A work of compassion? Dutch slavery and slave trade in the Indian Ocean in the seventeenth century

It is indisputable that the purchase of these poor people is a work of compassion since they would otherwise perish, as happens to those who are turned down…”
– VOC 1232, OBP 1661, fl. 383, Miss. gouvr. Laurens Pit en raad van Coromandel aan H. XVII, 9.8.1660
“Our intention is that the purchase [of slaves] will occur indiscriminately of both the elderly and the young, especially when they are members of a single family as is often the case. If we only accepted the young and turn down the old, the latter would perish, which we understand has already occurred often. This would not conform with Christian compassion, for to accept the children and leaving the parents to die in their presence, or to accept the men and turn down the women, would be harsh and, we fear, unacceptable to the Lord God.”
– VOC 884, BUB 1660, fl. 703, Miss. gouvr. genl. en raad aan comms. Van Goens the Colombo, 4.11.1660.
“Church members who buy and sell slaves and trade in such miserable people commit a sin. For these are people of the same nature as them rather than mere animals. Even though such slave trade is conducted by not only Jews, Turks, and Pagans, but so-called Christians, indeed, Dutchmen, as well. Reformed members should not taint themselves with such uncompassionate trade. Rather, they should act fully in fear of the Lord, in order that the money they make will be a blessing rather than a curse.”
– Jacobus Hondius, Swart Register van duysent Sonden. Amsterdam 1679, pp. 363-364 nr. 810.
For most of the seventeenth an eighteenth centuries the Dutch were active participants in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades. For brief spells during the seventeenth century they even dominated the Atlantic slave trade, while for nearly two centuries they were “the nexus of an enormous slave trade, the most expansive of its kind in the history of Southeast Asia.” [1] Whereas the Atlantic slave trade has been mapped out in relatively great detail in numerous studies, its Indian Ocean counterpart has remained largely uncharted territory and overlooked in Asian colonial historiography. Indeed, the sufferings of the slaves in Asia occurred mainly in silence, largely ignored, with the exception of the Cape Colony or “Cape of torments”, by both contemporaries and modern historians. Moreover, if we are to believe one Dutch colonial historian, Indian Ocean slavery “as a topic will never play such an important role as it does in the Caribbean.” [2]

This paper is a first step to “unsilence” the history of the “world’s oldest trade” and to correct or “re-Orient” the historiographical imbalance by looking at the arguments surrounding Dutch slavery and slave trade in the Indian Ocean in the seventeenth century. The term “Dutch” consists of three components: i) the Dutch East India Company or VOC (1602-1799) as a semi-official institution or chartered company with delegated government rights; ii) Dutch Company officials as private individuals; and: iii) European settlers or free burghers and Asians in areas under Dutch jurisdiction. Despite the problematic nature of the term “slave” in an Indian Ocean context [3], its special characteristics included property or chattel status and the ensuing potential of re-isolation, institutionalized coercion and systemic exploitation, outsider status or essential kinlessness defined as “social death,” and lack of control over physical reproduction and sexuality. [4]

Two basic systems of Indian Ocean slavery can be distinguished. The “open system” of slavery could be found in the commercialized, cosmopolitan cities of Southeast Asia and elsewhere where the boundary between slavery and other forms of bondage was porous and indistinct and upward mobility possible. In the “closed systems” of South (and East) Asia, with some notable exceptions, it was inconceivable for a slave to be accepted into the kinship systems of their owners as long as they remained slaves because of the stigma of slavery; instead they were maintained as separate ethnic groups. The term slave here includes so-called “true slaves,” the recently captured and sold in “open systems,” and those in “closed systems” of slavery, along with all other forms of bondage and ties of vertical obligation. [5]

Elsewhere I have argued that the Dutch Indian Ocean slave trade was urban-centered, drawing captive labor from three interlocking and overlapping circuits or subregions: Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Private and Company slaves served as general laborers and were used in a wide variety of occupations in the Dutch settlements across the Indian Ocean Basin. In certain of these slave societies, however, they also performed specific activities in accordance with the size of the individual slave household and the particular position the settlement occupied within the Company’s overall commercial network. The division of slave labor roughly followed ethnic, gender, and age lines based on colonial taxonomy and pre-existing indigenous beliefs and practices that characterized local slave systems. The number of Company and total Dutch slaves and the accompanying volume of the annual slave trades fluctuated greatly. In the late seventeenth century, there were about 4,000 Company slaves and perhaps 60,000 total slaves. In order to replenish these numbers, 200-400 Company slaves and 3,200-5,600 total slaves had to be imported each year. Assuming an average mortality rate en route of 20 per cent, 240-480 Company slaves and 4,476-7,716 total Dutch slaves had to be exported from their respective catchment areas. While slave revolt was rare, slave resistance assumed a variety of forms, especially desertion. [6]

Although a real debate over slavery did not begin until after 1750 [7], the seventeenth century did witness a heated controversy between orthodox and moderate Calvinists in which the “peculiar institution” played a small, albeit not insignificant, role. The polemics between majority apologists and minority opponents occurred in two separate spheres. In Europe, the intellectual, theoretical argument, involving Calvinist ministers or “pulpit predikanten,” theologians and jurists, was couched in Christian humanist terms. Whereas a small, but vociferous minority of orthodox “Voetian” Calvinists in the Dutch Republic opposed slavery based on biblical references, the majority of Calvinists accepted the trade in human chattel using the same source of authority. In addition to the Hebraic Law, proslavery jurists also harked back to classical antiquity to produce a specific slaving discourse with a Protestant face. In Asia, slavery found virtually universal acceptance among self-righteous religious, military, and civil officials of the Dutch East India Company using various reasons of state or pragmatic politics to defend the trade.

The ideological debate in the Dutch Republic: predikanten, theologians, and jurists
In Europe, the intellectual, theoretical argument, involving Calvinist ministers or “pulpit predikanten,” theologians and jurists, was couched in Christian humanist terms. In the Dutch Republic, slavery was part of a larger conflict between orthodox and moderate Calvinists or Voetians and Cocceians, followers of Gisbertus Voetius and Johannes Coccejus, respectively. This conflict bore certain resemblances to the controversy surrounding Gomarists (Counter Remonstrants) and Arminians (Remonstrants) one generation earlier and was centered on Biblical exegesis, individual religious life and practice, and state-church relations. [8] The first Europeans, however, to seriously discuss the enslavement of large numbers of indigenous populations were the Spaniards, epitomized in the famous debate between the Aristotelian humanist scholar Juan Ginþs de Sepìlveda (1490-1573) and the conquistador-turned-Dominican-friar Bartolomþ de las Casas (1470-1566) before a panel off royal judges at Valladolid in 1550.

The Utrecht professor of theology and predikant Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) was a champion of orthodox Calvinism and pietism and a representative of the so-called “Second Reformation” (Nadere Reformatie). Influenced by English and Scottish Puritanism, Voetius and fellow-believers, such as Festus Hommius, Cornelis Poudroyen, Georgius de Raad, and Jacobus Hondius, started from the legalist precept that the Reformed doctrines were the key to the exegesis or interpretation of the Scriptures. They rejected Cartesianism and what they perceived to be an increasingly outward-oriented, rationalized Calvinism. Instead they emphasized an instinctive, god-fearing, pious conduct in life (praxis pietatis) through the reform of sins, and a personal relationship with God. Finally, they preached the independence of the church free from state interference or at least a larger role for religion in politics.

Similar to De las Casas [9], Voetians emphasized the natural equality of humans and rejected the theft of humans, i.e., slavery, based on the Mosaic Law and other Biblical references (for instance, Matthew 6:26; 10:24-31; Luke 15; Deuteronomy 24:7; 1 Timothy 1:10; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:11). They strongly believed in both divine predestination and the individual’s responsibility to transform and reorder society in order to create the Kingdom of God (regnum Christi) in accordance with Providence. As a result, they vehemently opposed the subordination of the Reformed church in the Dutch Republic and the overseas world to secular authorities and the primacy of material over spiritual considerations. [10]

Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), professor of Eastern languages at the University of Franeker and (from 1650) professor of theology at the University of Leiden, rejected the rigid, legalist interpretation of the Bible and confessional dogmatism of the Voetians. Cocceius cum sociis instead emphasized the need to recapture the original meaning of the text and to regain something of the old evangelical spirit. They were also more positively inclined towards several new ideas of the time, including Cartesian philosophy, than their conservative, orthodox Voetian counterparts. Finally, Cocceians were more willing than Voetians to accord a larger role of the state within the church and to submit to secular authority.

Cocceians explained the Decalogue in less concrete terms in its New Testament form of loving God and one’s neighbor with all one’s heart, soul, and reason. Though theft was a violation of the highest law of compassion, it did not specifically include the theft of humans and slavery. Biblical references, such as the curse of Canaan (Genesis 9:25-27) and other passages mentioning slavery without disapproval (Exodus 21:20-21; Leviticus 25:44-46; 2 Peter 2:19; Philemon 8-22), seemed to justify or at least condone the practice. The term Cocceian also became politically charged as Cocceius and co-religionists were more accepting of the subordination of the church in the Dutch Republic and the overseas world. [11]

The first “pre-Voetian” opponent of slavery was the Leiden predikant Festus Hommius (1576-1642). A fellow-student of Gomarus, Hommius was one of the main spokesmen for the Contra-Remonstrant party prior to the Synod of Dordrecht. [12] In the third edition of Het schat-boeck der verclaringhen over de catechismus (1617), a translation of the Explicationes Catheticae (1591) by Zacharias Ursinus, Hommius expanded the interpretation of the Eighth Commandment regarding theft to include a prohibition of slavery. Elaborating on the Heidelberg Catechism, Hommius argued that slavery was a form of theft to be punished by the government. God had ordained (Exodus 21:16), Hommius asserted, that “Whoever steals a man, whether he sells him or is found in possession of him, shall be put to death.”

