Utrecht another Dutch city closely involved in slavery, study shows
A new study commissioned by the city of Utrecht showed that it directly and indirectly benefited from slavery, and was "formally involved" in the process. The city released the findings of its report on Wednesday, which was first requested by city council back in 2019.
Earlier this week, The Hague also acknowledged its ties to the slave trade. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have also done the same in years past.
Utrecht Mayor Sharon Dijksma said that the new research made it "painfully clear" that behind the economic prosperity of the city there is also a great deal of suffering by people who lost their lives, and were swept under the carpet.
The study conducted showed that in the 17th century, almost a quarter of the members of the Vroedschaps had direct or indirect interests in slavery. This was essentially a city council made up of mayors and wealthy people who had a lifetime appointment to the council.
The city said that 42 percent of Vroedschaps members had slavery interests and investments in the 18th century.
"Utrecht's administration, citizens and institutions have directly and indirectly caused, invested in and benefited from colonial exploitation and slavery-based production systems in the Americas, Africa and Asia," the findings showed.
City council member Hendrick van Asch van Wijck was also director of the West India Company in 1739. He was involved in the establishment of plantations in Suriname, according to the study.
The Utrechtse Compagnie was established at the insistence of officials in the city and the province. This led to investments made in plantations in Suriname, and the brutal trade in sugar. "A sugar refinery, the Sugar House, was built where the Stadsschouwburg now stands," the city pointed out.
The researchers also concluded that colonial activities were of great importance for employment in Utrecht. The Dutch East India Company alone provided work for approximately 2,800 residents. "The Company was a major employer," said lead researcher Nancy Jouwe, according to the newspaper Volkskrant.
About thirty men traveled from Utrecht to Asia annually to participate in colonialist activities.
Utrecht University students, faculty, and staff might be surprised to know that the university's building at Janskerkhof 13 was purchased in 1765 by Jan van Voorst, who helped run the Dutch transatlantic slave trade as the managing director of Elmina. The building now houses the university's Faculty of Humanities, and the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.
The city's elite generally benefited from the slave trade, like writer Belle van Zuylen who put 40 percent of her wealth into colonialist companies. So too did less prominent residents in the city. "The involvement of Utrecht administrators and residents remained invisible for a long time, partly because it ran through investment funds and other new financial constructions," the city said. This also provided them with more anonymity.
In its report, the city also noted that Utrecht was also a home to enslaved people of color, but also some who were emancipated. The city eventually played a role in the abolition of slavery because of the city's ties to religion and the theologians based there.
The research concluded that Utrecht's contribution to slavery is less than that of cities like Amsterdam but greater than previously thought. Amsterdam's mayor Femke Halsema is expected to offer her apology during the National Slavery Past Remembrance Day on Thursday. That would make Amsterdam the first Dutch city to officially do so.
The Utrecht city council will debate offering a formal apology for the role Utrecht played in slavery and colonial era atrocities.