Judges, Masters, Diviners: Slaves’ Experience of Criminal Justice in Colonial Suriname


“Two negroes hanged,” John Gabriel Stedman wrote in his Suriname journal for March 9, 1776, and then two days later, among his purchases of“soap, wine, tobacco, [and] rum” and his dinners with an elderly widow, he records, “A negro’s foot cut off.”1 Stedman expanded on these events in the later Narrative of his years as a Dutch–Scottish soldier fighting against the Suriname Maroons: And now, this being the period of the [court] sessions, another Negro’s leg was cut off for sculking from a task to which he was unable, while two more were condemned to be hang’d for running away altogether. The heroic behavior of one of these men deserves particularly to be quotted, he beg’d only to be heard for a few moments, which, being granted, he proceeded thus––

“I was born in Africa, where defending my prince during an engagement, I was made a captive, and sold for a slave by my own countrimen. One of your countrimen, who is now to be my judge, became then my purchaser, in whose service I was treated so cruelly by his overseer that I deserted and joined the rebels in the woods . . .”

To which his former master, who as he observed was now one of his judges, made the following laconick reply, “Rascal, that is not what we want to know. But the torture this moment shall make you confess crimes as black as yourself, as well as those of your hateful accomplices.” To which the Negroe, who now swel’d in every vain with rage [replied, holding up his hands], “Massera, the verry tigers have trembled for these hands . . .and dare you think to threaten me with your wretched instrument? No, despise the greatest tortures you can now invent, as much as I do the pitiful wrech who is going to inflict them.” Saying which, he threw himself down on the rack, where amidst the most excruci ating tortures he remained with a smile and without they were able to make him utter a syllable. Nor did he ever speak again till he ended his unhappy days at the gallows.2

Stedman’s heroic runaway slave is given the sentimental expression so appreciated by English readers of his day, including an elevated translation of the lively Creole (Neger Engelsche, or Sranan as it is now called) that the African would actually have spoken before his judges.3 But Stedman did witness the event (he visited the man with the mutilated limb a few days later4) and his account includes some of the features of criminal justice that would be important for Suriname slaves in the eighteenth century: the link between judges and slave owners, the use of an extreme form of torture, the imposition of the death penalty for running away, and the memory of Africa.


Figure 1. A runaway slave being executed on
the rack in 1776. Source: John Gabriel
Stedman, Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition
against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam
(London: J. Johnson, 1796), vol. 2, facing
p. 296.

In this article I describe the varieties of criminal justice experienced by slaves in Suriname in the late seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, both those endured under their masters and the colonial government, and that which they created themselves on their plantations. I am addressing here certain gaps in the history of slavery in those centuries and also in the history of criminal law and prosecution. Studies of slavery in the Americas and the Caribbean, immensely rich as they have been, have described the disciplinary regimes on plantations and the harsh punishments meted out for revolt.5 The various law codes governing the status of slaves, their conduct, and the conduct of their owners toward them have been examined, Elsa Goveia’s West Indian Slave Laws of the 18th Century (1970) being the pioneering venture.6 But the whole cluster of activities considered as “crime” in regard to slavery, their detection, and their punishment—including the slaves’ own efforts at policing—have been little treated as such. Therefore, my intention in “Judges, Masters, Diviners” is to expand for Suriname the paths opened by Philip J. Schwarz in regard to slaves and the criminal law in Virginia; by Mindie Lazarus-Black in regard to slave laws, slave courts, and slave resistance in Antigua and elsewhere in the British Caribbean; and by Diana Paton in regard to the affirmation of masters’ power in the slave courts of Jamaica.7 As for the African past, innovative studies have unearthed continuities from or transformations of African beliefs and practices in the realms of slave healing, religion, and agriculture.8 I will go on here to suggest possible carry-overs or creolization in detecting, judging and punishing crime. Memory will play a role in my account: memories from the African societies from which slaves had been wrenched and memories of slave experience bequeathed to future generations.

Historians of European criminal law and prosecution have rarely made the crime and punishment of slaves in the colonies part of their story, even though most settlers and plantation owners and their law codes were European. Studies of the early modern Netherlands have taught us much about the experience of working people and the poor in the criminal courts there and about the reform of criminal law and public execution in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, but have not extended themselves to comparison with the busy Dutch slave world.9 Cross-cultural reviews of colonial law tend to pick up the account in the nineteenth century where the “creating a docile, disciplined labor force” by imperial governments is discussed primarily in terms of “groups released from the control of masters, owners or chiefs.” With a longer historical perspective, Lauren Benton has incorporated polities with slave systems into her Law and Colonial Cultures, and they add much to her analysis of “legal pluralism.” 10 I hope “Judges, Masters, Diviners” will provide an example helpful for her approach and also suggest further ways to think about relations between the practice of criminal law in the slave colonies and in Europe during the early modern period.

Founded initially as an English settlement, Suriname had passed to the Dutch after the 1667 Treaty of Breda and was eventually owned by the chartered Society of Suriname, the Society’s shares being divided between the West India Company, the city of Amsterdam, and the well-born Sommelsdijck family. Under the sovereignty of the States-General, the “exalted” Directors of the Society oversaw the colony’s activities from the Netherlands, appointing the governor and sending him directives on the Dutch boats that plied the Atlantic during the sailing season.11

Around 1700, some 700 people of European origin were living in the town of Paramaribo and the plantations along the Suriname, Commewijne, and Cottica Rivers: Dutch, Portuguese Jews, Huguenots from France and the Netherlands and other places where they had taken refuge after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and English men and women who stayed on from the initial settlement. Some 8,500 people from Africa were producing sugar as slaves on the plantations, and already, approximately 1,000 more Africans had escaped to the rain forests to live as Maroons, sharing that space with indigenous Caribs, Arawaks and Wayanas.

By the 1780s, the European population had increased to approximately 2,000–3,000 persons, with Swedes, Germans, and Swiss added to the mix and with Portuguese and German Jews representing approximately a third of the settlers. To the sugar so arduously produced on the plantations had been added coffee, chocolate, cotton, and timber. The slave population raising these crops had multiplied sixfold to more than 50,000 people, and now some 5,000 Maroons were living in forest villages, divided into three tribes with their own kings and headmen.12

Although the word “criolo”—that is, born locally—was appearing more often next to a slave’s name on the plantation inventories after the middle of the eighteenth century, the majority of slaves were still born in Africa. From 1730 to 1780, more than 124,000 persons were transported to Suriname on the slave boats.13 Some had been brought up in the Central African kingdoms in Angola and the Kongo, where the Bantu Kikongo languages were spoken, others in the Akan and Asante kingdoms of the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). Many more had come from the Slave Coast, that is, from the polities of the Gbe-speaking peoples along the Bight of Benin (in present-day Benin, Togo), such as the coastal kingdoms of Arda and Hueda and the powerful inland kingdom of Dahomey. Others yet were Yoruba-speakers from the ancient kingdom of Oyo and elsewhere west of the Niger River. Although some children were on board and survived the Middle Passage, most of the people crammed into the slave decks were in the preferred age range of fifteen to thirty-five.14

Let us first consider the notions of crime, its detection, and its punishment, which these Africans brought with them to Suriname—as well as we can know them from late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sojourners and slavers among the farmers, merchants, fishermen, and warriors of the coastal kingdoms of west Africa. Our sources will be the memoirs and accounts of men such as Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, Capuchin missionary to the kingdoms of Kongo and Angola in the mid-seventeenth century; Willem Bosman, factor for the Dutch West India Company on the Gold and Slave Coasts for fourteen years in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and Ludewig Ferdinand Rømer, factor for the Danish West India and Guinea Company on the Gold Coast in the 1740s; William Snelgrave, who began as a young sailor on his father’s slaver in 1704 and then captained his own English slave boat on into the 1730s, and the surgeon John Atkins, who served on an English slave ship in the early 1720s; Olaudah Equiano, who lived as a boy among Igbo-speaking villagers in what is now southeastern Nigeria in the late 1740s and early 1750s until he was kidnapped and forced to endure the Middle Passage as a slave; and the Moravian Brother Christian Oldendorp, who in the late 1760s interviewed slaves on Saint Croix and other Danish islands about their African past.15

The actions named as “crimes” were murder, poisoning, witchcraft, theft, adultery (a serious crime in these polygynous societies), kidnapping, and major physical injury. “Trivial crimes” included beating someone, especially a young man beating another, and reviling another person, a troubling act in kingdoms where mutual deference and politeness were required in even a brief encounter. In some places lying could be punished as an offense.16

Along the whole range of the Guinea Coast and inland kingdoms, the gods were always drawn upon for divination and detection—not the high god who ruled more distantly over all, but one of the pantheon of responsive lesser gods, the voudun or orisha, who ruled realms of the sea or the air, were embodied in a special kind of tree or snake, or were more intimately connected to an ancestral spirit. The diviner’s rod or “fetish” as the Europeans called it, encapsulated the god’s presence, often a wooden rod filled with earth, oil, bones, feathers, hair, or other objects imbued with divine aura.