Hommius updated the Schatboeck by increasing the number of biblical references forbidding the theft of humans (Deuteronomy 24:7 and 1 Timothy 1:10), and further specifying the term theft of humans. It included, among others, the abduction of free people and sale of slaves, “thus depriving them of their most precious possession, which is freedom.” This statement could be interpreted as a principled emphasis on human freedom and the unacceptability of the slave trade. However, Hommius did not reject all forms of slave trade, the theft of humans only involved the theft of free people. Hommius obviously shared the scientific common opinion (see section on the apologists ahead) that slavery and slave trade was possible under certain conditions. [13]

Hommius’ Schatboeck provided a veritable “treasure trove” or source of inspiration for various Voetian predikanten, such as Cornelis Poudroyen, Georgius de Raad, and Jacobus Hondius. The CatechisatieÄ over de leere des Christelicken Catechismi (1662) by the Utrecht predikant Cornelis Poudroyen (d. 1662) was a polemical treatise calling for radical Christian action. Point by point, the former student and “ghostwriter” of Voetius countered the proslavery arguments used by jurists and others based on the Mosaic Law. Citing the words of his mentor, Poudroyen denied parents the right to sell their children into slavery. Children of war captives could also not be kept as slaves, he argued, while impoverished people offering themselves for sale should be assisted through charity or compassion rather than enslavement. The argument that slave labor was necessary in tropical conditions was invalid, since free men could and should also perform heavy labor. Slaves were not to be given tasks deemed unfit for oneself and others, for “they are your equals and fellow human beings.” The overriding principle for Poudroyen was Christian compassion, concluding that:

“It is unbefitting for Christians to engage in this rough, insecure, confusing, dangerous, and unreasonable trade, adding to a person’s troubles and being an executor of his torments. Instead, if one desires to bring forth good from that evil, one should purchase him [the slave] in order to be manumitted and freed from such great servitude to cruel tyrants, and, if possible, instruct him in the Christian religion.” [14]
Poudroyen’s appeal to Christian compassion was shared by Georgius de Raad (c. 1625-1677). In his Bedenckingen over den Guineschen Slaef-handel (1665), the Vlissingen predikant and former student of Voetius not surprisingly used arguments similar to Poudroyen’s. Perhaps responding to the recent indirect acquisition of the asiento contract by the West India Company in 1662, De Raad dedicated his populist, anti-papist work to the merchant þlites of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Middelburg, and Vlissingen, and the directors of the East and West India Companies. Though initially seemingly containing various elements for a Protestant colonial ideology, step by step De Raad pressed his case against slavery. Using apocalyptic imagery, he warned the Reformed for the impending wrath of God: “Our country is sinking, and this sin, or rather innumerable injustices, which are occurring daily in the slave trade, may well be the heaviest ballast which will cause the ship to go down.” [15]

De Raad started by merely denouncing the sale of slaves at the center of the thriving Dutch slave trade in the Caribbean, the “unblessed CuraÐao” (also known as the “Golden Rock”), and elsewhere to “papists.” A negro slave sold to Spanish, French, or Portuguese owners, he argued, was to deliver a soul to the realm of the devil. A Reformed slave owner should rather treat his slaves well and instruct them in the True (Calvinist) Faith. The only reason for the existence of the owner-slave relation was as part of Divine Providence to lead the slave from darkness to light. Even the possession of slaves, however, was questionable since their acquisition had often been unjust and sinful. De Raad glossed over some of the “innumerable injustices” associated with the traffic. Sometimes “the poor pagans” were lured to the ships and kidnapped against their will. Parents were separated from their children, children from their parents, husbands from their wives, wives from their husbands, and so forth. Innocent people were captured and sold by their own rulers. Aboard the ships “horrible and notorious sins, and [acts of] heathen, outrageous cruelty” were being committed. Slaves on the plantations were abused and few efforts were made to convert the slaves. Even those who had been converted enjoyed few or no privileges. De Raad rejected arguments that slaves were commodities and lacked the intelligence to become Christians. Slaves were fellow-creatures, he warned, created in the image of God. If they were ignorant, they should be instructed. If they were slow, they should be treated with compassion. [16]

In his Swart register van duysent sonden (1679), one of the most famous seventeenth-century registers of sins, the Hoorn Predikant Jacobus Hondius denounced both Reformed church members in general and the directors of the West and East India Companies in particular for their participation in the slave trade. Slaves were “miserable people” rather than animals and of the same nature as Church members. Even though “Jews, Turks, Pagans, and so-called Christians” participated in the slave trade, “Reformed church members should not taint themselves with such uncompassionate trade. Rather, they should act in fear of the Lord, in order that the money they make will be a blessing rather than a curse.” Moreover, Hondius joined the chorus of predikanten, accusing the directors of the West and East India Companies of neglecting the conversion of the “Indians and pagan humans in the East- and West Indies,” letting material considerations prevail over spiritual ones. Finally, church members and predikanten disregarding the “praxis pietatis” were overseas sinners, who through their unchristian behavior turned others away from the Kingdom of Christ. [17]

Despite their high profile and vociferous outcry, Voetian predikanten and theologians represented a minority antislavery position ignored by the Calvinist majority. Using the same sources of authority, Reformed ministers such as Godefridus Udemans, Johan Picardt, Johannes Cocceius, and Herman Witsius were apologists defending the “peculiar institution.” In his ‘t Geestelyck Roer van ‘t Coopmans Schip (1638), the Zierikzee predikant Godefridus Udemans (c. 1581-1649) argued that the “spiritual rudder of the merchant ship,” or the primary goal of overseas trade, should be the expansion of the kingdom of God (regnum Deo). He agreed with the common opinion that the riches of the Indies were merely a means for the propagation of the word. Under certain safeguards, however, slavery was not incompatible with Calvinist principles and should be considered a life-saving act of Christian charity and human compassion. Udemans, celebrated for his theological expertise, founded his conclusion on theories such as the primacy of spiritual over physical freedom, the curse of Canaan (Exodus 9:25-27), and God’s selection of the Dutch as his chosen people. He became the founder of a specific slaving ideology with a Protestant face, with which generations of predikanten, including even the eighteenth-century former Gold Coast slave and predikant Jacobus Elisa Johannes Capitein (1711-1747), legitimized the traffic in human chattel. [18] The so-called “Ham ideology,” based on the curse of Canaan (Genesis 9:25-27), continued to serve as the most important biblical justification for the enslavement of Africans and Asians until the nineteenth-century emancipation. [19]

Udemans accepted slavery as an institution. Though citing the Eighth Commandment from Hommius’ Schatboeck, his definition of “the theft of humans” did not include slave trade. A Christian, he maintained, was allowed to buy slaves originating from a just war or legitimate sale by their parents. The emphasis in his work was on the responsibility of the Christian master to his slave. Christians could not be enslaved, and Christian slaves could never be sold to pagans, Muslims, or Roman Catholics. Moreover, pagan slaves had to be instructed in the Christian faith. Loyal and pious slaves were to be rewarded properly and released seven years after their conversion in order to promote the spread of Christianity. Udemans concluded his exposþ with a statement by St. Augustine. Though intended to console god-fearing slaves and warn godless masters, it was used until the nineteenth century to justify slavery: “A pious man is free, even when a slave; but an evil man is a slave, even when a king; because he is a slave not of man alone, but (what is much worse) of as many masters as his shortcomings.” [20]

In 1660, the Coevorden predikant and theologian Johan Picardt (1600-1670) expressed the so-called “Ham ideology,” based on Noah’s cursing of Ham’s son, Canaan, for pointing his two other brothers, Shem and Japheth, to the nudity of their drunken father (Genesis 9:25-27). Picardt argued that the Hamites (Negroes) had been cursed and sentenced to perpetual servitude under the Shemites (identified with the Jews) and Japhethites (identified with the Europeans). Though the exact origins of this argument are unknown, it would serve as the most important biblical justification for the enslavement of blacks until the nineteenth-century emancipation:

“Although Ham and his descendants have become powerful nations, slavery has ruled amongst them. Have not most Africans as a rule been slaves of their kings? Are not the majority of them still slaves of the Turks? Have not the inhabitants of Congo, Angola, Guinea, Monomopata [kingdom south of the Zambezi River], and Bagawidri [?] from slave nestsÄ, whence many are dragged here and there, sold, and used for all forms of servile labors? These people have been so conditioned, that when freed or treated lovingly they are no good and do not know how to behave themselves. But if one constantly applies the cane to their backs and gives them a sound thrashing without mercy, then one can expect good services from them for their well-being consists of enslavement.” [21]
Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) seems to have considered the abominable crime of slavery mostly as a historical issue. In his posthumously published Heydelbergensis Catechesis Religionis Christianae (1671), Coceius argued that apparently Ancient Israel accepted the legality of the voluntary sale of destitute people for reasons of necessity as witnessed by the fate of Joseph and the Israelites in Egypt. One could therefore sell oneself to another person in return for money. But, Cocceius added, “God set limits to this servitude and carefully ordered how beneficial these servants should be treated.” Cocceius and his students, such as Henricus Groenewegen (c. 1640-1692) and Petrus van der Hagen (1641-1671), never explicitly treated or condemned contemporary slavery. Approving of or passing over the institution in silence, these Calvinist ministers and theologians explicitly or implicitly endorsed slavery. [22]

