buried separately under the gallows.

The most important reason for cutting off the head was to rob the slaves of the hope that they would return to their homeland after death. Without a head, the departed would either be unable to go back, or they would be forced to wander around headless for eternity. According to Père Labat, cutting off the head was considered to be the best way to keep slaves from committing suicide in the French colonies. In Surinam, it was also the habit to behead suicides, as well as Maroons who died from natural causes. This is illustrated by the fate of an ancient Maroon, called Sylvester. He had been one of the first successful wegloopers, having escaped during the chaos that ensued after the attack of Jacques Cassard in 1712. He had established a village and had ruled there as chief for almost fifty years. He had just passed on command when he was caught. Some days later he died (apparently not as a result of abuse) and he was beheaded to show the slaves that there was no escape from bondage, not even after death.

The death penalty was made obligatory in 1721 for Maroons who had established ‘stable villages’. There were, however, some exceptions: slaves who had been driven away by inhuman treatment would be spared, as would those who had been taken along by others, or had been ‘misled’ by them. When a slave had resisted capture or had shed blood, nothing could save him. The execution of the group of Joosje in 1730 was not characteristic of the usual treatment of wegloopers (two of these Maroons were burned over a slow fire and several women were beheaded). However, this was the first execution of inhabitants of the so-called Claas-villages, whom the authorities had hunted in vain for more than a decade, so they were not inclined to show much mercy. Usually, a weglooper was hung, beheaded, or, if he had killed someone, broken on the wheel. In 1790 (when the Maroon Wars were over), the sentences were ‘softened’ according to Lammens.

The slaves executed in the particulary vicious ways described above were practically all murderers. Remarkably, it did not make much difference whether they had killed a white or a black. Murdering a fellow slave, especially by poisoning, was considered just as heinous a crime as murdering a white. The offender was held wholly responsible for such a felony. When he killed a slave belonging to another owner, for example, his master was not obliged to compensate the loss (as he was in the United States) and the penalty was much heavier than it would be when he, for example, had caused the same amount of damage to a house. This way, the Surinam justice system acknowledged that the life of a slave was worth more than his market price alone (although the judges tended to forget this when the culprit was one of their own).

During the 18th century, the manner of execution became slowly more civilized. Quartering, burning at the stake and stringing on a hook became increasingly rare (although the slaves who intentionally distroyed a large part of Paramaribo by fire in 1832 were put on a pyre themselves). During the latter part of the 18th century, the ways the condemned were disposed off were mostly limited to hanging, beheading and breaking on the wheel. The most likely reasons were that the inhabitants of the colony started to feel more secure and that the influence of the central government increased. By this time, the colonists had managed to ‘pacify’ their most dangerous Maroon enemies. It had taken some painful adjustments, but they could be reasonably sure that they would not be driven into the sea. At the same time, the direct influence of the motherland grew; because of the fact that the Dutch government, implored for help in the battle against the Maroons, got more interested in the colonial affairs and because of the fact that many of the new plantation owners resided in the Netherlands permanently. In addition, the dispensers of justice had become more versed in Dutch penal law. The government preferred to appoint trained jurists as Raad-Fiscaal, not rich plantation owners with spare time, and although these did not decide the imposed penalties themselves, they modernized the procedures. Circumstantial evidence was taken into account and the first steps in ‘forensic medicine’ (feeding supposed poisons to dogs and chickens) were set. Some Negroes even got the benefit of the doubt.

A typical case for this period was the trial against the slave Augustus, owned by Jacob Juda. He had been punished several times in the past, the last time with a Spaanse Bok for wounding an old Negro and wrecking his master’s house while drunk. Finally, he went too far and “disregarding all respect owed to whites in general and His Master in particular, gives himself over to the utmost excesses up to the point of attacking and abusing a white”. He was sentenced as follows: his right hand was chopped off (the usual punishment for a slave who had lifted his hand against a white), he was hung by the neck until death, his head was cut off and exhibited on a stake and his body was buried under the gallows.

Free Negroes were treated with no more leniency than bondsmen were. Especially in case of a capital crime, a manumitted slave was no better off than one still in bondage would have been. The case of Paay, a manumitted Creole, who had formerly belonged to Joshua Pardo and was working as a carpenter on the plantation of Thomas Day, is illustrative. One day, a sheep of the plantation was found missing. The director accused Paay of stealing it and threatened to punish him. They had an argument during which Paay took a gun and shot the director in the back. The wounded man tried to fire back, but did not have the strength anymore and tumbled to the ground. Paay then took his machete, chopped off the left hand of the still living director and slashed his right hand, brow and neck. After this mutilation, he shoved him into a ditch. The director was found there later by plantation hands –dead. At the hearing, it was revealed that some slaves had butchered the sheep and had given Paay a morsel. Some of their colleagues, who had not received anything, had denounced him to the director. Paay was convicted for murder and after being declared a slave again, he was to be brought to the execution ground reserved for slaves, tied to a cross or wheel, his left hand was to be chopped off and he was to be broken alive. After this, his head was to be cut off and displayed on a stake.