Seers/diviners were called in at the earliest stages of crime detection, including when the victim and others were unsure who had been the perpetrator. An Akan diviner could conjure the power of a god into some food or drink and leave it in place where it would entrap a thief whose identity was unknown. Death was usually assumed to be “unnatural,” that is, to have a source in some human or divine agency, and the dead person was asked to assist in uncovering it. To catch an unknown poisoner, as Olaudah Equiano remembered from his Igbo village, the diviner ordered the corpse to be carried toward the grave, whereupon instantly the bearers were compelled to run to a house in which the poisoner lived. In upper Guinea, among the Mende and Temne peoples of the Sierra Leone region, the bearers questioned the corpse about a possible witch or poisoner responsible for his or her death and were impelled toward a special bough if they hit upon a suspicious name.17 Meanwhile in the kingdom of Akim along the Gold Coast, an accuser alerted the village drummer to assemble the inhabitants and made his or her charge in public.18

Once accused of a crime—for example, theft, murder, adultery, poisoning, kidnapping—a person who wanted to establish his or her innocence had to go through a test with the diviner. The rite was sometimes witnessed by only the accusers and kin of the accused, other times it was enacted before many spectators. Three major ordeals were used. One combined oath-taking with imbibing a special drink or sometimes food. In an Akan polity along the Gold Coast, the accused took a drink before the diviner’s sacred rod, was smeared with supernaturally powerful ingredients, and then called on the god for death in various horrible ways if he or she was guilty. In the Kongo region, the nganga (the priest–diviner) prepared the drink of “purification” or “purging” from the red bark of an ordinarily poisonous tree; he then intoned before the gods and those present that an in  nocent person would drink it and remain well.19 A second ordeal used heat to test the flesh of the accused. In Kongo, the diviner put a rock in a pot of boiling water, which the suspect had to remove; along the Sierra Leone River, the diviner might add a special bark to the boiling water to make it stronger; in a region of the Gold Coast, a cowrie shell had to be retrieved from a pot of boiling oil. If the person was guilty, the arm would become ulcerated.20 Yet a third ordeal put to test the suspect’s tongue. In the kingdom of Benin, the diviner passed a cock’s quill through the tongue of the accused; among the Akan on the Gold Coast, the diviner might use a sewing needle. Easy removal demonstrated innocence.21

In all these tests, we can see what leeway the diviner had in the choice of drink and ointment and their strength, the temperature of the water, and the size of the cock quill or needle and in the examination of the flesh or tongue afterward. Father Cavazzi reported that the nganga had met with both accused and accusers before the test ceremony and had negotiated gifts from each side. In the Sierra Leone region, the surgeon Atkins heard that the diviner made the “red water” used in the oath-test drink stronger or weaker depending upon what he had surmised about the guilt of the accused. Rømer, too, said that among the Akan, small gifts to the diviner affected the outcome for the suspect in cases such as theft, but in most instances the diviner must have been influenced by what he or she had learned about situation and the crime.22

Cavazzi Figure 2. The hot water ordeal in Central Africa. Watercolor by Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, “Missione evangelica al regno de Congo, 1665–1668”; courtesy Manoscritti Araldi, Collection of Michele Araldi, Modena, Italy. Reproduced in James H. Sweet, Recreating Africa. Culture, Kinship and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770 (Chapel Hill and London, University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 124.

A nice example of this is the choice of the river test along the Slave Coast in the kingdom of Hueda: the guilty person would sink, the innocent would swim. “They all swim well,” commented the Dutch observer Bosman, “I’ve never seen anyone convicted.”23 Clearly, the diviner knew when to allow this ordeal.

If found guilty, the person was given a sentence by the king and his council of great men, by a regional governor, or by a local headman and his advisors.24 The death penalty was possible in cases of murder and other crimes viewed as especially vicious, such as witchcraft, but it was by no means regularly pronounced. For adultery, death was the expected punishment for one of the many wives of a king or of a great governor  and for her lover. A French ship-captain witnessed such an execution in the kingdom of Hueda in the 1720s: the man was burned to death, the woman was scalded with boiling water by other royal wives. But if adultery were committed by one of the wives of a rich merchant, a large payment to her husband could excuse her, whereas the wife of a simple farmer might be beaten and sent away and her lover’s property confiscated by the husband. Indeed, fines and compensatory payments were often the preferred penalty—very much higher if the victim had been a free person rather than a slave—and execution performed only in the absence of payment.  Theft was almost always punished with payments: the restitution of the stolen goods and fines, adjusted to the ability of the person to pay. Thieves who could not pay were beaten. Kidnapping was sometimes repaid by the recompense of a male or female slave.25

And yet for all these crimes, one punishment was becoming more frequent: enslavement. In the past, exile had been a possible penalty for serious crime, which usually led to enslavement in Africa itself. But now the punishment involved the sale of the criminal to European slavers. In the somewhat exaggerated words of Francis Moore, a factor for the Royal African Company in Senegambia in the early 1730s. “Since this Slave-Trade has been us’d, all Punishments are chang’d into Slavery; there being an Advantage in such Condemnations, they strain very hard in order to get the Benefit of selling the Criminal. Not only Murder, Theft and Adultery are punish’d by selling the Criminal for a Slave, but every trifling Crime. . .”26

In the outer reaches of the kingdom of Benin decades later, Equiano’s Igbo villagers were selling to African traders not only their war captives, but also “such among us as had been convicted of kidnapping or adultery and some other crimes, which we esteemed heinous.”27 Although the large majority of slaves transported across the Atlantic continued to be captives of war or victims of kidnapping, persons condemned for a crime were among them, especially when they could not pay fines or make compensation.28

There were two memories the Africans would not have carried across the ocean. Few of them would have seen or heard of incarceration as punishment for crime among their own peoples. In their forts along the Guinea Coast, the Portuguese, Dutch, and other European traders might include a small improvised prison, but this was for offenders among their ranks or, on occasion, for a trouble-making African in their own circle, and was quite apart from the spaces reserved for captive slaves. The great rulers of the Songhay Empire were said to have used some form of confinement for political offenders in the late fifteenth and sixteenth century on an island near their palace at Gao. But, on the whole among the African polities, structures of incarceration for criminals were not built until the nineteenth century. Persons accused of crimes were kept from running away by their families in their compounds. Enclosurewas conceived rather as a setting for ritual exclusion, as when menstruating women had to live in a special hut.29

Furthermore, although the execution of persons condemned to death in kingdoms along the Guinea Coast and inland involved painful and prolonged torture and humiliation of the body (not to mention the degrading treatment of the corpses of war captives), branding and mutilation were rarely used as penalties for living persons. One of the few examples was emasculation, said to have been practiced on the royal eunuchs of the kingdom of Oyo because they had previously been engaged in incest, bestiality, or adultery with one of the king’s wives. Scarification of the face and body and piercing of the hair and lips were not “mutilation,” but rather ancient and honorable marks of identity, beauty, and status.30

The Africans purchased by European traders were kept in barracoons while awaiting the boats that would take them to the Americas; at Elmina Castle, the prisons were damp ground-floor rooms similar to those used for storing goods. “We pay two pence a day,” said a factor for the Dutch West India Company, “which serves to subsist them like our Criminals on Bread and Water.”31

The slave ship itself was a “portable prison,” in the phrase of one of its eighteenth-century defenders, a “floating dungeon” in the words of a critic, to which the slaves arrived in chains or ropes and branded with the name of the Company or the purchaser that owned them.32 The ship operated under instructions from the Company or other owner, who warned that precautions were required lest the crew be attacked by their African cargo, but who also insisted that the slave men and women “not be defiled or mistreated by any of the officers and crew members” (to quote from those given to a Zeeland ship, De Nieuwe Hoop).33 How these instructions were fulfilled depended upon the captain, his surgeons, and his sailors, the latter themselves often ill-paid and harshly disciplined. William Snelgrave, captain of many an English slave voyage, instructed his crews that “Negroes be kindly used,” as this was the best way to avoid revolts. Once the boat was well away from the coast, he allowed irons to be removed from the men, a practice reserved on many boats only for women and children. But any “disturbance” the “kindly” captain met with “severe” flogging and other punishment, and any attempt at mutiny was met with death.34

For the Africans, as is well known, the discipline and punishment of the “portable prison” were devastating, leading to death and suicide—in addition to the pain and humiliation of rape and the mortality caused by ill health and disease. But in the holds, other activities were taking place that created bonds and perhaps even a form of “justice” among the Africans. Although captains had sometimes acquired their human cargo from different ports or had arranged to have different language groups represented among their hundreds of slaves so as to minimize the danger of revolt, nonetheless there were always groups who shared a language (some were from the same family or village) or could understand related languages. A provisional pidgin was surely created, and some Africans from coastal regions knew the Portuguese pidgin that was current along the Guinea Coast. A sort of kinship was established among those chained or sleeping or working on the decks near each other: in Suriname survivors of the voyage recalled the tie afterward by the Sranan term sippi, shipmate.35