In his De oeconomica foedrum Dei Dei cum hominibus (1677), one of the most important religious works of the seventeenth century, the Franeker, Utrecht and Leiden theologian Herman Witsius (1638-1708) summed up the theological communis opinio: “Great sins of the parents have to be redeemed by a long succession of children and grandchildren, for Canaan and his descendants have been assigned to the Semites and the children of Japheth as slaves.” [23]

Cocceius’ proslavery position was shared by leading jurists such as Hugo de Groot or Grotius, Ulrich Huber, and Willem de Groot. Hugo de Groot or Grotius (1583-1645) was a staunch advocate of the jus gentium primarum or primary law of nations. As a typical Northern Renaissance or Christian humanist scholar, Grotius, apart from the Hebraic Law, also heavily relied on classical antiquity and customary law to legitimize slavery. In his De iure belli ac pacis (1625), the lawyer and statesman duly compiled and cited the opinions of Greek and Roman authors, arguing that slavery was an ancient institution to be found in both the Old and New Testament and Greco-Roman history. Grotius recognized both voluntary slavery and involuntary slavery. Each individual was entitled to renounce his freedom, for instance, in order to escape famine and starvation. An impoverished father, moreover, had the right to sell his child. Slavery could also be an alternative to execution: certain criminals had forfeited their freedom through their actions. Similarly, those conquered in a just war (bellum iustum) could avoid death because of slavery. Grotius condoned the institution of slavery, albeit “within natural limits,” including humane treatment, moderate punishment, and the provision of proper nourishment and other necessities of life. [24]

All prominent jurists from the Republic, including Huber, Pestel, and De Groot followed Grotius in accepting slavery and the slave trade. Ulrich Huber (1633-1694) was perhaps the most important political philosopher in the Dutch Republic of the last quarter of the seventeenth century. He spent the greatest part of his life as professor of law at the University of Franeker. His major work, De jure civitatis libri tres, was first published in 1672, but did not assume it final form until 1694. Huber considered captivity in war, criminal conviction, voluntary renunciation of liberty, and birth from a female slave legal grounds for slavery. Pestel accepted the institution under certain safeguards, preventing abuses related to sale and transport. In his De principis juris naturalis enchiridion (1667), a manual on the basic principles of the law of nature, Willem de Groot (1597-1662), a nephew of the more famous Hugo, argued that captivity in war reduced a free man to slavery. [25]

Apart from classical sources of authority, jurists also employed the same biblical references as proslavery theologians to underwrite the institution. In his Hollands Aeloude Vrijheid (1706), the jurist and anti-Orangist political writer Emmanuel van der Hoeven (c. 1660-c. 1728) contrasted the “ancient freedom” of Holland with the biblical justification of slavery based on Noah’s curse of Canaan (Exodus 9:25-27), which condemned blacks to slavery by descent together with the associated racial characteristics. Van der Hoeven commented: “The pride and impudence of Canaan was deserving of the curse, which it incited. He was foretold to leave behind a servile people, whose body from the eight day of their birth will be covered by black paint to distinguish them from the free, along with their despondent and ungainly facial features.” Van der Hoeven’s association of slavery with physical and racial features, however, was uncharacteristic of his time. It was not until the nineteenth century that slavery was justified by “scientific,” somatic, rather than religious-humanist arguments. [26] Identities were first and foremost based on religion, customs, morality, and loyalties. Although everyone was born into a certain “nation,” Dutchmen overseas could “go native,” just as indigenous peoples could become “white” or “civilized.” Expressed by the Council of Dordt in 1618, Dutch seventeenth-century Calvinism espoused, in theory if not in practice, the ideal of assimilation rather than racial segregation or Apartheid. [27]

Pragmatism in Asia: religious, civil, and military Company officials
Whereas ideological motivations on a theoretical plane dominated discourse in Europe, in Asia slavery found virtually universal acceptance among self-righteous religious, military, and civil officials of the Dutch East India Company. Using reasons of state or pragmatic politics to defend the trade, these Company servants rather opportunistically resorted to a variety of ad hoc arguments in an unsystematic manner. These arguments included Christian humanitarian compassion (“christelijcke mededogentheyt”), the need to establish and populate settlement colonies (“peuplatie”), the right of war and conquest (“oorlogh ende conqueste”), naturalist, contractual law (pacta sunct servanda), and financial-budgetary considerations (“mesnagie”). In a sense, Company servants put their mouth where their money was. Even the overseas church, a potentially independent voice, was strictly subordinated to the authority of the Dutch East India Company. Predikanten and their assistants were salaried officials of the Company, correspondence with Europe was read and censored, church councils in Asia were attended by lay officials, and the decisions of these bodies could only be carried out with the approval and cooperation of Company officials. [28]

The Christian humanitarian argument (“christelijcke mededogentheyt”) was based on the alleged material and spiritual salvation of the individual slave’s body and soul. Christian humanitarian ideas permeated the slave ordinances of 1622 and 1625, which were incorporated into the Statutes of Batavia (1642). The Statutes of Batavia provided general rules for the whole of Company territories, while alluding to specific conditions in Batavia. The ordinance of 4 May 1622, derived from strict Christian principles rather than Roman law, consisted of nine articles, supplemented with directions for the proper “governance and upbringing of slaves.” It decreed that the “alienation of male and female slaves” could only be done “for good and sufficient reasons.” Such transactions had to be duly registered before a magistrate or legal authority. Christians could not sell or alienate slaves of any sort to “people outside Christendom.” Unbelievers in Company territories could not buy, receive or hold title to slaves from Christians. In contrast, non-Christians were permitted to sell slaves to Christians. Christian slaveholders were to treat all their slaves with “civility, benevolence, and reasonableness”, “to care for them as their own children”, and to raise and instruct them in the Christian religion that “they might come to receive holy baptism.” Non-Christian masters could not deny their slaves instruction in the Christian religion and, were they to become Christians, their owners would have to part with them at a “reasonable price” either to a Christian or to the Company itself. [29]

The next important ordinance on slaves was posted on 16 June 1625, as an “amplification” to the original ordinance of 1622. It consisted of ten articles, mostly directed at curtailing the excessively severe and uncontrolled punishment inflicted on privately owned slaves and at providing a framework for the obligations of slaves to their masters. Thus, without the “express consent” of the appropriate Company officer, no slave owner could impose more than “civil or domestic” punishment on his or her slaves nor incarcerate a slave or set a slave in blocks or chains. Slaves requiring more severe punishment had to be dealt with by an officer or tribunal. Individuals found guilty of “mishandling” their slaves were subject to fines, confiscation of their slaves, or other punishments depending on the severity of the case. Owners who were discovered to have caused the death of their slaves through abuse were to be investigated by the magistrate and might themselves be subject to the death penalty. Slaves had the right to complain about their mistreatment to the chief officer of the area in which their master resided, but if these complaints proved to be unfounded the offending slave would be “severely” beaten at a public whipping post and returned to his master. [30]

Though church meetings and individual clergymen in the Dutch Republic at times expressed their distaste of slavery, overseas religious officials of the Company by and large accepted the institution. In 1628-1629, both Reformed classis most involved in the overseas world, Amsterdam and Walcheren (Zeeland), wrote to Batavia, that “it was unchristian to have slaves.” Slavery, they argued, was “unedifying and not permitted among the Christians in the Indies.” The Batavia church council, however, led by the Predikant Justus Heurnius (1587-1652), replied that the Reverend brethren in patria were mistaken. Slavery was justified because of the “servile nature” of Asians, the likelihood of their defection to Islam once freed, and the milder treatment by Europeans.

