De Nederlandse slavenhandel 1500-1850
A black page in Dutch colonial history: An informative and compelling study
Dutch historiography has traditionally concentrated on colonial successes in Asia. However, the Dutch were also active in West Africa, Brazil, New Netherland (the present state of New York) and in the Caribbean. In Africa they took part in the gold and ivory trade and finally also in the slave trade, something not widely known outside academic circles. P.C. Emmer, specialist in this field, has now told this story in a study that is as informative as it is readable. He has drawn on his prolonged study of Dutch involvement in the Atlantic slave trade and reviews the most recent academic findings.
Emmer is a quantitative historian first and foremost. Delving deep into the sources, he explains how the Dutch came to join in the slave trade, how large their share was, how the trade was conducted in practice and how profitable it was. The Dutch involvement in the slave trade was small compared with that of the other European powers: England, France, Spain and Portugal – it accounted for five percent of the total Atlantic slave trade. When the Dutch were actively engaged in it, they were responsible for transporting some 600,000 slaves from West Africa to America.
Emmer presents his subject clearly and soberly, never forgetting the tragedy enshrined in this black page in Dutch history. He tells that the Dutch joined the trade at the beginning of the seventeenth century – much later than the Spaniards and the Portuguese – and goes on to show how the trade shifted from Brazil to the Caribbean. He explains how the purchase of slaves was organized in Africa, records their dramatic transport across the Atlantic, and examines how the sales machinery worked.
Emmer also calculates the profits of a trade that was much more risky and less lucrative than is generally believed. He describes the heated moral disputes round the slave trade which were rife in the Netherlands at the time. Finally he explains why the slave trade was abolished relatively late in Dutch colonies. This study is a credit to Dutch historiography and should be read by all interested in cultural and colonial history.