Leaders emerged among the captives, both on their own and created from the officers’ deck. The captains themselves appointed “quartermasters” or “bombas,” as they were called on the Danish ships: slaves who, they believed, would be cooperative and who, in return for extra provisions, would help organize the eating arrangements and oversee the crews washing the decks. Some of these leading men and women may have also been diviners or healers in their African communities. Ludewig Rømer actually recommended to Danish captains that women healers take over from the ship’s surgeons in the face of African illnesses such as worms, and that they be given oils and spices with which to prepare their remedies, while an English captain reported on the presence of “religious Priests” on his ships in the 1760s to 1780s and their role in urging insurrection. But all these leaders could have drawn on techniques that they knew, or improvised new ones to arbitrate and quiet the quarrels that broke out among men closely shackled or from tribes with grievances against each other.36

And one of the wives of the great King Agaja of Dahomey, sent off to slavery for having aggrieved him, found her place on the women’s deck of Captain Snelgrave’s galley Katherine in 1727. The Captain saw her as an agent of pacification of the “noise and clamor” of “the female captives who usually give us great trouble,” but I think we can perceive her as providing leadership and arbitration that was of service to the women as well.37 In such ways did the Middle Passage help survivors get started toward establishing their own justice one day on shore. ♦

Once docked in Paramaribo, cleaned and oiled for the auction block, purchased and branded again by a new owner, the African was rowed up one of the rivers to the plantation at which he or she would henceforth work and live. The plantation will be the site for my next discussion of “criminal justice” even though the people deciding on offenses and punishing offenders were authorized by property ownership (“domestic jurisdiction,” in the Roman law) rather than as agents of a “state.” Indeed, the courts of Suriname themselves had the mixed status of so many colonial governing institutions of the day: they were the creation of a chartered Society in the Netherlands, which owned the colony through purchase, while acting under the aegis of the States-General. (Already we can see that Suriname is a fitting illustration of Lauren Benton’s “legal pluralism.”)

In contrast with Louis XIV and his Code Noir, the States-General issued no edict governing the features of slave conduct, treatment, and religion in Dutch colonies. Rather the Suriname governor and the Court of Policy and Criminal Justice issued ordinances from time to time, spelling out the permissible limits for the punishment of slaves on the plantation. In their general form, they resemble the rulings on the master’s punitive power over slaves found in other Caribbean societies.38 Early in the colony’s existence, in the 1680s, the governor had prohibited owners from imposing death or mutilation on their slaves. The next major edict on the matter was more than seventy years later in 1759. No manager or white officer was to use rods on a slave, but only the customary local whips, with which they could give between twenty-five and fifty or at most eighty moderate strokes and only on the lower limbs. They were to order their black drivers to behave accordingly. Any heavier punishment could be given only at the order of the owner, who would place limits according to his or her own scruples. No slave should be threatened with being shot except in case of absolute self-defense. The penalty for violation was 300 Dutch guilders. A 1784 ordinance repeated these limitations and the penalty for violation, although it now forbade whipping a slave who had been hanged from his or her wrists from a tree.39

Fines were in fact imposed only when the killing of a slave was discovered and prosecuted (as we will see more fully), although excessive cruelty on a plantation could tarnish the reputation of an owner or manager. Still, when the governor proposed in 1762 that something more than a fine be instituted for beating a slave to death, the councilors on the Court of Policy and Criminal Justice, all of them plantation owners, demurred: “Athough no owner should ever arrogate the power over life and death over his slaves, it is nonetheless of the utmost importance that slaves should continue to believe that their masters possess that power. There would be no keeping them under control if they were aware that their masters could receive corporal punishment or be executed for beating a slave to death.”40 The law remained as it was.

Punitive practice varied on the plantations. Suriname was known throughout the Caribbean for the extravagant cruelty of plantation punishment. Observers’ accounts from Suriname in the late seventeenth through the eighteenth century talk of extended beatings with whips chosen for their sting, after which the open wounds were rubbed with lime juice and pepper, and of the “Spaansche Bok,” (the Spanish buck, as it was called), when the slave was whipped first on one side then the other, with hands tied around the knees and a stick holding him or her to the ground. The latter was declared illegal in Suriname only in 1828.41

Especially telling is a play written in 1760 or thereabouts, in Sranan and Dutch, by Pieter van Dyk, long-time manager of a coffee plantation on the Commewijne River. The play, The Life and Business of a Suriname Plantation Manager, was included in a book of instruction on the Creole language of Suriname, as part of Van Dyk’s effort to convince “owners and managers . . . to make [themselves] respected and loved, without committing the inhuman cruelties that sometimes become part of the work.” Van Dyk used the topos of the drunken plantation manager acting in the absence of the owner: the manager orders his black driver to beat a woman slave till her skin comes off her back for being late bringing his coffee and to give the Spanish buck to a male slave asking to get off work because of being sick and to another for picking unripe coffee beans. The manager ends up shooting and killing his hunter slave because he had failed to bring back game two days running and then had protested against being punished. Van Dyk’s cruel manager, a composite of actual cases, illustrates the conduct targeted by the ordinance of 1759.42

John Gabriel Stedman’s descriptions of what he saw during his Suriname years (1773–1777) included punishments ordered by owners and managers both. His book, written after his return to Europe and published only in 1796, was in part a defense of slavery as beneficent for Africans, as long as it was humanely conducted, and in part a ferocious attack on the cruel punishment of slaves. (Indeed, his vivid pictures of that punishment, some of them engraved for his Narrative by William Blake, were intended to arouse indignation against the perpetrators and empathy for the slaves.)43 It was not the simple fact of beating that bothered him: in the Netherlands, where he had grown up, he was accustomed to seeing servants and workers beaten by masters and mistresses, and he was glad that the “unmerciful whipping” of his own father had cured him of a boyish habit of petty stealing.44 While in Suriname, he beat his slaves, for example, for slipping their boat away from his boat on the Commewijne River, and he beat the soldiers under his command for theft.45

What he deplored for the plantation slaves was the excess in punishments and their inappropriate use. (Likewise he had earlier opposed the “despotick cruelty” of officers in his military unit back in the Netherlands, who executed or whipped soldiers through the streets for small infractions.46) One of his first sights in Suriname was a woman who had been given 200 lashes and forced to bear a heavy chain attached to her leg for months as punishment for having simply failed to meet her work quota. Visiting plantation Sporksgift, Stedman learned that his friend, the Scottish owner John MacNeil, had ordered the hamstringing of a handsome young slave because he had been running away from his work. On L’Espérance plantation, where Stedman’s military post was established, the manager departed after flogging a slave to death for having let another slave slip out of his hands to the woods. “His humane successor,” Stedman commented sarcastically, “began his reign by one morning flogging all the slaves of the estate, male and female, old and young . . . for having [over] slept their time about fifteen minutes.” Stedman then visited a neighboring plantation on the Commewijne only to come upon a young unclothed woman tied by her wrists to the branch of a tree, her back bleeding from 200 lashes given by the black drivers at the command of the manager– the punishment prohibited a decade later in the ordinance of 1784. “Her only Crime,” Stedman discovered, “had consisted in her firmly refusing to submit to the loathsome embraces of her despisable executioner, which his jealousy . . . construed to disobedience.”47

Of course, there were plantations where such practices were not found. Stedman singled out Mrs. Godefroy, the elderly widow with whom he often dined, as a model of the good proprietor. Born of English parents in Suriname in 1713, Elizabeth Danforth had outlived two husbands, who had left her sugar and coffee plantations with hundreds of slaves. Victor-Pierre Malouet, a French adminstrator of the nearby colony of Cayenne, visited her sugar plantation in 1777 and confirmed Stedman’s judgment: “the most serious punishment [for the slaves] is being prohibited from seeing their mistress and from being on her path when she passes by. Any one of them would prefer a hundred strokes of the whip to this excommunication.” Although it seems unlikely that Mrs. Godefroy’s slaves would describe their feelings in Malouet’s words, it may well be that Mrs. Godefroy had instituted on her plantations a policy of very limited use of whipping.48

flagellation NZD

Figure 3. The whipping of a slave with her
wrists tied to a tree in 1774. Source: Stedman,
Narrative, vol. 1, facing p. 326, engraved by
William Blake after a drawing by Stedman.