According to Heurnius cum sociis, slavery in itself could not be condemned. The mistreatment of slaves, moreover, he reassured his counterparts in patria, had already been greatly remedied. Company placards and ordinances, such as those of 1622 and 1625, prescribed rules for decent treatment, disciplining and punishment. They also promoted the christening of slaves and protected Christian slaves, for instance, through the stipulation that non-Christians could not purchase or possess Christian slaves. Moreover, Heurnius reminded his Reverend brethren in the Dutch Republic, overseas conditions should be taken into proper consideration. Though Heurnius, author of De legatione evangelica (1618), was a zealous advocate of the conversion of the indigenous peoples and slave population, the nature of Asians was different:

“As it is seems natural to our nation to aspire to golden freedom (ad auream libertatem), so we experience in contrast amongst the ordinary nations of these countries such a servile character, that their freedom and self-government apparently are even worse than slavery. Moreover, when freed, they pursue their submission to another person.”
Once manumitted, Heurnius asserted, converted Asians would immediately attach themselves to a new patron-owner and revert to Islam in order to secure food and clothing: “They set their sail according to the wind, have themselves circumcised, following and practicing the Muslim faith.” Heurnius, therefore, considered slavery as a natural phenomenon inherent to a society with great social and economic inequalities. Though all people are equal in the heavenly Kingdom of God, Heurnius claimed, on this world “one person is higher in standing and order than the other.” This Aristotelianesque distinction between superior and inferior peoples was given an appropriate Christian touch, inequality being an expression of God’s will. [31]

Apart from saving the soul of unbelievers ensnared in the trappings of the devil, the Christian humanitarian argument also involved saving people from starvation in instances of severe famine in the wake of war, droughts, epidemics, poor harvests, and/or oppressive regimes. Dutch Company officials eagerly portrayed themselves in the role of saviors, providing these people, voluntarily selling themselves or their immediate relatives, with home, family, and employment. In other words, slavery was presented as some form of “Asian Poor Law.” [32]

The invasion of a Bijapuri army, for example, into the province of Tanjavur in 1658 initiated one in a series of vicious “famine-slave” cycles along India’s Coromandel coast. One eyewitness account vividly reported the widespread misery:

“The famine has worsened to such an extent that entire villages, hamlets, and settlements have been depopulated, leaving hardly anyone. Dead bodies are laying scattered in dry tanks, along common roads, indeed, even the streets of the city of Nagapatnam. Those who have survived until now more resemble lifeless corpses than living people, crying along the fields and roads for a single meal to fill their empty stomachs before dying. In short, the miseries and sufferings are such, that no pen can describe the extremity of the situationÄ” [33]
Taking advantage of the situation, the Company exported 6,000 slaves from southern Coromandel between 1659 and 1661, mostly to Ceylon and Batavia. Company officials portrayed Dutch participation in the traffic as a work of Christian compassion. As Governor Laurens Pit of Coromandel (1652-1663) informed the Directors in August 1660: “It is indisputable that the purchase of these poor people is a work of compassion since they would otherwise perish, as happens to those who are turned awayÄ” [34]

Elaborating on Pit’s Christian humanitarian theme, Governor General Johan Maetsuycker (1653-1678) and the Council of the Indies commented in November 1660:

“Our intention is that the purchase [of slaves] will occur indiscriminately of both the elderly and the young, especially when they are members of a single family as is often the case. If we only accepted the young and turn down the old, the latter would perish, which we understand has already occurred often. This would not conform with Christian compassion (christel. mededogentheyt), for to accept the children and leaving the parents to die in their presence, or to accept the men and turn down the women, would be harsh and, we fear, unacceptable to the Lord God.” [35]
In addition to Christian humanitarianism, the right of war and conquest (“oorlogh ende conqueste”) was occasionally employed as a proslavery argument by self-righteous Company officials. As a politico-commercial enterprise, the VOC or “merchant-warrior” considered war and trade to be interchangeable. Adhering to prevailing mercantilist thought, the Dutch entered into numerous conflicts with European and Asian rivals in the Indian Ocean. One of the earliest formulations of this guiding principle was provided by the hard-liner, “Iron” Jan Pietersz. Coen (1587-1629). In 1614, the future governor general unsolicitedly advised the Company Directors or Gentlemen Seventeen:

“By experience [you] should be well aware that in the Indies trade has to be pursued and maintained under the protection of one’s own arms and that the weapons must be financed through the profits so earned by trade. In short, trade without war or war without trade cannot be maintained.” [36]
Apart from “just war,” the Dutch also purchased slaves resulting from intercommunal conflicts within non-Muslim microstates and stateless societies and petty warfare and raiding by Islamic communities in the Dar al-Harb (“Abode of War”). In theory, the Company only accepted legally acquired slaves and rejected those acquired via outright kidnapping and robbery. In practice, however, the Dutch distinction between legal means and illegal kidnapping and robbery was as nebulous as the Muslim differentiation between “true slaves” (Arabic ‘abd) resulting from genuine jihad and ruthless raiding for helpless human prey. [37]

In general, the small numbers of Dutch Company servants in Asia saw themselves as beset by hordes of enemies, both European and Asian, eager for any opportunity to deprive them of the fruits of their honest labor. As all Company servants were to be Protestant, this paranoid “siege mentality” was not limited to the economic sphere alone, but also had political and religious overtones. In consequence of their protracted war of independence against the Catholic Spanish Habsburg monarchy, the Dutch in particular were inspired with convictions of fighting for a righteous cause against the forces of manifest inequity. Though opposition from Asian (and European) competitors was often quite real, the Dutch charged these rivalries with anxieties that were proportional to their own position in an overwhelming and alien environment. [38] This world view profoundly shaped the Dutch interpretation of “just war,” which was routinely invoked whenever local Company personnel were attacked or property damaged, agreements with indigenous rulers violated, and trade impeded by oppressive Asian officials, always of course without the slightest provocation. In the words of Coen: “We have been warned by now that we will be attacked, murdered, and robbedÄ Do not despair, do not spare your enemies. There is no one in the world who should bother or can stop us for God is on our sideÄ” [39]

War captives were considered the lowest class of slaves, and as chained laborers (kettinggangers) performed the vilest and hardest forms of labor. The General Instruction of 1617, for instance, stipulated that “prisoners of the enemy shall be used as slaves in galleys and in other servile labor irrespective of quality or condition, either spiritual or worldly, and they shall be treated as rigorously as shall be found fit. ” [40]

The right of war and conquest was deemed the best title under which slavery could be carried out. In 1626, for instance, Governor General Jacques de Carpentier (1623-1627) and the Council of the Indies wrote: “We wish that rather than having to purchase slavesÄ we could acquire them by conquest and war from places, where we would be justified to get them lawfully (met goet recht)Ä” [41]

Self-righteous Company officials were quick to point out the distinction between the “just wars” of the Dutch and the illegal kidnapping and stealing of their European and Asian politico-commercial rivals. In 1651, for instance, Governor General Carel Reniers (1650-1653) and the Council of the Indies condemned the “not very Christian” practices of the Portuguese at Nagapatnam. Allegedly they were “stealing slaves from that country at dead of night or committed open robbery with the conniving of the indigenous governors and rulers who profit from it.” Seizing on the opportunity to take the moral high ground, the High Government commented: “We should never imitate this sin (godtloosheyt), even if we were never to acquire any more slaves.” Along similar lines, Commander Isbrand Godske of Malabar (1666-1668) in 1668 advised his successor, Lucas van der Dussen (1668-1670), to carefully examine people offered for sale to the Company as slaves, “for it has been our experience, that free men are often seduced by sinister practices, enslaved, and transported, which can thus be prevented.” [42]

The Dutch, however, did not always act in accordance to their preaching. In 1654, for instance, Governor General Maetsuyker and the Council of the Indies were favorably inclined towards a petition of the inhabitants of the Sula Islands east of Sulawesi asking for permission to revert to “stealing people.” The request should be granted, Maetsuyker and the Council opined, provided that their vessels were furnished with several Dutchmen in order to prevent the illegal acquisition and “smuggling” of spices! [43]

Next to Christian humanitarianism and the right of war and conquest, the Dutch also resorted to the argument of settlement colonization (“peuplatie”) by European settlers or “free burghers” supplemented by slave labor. Though a majority of VOC servants were skeptical about the creation of a “New Netherlands” in Asia based on slave labor [44], several high Company officials periodically advocated the emigration of married couples or families from the Netherlands as the only means of establishing a reliable settled Dutch community in areas where the Company exercised jurisdiction by “right of conquest,” such as Batavia, Ceylon, and the Cape of Good Hope.

Governor General Jan Pietersz. Coen (1619-1623; 1627-1629) at Batavia was one of the earliest proponents of settlement colonies. In a treatise presented to the Company directors in 1623, Coen stressed the need for encouraging good, substantial burgher-families to emigrate from the Netherlands with their capital to West Java where there was room for “many hundred thousands of people” to pursue agricultural professions: “Let us plough and sow, the Lord will provide for growth.” In 1623, the High Government at Batavia had already intimated to the Company directors:

“The sweetest violence (soetste gewelt) to keep our enemies in check without resorting to open war is to populate the lands with our own people and fill them to such an extent that we instill respect in our feigned friends [the English], fear in our enemies, and obedience in the rebellious. Large numbers of people are the principal foundation of the Company’s state in the Indies, without which it cannot exist.” [45]
In 1640, Governor-General Antonio van Diemen (1636-1645) intimated to the Company Directors that he deemed a settlement colony “vital and absolutely necessary for reasons of state security.” [46] A more modest scheme for Dutch colonization based on the Portuguese model was proposed by Governor Johan Maetsuyker of Ceylon (1646-1650). A professed admirer of the Portuguese system of the intermarriage of Portuguese soldiers (casados) and settlers (moradores) with indigenous women, Maetsuyker suggested the union of white men to Asian or Eurasian women to promote colonization. The mixed offspring could establish themselves in Colombo, Galle, Jaffna, and elsewhere as artisans and farmers. One of Maetsuyker’s successors, Governor Rijkloff van Goens of Ceylon (1662-1663; 1665-1675), was another advocate of Dutch colonization of the “cinnamon conquest.” In the absence of white wives for the settlers, he was even prepared to tolerate intermarriage with Sinhalese, Tamil and Eurasian women. The arrival of thousands of slaves on Ceylon in the wake of a widespread famine in Southern Coromandel (1658-1661) was perceived by Van Goens “as the hidden disposition of divine Providence in order to repopulate the lands here and to support the Company’s designs.” [47]

In 1717, Captain Dominique Marius Pasques de Chavonnes, member of the Council of Policy at the Cape of Good Hope, argued in response to a proposal of the Company directors, that slaves should be replaced by European settlers. Not only would the intractable problem of slave escape, the constant fear of rebellion, and the necessity of punishment be removed, but money paid as wages would also be spent within the colony, creating a larger market for Company products. His argument was based not on moral but on economic grounds, substantiated with detailed assessments of the relative costs of slave and free labor. Not surprisingly, the Captain also stressed the “dangers, expense and troubles, which residents in the country districts have to endure because of their slaves.” [48] ADD: J.K.J. de Jonge, De opkomst van het Nederlandsch gezag in Oost-Indiï. 18 vols. The Hague 1862-1909, VI, pp. v-xvii. For debate on colonial settlement on Java.

