Slavery in a ‘Slave Free Enclave’? Historical Links between the Dutch Republic, Empire and Slavery, 1580s-1860s

Matthias van Rossum, Karwan Fatah-Black

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the Dutch Republic was the centre of a worldwide economic and political empire connecting Europe, Asia and the Atlantic world. In Europe, the Dutch Republic was the destination of millions of European migrant labourers, many of who moved to overseas domains. Throughout the globe, the Republic was present through its navy, its private merchants and its chartered trading companies, often operating on a thin line between engaging in trade and waging war. Traditional historiography claimed the Dutch Republic as a ‘slave free enclave’. In addition, economic histories have focussed on the Dutch Republic as the ‘first modern economy’, characterised by free labour markets, dependable institutions and sustained economic growth. In this traditional view the overseas use of coercion and enslavement are seen as foreign anomaly. Slave trade, slave ownership and slave based production, however, were systematic in both the Atlantic and Asian settlements under Dutch rule. These histories have often remained overseas histories. The question how slavery impacted the early modern Dutch Republic economically, politically and culturally has been left unanswered. This article, rather than shying away from these issues, takes them as the centre of a debate that is only now starting. It focuses on the interconnections and impacts of slavery in both Asia and the Atlantic on the Dutch Republic. The article first outlines the global history of slavery and slave trade in the Dutch empire. After this, it assesses the impact of slavery on the Republic in three interrelated domains: first, the economic impact on the Republic of overseas slave trade and slave related production; second, impact of slaves traveling in and to the Republic; third, the social and cultural impact of slavery and slave trade on the Republic. It concludes that slavery was very much alive in the Dutch Republic both as an institution and as a common practice. Slavery had a strong impact on the economic, social and cultural developments overseas and at home.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-74
JournalWerkstatt Geschichte
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Slavery
  • Dutch Republic
  • European expansion
  • Labour
  • VOC


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