Mrs. Godefroy’s plantations were not shaken by slave up risings over the decades, and according to Malouet, her slaves actually kept Maroon incursions at bay. Such stability is one of the possible signs of a plantation conducted in a fashion at least tolerable to its workers. An example is Fauquemberg sugar plantation on the Commewijne during the almost twenty years (1750–1768) it was managed by a recently arrived Dutchman named Anthony Tielenius Kruythoff. The plantation had been founded in the early eighteenth century by a Dutch settler family, but by 1753 its owners were living in Amsterdam and Kruythoff was administering and running the estate himself. During his tenure, the slaves, roughly 190 in number, did not organize uprisings or escapes to the Maroons, nor did the Maroons attack the plantation. The birth rate was relatively high among the slave families, and a good number of the children lived to be young adults.49

Kruythoff was an officer in the Suriname militia and, with a troop of armed men, was called upon to quell slave uprisings along the Commewijne and to track escaped slaves in the rain forests. In the midst of slave rebellions in 1759, he blamed such resistance on masters and managers who overworked and underfed their slaves, threatening to shoot or behead them if they did not complete impossible tasks. He himself kept a close eye on the white driver at Fauquemberg and rewarded his slaves on occasion with gifts.50 I suggest that the tolerability of the regime at Fauquemberg and other such plantations goes beyond Kruythoff’s formulation: it emerged not just from the humane heart or practical concern for property of masters and managers, but from the systems of governance and justice organized among the slaves themselves. We have glimpses of such systems in reports from Jamaica and Antigua; here I would like to sketch out a fuller picture of the possible structures and practices of slave-initiated justice in Suriname.51

The African newcomers to a Suriname plantation took weeks and months to find their way among the slaves. Given a new name for use at least among the whites, assigned a place to live in the palm-leaf-covered ningre hosso (slave houses) and a work slot in the fields, buildings, waters, or houses of the plantation, the African gradually learned the local Creole tongue—Neger Engelsche or Sranan on the Christian plantations, Dju-tongo (or Saramaccan as it came to be called) on the Jewish ones. The discipline and punishment practices found on the Suriname plantations would have contrasted in some ways with what Africans would have observed in the multiple slave systems back home. On the one hand, the African owner could dispose of the life of his slaves without responsibility, at least in non-Islamic lands: for example, the great kings of Dahomey in the eighteenth century were being buried with hundreds of their slaves, while in the nearby kingdom of Benin, a person sentenced to death for a murder might offer a slave in his stead.52 On the other hand, even in those African societies in which slavery did not slide into a kin relation and which were “hierarchical [and] market oriented,” the exploitation of slave labor was not accompanied by so punitive a regime. I follow Martin Klein here, who found the harshest treatment of African slaves was at the moment of their capture and the early weeks of their “seasoning,” where they might be forced to sleep in chains. “[Even] in the most market oriented African systems,” says Klein, “slaves worked for their masters about half as much as in the U.S. South.”53

In Suriname, the figures of authority and prestige within the slave community prepared newcomers for the shock of the local regime.54 Such men and women were central to the institutions and procedures on the plantation—some carried over from Africa, others improvised or invented in Suriname—which helped slaves survive and sustain an independent cultural life, keeping peace among them and acting as buffers against or setting limits to the arbitrary power of the owner and the owner’s agents. These slave leaders gained their authority partly through their own doing, partly through the decision of the owner or manager.

Let us begin with the black driver, called negerofficier or zwarte officier (“black officer”) in Dutch and ningre bassia, or just bassia in Sranan. (Interestingly enough, the word bomba was sometimes used in Suriname for the black driver, thus carrying over a title familiar from the slave ship.)55 Up to now in my account, we have seen the black driver in Suriname with a whip in his hand, punishing the slaves at the command of his white superiors. But he was a complex figure, who had the ear of his superiors and, if he were to have any success at all, was trusted by his fellow slaves. A plantation with many slaves—say, 125 and higher— usually had two or even three bassias, whereas those with fewer slaves had only one. Appointed first as young men, the bassias either were creoles, that is, born in Suriname, or had arrived at the plantation at an early age, and they were virtually always the sons of black parents rather than of a black slave woman and a white man. Sometimes they were field workers or hunters, other times plantation craftsmen. At Fauquemberg, the field worker Cupido and the young creole Quimana appear as bassias in an inventory of 1753; a few years later, Quamina is the senior bassia together with the young fieldworker Bienpayé, the two of them holding those posts through 1768.56

A bassia had to combine the political skills of an African chief, learned from his father and/or the many other newcomers from Africa on the plantation, with creole savvy about what was necessary to tell their white bosses, to whom they spoke in Neger Engelsche or Dju-tongo. For a bassia to be acceptable to the slaves, it was said, he must never raise his whip to punish on his own behalf or ever be believed to be doing so. In Van Dyk’s play, the black driver beats only at the manager’s command, while begging his drunken superior to hold back from such harm: “Have mercy, master. I gave that woman a hundred lashes already.” He tries to help a slave wife free herself from the manager’s sexual demands, although he is unsuccessful in his efforts.57

The historical record presents bassias more forceful than Van Dyk’s respectful slave. As one white driver put it to his fellow officers, “Never trust a bassia, for his solidarity lies not with the plantation staff, but with the slaves.” A final weapon in the bassia’s hands was contact with the Maroons. In some instances, he was a major figure in resistance to the Maroons: this occurred when the slaves did not want any of their number, especially their women, to be kidnapped. In other instances, Maroon attacks on Suriname plantations were at the invitation of the bassias; and some of the mass escapes to the Maroons had bassias at their head.58 The bassia’s status is suggested in a painting made in 1707 or thereabouts by Dirk Valkenburg, an Amsterdam artist who was then bookkeeper and scribe for the sugar plantation Palmeniribo on the Suriname River. A religious dance is being performed in front of the slave houses, where some of the participants are possessed by the gods. The bassia stands tall and aloof, a European hat on his head and a small knife tucked into the strip of cloth around his hips.59 Of course, some bassias were  seriously at odds with their co-slaves, and on occasion slaves accused the bassia of trying to poison one or more of their number.60

Putting pressure on the bassias from among the ranks of the slaves was an impressive group of skilled men and women, some born in Suriname, others youthful arrivals from Africa. The men were carpenters, coopers, bricklayers, and other plantation craftsmen, whose names appear directly below the black officers’ on the inventories. Such were the men the master or manager armed with rifles to accompany him and his white servants in search of runaways; this had the side-result of allowing the elite slaves to learn the location of Maroon trails. The women were cooks, knitters, and seamstresses, many of them also serving at the great house, their names appearing at the top of the lists of female slaves. (Amiba, the lead woman on one of the Jewish plantations, is actually called “officieresse”).


Figure 4. The bassia (black driver) surveys a slave dance at Palmeniribo plantation
Dirk Valkenburg, Slave Play in Suriname (ca. 1706–1707); National Gallery of
Denmark, Copenhagen, KMS376. © SMK Photo.


Some of these women had memories of African families where their mothers were co-wives; although there were surely quarrels among them, they helped sustain order and amity among the slave women, the field maids, and others. Sometimes, too, they had their own channels to the white bosses by which to seek favors or protection for their families and for other slave women.61

The third group of influential figures in the slave community were the religious specialists and healers, most born in Africa in the early generations, some born in Suriname. Every plantation had its healer or healers, whose knowledge of local plant lore, coupled with incantation, was more useful than the surgical implements kept in the plantation medical cabinet. Many plantations had a priest–diviner, known as a Lukuman in Sranan, or a priestess–diviner. Given the honorific name of Granman and Gran Mama, they called upon the gods and served humans in the ways we have seen in Africa.62

A few such sacred leaders were reputed throughout the colony. Granman Quassy was born in West Africa in the 1690s and spent his young manhood on a sugar plantation in Suriname. By the 1740s he was celebrated as healer, diviner, seer, and creator of obia, packets or amulets in which the various feathers, hair, shells, and other objects carried with them the presence and power of African gods., He was also the discoverer of a special bark that would bring down fever; transmitted to Linnaeus by a Swedish settler in Suriname, it was named Lignum Quassiae. Quassy toured to different plantations, whereas the priestess–diviner Gran Mama Dafina was consulted by her supplicants in her “secret chamber,” with its clay figures of persons and animals, its huge pot of water, and its live snakes—equipment similar to that found among the diviners of the Gbe-speaking peoples of the Slave Coast kingdoms.63

winti benoit

Figure 5. A woman diviner at work in Suriname, ca. 1830. Source: Pierre Jacques Benoit, Voyage a Surinam, 1839. fig. 36. Collectie Buku – Bibliotheca Surinamica

What kind of procedures of justice did slave leaders try to put in place on their plantations? Resistance to the master’s punitive regime could range from controlling the flow of information about slaves to the whites, on up to the threat or actuality of revolt. Discussion meetings were held to make plans. In Van Dyk’s play, the bassia meets together with a leading female house slave and several men; they call each other “master slaves,” “mastra negeri,” using the forms of customary politeness. They delegate one of the men to sneak away and inform the owner in Paramaribo about the brutality of the manager.64

We can eavesdrop on an actual meeting in 1707 at the sugar plantation of Palmeniribo with its 148 slaves, whose bassia we have just seen in Valkenburg’s painting. Mingo, a slave born in Kongo, had been preparing to visit his wife on another plantation, although the owner had forbidden him to do so. Whereupon the owner smashed Mingo’s canoe. Mingo then met with his brother Waly and several other blacks, who urged him to go the owner and demand compensation: “Mingo, you’re no man” [if you don’t do it], Waly said to him in Sranan, “Mingo jou no man.” “I am a man,” said Mingo. “You go then.” As it turned out Mingo’s mission coincided with other grievances on Palmeniribo, especially the owner’s revoking the previous owner’s grant of Saturdays free from work. Mingo led a delegation shouting “jou no meester voor mi.” An uprising ensued; some slaves escaped to the Maroons, others were prosecuted, but the slaves of Palmeniribo got their free Saturdays back.65

More significant was the justice established by the plantation slaves to arbitrate and provide punishment or compensation for offenses among themselves—offenses which, if they got to the ears of the manager or owner, would be punished by these whites; and offenses, such as poisoning and theft, which when they were brought to the notice of the Court of Policy and Crime, were prosecuted there, as will be described. As I put together what evidence we have, on those plantations that had a slave community with some coherence and effective leadership, the community preferred to deal first with its own offenders before deciding whether or not to yield them up to the owners or to the colonial court.