Despite the haphazard efforts of such powerful personalities as Coen, Maetsuyker, Van Goens, the results achieved by the end of the seventeenth century were most disappointing. They showed quite clearly that for various reasons Dutch colonization in the East on the Portuguese model was a failure. First, few prospective emigrants (rich or well-to-do families, the “laboring poor,” or time-expired Company servants) could be found willing to settle permanently in the tropics. The lack of white masters for settlement colonies (“aenplantinghe van coloniïn”) occasionally even led to a surplus of slaves in Batavia and elsewhere! In 1626, for instance, Governor General De Carpentier and the Council of the Indies complained: “Here are still lacking determined, industrious, and energetic people to both rule over the slaves and bring the fertile fallow under cultivation and reasonable production.”[49]

Second, the free-burghers could not compete effectively with their Asian counterparts, who were far more familiar with their compatriots’ religions, languages, customs, and environments. Third, the economic interests of the colonists often clashed with those of the Company, which jealously reserved the most lucrative trades for itself. When Governor General Van Diemen pointed to the narrow economic basis supporting the Batavian citizenry, the Company Directors replied in 1649:

“We are on the horns of a dilemma. A Dutch colony is indeed highly useful, nay, indispensable for the political status of the Company. Experience has shown, however, that these colonists cannot exist unless freedom of movement and freedom of trade is permitted to the colonists. This would certainly have a detrimental effect on the mainstay of the Company, its trade. Therefore, the stabilization of a real colony with burghers trading privately cannot be in the interest of the Company.”
Two years later, in October 1651, the Directors stated their priorities in even less ambiguous terms: “We must remain the masters of the enterprise, even if that means the disposal of the Batavian citizenry.” [50] The extensive pleas of the Company Lawyer Pieter van Dam in 1662 for liberalization of trade and a larger settlement colony went therefore unheard. [51]

In addition to Christian humanitarianism, the right of war and conquest, and the argument of settlement colonization, the Dutch attached an enormous importance to the legalist principle of pacta sunt servanda, that is, treaties have to be honored under all circumstances. [52] The naturalist doctrine of the inviolability of contractual agreements was an article of faith in Dutch correspondence, though they applied double standards when deemed necessary. In 1653, for example, the High Government decided to approve a “disadvantageous contract” recently concluded with the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan (1627-1658), but only “as long as either the Company trade in those quarters remains of the same importance as it is nowadays. Otherwise we will dispose in accordance with the Company’s interests.” [53]

Throughout the Indonesian Archipelago, the Dutch routinely concluded agreements with local indigenous chiefs and headmen (orangkayas, penghulus, panglimas, and so forth), who agreed often under duress to accept Dutch overlordship. In exchange for protection and military assistance against Asian and European enemies, these chiefs and headmen promised the delivery of a specified number of slaves and other commodities as tribute and expression of their loyalty. Between 1650 and 1675 alone, the Dutch concluded “slave-clause” agreements with indigenous chiefs on and near the islands of Sumatra, Timor, New Guinea, and Sulawesi. [54]

Asian perceptions of the meaning of an agreement differed widely from European interpretation. What mattered to Malaysians and other indigenous peoples, for instance, was not the treaty with its numerous specific individual clauses, but rather the generic recognition of friendship and alliance. The Malay word for agreement or treaty is perjanjian, meaning literally “promise.” Treaty clauses could be adjusted, changed, or even disregarded as long as the agreement’s essential character was preserved. When a specific clause was considered disadvantageous, it could be ignored. This behavior was not viewed as evasion of the contract, but as important steps to prevent endangering the essence of the agreement, the friendship between two powers. [55] Though Company officials recognized that these agreements were often imposed on these indigenous chiefs and headmen under the threat of armed force and the expression of unequal exchange, they considered these contracts as basis for legal political and military retribution: “In case of violation, we have our pretense and can promote the interests of the Company.” [56]

Apart from Christian humanitarianism, the right of war and conquest, the argument of settlement colonization, and the legalist principle of pacta sunt servanda, the Dutch also employed financial-budgetary considerations (“mesnagie”) to justify slavery. Though hard-line, imperialist and “dovish,” mercantile factions disagreed on the means, Company officials agreed that making profit was the sine qua non of their respective policies. The use of slaves was partly a necessity due to the unreliability of alternative labor supplies, partly a deliberate choice to cut overhead costs. Free wage labor (Company servants or Asians) or coerced labor (condemned criminals) was always insufficiently available, while slaves (especially those from India) were considered a more tractable and cheaper option. The almost universal consensus among Company officials on the desirability and profitability of slave labor stands in shrill contrast to the heated controversy among historians over abolition. Whereas the Marxist historian Eric Williams has placed late eighteenth-century abolition and the end of slavery in an economic, capitalist context, Seymour Drescher and others have argued that these humanitarian efforts were a form of “econocide” or economic suicide, as slavery and the slave trade still remained vibrant. [57]

In 1615 Governor General Gerard Reynst (1614-1615) and the Council of the Indies argued that slaves were indispensable to the Company for the construction of fortifications and other activities involving heavy physical labor under tropical conditions. Without slaves, the High Government argued, there would be no fortifications:

“We cannot extract the necessary labor from our nation in these districts, even if they were available. The heat is too much and drink too abundant almost everywhere. I have already experienced, that one slave produces more work than two or more of our nation. If only I could get slavesÄ, I would know how to employ them well in our service.” [58]
Economy supplemented necessity. A “good and frugal household” (goede ende spaersame mesnagie) was considered one of the most important foundations of the Company’s state in Asia in which the use of slave labor was instrumental. In 1614 Reynst and the Council of the Indies asserted that Ambon, Banda, Maluku and other places where the Company had fortifications required “a good number of slaves.” Allegedly they could “perform the daily labors markedly better than our soldiers and sailors, who have to be paid with good money and are very costly to the Company.” [59]

Apart from being employed at the fortifications and other public works, Company slaves were also used as artisans and craftsmen along with numerous other occupations and deemed less expensive than their free white counterparts. Slaves represented a cheap and expendable source of labor, valued much less than the Company’s European personnel. Following another explosion in a series of accidents at the gunpowder mill at Batavia in which several European personnel were killed, for instance, the High Government in 1662 decided henceforth to use slaves, “who are not as dear to the Company and can also produce the gunpowder cheaper than Dutchmen, who enjoy a high salary and board wages.” [60]

In 1717, the major concern of the members of the Council of Policy at the Cape of Good Hope was with costs when asked by the Company directors whether slaves should continue to be imported or whether immigration of European laborers should be encouraged. Almost all members stressed the economic argument that it was considerably cheaper to obtain and keep slaves than white laborers; a response that doubtless convinced the directors. The lonely voice in the desert was Pasques de Chavonnes, but he was isolated and easily outvoted in the Council. [61]

Although a real debate over slavery did not begin until after 1750, the seventeenth century did witness a heated controversy between orthodox and moderate Calvinists in which the “peculiar institution” played a small, albeit not insignificant, role. The polemics between majority apologists and minority opponents occurred in two separate spheres. In Europe, the intellectual, theoretical argument, involving Calvinist ministers or “pulpit predikanten,” theologians and jurists, was couched in typical Northern Renaissance or Christian humanist terms. In Asia, slavery found virtually universal acceptance among self-righteous religious, military, and civil officials of the Dutch East India Company using various reasons of state or pragmatic politics to defend the trade. To God-fearing Calvinists in patria and overseas, the enslavement of African and Asian peoples did create a serious moral predicament for both opponents and apologists alike. Torn between gain and godliness, the “peculiar institution” was carefully circumscribed, permissible only “for good and sufficient reasons” and “within natural limits.” An uneasy compromise was reached between money and morality based, among others, on the elevation of spiritual freedom over worldly slavery. These rather shaky foundations would support the Dutch Indian Ocean slavery and slave trade for the next two hundred years.

Notes

1 Johannes Postma argues that the Dutch dominated the Atlantic slave trade during their control of northeast Brazil (1636-1648) and their (in)direct acquisition of the asiento contract for Spanish America (1662-1675 and 1686-1689). See: J.M. Postma, The Dutch in the Atlantic slave trade, 1600-1815. New York 1990, especially, pp. 302-303. For the statement on the Dutch involvement in the Southeast Asian slave trade: J. Fox, “‘For good and sufficient reasons’: An examination of early Dutch East India Company ordinances on slaves and slavery,” in: A. Reid ed., Slavery, bondage and dependency in Southeast Asia. New York 1983, p. 247.

