The Dutch West India Company, a chartered company of Dutch merchants, was established in 1621 as a monopoly over the African slave trade to Brazil, the Caribbean and North America.

On 1 July 1863, slavery was abolished in the former Dutch colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles. This ended a period of around 200 years of slavery in these colonies. To mark the 150th anniversary of Dutch abolition in 2013, various activities have been organized, including exhibitions in the National Library of the Netherlands, the History Museum of The Hague, and the University of Amsterdam. The transatlantic slave trade, which spanned the 16th through the 19th century, was the largest long-distance forced movement of people in history. From the late fifteenth century, the Atlantic Ocean became a commercial highway that integrated the histories of Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The majority of slaves transported to the New World were sold by Africans from central and western parts of Africa to European slave traders, who transported them to North and South America. Before 1820, over 80 percent of the people arriving in the New World were enslaved Africans and it is estimated that in all a total of 12 million enslaved Africans were transported.

Although by the late 18th century anti-slavery sentiments were widespread, slave labour continued to be used in the colonies. The campaign to abolish the slave trade developed in a changing international context marked by events such as the French Revolution, as well as acts of resistance from below by enslaved peoples themselves. In 1807 Britain banned the importation of African slaves in its colonies and established a network of treaties allowing the British to detain the slave ships of other nations. However, it was not until 1834 that slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. The French colonies followed in 1848, and the United States in 1865, after the end of the Civil War. Dutch involvement in the Atlantic slave trade covers the 17th-19th centuries. Initially the Dutch shipped slaves to northern Brazil, and during the second half of the 17th century they had a controlling interest in the trade to the Spanish colonies. Today’s Suriname and Guyana became prominent markets in the 18th century. Between 1612 and 1872, the Dutch operated from some 10 fortresses along the Gold Coast (now Ghana), from which slaves were shipped across the Atlantic. The trade declined between 1780 and 1815. The Dutch part in the Atlantic slave trade is estimated at 5-7 percent, or some 550,000-600,000 Africans.The Netherlands was one of the last countries to abolish slavery in 1863. Although the decision was made in 1848, it took many years for the law to be implemented. Furthermore, slaves in Suriname would be fully free only in 1873, since the law stipulated that there was to be a mandatory 10-year transition.

WIC had offices in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hoorn, Middelburg and Groningen, but one-fourth of Africans transported across the Atlantic by the company were moved in slave ships from Amsterdam. Almost all of the money that financed slave plantations in Suriname and the Antilles came from bankers in Amsterdam, just as many of the ships used to transport slaves were built there.Many of the raw materials that were turned into finished goods in Amsterdam, such as sugar and coffee, were grown in the colonies using slave labor and then refined in factories in the Jordaan neighborhood.Revenue from the goods produced with slave labor funded much of The Netherlands’ golden age in the 17th century, a period renowned for its artistic, literary, scientific, and philosophical achievements.Slave labor created vast sources of wealth for the Dutch in the form of precious metals, sugar, tobacco, cocoa, coffee and cotton and other goods, and helped to fund the creation of Amsterdam’s beautiful and famous canals and city center.

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