What were these offenses? Bad-mouthing another slave was surely one of them. The courteous language of address noted in the African kingdoms was carried over into the mixed Creole of Sranan and Saramacca. Whereas a black making a request to a white would say “Many thanks, Master, would you please give me that?” to another slave, he or she would say, “Thank you, thank you my dear beloved, I kiss your feet, do me that favor!” (“ Tangitangi, mi hatti-lobbi, mi boosi ju futu, du mi da plessiri”). The choice insult among slave men in Suriname was “you mama pima” (“your mother’s cunt”) and it aroused great anger.66 Early on, this kind of troublemaking had a Creole vocabulary to describe it, drawn both from an English and an African lexicography: lei, a takki lei, leiman (“lie,” “he’s talking lies,” “a liar”); kossi (“to scold,” “to curse”); gongossa, gongossaman (“slander,” “a slanderer”); kongro, kongroman (“malice,” “falsehood,” “a malicious person”).67

Another offense was theft, especially hateful among people who had so little that they could call their own and who put a high value on sharing. “The poorest Negro [in Suriname],” wrote Stedman, “having but an egg scorns to eat it alone, but were twelve others present and everyone a stranger, he would cut or break it in as many shares.” A stingy person was a “mombi”; a thief, a “furfurman,” was much worse. To protect one’s vegetable garden or one’s house from an intruder, Suriname slaves placed a kandu in front of it, an object made of rocks or sugar cane or some other material endowed with the threatening powers of a certain god: “All the fruits in my garden are being stolen; I’m going to put up a kandu” (“dem furfur tule janjam na mi plantasi, mi tann go putta kandu”).68 But the kandu’s power could not extend to everything, and thefts had to be dealt with.

Unacceptable sexual relations were yet another set of offenses. In regard to the sexual assaults and initiatives of the white male proprietor, manager, or driver, there was a limit to how much protection slave justice could provide, and slave men and women may not have always agreed on who should be protected first. In some actual cases and in Van Dyk’s play, the white man’s forcing sex on a married woman was viewed as the more serious violence, harming the wife and humiliating her husband. So Stedman told the story of a slave who harbored hopes for revenge for more than twenty years against a manager who had raped his mother and flogged his father when he came to her aid.69 Nonetheless, some slave mothers may have felt that protecting their unwed daughters was at least as important, unless they saw the sexual intimacy leading to favour for the family.

As for intimate relations among the slaves themselves, the African assessment may have persisted, that is, adultery strongly condemned, but “fornication”—to use the term of their European masters—tolerated as long as it occurred with persons approved by parents. Stedman (whose informants included his slave concubine and her mother) described the “passion of love” among slave husbands in Suriname as expressed in “the jealousy [they feel toward] their wives, to whom their resentment for incontinence is absolutely implacable.” But the sexual experience of the women before  marriage, claimed Stedman, “gives the [slave husbands] no uneasiness.”70

The marital economy on the Suriname plantations differed from that remembered or recounted from African societies, where polygyny had been widespread and even a small farmer might take a second wife. On the plantations, male and female slaves existed in roughly the same number, with men often more numerous than women through the eighteenth century. In addition, the difference in power and prestige between the elite male slaves and the field hands was not so great as to make it easy for the former to possess more than one wife at a time. Polygyny was practiced among a minority of the Saramacca Maroons—the word “co-wife,” gambossa, is used among them by the late eighteenth century—and there were undoubtedly some examples on the plantations. But on the whole Stedman’s picture of the “happy” Suriname slave—marrying, divorcing, and remarrying by their own rules and rites—is the more characteristic one: “he never lives with a wife he does not love, exchanging her for another the moment he or she is tired.” Stedman went on to say that such serial marriage was less common among the Suriname slaves than it was in “a European state of matrimony.” In these circumstances, adultery could cause real trouble in the clustered households of the slaves’ quarters.71

Finally, there was physical harm, especially through poisoning, used to make someone ill or even to kill him or her. The desire to poison was fuelled by various grievances: revenge against someone who had stolen the affection of a lover or a husband or wife; envy of another’s status in the slave community; hostility against new arrivals, in the latter instance sometimes carried over from African political loyalties and conflicts. In 1757 a revolt began on a plantation called “La Paix” at the headwaters of the Commewijne because the owner wanted to transfer the slaves to another of his plantations downstream: the slaves feared they would be killed by poison and sorcery, as they claimed had happened to the last group of transferees. Indeed, poisoning was viewed with horror, for it was thought to be coupled with witchcraft: as healers drew on the gods to add force to their remedies, so poisoners drew on dangerous forces.

Some plantations had a wissiman, a sinister specialist in the harmful use of poisonous plants, the incantations that must accompany them, and the antidotes to the poison when called upon. A wissiman was always in danger of being denounced along with the person who sought his or her powers.72

When these offenses occurred or accusations were made about them, the slaves’ justice could go into action. Here we must piece together a scenario from what evidence we have from Suriname. A diviner—a lukuman—would start off to help find the guilty party, if no accusation had been made. As in African polities, the corpse being borne in its coffin was asked by the diviner for information about the source of his or her death: had he or she offended the gods? Had he or she been poisoned? If there were a murder behind the death, the coffin-bearers would be precipitated toward the evildoer. The Moravian Brother describing this practice in Suriname remarked that the “Obia man,” that is, priest–diviner, would have “already gained exact knowledge of who is guilty through his own research” and would have informed the coffin-carriers in advance.73 Granman Quassy, when called to a plantation to find a thief, divined with his gaze and with bird feathers. After inquiring about relations among the slaves, Quassy had each person walk by him while he turned the bundle of feathers in a glass; then he looked at each slave steadily in the face. “His pursuit suddenly made the heart visible,” according to one report.74

Once the accusation had been made and aired among the slaves, two ordeals to establish guilt or innocence are reported from Suriname, both variations on those used in the Guinea Coast kingdoms. In the kangra, the diviner smeared the person’s tongue with a paste from special herbs or leaves, then passed a chicken feather through it. If the feather went through easily he or she was innocent, if it did not, he or she was guilty.75 The oath-drink test was described among the Saramacca Maroons in cases of a person accused of murder or poisoning, and in all likelihood a version of it was used for some offenses on the plantations.76 Plunging the accused’s arm into hot or boiling water to retrieve a rock or some other object, which was found as an ordeal from the Gold Coast to Angola, was used to sort the guilty from the innocent among slaves in neighboring Brazil. Gran Mama Dafina of Suriname had a large pot of water in her sanctuary, and may well have used it for ordeals along with other kinds of divination.77 And then there was the river test used to establish innocence in the Slave Coast and Kongo: it was easy to arrange in Suriname and many of the slaves were good swimmers. In all these instances, a lukuman or diviner– priest on the plantation could seek information and listen to the gossip in the slave houses and adjust the scenario of the ordeal and the choice of ordeal accordingly.

Judgments in the wake of the ordeals would then be made, so I suggest,by the bassia in consultation with other important male and female slaves. It would resemble the slave tribunals described by a planter in Jamaica. “On many of the estates the headmen erect themselves into a sort of bench of Justice, which sits and decides privately, and without the knowledge of the whites, on all disputes and complaints of their fellow slaves.”78

Such a tribunal would not model itself on the Suriname Court Policy and Criminal Justice. Rather it would be a reworking of the council of the Guinea Coast kings with their great men or the meetings of village headmen and elders, but on the plantation with the addition of leading women—the cook, the senior house servants, the midwife—to the deliberations, not routinely found in African polities.79 In cases of insult and slander, theft, and adultery, the penalty would not ordinarily have been beating, the routine punishment of the master for such cases among slaves (“flogged Maria for cuckolding Solon . . . and stirring up Quarrels,” a Jamaica planter recorded in his diary in 1773). Rather the penalty would be compensation to the aggrieved, the African practice adjusted for Suriname; say, produce from one’s garden or a special garment or a bracelet or tobacco presented in a ceremony of abasement and accompanied by some sacrifice to the gods, or work services performed for the aggrieved party. The bassia’s whip must have sometimes been used as a threat to enforce the penalty, and actual beatings surely occurred in more serious cases. But it would have been difficult to carry out a major scourging unauthorized by the manager or master and keep it secret from them.