2 G.J. Knaap, “Slavery and the Dutch in Southeast Asia,” in: G. Oostindie, Fifty years later: Antislavery, capitalism and modernity in the Dutch orbit. Pittsburgh 1996, p. 193. The most recent, one may even say the only, standard work on Dutch slavery in Southeast Asia in general is still: A. Reid ed., Slavery, bondage and dependency in Southeast Asia. New York 1983. For slavery in South Asia: S. Arasaratnam, “Slave trade in the Indian Ocean in the seventeenth century,” in: K.S. Mathew ed., Mariners, merchants and oceans: Studies in maritime history. New Delhi 1995, pp. 195-208. In contrast, the literature on slavery in the Cape Colony is massive: R. Shell, Children of bondage: A social history of the slave society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652-1838. Hanover 1994; E. Eldredge ed., Slavery in South Africa: Captive labor on the Dutch frontier. Boulder 1994; N. Worden, The chains that bind us: A history of slavery at the Cape. Kenwyn 1996; Idem, Slavery in Dutch South Africa. Cambridge 1985; R. Ross, Cape of torments: Slavery and resistance in South Africa. London 1983; A.J. Boïseken, Slaves and free blacks at the Cape, 1658-1700. Cape Town 1977; J.C. Armstrong and N. Worden, “The slaves, 1652-1834,” in: R. Elphick and H. Giliomee eds., The shaping of South African society, 1652-1840. 2nd ed. Middletown, CT, 1988, pp. 109-183. While the overdevelopment of South African colonial historiography can be attributed to its obvious connections with the modern system of Apartheid (1948-1994), the underdevelopment of an Asian colonial historiography on slavery can be attributed to the relative “benign” character of Indian Ocean slavery compared to its Atlantic counterpart and a traditional focus on coerced labor systems of a later period (especially the Cultivation System on Java and Southeast Sumatra). Studies of the Company period concentrate on trade, political economy, and, more recently, urban history. Because slave trade was in general insignificant in monetary terms, most regional studies on the Dutch East India Company mention the slave trade only in passing. They neglect obviously the economic, social, and cultural importance of slave labor in the Dutch colonial society.

3 David Brian Davis observed: “The more we learn about slavery, the more difficulty we have defining it.” Idem, Slavery and human progress. New Yorek 1984. For the Indian Ocean: A. Reid, Southeast Asia in the age of commerce, 1450-1680. Volume One: The lands below the winds. New Haven/London 1988, p. 132; B. Stein, “Slavery and serfdom in South Asia,” in: A.T. Embree ed., Encyclopedia of Asian history. New York 1988, III, p. 490; U. Chakaravarti, “Of dasas and karmakaras: Slave labour in ancient India,” in: U. Panaik and M. Dingawaney eds., Chains of servitude: Bondage and slavery in India. Madras 1985, pp. 35, 36-37, and 48; T. Raychaudhuri and I. Habib eds., The Cambridge economic history of India. Volume I: c. 1200-1750. New York 1982, pp. 30-32, 92-93, and 530; M.I. Finley, “Between slavery and freedom,” Comparative studies in society and history 6 (1963-1964), p. 23; J.L. Watson, “Slavery as an institution: Open and closed systems,” in: Idem ed., Asian and African systems of slavery. Oxford 1980, pp. 12-13; A. Schottenhammer, “Slavery in Late Imperial China (17 th/18th to early 20th century).” Unpublished paper. International Conference on Slavery, Unfree Labor and Revolt in Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. University of Avignon, 4-6 October 2001.

4 Classical statements include: O. Patterson, Slavery and social death: A comparative study. Cambridge, Mass., 1982; M.I. Finley, “Slavery,” International encyclopedia of the social sciences 14. New York 1968, pp. 307-313; H.J. Nieboer, Slavery as an industrial system: Ethnological researches. 2nd ed. The Hague 1910; Watson, “Slavery as an institution,” pp. 3 and 8; P.E. Lovejoy, Transformations in slavery: A history of slavery in Africa. New York 1983, p. 1.

5 Watson, “Slavery as an institution,” pp. 9-13; A. Reid, “‘Closed’ and ‘open’ slave systems in pre-colonial Southeast Asia,” in: Idem ed., Slavery, bondage and dependence in Southeast Asia, pp. 156-167. The Slavery Convention signed at Geneva in 1926 (approved by the United Nations by protocol in 1953) defines slavery as “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.” The slave trade includes “all acts involved in the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery; all acts involved in the acquisition of a slave with a view to selling or exchanging him; all acts of disposal by sale or exchange of a slave acquired with a view to being sold or exchanged, and, in general, every act of trade or transport in slaves.”

6 M.P.M. Vink, “‘The world’s oldest trade:’ The Dutch Indian Ocean slave trade in the seventeenth century,” Journal of World History 14:2 (2003) (forthcoming)

7 See especially the discussion centered around Seymour Drescher’s thought-provoking article in: G. Oostindie ed., Fifty years later: Antislavery, capitalism and modernity in the Dutch orbit. Pittsburgh 1996.

8 A good introduction to the Voetian-Cocceian conflict is provided in: F.G.M. Broeyer and E.G.E. van der Wall eds., Een richtingenstrijd in de Gereformeerde Kerk: Voetianen en Coccejanen 1650-1750. Zoetermeer 1994. For the specific debate on slavery: G.J. Schutte, “Bij het schemerlicht van hun tijd: Zeventiende-eeuwse gereformeerden en de slavenhandel,” in: M. Bruggeman et al. eds, Mensen van de nieuwe tijd: Een liber amicorum voor A.Th van Deursen. Amsterdam 1996, pp. 193-217. See also: W.J. van Asselt, Liever Turks dan Paaps? De visies van Johannes Coccejus, Gisbertus Voetius en Adrianus Relandus op de Islam. Zoetermeer 1997.

9 The similarities of the Voetian arguments with those of Bartolomþ de las Casas (1474-1566) are striking. In his In defense of the Indians, the Spanish Dominican friar argued: “Again, if we want to be sons of Christ and followers of the truth of the gospel, we should consider that, even though these peoples may be completely barbaric, they are nevertheless created in God’s image. They are not so forsaken by divine providence that they are incapable of attaining Christ’s kingdom. They are our brothers, redeemed by Christ’s most precious bloodÄ” Bartolomþ de las Casas, In defense of the Indians, ed. and transl. by S. Poole. DeKalb 1992.

10 J.A. van Ruler, The crisis of causality: Voetius and Descartes on God, nature, and change. Ledien/New York 1995; F.A. van Lieburg, De nadere Reformatie in Utrecht ten tijde van Voetius: Sporen in de gereformeerde kerkeraadsacta. Rotterdam 1989; J. van Oort, De onbekende Voetius. Kampen 1989; H.A. van Andel, De zendingsleer van Gisbertus Voetius. Kampen 1912; A.C. Duker, Gisbertus Voetius. 4 vols. Leiden 1897-1915.

11 For the most recent study on Cocceius: W.J. van Asselt, Johannes Coccejus: Portret van een zeventiende-eeuwse theoloog op oude en nieuwe wegen. Heerenveen 1997.

12 An excellent introduction to the theological controversy between Arminius and Gomarus, and Hommius’ role in it is: C. Bang, Armenius: A study in the Dutch Reformation. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids 1985. The only biography on Hommius is: P.J. Wijminga, Festus Hommius. Leiden 1899.

13 Zacharias Ursinus, Het schat-boeck der verclaringhen over de catechismus der christelicke religie… by Festus Hommius. Leiden 1617, pp. 190r-191v; L.J. Joosse, “Scoone dingen sijn swaere dingen’: Een onderzoek naar de motieven en activiteiten in de Nederlanden tot verbreiding van de gereformeerde religie gedurende de eerste helft van de zeventiende eeuw. Leiden 1992, pp. 107-118; G.J. Schutte, “Bij het schemerlicht van hun tijd,” pp. 198 and 202-203.

14 C. Poudroyen, Catechisatie; Dat is, Een grondige ende eenvoudige Onderwysinge over de leere des Christelicken Catechismi. Utrecht 1653, esp. pp. 993-995. Cited in: Schutte, pp. 203-206.

15 For similar imagery: S. Schama, The embarrassment of riches: An interpretation of Dutch culture in the Golden Age. New York 1987.

16 Bedenckingen over den Guineschen Slaef-handel der Gereformeerden met de Papisten. Vlissingen 1665, pp. 2-3, 127, 133, 157-158, and 182; Schutte, pp. 206-208. The imagery used by De Raad reminds one of Simon Schama’s controversial work, The embarrassment of riches. London 1987.

17 J. Hondius, Swart register van duysent sonden. Amsterdam 1679, pp. 37 nr. 68, 135 nr. 266, 292 nr. 640, and 363-364 nr. 810; Schutte, “Bij het schemerlicht van hun tijd,” pp. 195 and 208.

18 J.E.J. Capitein, Staatkundig-godgeleerd onderzoekschrift over de slavernij, als niet strijdig tegen de christelijke vrijheid. Leiden 1742. See: A. Eekhof, “De negerpredikant Jacobus Elize Joannes Capitain, 1717-1747,” Nederlandsch Archief voor de Kerkgeschiedenis, Nieuw serie, 13 (19117), pp. 138-174, and 209-276; Priester, De Nederlandse houding ten aanzien van de slavenhandel en slavernij, pp. 43-47 and 74-76.

