Archive of the State Commission for Slave Emancipation in the Netherlands Colonies, 1853-1856

Archive of the State Commission for Slave Emancipation in the Netherlands Colonies, 1853-1856
National Archives of the Netherlands, The Hague

Although slavery had been abolished in the British colonies as early as 1833, it persisted in the Dutch possessions in the East Indies and particularly their West Indies colonies of Surinam and the Antilles, which were plantation economies. No serious voices were raised for emancipation in either government circles or public opinion until the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the United States in 1852. Questions in the Dutch Parliament concerning the colonial budget for 1854 led the government to appoint a State Commission in November 1853 to investigate the situation of the slave population in the colonies and propose appropriate measures. Former minister of the Colonies and governor-general of the Netherlands East Indies, J.C. Baud, was named chairman and the members were drawn from the colonial civil service, parliament itself and representatives of commercial interests involved in slavery, including plantation owners.
The commission gathered material, heard witnesses and eventually produced two reports in September 1855 (on Surinam) and July 1856 (on the West Indies islands and West Africa, the Gold Coast, then still a Dutch colony) after which it was disbanded. The legislation the commission proposed remained, however, without immediate effect and the government and parliament would continue to wrestle with the question of slave emancipation until slavery was finally abolished on 1 July 1863.

The archive
The commission’s archive contains minutes of its meetings, correspondence, documentation assembled on the condition of the slaves in the various colonies, memoranda and interim reports by members and non-members. It has now been microfilmed by Moran Micropublications in cooperation with the National Archives of the Netherlands. The micropublication includes the two reports and their appendices, which were printed for parliament but never published, as well as a memorandum against the reports written on behalf of the slave owners of St. Martin in the West Indies.

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