Slavery circa 1637-1863

Human trafficking and forced labour in the New World

Since the great ocean crossing of Columbus in 1492, Europeans had been settling in what they called the New World, at the expense of the indigenous populations. The Portuguese began this by setting up sugar plantations in Brazil and having these worked by slaves brought across from Africa. This policy was adopted by all the European colonial powers. Together, in some two hundred years they transported over twelve million Africans in the transatlantic slave trade. The Dutch themselves transported more than 550,000 of these slaves. Some artists recorded their miserable lot in a drawing.

The Dutch slave trade started in 1621 with the establishment of the Dutch West India Company (WIC). WIC ships were originally sent out as privateers and to wage war on the Spanish-Portuguese fleet. In 1628, admiral Piet Hein captured the Spanish silver fleet and in 1638 the Portuguese lost Saint George d’el Mina in modern-day Ghana to the WIC. In addition, parts of Brazil were occupied (1624-1654) and in 1665 the Republic’s claim to colonial rights over the so-called Wild Coast (Surinam, Berbice, Essequibo-Demarary), and the Antillean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saint Martin, Sint Eustatius and Saba was recognised.

The Dutch became important players in the Atlantic area as a colonial power and slave traders. Up until 1730, the WIC held a monopoly on the slave trade. Subsequently, the Middelburg Commercial Company (established in 1720) grew into the biggest Dutch slave trader with various auction houses in Rotterdam and Amsterdam to compete with the WIC. In around 1770, the Dutch slave trade reached its zenith, transporting some six thousand slaves each year. In following years these numbers quickly decreased.

Being a slave meant being forced to work and having no say in where, with whom and how you would live. The African slaves and their descendants who were born in slavery, worked on plantations growing sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton and tobacco. They worked in the salt ponds of Curaçao or waited on their masters. Not all slaves accepted their lot. Particularly in Surinam, people escaped from slavery by running away. They settled in the jungle and established their own communities alongside those of the Indians. These fugitive slaves were referred to as Maroons or Bush Negroes. In addition, there were constant small and large slave uprisings on plantations and in the towns. The largest slave uprising took place on in 1795 on Curaçao under the leadership of Tula, who, inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and the success of the slave uprising in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), demanded freedom. Tula, however, paid for his freedom with his life.

At the end of the eighteenth century outrage against the slave trade was growing. This was true in the Netherlands too, even though discussions were often dominated by the interests of slave owners. Under pressure from the English the slave trade was prohibited in 1814. In the Netherlands, the abolition of slave labour and slavery did not follow until 1 July 1863, making it one of the very last countries in Europe to emancipate its slaves.

  • circa 3000 BC Megalithic tombs Early farmers  
  • 47 A.D.-circa 400 A.D. The Roman Limes On the frontiers of the Roman world  
  • 658 A.D.-739 A.D. Willibrord The spread of Christianity  
  • 742 A.D. – 814 A.D. Charlemagne Emperor of the Land of the Setting Sun  
  • circa 1100 Hebban olla vogala The Dutch language in writing  
  • 1254-1296 Floris V A Dutch count and disgruntled nobles  
  • 1356-circa 1450 The Hanseatic League Trading towns in the Low Countries  
  • 1469?-1536 Erasmus An international humanist  
  • 1500-1558 Charles V The Low Countries as an administrative unity  
  • 1566 The “Beeldenstorm” (iconoclastic outbreak) Religious conflict  
  • 1533-1584 William of Orange From rebel nobleman to “father of the country”  
  • 1588-1795 The Republic A unique political phenomenon  
  • 1602-1799 The Dutch East India Company (VOC) Overseas expansion  
  • 1612 The Beemster Polder The Netherlands and water  
  • 1613-1662 The canal ring Urban development in the seventeenth century  
  • 1583-1645 Hugo Grotius Pioneer of modern international law  
  • 1637 The Statenbijbel (authorised version of the Bible) The Book of Books  
  • 1606?-1669 Rembrandt The great painters  
  • 1662 Blaeu’s Atlas Major Mapping the world  
  • 1607-1676 Michiel de Ruyter Heroes of the sea and the wide reach of the Republic  
  • 1629-1695 Christiaan Huygens Science in the Golden Age  
  • 1632-1677 Spinoza In search of truth  
  • circa 1637-1863 Slavery Human trafficking and forced labour in the New World  
  • 17th and 18th centuries Country mansions Prosperous living  
  • 1744-1828 Eise Eisinga The Enlightenment in the Netherlands  
  • 1780-1795 The patriots Political conflict about modernising the Republic  
  • 1769-1821 Napoleon Bonaparte The French period  
  • 1772-1843 King William I The kingdom of the Netherlands and Belgium  
  • 1839 The first railway Acceleration  
  • 1848 The Constitution Fundamental rules and principles of government  
  • 1860 Max Havelaar Scandal in the East Indies  
  • 19th century Opposition to child labour Out of the workplace and back to school  
  • 1853-1890 Vincent van Gogh The modern artist  
  • 1854-1929 Aletta Jacobs The emancipation of women  
  • 1914-1918 The First World War War and neutrality  
  • 1917-1931 De Stijl Revolution in design  
  • 1929-1940 The crisis years Society in the depression  
  • 1940-1945 World War II Occupation and liberation  
  • 1929-1945 Anne Frank The persecution of the Jews  
  • 1945-1949 Indonesia A colony fights for freedom  
  • 1886-1988 Willem Drees The welfare state  
  • 1 February 1953 The great flood The danger of water  
  • since 1948 Television The rise of mass media  
  • since circa 1880 The port of Rotterdam Gateway to the world  
  • 1911-1995 Annie M.G. Schmidt Going against the grain of a bourgeois country  
  • since 1945 Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles Decolonisation in the West  
  • 1995 Srebrenica The dilemmas of peacekeeping  
  • since 1945 Diversity in the Netherlands The multicultural society  
  • 1959-2030? The natural gas deposit A finite treasure  
  • since 1945 Europe The Dutch and Europeans  
english version