19 G. Groenhuis, “Zonen van Cham,” Kleio 21 (1980), p. 224; G.J. Schutte, “Bij het schemerlicht van hun tijd: Zeventiende-eeuwse gereformeerden en de slavenhandel,” in: M. Bruggeman et al. eds., Mensen van de nieuwe tijd: Een liber amoricum voor A. Th. Van Deursen. Amsterdam 1996, pp. 193-217; P.C. Emmer, De Nederlandse slavenhandel, 1500-1850. Amsterdam/Antwerp 2000, pp. 30-39; L.R. Priester, De Nederlandse houding ten aanzien van de slavenhandel en slavernij, 1596-1863: het gedrag van de slavenhandelaren van de Commercie Compagnie van Middelburg in de 18de eeuw. Middelburg 1987, pp. 43 and 74 n. 28. See also: S.R. Haynes, Noah’s curse: The Biblical justification of American slavery. New York 2001; B. Braude, “The sons of Noah and the construction of ethnic and geographical identities in the medieval and early modern periods,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 54 (January 1997), pp. 103-142; W. McKee Evans, “From the land of Canaan to the land of Guinea or the strange odyssey of the sons of Ham,” American Historical Review 85:1 (February 1980), pp. 15-43; M. Adhikari, “The sons of Ham: Slavery and the making of coloured identity,” South African Historical Journal 27 (1992), pp. 95-112. For an interesting discussion of the “Ham ideology”: Valentijn, Oud- en nieuw Oost-Indiïn II, pp. 371-372.

20 G. Udemans, ‘t Geestelyck Roer van ‘t Coopmans Schip. Middelburg 1638; W. Flinkenflgel, Nederlandse slavenhandel (1621-1803). Utrecht/Antwerp 1994, pp. 28-29, 87-97, and 184; Joosse, ‘Scoone dingen sijn swaere dingen’, pp. 201-205; Schutte, “Bij het schemerlicht van hun tijd,” pp. 193 and 201-202. For Udemans, see: A. Vergunst, Godefridus Cornelisz Udemans en zijn ‘t geestelijck roer van ‘t coopmans schip. s.l., s.a.

21 Cited in: Groenhuis, “Zonen van Cham,” p. 224; Priester, De Nederlandse houding ten aanzien van de slavenhandel en de slavernij, pp. 43 and 74 n. 28. See also: W. McKee Evans, “From the land of Canaan to the land of Guinea or the strange odyssey of the sons of Ham,” American Historical Review 85:1 (February 1980), pp. 15-43; B. Braude, “The sons of Noah and the construction of ethnic and geographical identities in the medieval and early modern periods,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, 54 (January 1997), pp. 103-142.

22 J. Coccejus, Heydelbergensis Catechesis Religionis Christianae. Leiden 1671, p. 190; H. Groenewegen, Betragtingen tot bevordering van Geloov’, en Deugd, volgens den Heydelbergschen Catechismus. Rotterdam 1672, p. 709; Petrus van der Hagen, De Heydelbergsche Catechismus, Verklaert in twee-en-vijftigh Predicatiïn. Amsterdam 1684; Schutte, “Bij het schemerlicht van hun tijd,” pp. 209-210.

23 Groenhuis, “Zonen van Cham,” p. 224; Priester, De nederlandse houding ten aanzien van de slavenhandel en slavernij, pp. 43 and 74 n. 29.

24 H. Grotius, The law of war and peace: De jure belli ac pacis libri tres. Francis Kelsey transl., J. Brown Scott ed., Indianapolis/New York 1925, esp. pp. 255-259, 690-691, 718, and 761-769. De Groot’s plea was supported by Willem Usselincx (1567-1647). In a pamphlet, Octroye ofte Privilege (1627), the Antwerp-born merchant opposed the slave trade in principle because of the “many abuses.” Usselincx, however, accepted De Groot’s classical humanist apologia. Numerous criminals should consider themselves lucky to become slaves rather than being executed. Other slaves had been war captives, who would have been killed by the victors if not for the hope of financial gain. See: Schutte, “Bij het schemerlicht van hun tijd,” p. 200.

25 Priester, De Nederlandse houding ten aanzien van de slavenhandel en slavernij, pp. 39 and 71 n. 8; O. van Rees, Geschiedenis der koloniale politiek van de Republiek der Verenigde Nederlanden. Utrecht 1868, pp. 320-325.

26 E. Van der Hoeven, Hollands Aeloude Vrijheid. Amsterdam 1706, p. 8; Schutte, “Bij het schemerlicht van hun tijd,” p. 215. For other examples: M. van der Bijl, Idee en interest: Voorgeschiedenis, verloop en achtergronden van de politieke twisten in Zeeland, en vooral Middelburg tussen 1702 en 1715. Groningen 1981, p. 217 n. 58; G. Groenhuis, “De zonen van Cham,” in: Kleio 21 (1980), pp. 221-225. An exception to the rule is the 1731 reply of the church council of Paramaribo to the conversion efforts of its progressive Frisian predikant Johannes Willem Kals among the local slaves: “Well Reverend, let us convert those who share our skin color and let those damned children of Canaan go to hell. They have been created to plant coffee and sugar for us.” Cited in: E. Bakker et al., Geschiedenis van Suriname: Van stam tot staat. Zutphen 1998, p. 55.

27 Biewinga, De Kaap de Goede Hoop, pp. 276-278, 281-282. See also: Niemeijer, Calvinisme. For older views of so-called “settler historians”: I.D. MacCrone, Race attitudes in South Africa: Historical, experimental, and psychological studies. Johannesburg 1937, pp. 129-130. In Batavia at least large numbers of non-whites were member of the Reformed Church.

28 Pragmatism also dominated the discourse of West India Company officials overseas. Willem Bosman, for instance, a Dutch trader stationed on the African coast about 1700, describing the treatment and the branding of slaves after they were sold by Africans to the Dutch, defended the institution merely by stating: “I doubt not but this Trade seems very barbarous to you, but since it is followed by mere necessity it must go on; but we yet take all possible care that they are not burned too hard, especially the Women, who are more tender than the men.” Willem Bosman, A new and accurate description of the coast of Guinea. New York 1967, pp. 364-365. First published in Dutch in 1704. Cited in: Postma, The Dutch in the Atlantic slave trade, p. 7.

29 J.A. van der Chijs ed., Nederlandsch-Indisch plakaatboek, 1601-1811. 16 vols. Batavia 1885-1897, I [1602-1642], pp. 96-99. The intention of the ordinance was clearly to maintain religious separatism and, at the same time, to promote Christianity among the slaves. As J. Fox has rightly pointed out, however, the ordinance seems to have had the opposite effect. For non-Christian owners, conversion represented a threat to control of their slaves and it was therefore in the owner’s interest to see that his slaves were not tempted in that direction. For Christians, the conversion of slaves eliminated one distinction between master and salve and thus contributed to the ambiguity in status. With some notable exceptions, Christians do not seem to have been remarkably active in promoting their own religion among slaves. Fox, ‘”For good and sufficient reasons’,” pp. 252-253. See also: Niemeijer, Calvinisme en koloniale stadscultuur, pp. 47-48.

30 Van der Chijs ed., Nederlandsch-Indisch plakaatboek I, pp. 171-173; Fox, “‘For good and sufficient reasons’,” p. 256.

31 Niemeijer, Calvinisme en koloniale stadscultuur, p. 176. As Anthony Reid has pointed out, labor in Southeast Asia was performed on the basis of obligation. In the absence of a “free” wage laborer category to escape to, manumitted slaves would sell themselves at once into a new vertical relationship of bondage. See: A. Reid, ‘”Closed’ and ‘open’ slave systems in pre-colonial Southeast Asia,” in: Idem ed., Slavery, bondage and dependency in Southeast Asia, p. 168.

32 British officials similarly pictured themselves in the role of benefactors. In 1828, for instance, Sir William Jones, the Sanskrit scholar and judge of the Supreme Court, referred to his own child slaves as those he had “rescued from death and misery.” One of the British Indian Law Commissioners in 1840 referred to slavery as “the Indian Poor Law.” Cited in: B. Stein, A history of India. Malden, Mass. 1998, pp. 218-219.

33 Maetsuyker and Council, 26.1.1661, in: GM III, p. 355. See also: Maetsuyker and Council, 16.12.1660, in: GM III, p. 315; and: Maetsuyker and Council, 16.12.1660, in: GM III, pp. 335-336.

34 VOC 1232, OBP 1661, fl. 383, Miss. gouvr. Laurens Pit en raad van Coromandel aan H. XVII, 9.8.1660. The purchase of slaves in exchange for rice earned the Dutch the condemnation of local members of the Society of Jesus, an active participant in the Indian Ocean slave trade. In 1662, Antonio de Proenza, the Jesuit father of the Madurai Mission, observed from the Nayaka capital of Tiruchirapalli: “But shame, eternal shame to the Dutch, who had the cruelty to speculate on the misery of the Indians! They attracted them to the coast by using abundant nourishment as bait. Then when their numbers were considerable enough and their strength somewhat reestablished, they stashed them into their ships and transported them to other countries to be sold as slaves! Yes, shame to the barbarians!” A. de Proenza, missionary of Madurai, to Paul Oliva, general of the Company of Jesus, Tiruchirapalli, 1662. In: J. Bertrand, La mission du Madurþ d’aprús des documents inþdits. III, Paris 1848, pp. 124-125. Proenza also refers to the widespread famine in the region, which he attributed to the vagaries of war and the failure of the monsoon: “The mortality was so great that corpses were heaped up in great piles.” See: Idem, III, pp. 129-130; and: A. Sauliúre, “Madurai and Tanjore, 1659-1666,” in: Journal of Indian History 44 (1966), pp. 777-778. For the Jesuit apologia of the Asian slave trade: J. Correia-Affonso, The Jesuits in India, pp. 114-118.

