Massive archive of Dutch slavery past published in digital archive
The national archive of the Netherlands launched a virtual archive containing around 1.9 million documents about the Dutch history of slavery. The archives consist of restored material from the West India Company, the commercial slave trader Middelburgse Commercie Compagnie, the Suriname Society and documents about the Dutch occupation of the coast of Guinea.
Caretaker education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven launched the archive on Friday. It is mainly comprise slave purchase records, ship logs, plantation lists, cargo overviews and invoices. Personal letters are also included, though they have not been fully investigated.
The archive shows the harrowing extent of the Dutch slave trade. A ship called De Rusthof, for example, left the coast of West Africa in 1733 with 719 enslaved people. By the time the ship arrived in Paramaribo, only 334 slaves were still alive. “While the slaves were being sold in Paramaribo, three further people died due to the inhumane conditions on board”, slavery historian Leo Balai said to the ANP.
The archives also include information about Dutch slave forts in West Africa which were unexpectedly recovered at the National Archives in London. These documents detail slave trade at Fort Elmina in Ghana. The papers were recovered by the coordinator of the national program for the preservation of paper heritage, Erik van der Doe, after which the documents were digitized.
In the past, Balai said most of his research had to be conducted in person if he wanted to make progress. “I used to have to go from Amsterdam to The Hague every time. There was no index. Great that this is now all available digitally," Balai said.
The virtual archive is the result of years of collaboration between the Dutch national archive, the Royal Library of the Netherlands and nine heritage institutions from the Netherlands, England, Guyana and Suriname.