Poisoning and the associated sorcery were much more serious, feared all the more as one did not know whom the wissiman would strike next. In Africa, poisoning/witchcraft was punished by a cruel death or by being sold into slavery. In the rainforests of Suriname, the Saramacca Maroons, freely organizing their own justice, mutilated the sorcerer/poisoner’s body and then burned it. In Paramaribo the Court of Policy and Criminal Justice punished poisoning by death. On the plantations, then, the slave justice yielded the uncontrollable poisoner up to the authorities.80

The Court of Policy and Criminal Justice was composed of thirteen Protestant men, with the governor at its head; serving as its public prosecutor was an officer known as the Fiscaal, who was supposed to be educated in the law. The councilors, chosen for life by the governor from a slate elected by the settlers, were all prominent plantation owners, and only a small number of them had had any formal training in the law. Whereas Jan Jacob Mauricius, governor from 1742 to 1751, had studied both law and letters at Leiden, some of his predecessors and successors in that post and most of the councilors had never listened to law lectures either at that august faculty or at the university at Utrecht.81

Similarly to the courts in the Netherlands, the Suriname Court dealt with both matters of public order and criminal cases, and, as in the Netherlands, the sixteenth-century ordinances of Emperors Charles V and Philip II were the overall guide for criminal procedure. The Dutch republic retained these ordinances until the reforms of 1795–1809, that is, long after it had freed itself from imperial rule. In the Netherlands these codes, together with subsequent edicts and local regulations, allowed for harsher treatment of the poor than of the propertied in criminal procedure and punishment— especially of the vagrant poor. In the colonies such as Suriname, these codes, supplemented by the Roman law on slavery and subsequent local ordinances, allowed for an even greater gap between the treatment of slave and free, black and white in the course of criminal trial and punishment. Simply being a slave aggravated whatever offense one had committed. In the words of a jurist in Suriname’s neighboring colony Demerara: “[slaves] are more severely punished for the same offense than free men; their very condition, according to the criminalists, [is] supposed to communicate an aggravating quality to the offense.”82

The Court issued ordinances restricting the behavior of slaves in situations beyond the plantation.

1741: in Paramaribo, slaves must stand out of the way of white people on the streets; they must not carry canes or cudgels when they walk. They must not gamble or play dice among themselves and certainly not with white people; penalty for the slave players: being whipped along the streets of Paramaribo; for the white players: a fine. 1769: no slave, whether black or mulatto, is to go about wearing shoes and stockings or an extra large hat; penalty for repeated violation: the Spanish buck. 1750 and frequently afterward: slaves are forbidden to sing and dance publicly in the streets of Paramaribo or at funerals: penalty, the Spanish buck.

Interestingly enough, Governor Jean Nepveu, who signed the 1777 reissue of this ordinance, wrote in another place, “In Paramaribo, (the baljaaren [dancing] of slaves) was frequently prohibited altogether, and those caught at it were liable to severe punishment. But experience has taught that this has no effect, and even if it were punishable with death, this would probably only increase their desire for it. . .”83

Such infractions as these did not generate full trials before the Court, but were evidently dealt with and punished by prosecutor and the governor’s officers. The slave cases most frequently brought before the Court of Policy and Criminal Justice for prosecution were those to which the death penalty or bodily mutilation, such as an amputated leg or hamstringing, was attached. Records of 146 trials in which slaves were sentenced between 1730 and 1750 have been retrieved from the Suriname archives and studied by a scholar descended from an old Suriname planter family. These trials do not cover all the criminal charges against slaves in those years. The executioner’s list adds additional names, and other slaves could not be brought to trial because, as the governor’s journal indicated with regret, they had escaped to the rain forest and had not been recaptured. Still this collection of trials suggests what kinds of cases found their way from the plantations for judgment by the court. The largest single category, 36%, involved poisoning; 7% involved the murder of white people by other means; 6% involved the murder of other slaves; and 7% involved plotting or conspiring to murder. Another 12% involved theft, burglary or receiving stolen goods, probably in all cases the property of white people, and 11% involved slaves who had run away and been caught. Some 8% involved some form of rough treatment, insulting of, or impudence toward whites. Yet another 5% concerned plantation mischief, such as falsely accusing someone of poisoning or assisting Maroons during a plantation raid. In 8% of the cases, the remaining records did not include the offense. Of the slaves’ sentences, 82% (114 people) were condemned to death, at least a dozen of them by hanging from the gallows with a hook in their ribs.84

The slaves’ trials were conducted by the “extraordinary” procedure, as it was called in the Netherlands and in other Roman law countries. In the words once again of our jurist from nearby Demerara: “Extraordinary process is a summary mode of proceeding to avoid the delay of an ordinary criminal suit or process, which latter is conducted in the manner of a civil suit. It can only take place on the investigation of crimes which involve corporal punishment.”85

This procedure was rapid and without counsel, and made it simpler to order torture to obtain the desired confession when the legal proofs allowed it during the trial, and torture before execution to extract the names of accomplices. In Suriname the accused slave was taken to the prison at Fort Zeelandia and interrogated through a Sranan or Saramaccan translator by the prosecutor and two members of the Court; other witnesses to or parties affected by the crime were questioned as well. Lacking detailed information on the trials, we do not know whether the Court actually followed the rules of Dutch–Roman law that required a certain amount of incriminating testimony or evidence before torturing a slave in hope of confession, “the queen of proofs” and a necessary prelude to a sentence of execution. In Amsterdam, the courts did so, and presumably the Suriname Court lived up to such rules for white people accused of a serious crime. Whatever the case, the accused slave was more likely to be stretched on the rack or otherwise tortured in Suriname than an accused working man or vagabond in eighteenth-century Amsterdam.86


Stedman NZD haak

Figure 6. Hanging of a slave by a hook in his
ribs in 1773. Source: Stedman, Narrative,
vol. 1, facing p. 110, engraved by William
Blake after a drawing by Stedman.

How might the slave have responded to torture? The body in pain was part of most African ordeals and all European torture. But in the African ordeal, after the accused had sworn in an oath not to have done a certain act, the body itself spoke of guilt and innocence through festering or healing or vomiting or good digestion and other signs, whereas in the European torture, the pain was to induce a full verbal confession. Indeed, Stedman’s heroic slave refused under torture to give the Court the information it wanted—the whereabouts of the Maroons and their actions—and instead, as we saw, recounted his own story of being treated with unjust cruelty and then fell silent. (We recall, too, that this slave had been born in Africa, and would have been trained to endure pain during his youthful initiation ceremony.)

We have a clue to the slaves’ reaction. In 1745 the Court observed that neither torture nor the prospect of a painful death aroused horror and fear among slaves who had been accused of poisoning of persons or animals, for they believed that once dead, they would soon return free to their own land. (The Court was here giving a version of the belief that one part of the soul, the jeje, as it was called in Sranan, situated in the heart, would return to the ancestors or to an ancestral god at death; for some slaves in Suriname and elsewhere in the Americas—especially the “salt-water blacks,” who had been transported across the ocean—this also took the form of the soul’s return to the land of the ancestors.87) To instill fear, the Court proposed a new punishment for such poisoners and others “guilty of a death sentence . . . for extremely abominable offenses”: to have their ears and tongues cut away and to be condemned to work the land for the rest of their lives in chains at Fort Amsterdam or elsewhere in isolation—not only men separated from women, but each cut off from all society with other slaves.88

This dreadful proposal, inspired by Governor Mauricius, was much more punitive than the houses of correction to which some criminals were condemned in Amsterdam at the time. It seems not to have been put into effect, or if it was, it was short lived; in any case the governor was soon caught up in what he called a “cabal” of planters and was replaced in office in 1751.89 We can nonetheless reflect on the Court’s claim that slaves did not fear painful torture or death. Apart from youthful training to endure pain or beliefs about the destiny of the jeje, slaves may not have respected the procedure by which a personal confession was to be extracted through torture. Certainly the many Africans among them at that date would have found it a strange and dubious procedure of which their gods might disapprove.

Interestingly enough, by 1778, the Saramacca Maroons, who conducted their trials in the rain forest independently of the colonial government, had introduced torture to get a confession from people accused of sorcery and poisoning. The priest–diviner made his inquiries and then conducted ordeals as on the plantations; once a person had been found guilty of poisoning by the tongue ordeal or oath drink, he or she was asked why and how the murder was committed. If no answer was given, the person was strung by the thumbs from the branch of a tree, with the feet weighted down by a stone, and beaten by the victim’s kinfolk until a detailed confession was forthcoming. Execution followed.90

This procedure was almost certainly an adaptation in Suriname by Maroon Creoles. Many painful ways were used to put the body to the test and to punish it in the Guinea Coast polities and in the kingdoms of Central Western Africa, as we have seen, but torture to extract a confession is not known to have been one of them. Perhaps Christian missionaries in Kongo or Angola recommended to some of their princely converts the introduction of torture to coerce confession, but if so, it has left no certain traces in the sources.91 In Suriname, the Saramacca Maroons made peace with the colonial government in 1762 and settled down to elaborate their institutions. By the 1770s, most if not all their leading figures were creoles, and in order to deal with the dangerous figure of the sorcerer/poisoner, they took over a European mode of prosecution, drawing their method of torture from a punishment used on the plantations. Possibly, too, the insistence upon confession was not only a practical matter for future peace keeping among the Saramacca Maroons, but was also encouraged by the presence in their midst of the Moravian Brethren. The Brothers won very few converts to Christianity, but those who did abandon their old gods, such as the tribal chief Alabi, embraced the habit of confessing their past false beliefs and “superstitions.” Perhaps this style jumped the border to the devotees of the Afro-Suriname gods.92

I think we see here a divergence between the slave communities on the plantation and the Maroon communities in the rain forest. In the confined space of the slaves’ quarters, torture would have introduced endless disruption among them and would have been impossible to conduct without coming to the ears of the white driver, the manager, and the owner. Might as well stick to the kangra.