The members of the Vrijcorps were not wholly on a par with white soldiers either. For them one of the worst offenses was to part with their rifle. Rabbi had sold his gun to the Aukaner Coffy for 40 stuivers and was not able to perform his duty on patrol. For this offense he was hung, after being declared a slave again. His body was buried under the gallows, but contrary to ordinary ex-slaves, his head was not cut off.

Much worse had been the crime of Neptunes, Isaac and Hannibal. Neptunes had picked an argument with Mr. Van der Mey (a member of the Court of Police) and instead of following orders and reporting to the military post Vredenburg, he had gone fishing in the Wanica Creek. At the request of his wife, Hannibal and Isaac went to look for him and managed to persuade him to return to Paramaribo. On the way, they stumbled upon a Negro with a stack of wood on his head and ordered him to stop. He tried to escape into the kapoewerie and Isaac shot him. Fearing punishment, the companions did not dare to show their face in Paramaribo again and decided to go to Saramacca. They persuaded the slaves Quami and Louis to accompany them, because they wanted them to work on their provision ground. Then they got word that they would not be blamed for the death of Isaac's unfortunate victim and resolved to return to the capital. However, Quami and Louis were now a liability. Neptunes ordered the others to shoot them. Quami was fatally wounded, but Louis was only left for death. When the culprits were already back at their quarters, Louis was found and the truth came to light. The three offenders were declared slaves again, beheaded and their heads were displayed on a stake.

Freeborn Negroes and Bush Negroes could not be degraded to slavery again and they were executed in another spot. Their head was not cut off. The Saramaka Bush Negro Cardinaal (formerly a slave of the plantation Houttuin), who was sentenced to death for abducting two slave women and a boy, was simply hung.

Most slaves that appeared before the Court were not accused of a capital crime. They were charged with less serious infractions: theft (although this could also lead to the death penalty when it became a habit), insolence, failure to do the work demanded of them, etc. Even the majority of runaways escaped the ultimate penalty (making it for the most obstinate possible to try again). For these offenders a whole repertoire of retaliations was available. In the beginning of the 18th century, the following punishment was the norm, according to Herlein: “the criminal his hands tied together with a rope, after having been hoisted up a Tree (or up the Beam of the House to a certain height from the ground) and having been fastened there, has 50 pounds standing on the ground fastened to his feet and these tied together, to prevent swinging and kicking with the feet by that [after he has been forced to confess his sins] he is beaten and lashed … in such a way with a Whip (braided of Water-Pinans, a kind of very though Reed with sharp thorns), that he sooner resembles a skinned or fleeced Dog, than a Human … and when it has been decided that they have been castigated enough, having been released, the torn fleeced skin [is] rubbed with the sharp acid of Lemon-juice mixed with gunpowder, which serves to increase the preceding miserable pains for a short while, helping further to suppurate and wholly heal the wounds, the signs thereof however remaining as Brands on the body”. The authorities did not condone this kind of torture for long. In 1761, the Court of Police (at the request of Governor Crommelin) forbade the whipping of a ‘bound’ slave, but rejected his other proposal that allowed punishment only in the presence of two white witnesses, because it undermined the authority of the master too much. Hoisting up a slave was replaced by tying him around a pole: the so-called Spaanse Bok (Spanso Bocko).

The Spaanse Bok, the habitual form of correction in later times, was only marginally less painful: a pole was stuck into the ground and the slave was placed around it with tied hands, so the pole was clamped between his elbows and knees. He was beaten with guava or tamarind branches, first on one side and then on the other. In an earlier stage the much heavier hoepelstok was used, but such a beating often proved fatal, even when it was applied with restraint. Employing a hoepelstok was forbidden in 1761. The lightest variation of the Spaanse Bok was given in Fort Zeelandia, in the more serious cases, it was done ‘around the fort’ and for the most devious culprits a performance was staged on the principal corners of Paramaribo. There were ‘four corner’ and ‘seven corner’ varieties.

Branding was very common. All slaves were branded with the mark of their owner to identify them, but it was also done as retaliation, mostly in cases of theft. Mutilation was a penalty regularly resorted to in the early period, but for obvious reasons, one could not make a habit of it. Many planters had little objection to cutting off the ears or nose of incorrigible offenders: it did not decrease their usefulness as workers, although it often made them into even more intractable enemies of all whites. For this reason, the authorities were very much opposed to maiming and forbade it in the first plantation regulation of 1686. Nevertheless, the Court of Police sometimes ordered mutilation in a sentence.

