Slave trade of the West Indian Company
History of slaveryFortunately slavery almost has been banned in our time. However, in former days it was ordinary to sell and to buy people. Slaves were not paid and had to do all sorts of jobs for their owner. Slaves performed heavy work on plantations. Farmers used slaves as machines, to sow and to harvest.
In old civilizations slavery was very common. For example, in Egypt thousands of slaves worked together on the construction of the pyramids. The Greeks and the Romans used the involuntary services of slaves too.
In the middle ages there was no slavery in the Netherlands. However, in rural districts of the Netherlands there existed forms of bondage, which, in some respects, look like slavery.
New worldAfter the discovery of America, the Spaniards and Portuguese established themselves in the southern parts of the new discovered continent. Later they let slaves work in gold and silver mines and on the sugar plantations. At first the Spanish and Portuguese invaders put prisoners of war at work. But soon there were simply not enough working men and slaves were employed.
In the sixteenth century one started to buy people from Africa. The slaves had to work on the farms and in the mines of the new world. Dutch traders tried to earn money on the slave business. For this reason, the Dutch traders united their strengths in the West Indian Company (WIC).
West Indian CompanyThe West Indian Company (1621-1791) was the counterpart of the united East Indian Company (VOC). Whereas the VOC aimed at the trade with Asia, the WIC got the exclusive right for the trade between Africa and America.
Just like the VOC, the WIC issued shares, which were traded at the Amsterdam stock exchange. The West Indian Company was ruled by a board of directors. The most important Dutch cities and the important trade centers had a say in the management of the West Indian Company.
The West Indian Company was not set up especially for the slave trade. However, slavery formed with gold trading, taxation and pirate actions, the most important income source of the West Indian Company.
Trilateral tradingThe slave trade of the WIC was so-called trilateral trading. The ships sailed with commodity to Africa, where they bought slaves. Then the ships sailed to South America and the Caribbean area with slaves. The ships returned to the Netherlands with goods like sugar.
The slave trade was a risky business. To keep up the price of slaves, the board of directors of the company wanted a regular supply. Ships would not arrive at the same time. By doing so demand would be met by supply.
Slave shipsThe WIC rented ships for the slave trade. Generally only the captain and the other officers were Dutch. Commonly, the other sailors were from outside the Netherlands, because nobody found it pleasant to work on a slave ship and it was difficult to employ people from the prosperous Dutch cities.
A sailing trip from Africa to America took 81 days. Most slave ships brought five hundred slaves to America. However, the ship could only sail when it was fully loaded with slaves. Sometimes a slave ship sailed hundred days along the African coast to pick up slaves at several places. The longer the voyage, the higher the mortality chance: the West Indian Company tried to limit the mortality of the slaves by providing a bonus to the captain for each slave to enter the new world.
Dutch slave tradeThe Dutch slave trade rose at a late time. The more so if we compare this with the Portuguese, French and English share in this trade. The West Indian Company dominated the slave trade only for a short time.
Between 1636 and 1648 the West Indian Company possessed important slave stations in Brazil. And as from 1641 the company had important slave trading places in Angola. In the next century the West Indian Company earned well of slave trade for a short period of time. In those years the WIC had the exclusive right for the slave trade in the Spanish areas in America too.
The Dutch share in the Atlantic slave trade amounted to approximately five per cent of the total slave trade. According to the historians the Dutch have transported 550,000 slaves from Africa to the European colonies in America. Half of this volume was traded by the West Indian Company directly.
Ruud van Capelleveen, 2009-2012
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