But let us turn to a divergence of greater import for the slaves: that between the penalty for a slave who murdered another slave or a white person and a free person who murdered a slave. We have no direct commentary from the slave community, but Stedman expressed indignation. The manager of the plantation L’Espérance, who flogged his neighbor’s slave to death in a frenzy of fury, was greeted with a civil suit for property loss, rather than a criminal suit: he was fined 1200 florins, 500 to the Court and 700 to the neighbor. Stedman noted about this and the killing of other slaves by managers or owners: “It [is] a rule in the colony of Surinam that by paying a fine of 500 florins per head, you are at liberty to kill as many Negroes as you please, with an additional price of their value should they belong to any of your neighbors, and then the murder first requires to be properly proved, which is extremely difficult in this country, where no slave’s evidence is admitted.”93

We can follow this disparity in the story of two murders, their investigation, and outcome: one of a black woman slave by the manager of her plantation, the other of a white plantation owner killed by his black bassia.

In 1743, Benjamin Pousset was the manager of Sinabo, a sugar plantation on Commetuane Creek off the Commewijne River, owned by a Suriname heiress who lived with her Dutch husband in the Netherlands. Pousset had been born in Utrecht and had been a surgeon by trade before coming to Suriname and settling there as manager of Sinabo. Now aged forty-two, he had buried his wife on the plantation five years earlier. Ninety-five slaves were working under his irascible command in the early fall of 1743, but thirty to forty slaves had died not long before. Given scanty provisions by Pousset and inadequate land for their own gardens, many were weak with hunger. And, as the slaves were to tell the story—the carpenter Antyn, the sugar boiler Jafet, and others— Pousset brutally beat the slaves until they were ill, ignoring them as they sickened and died, and even drowned a slave in a nearby creek as punishment. When crossed by his bassia, the cooper Isaac, Pousset replaced him with the malleable Coffy.94

Meanwhile Pousset developed a particular animus—a “pik,” the slaves said—toward the slave woman Serie, accusing her of being a poisoner and responsible for the deaths. Given 200 lashes, Serie still denied the accusation. Pousset ordered a slave woman to hold her to the ground under an orange tree while he burned her ankle and hands until she confessed. Although Serie begged for the torment to stop and screamed that she would rather he kill her, she still denied any guilt.

Pousset had all the slaves summoned from the fields and denounced Serie as a poisoner. The men and women shouted loudly in her defense: she had given no poison to anyone, but had rather brought ten children into the world for the plantation, several of them still alive. Whereupon Pousset beheaded Serie. He ordered his officers to bury the body and dispose of the head, but Serie’s son Sondag, the former bassia Isaac, and two other slaves took the head to Paramaribo and made a complaint to the public prosecutor.

An inquiry was begun by one of the councilors of the criminal court, Hendrik Talbot, owner of a nearby sugar plantation.95 Talbot’s official report, based on his interviews and examination of the plantation record books, confirmed the denial of food at Soribo, and suggests that he  believed the stories of the slaves. The three white men who worked at the plantation—the bookkeeper, a miller, and a carpenter—confirmed Pousset’s ill-treatment of the slaves, and said that he had even bragged about it to them. But they insisted that they had not been present on the plantation at the time of the torture and murder of Serie.

In his interrogation, Pousset denied all wrongdoing, and claimed that the slaves “had it in for” him: some years ago, two of them had even tried to throw him into the sugar kettle. Meanwhile the testimony of slaves against white people had no status in the law: it could not counter Pousset’s denial and could not constitute the kind of “proof” that by the Criminal Code would justify torturing Pousset for a confession. The Court decided not to torture the manager about what he had done to the slave Serie, but was uneasy enough to delay his release until “further deliberation.” As the gods would have it, Pousset died in prison before they could meet.

The Pousset affair moved the public prosecutor to comment to the Directors of the Society of Suriname, “One breaks a slave’s neck here more easily than one drowns a dog back in the fatherland.” He went on to urge reconsideration of the Court’s frequent practice of dismissing the complaints of slaves and sending them back to their masters. Moreover, abusive managers were costly: the twenty-eight slaves that Pousset had let die of hunger deprived the absentee owner of Sinabo of some 12,000 guilders.96 The prosecutor did not discuss the Court’s predicament in regard to Serie’s murder: that Pousset could not be condemned on the basis of testimony from slaves alone. This feature of the law he evidently accepted without question. But his reaction to abuse on the plantation was surely part of the anxiety that finally led to the Court’s ordinance of 1759, which, as we have seen, spelled out the precise limits on the kinds of punishments that could be administered on the plantation.

The second murder illustrates the disparity between slave and master in regard to punishment. Similarly to Van Dyk’s play, it shows the dramatic mixture of social and personal grievance in the lives of slaves. The events took place in February 1750 at Bethlehem, a large plantation on the Commewijne River with approximately 200 slaves tending its coffee bushes. Its owner, Amand Thoma, was of Huguenot ancestry and had long been resident in the colony. A captain in the burger militia and an elder in the French Reformed Church, he was an active figure in local politics, part of the “cabal” of French planters currently challenging the authority of Governor Mauricius. Attentive to his coffee plantation, Thoma was not known as a brutal punisher: he was no Benjamin Pousset, about whose horrors he would have heard from Hendrik Talbot, godfather to one of Thoma’s children. But Thoma did run Bethlehem with a stern hand, arousing the resistance of the slaves by oppressive work schedules and demanding their labor even on Sundays. In late 1749, the bassia Coridon and other Bethlehem leaders began to plot an uprising and an escape with slaves from two nearby plantations “to seek another land.”

But there was more to their complaint. Aged almost sixty and a widower since 1738, Thoma summoned slave women to his bed at night, shifting wives from one man to another to placate the aggrieved husbands. His most important liaison was with Eva, one of the few Amerindian slaves still found on Suriname plantations in her day (a “bokkin,” as Thoma called her, using the settlers’ colloquialism for the indigenous population) and who by February was clearly pregnant. Coridon’s coconspirators later told two different stories about Eva and Coridon. By one, which seems the most likely, Eva was Coridon’s wife. By the other, the master had been calling Coridon’s wife Bellona to his bed, and Coridon had become intimate with Eva out of revenge. In either case, the bassia was jealous of Thoma and wanted Eva’s child to be his own. “If a black child is born,” he said to his fellow slaves, “the master will seek revenge.” On the evening of February 21, 1750, Coridon entered Thoma’s room and killed him while he sat smoking; another slave, Gallien, killed the plantation scribe at his writing desk.97

The plantation was plundered, and all the slaves but the heavily pregnant Eva and a few old people fled Bethlehem to join escapees from the other two plantations. Pursued through the rain forest by many militiamen, a number of the men and women were found, including Gallien, and finally weeks later Coridon himself. Coridon was interrogated in Paramaribo on April 9, and seems to have offered a somewhat improbable testimony that was intended to protect Eva and show the master up as a scoundrel. “The bokkin Eva was not at all guilty and he had no part in her pregnancy.” Nor was he greatly jealous, he claimed, when his master brought his wife Bellona to his bed all the time. His jealousy had been aroused when the master had taken another wife, Bessolina, from him and given her to a black named Hector.98

The captured slaves were summarily questioned and executed, some hanged from the gallows by a chain in their ribs, others burned alive, others broken on the rack. As for Coridon, he was tortured and then his body was pulled apart by four horses on June 17, 1750.99 The executioner would have been a black slave: “the publick executioner . . . in this country [is] always a black,” said Stedman, who would have known that in Amsterdam the public executioner, although still subject to popular infamy, had become a rather well-paid public official. In the colonies, the infamous status of the executioner deepened: in Saint Domingue, for instance, he was always a slave condemned to die, who had been given the chance to live as a hangman. Stedman noted the “commiseration” of the executioner in one of the punishments he witnessed, and perhaps Coridon’s executioner also regarded him with sorrow.100

What then was Coridon’s legacy? Not Eva’s child, who was born of a color that indicated that Thoma was the father. But Samsam, one of his coconspirators, who a year later led a Maroon raid on a Commewijne plantation shouting, “The whites must know that [one of those] who killed Thoma still lives.”101

What legacy might there be from my Suriname account? I have told a story of criminal justice in Suriname, stressing the perceptions and experience of the slaves and the adaptation and reworking of laws and legal practices from Africa and from the Netherlands. Within a framework of “legal pluralism,” three systems coexisted: the well-known punitive regime of masters on the plantation, the public regime of the colonial government, and the relatively hidden world of slave justice, for whose workings I have suggested evidence. In interpreting the latter, I have refrained from characterizing the oath–ordeal tests as simply a primitive stage in an evolutionary scheme, in which the pattern of torture for confession is a higher stage of judicial practice (as it had been conceived to be in Europe after the thirteenth century). Rather I regard the oath–ordeal tests as an alternative possibility. From the slaves’ point of view, an inquisition/torture procedure was not necessarily more just than accusation/ordeal. As the prosecutor conducted interrogations, so the diviner made inquiries before deciding upon an ordeal, and there was much room in interpreting its outcome.