In the early period, the severing of the Achilles tendon (for the first offense), or the amputation of a leg (for a repeat performance) was the usual penalty for a runaway. In 1731, for example, Amand Thoma of the plantation De Vrijheyt was given permission by the Court of Criminal Justice to amputate the leg of a slave who had absconded several times. This had, however, the negative consequence of making a slave virtually useless for any work but rowing. Therefore, the less invading procedures became the more favored, although instances of amputation could be found until the end of the 18th century. Lammens identified at least 16 cases of such a punishment in the years 1765 to 1787 (plus 4 cases in which the Achilles tendon had been severed). I have encountered one case in which a leg was amputated at the instigation of the owner, while the Court was clearly more inclined to give the death penalty. Many victims of such a mutilation died shortly after. Most likely because the wound got infected, but Stedman learned of one case in which the amputee committed suicide by removing the bandages, so he bled to death. I have found no proof for the practice of an even more despicable form of mutilation: castration. As has been remarked before, slaves were hardly ever persecuted for ‘sexual perversions’ and when one was found guilty of an affair with a white woman he was quietly disposed off.

A slave who refused to come clean in court was subjected to examination under torture in the early period. At first he was only whipped, but when he proved to be exceptionally stubborn, a weight of 50 pounds was tied to his legs before he was whipped some more. If he was still refusing to confess, screws were applied to the toes and shins (the better-known thumbscrew seems not to have been used in Surinam). Fortunately for the slaves, fire and rack were not employed in examinations. An illustration of the proceedings is supplied by the description of the examination of the dresneger Dikkie: “two shin screws having been fastened and weights tied to the feet [he was] hoisted up and whipped”. The whites firmly believed in the veracity of confessions under torture, because they were convinced that a Negro would never confess to anything he had not done, even if he was tortured to death. In their opinion, torture was just necessary to overcome the reluctance of Negroes to tell the truth to any white. If a slave steadfastly kept denying the accusation and no other proof was supplied, he might, in less serious cases, be set free. More often, he was condemned anyway, because with a slave defendant legal proof was no real prerequisite and the judges rather erred on the side of caution.

During the latter part of the slavery era, especially during the 19th century, the system of punishments changed considerably. The habit of examining slaves under torture died out slowly, partly because “confessions without pain and bonds” had always been preferred. The Spaanse Bok was officially abolished on the plantations in 1784 and although it did not disappear entirely, it became increasingly rare. Corporal correction was mostly given in the form of lashes and the number of them that could be legally applied decreased as well. Domestic jurisdiction was abolished in 1851. After that, planters were no longer permitted to whip their slaves themselves, but had to take them to the Piket van Justitie, where an official would apply the lash for a fee, with special consideration for the women and children. Non-corporal forms of punishment came in vogue. In many instances, detention and forced labor replaced death penalties. Despite these ameliorations, Dutch abolitionists protested the fact that corporal punishment remained an integral part of the Surinam slavery system.

A restricted form of detention was the only sanction the masters could legally use in the application of domestic jurisdiction in later days. The planters opposed this, because they feared they could no longer uphold discipline when they were restricted like this. Before, they had been able to lock up their slaves indefinitely and in any way they wanted: in chains, nailed in the block, in a dark shed, etc. Since a slave could not perform very well in such circumstances, most detentions will not have lasted long, but sometimes a planter became so frustrated that he disregarded all economical gain and locked up a slave for months.


The conclusion is warranted that while the black population of Surinam on the whole was not treated by the law in the same way as whites, it was more a difference in degree than in kind, especially if one compared it with the treatment of lower-class whites. The principle that masters had domestic jurisdiction over their slaves weighed heavily, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. This did not mean that an owner could do everything he wanted with a slave, but the authorities were unable to deal adequately with a sadistic master, or with one who lost sight of his own economic interests. [There is, however, little fundamental difference between their reluctance to intervene on behalf of the slaves and the reluctance of officials (and bystanders) nowadays to interfere in someone’s ‘private affairs’ (especially those going on behind closed doors) to protect women and children from abuse by husbands and parents. Even when such miscreants are indicted, they usually get off with a ridiculously light sentence. The principle of domestic jurisdiction is still very much alive.]

Surinam blacks were punished more severely for comparable offenses and corporal punishment was more often resorted to (partly because they had no money to pay a fine). Putting them on water and bread was not considered to be much of a penalty by the whites (although the slaves thought otherwise). Blacks were believed to be of a courser nature, so in the opinion of the whites they were not only able to withstand corporal punishment better, but they were also less humiliated by it –a misconception that would cost some colonists dearly.