35 VOC 884, BUB 1660, fl. 703, Miss. gouvr. genl. en raad aan comms. Van Goens te Colombo, 4.11.1660.

36 G.D. Winius and M.P.M. Vink, The merchant-warrior pacified: The VOC (Dutch East India Co.) and its changing political economy in India. Delhi 1991, pp. 30-31.

37 V. Matheson and M.B. Hooker, “Slavery in the Malay texts: Categories of dependency and compensation,” in: Reid ed., Slavery, bondage and dependency, pp. 185, 192-193, 198, 203, and 205; Reid, ‘”Closed’ and ‘open’ slave systems in pre-colonial Southeast Asia,” in: Idem, pp. 169-170; K. Endicott, “The effects of slave raiding on the aborigines of the Malay Peninsula,” in: Idem, pp. 216-218; D.J. Steinberg ed., In search of Southeast Asia: A modern history. 2nd ed. Honolulu 1987, pp. 15-16. In 1669, for instance, the Pangeran Dipati of Jambi justified the equipping of armed vessels for a slave raid on Ujang Salangh on the Malaysian Peninsula, arguing that the inhabitants “were heathens, and hence [the raiding] could not be considered an injustice.” Maetsuyker and Council, 15.12.1669. In: GM III, p. 710.

38 J.D. Tracy, “Introduction”, in: Idem, The political economy of merchant empires. New York 1991, pp. 9-13.

39 Coen to the Directors, 1618. Cited in: L. Blussþ and J. de Moor, Nederlanders overzee: De eerste vijftig jaar, 1600-1650. Franeker 1983, p. 162.

40 Van der Chijs, Nederlandsch-Indisch Plakaatboek I, p. 45; Fox, “‘For good and sufficient reasons’,” pp. 249-250.

41 De Carpentier and Council, 3.2.1626. In: GM I, p. 186.

42 Carel Reniers and the Council of the Indies, 10.2.1651. In: GM II, p. 479; Memorie commr. Godske voor Van der Dussen, Cochin, 5.1.1668. In: H.K. s’Jacob, De Nederlanders in Kerala, 1663-1701: De memories en instructies betreffende het commandement Malabar van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie. The Hague 1976, p. 129. For an attempt to curtail slave raiding in Sulawesi: Generale missive Maetsuyker and Council, 19.12.1671. In: GM III, p. 752.

43 Maetsuyker and Council, 19.1.1654. In: GM II, pp. 678-679.

44 As one such opponent (Laurens Reael?) remarked: “What honorable men will break up their homes here [in Holland] to take employment as executioners and goalers of a herd of slaves, and to range themselves amongst those free men who by their maltreatment and massacre of the Indians have made the Dutch notorious throughout the Indies as the cruelest nation in the world?” Cited in: F. de Haan, Oud Batavia. Batavia 1922, I, p. 62; P. Geyl, The Netherlands in the seventeenth century, 1609-1648. London 1961, p. 182; Fox, “‘For good and sufficient reasons’,” p. 251.

45 Pieter de Carpentier and Council of the Indies, 9.7.1621. In: GM I, pp. 121-123. See also, for instance: De Carpentier and Council of the Indies, 3.1.1624. In: GM I, p. 141; Idem, 4.3.1624. In: GM I, p. 148; Idem, 27.1.1625. In: GM I, p. 165; Idem, 13.12.1626. In: GM I, p. 217; Cornelis van der Lijn and Council of the Indies, 9.7.1645. In: GM II, p. 269.

46 N.P. van den Berg, “Een smeekschrift van de Bataviasche burgerij,” Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde uitgegeven door het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen 23 . Batavia/The Hague 1875, p. 534; Niemeijer, Calvinisme en koloniale stadscultuur, p. 32.

47 VOC 1234, OBP 1662, fl. 125v, Miss. comms. Van Goens te Colombo aan Batavia, 5.4.1661. See also: C.R. Boxer, The Dutch seaborne empire 1600-1800. New York 1988, pp. 241-250; K.W. Gunawardena, “A New Netherlands in Ceylon: Dutch attempts to found a colony during the first quarter century of their power in Ceylon,” Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies 2 (1959), pp. 203-244. The best way of recreating the Van Goenses’ vision is by reading their letters to the Gentlemen Seventeen, especially between 1670 and 1675, their “memories van overgave” of 1663, 1675, and 1679, and such policy papers as: Beschrijvinge van de staat en gelegenheid van het eijlant Ceijlon door Van Goens, 24.9.1675, in: Valentijn, Oud en nieuw Oost-Indiïn V, pp. 204-245; VOC 1315, OBP 1677, fls. 306-3312, Overgeleverd advies dir.-genl. Van Goens met betrekking tot de toestand van Ceijlon, 7.11.1676; VOC 1351, OBP 1680, fls. 2539v-2550r, Vertoog van den toestand des gouvts Ceijlon door oud-gouvr. Van Goens de Jonge van Ceijlon, 25.2.1680. See also: P.A. Leupe, “Vertooch wegens den presenten staet van de generale Nederlantse Geoctroijeerde Oost-Indische Compe. bij Rijckloff van Goens, extr. ord. raed van India ende commandeur over de retourvloot van Ao. 1655Ä,” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde van Nederlandsch-Indiï 4 (1856), pp. 141-180. The treatise of Coen can be found in: H.T. Colenbrander ed., Jan Pietersz. Coen: Bescheiden omtrent zijn bedrijf in Indiï. 5 vols. The Hague 1919-1923, IV, pp. 577-601.

48 J.X. Merriman ed., Reports of De Chavonnes and hos council and of Van Imhoff, on the Cape. Cape Town 1918, pp. 103-107.

49 De Carpentier and Council of the Indies, 3.2.1626. In: GM I, p. 199. See also: Idem, 27.10.1625, pp. 180-181.

50 Quoted in: L. Blussþ, Strange Company: Chinese settlers, mestizo women and the Dutch in Batavia. Dordrecht/Riverton, pp. 24-25.

51 J. de Hullu, “Een advies van Mr. Pieter van Dam, advocaat der Oost-Indische Compagnie, over een gedeeltelijke openstelling van Compagnie’s handel voor particulieren, 1662,” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde van het Koninklijk Instituttu voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 74(1918), pp. 267-298.

52 The opposite principle rebus sic stantibus is the doctrine that agreements are binding only as long as the fundamental conditions and expectations that existed at the time of their creation hold.

53 VOC 674, f. 131, Resolutie gouverneur generaal en raden, 22.8.1653. See also: VOC 677, f. 68r, Resolutie gouverneur generaal en raden, 8.9.1654.

54 19.12.1651. In: GM II, p. 500; 19.1.1654. In: GM II, pp. 678-679; 7.11.1654. In: GM II, pp. 749-750; 16.12.1660. In: GM III, p. 320; 30.1.1662. In: GM III, p. 384; 30.1.1666. In: GM III, p. 490; 25.1.1667. In: GM III, p. 529; 6.12.1667. In: GM III, pp. 602 and 605; 18.10.1668. In: GM III, p. 620; 31.1.1673. In: GM III, pp. 845-846 and 850; 13.11.1673. In: GM III, p. 881.

55 L.Y. Andaya, “De VOC en de Maleise wereld in de 17de en 18de eeuw,” in: M.A.P. Meilink-Roelosz et al., De VOC in Aziï. Bussum 1976, pp. 120-121.

56 VOC 1144, OBP 1644, fl. 35v, Miss. gouverneur Jeremias van Vliet van Malakka aan Batavia, 31.12.1643.

57 E. Williams, Capitalism and slavery. Chapel Hill 1994; S. Drescher, Econocide: British slavery in the era of abolition. Pittsburgh 1977; Idem, Capitalism and anti-slavery: British mobilization in comparative perspective. See also: H. Cateau and S.H.H. Carrington eds., Capitalism and slavery fifty years later: Eric Eustace Williams- A reassessment of the man and his work. New York 2000; B.L. Solow and S.L. Engerman eds., British capitalism and Caribbean society: The legacy of Eric Williams. Cambridge/New York 1987.

58 Reynst and Council of the Indies, 26.10.1615. In: GM I, pp. 46-47.

59 Reynst and Council of the Indies, 11.11.1614. In: GM I, p. 44. See also: Council of the Indies, 9.7.1621. In: GM I, pp. 121-123.

60 Maetsuyker and Council, 30.1.1662. In: GM III, p. 391. For the use of slaves as artisans and craftsmen: Idem, 14.12.1658. In: GM III, p. 240; Idem, 16.12.1660, p. 352.

61 Merriman ed., Reports of De Chavonnes, pp. 85, 104-105, 121, and 126; Worden, Slavery in Dutch South Africa, pp. 16-17; Elphick and Giliomee eds., The shaping of South African society, pp. 142, 157, and 163.

 

 

 

By Markus P. M. Vink