Moreover, the body under the pain of torture d id not produce information for slave justice superior to that of the ordeal.102 The Christian Equiano used the charged term “law of retaliation” in recalling the practices of compensation that his own father had prescribed among the Igbo, for example, giving a slave man or woman to compensate for a kidnapped son.103 Considering other forms of compensation, that is, material objects and services, I put them in another light, as a means to sustain peace within the slave community.

As a second possible legacy of my Suriname account, I would like to switch the geographical perspective for a moment. Let us turn away from the slaves’ experience and the workings of colonial criminal justice with its codes imported from Europe, and ask whether we can detect any influence from colonial legal practices on the criminal law and thought in the mother country. By the mid-eighteenth century, calls for reform of inequalities in the criminal law, judicial procedures, and punishments were heard in the Netherlands as elsewhere in Europe. Were any of them inspired by inequities, cruelties, or inefficacies perceived in the slave colonies?

Information about the activities of the Suriname High Court of Policy and Criminal Justice and of events on the plantations was certainly available in the Netherlands. The Directors of the Society of Suriname received full reports from the Governor and the court prosecutor in Paramaribo; many Dutch had sons and daughters living in Suriname as settlers; Dutch absentee owners of plantations received news from their administrators and managers, not to mention reports sent to the Amsterdam financial houses, which were increasingly holding mortgages on Suriname plantations after the mid-eighteenth century. Suriname settlers were back and forth on every boat between Paramaribo and Amsterdam, some of them with a slave or two in their entourage. Granman Quassy, finally manumitted,made a visit himself to the Netherlands in 1775–1776 and brought back with him the May 1776 ordinance of the Estates General providing that after a stay of six months with his or her master in the Netherlands, a slave was declared free and could return to the colony a free person.104 John Gabriel Stedman returned to Amsterdam in 1777 after his military stint in Suriname, and some months later began to write the account of his years there; he, too, was a source of information about cruel punishment and its asymmetries.105

Yet when we look at references to slavery in Dutch legal texts, we find a curious silence in regard to the plantations in Dutch colonies. For example, in the early eighteenth century, Gerard Noodt, noted for his humanist and rational perspectives on the Roman law, used the prohibition by Diocletian and Maximianus of bargaining in criminal cases to attack a similar practice in the Netherlands: bailiffs, and sometimes even judges, were extorting fees from suspects by which those wealthy enough to pay them could stop prosecution. But a few years earlier, when Noodt wrote his commentary on the right of a slave owner to be reimbursed according to the Lex Aquilea if someone kills his slave, he made no reference to the judicial practices in the slave world currently in the hands of his countrymen.106

Especially interesting are Noodt’s lectures on Book 48 of the Digest at the University of Leiden, in which he attacked the use of judicial torture in contemporary Europe (if he included the topic in his 1717 lectures, Jacob Greenwood from Suriname was among his listeners). Torture had been used against slaves alone in the Roman Republic, and was extended to free persons only under the Empire. But, said Noodt, it was in opposition to natural law and was also a poor form of proof. People bore pain differently; torturers applied their tools differently. And it was unjust, in that it was ordered to discover the truth and to decide whether a penalty should be imposed, but it was often a crueler punishment than what came after. “Therefore it is better that a man should be condemned after being found guilty through witnesses, and absolved if not. For it is better [here Noodt was using a standard phrase in Roman law] to absolve a bad person than to punish an innocent one.”107

In this remarkable lecture, Noodt went beyond the critique of judicial torture by the Utrecht professor Antonius Matthaeus in his 1644 De Criminibus, published just as the Dutch capture of Elmina on the African Coast was facilitating the Dutch West Indies Company’s participation in the slave trade and the delivery of slaves to Dutch sugar plantations in Brazil. Matthaeus’ assessment was pioneering as a legal text and widely read, but he did allow for torture in cases of high treason and to compel the naming of accessories in very serious crimes.108 Both Matthaeus and Noodt, in urging a better way to conduct criminal trials, stayed firmly within the boundaries of Europe.

Cesare Beccaria’s celebrated Dei Deliti e delle Pene (On Crimes and Punishments) of 1764 appeared in Dutch translation in 1768, and sparked much debate in the Netherlands, as elsewhere, with its critique of judicial torture and the death penalty.109 Slavery appeared twice in Beccaria’s argument. After affirming that the “convulsions of pain” made it more difficult to uncover the truth from the face of an accused person, he added, “these truths were known to the Roman legislators, for whom the use of torture was to be limited to slaves, who were denied the status of persons.” Then again, in his refutation of the value of the death penalty, he pointed out how much more effective was the prospect of “the penalty of perpetual slavery” (“la pena di schiavitù perpetua”) as a deterrent to crime than the sudden extinction of death. “A man who sees a great number of years ahead of him, or even the rest of his life, to be spent in slavery (schiavitù) and suffering in the sight of his fellow citizens . . will make a useful comparison between all of this, the uncertain outcome of his crimes, and the brief time during which he would be able to enjoy their fruits.”110

Beccaria had in mind an expansion of European institutions—the remnants of domestic and galley-rowers’ slavery in eighteenth-century Italy and the workhouse/prisons developing in his own day—rather than the hereditary slavery and lives of persons of African descent working on plantations owned by Europeans.111 A similar indifference or inattention to the colonial slave experience is found in the Dutch response to Beccaria’s arguments and in the writings of those Patriots urging enlightened penal reform. For instance, Bavius Voorda, Professor at Leiden, proposed major limits on the use of judicial torture (although by no means its complete abolition) as well as other reforms in his massive 1792 study of the Criminal Code of Philip II, which was still current in the Netherlands. He referred to individual cases and ordinances, to important commentaries on Roman–Dutch law, including Matthaeus, and to French criminalists who urged moderate reform, but he drew nothing from the criminal cases or legal practice of the slave colonies. Voorda’s learned discussion of the initial use of torture in Roman law only on slaves remains tied to the distant past; his commentary on the distinctions made in the Roman law between the status of the “Great” and that of ordinary burghers is confined to the Netherlands and Europe and does not stretch to the free and unfree in the Dutch colonies.112

In 1798, in the heady days of the revolutionary Batavian Republic, judicial torture was abolished in the Netherlands. It was a first step toward the penal reform that in the next years would, among other changes, make free persons, irrespective of their status, more equal in the course of criminal prosecution. But given the pattern we have been following, it does not seem surprising that little or no thought was made of extending these changes to the colonies, or at least not to the slave populations there. Indeed, a year earlier, when a representative to the National Assembly proposed the abolition of slavery in the colonies with a delay of fifteen years, he got little support: the expectation of abolition might enflame a destructive uprising among the slaves and bring damage to owners and to trade and industry in the motherland.113

Suriname planters were surely relieved to learn that abolition would not be foisted on them, as it was for a time on the planters in the neighboring French colony of Cayenne. One of the most enlightened of Suriname settlers, the learned physician David Nassy, published a book in Paramaribo in 1799 entitled Le Principe de l’Égalité parmi les Hommes (The Principle of Equality of Men). A supporter of the Patriots, he argued that equality of rights was not determined by one’s birth, wealth, or religion, and defended the granting of citizenship to the Jews by the Batavian Republic, which, although it had been mandated in 1796, was still the subject of polemic in the Netherlands. Yet in an earlier text of recommendations, Nassy had excepted black slaves from that equality, “for until they have arrived at a certain degree of civilization, the idea of liberty and equality catapults them into an intoxication, which passes only after they have destroyed everything.” Masters were wrong, however, in the “horrible punishments” they wrought on their blacks; instead they should give their slaves proper care so as to prolong their lives and to multiply births among them.114

As for the penal reforms in the Netherlands, they seem not to have been transferred with any dispatch to the Dutch colonies on the “Wild Coast,” as it was called. In 1795, the charter of the Society of Suriname was revoked, and supervision of all the Dutch colonies in the West Indies and along the African coast was given to a governmental Committee for the Affairs of the Colonies. Its supervisory role was soon interrupted by the British seizure of Dutch colonies in the Caribbean so as to keep them out of the hands of the French: in Suriname, English authorities exercised control for almost twenty months in 1799 through 1802 and then again in 1804 through 1815.115 While collecting whatever moneys they could, the English sought information about the local institutions and then left them pretty much as they were. Regarding criminal justice, a long-time inhabitant reported in 1805, “for a capital crime, torture is used when a confession is lacking, though a specific authorization is required.”116

The barrister Jabez Henry can give us further clues to the situation in Suriname, as he served from 1813 to 1816 as commissioner for England over the courts of Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice, which were adjacent to Suriname and were ceded to England in 1814. Henry found these Dutch colonies still following the Criminal Ordinance of Philip II. “The code formed by the Batavian Republic,” he said, “was not acted upon or considered as law at Demerara.” At least the use of judicial torture had stopped there: “the application of the torture . . . to extort confession and complete the proof is now clearly inadmissible,” he wrote, although judges were permitted to use methods such as solitary confinement on bread and water to encourage confession from a recalcitrant accused. When Henry returned to England in 1816, hoping “to effect something in favor of the Negro population in the Dutch colonies,” he especially stressed as a serious problem the continued inadmissibility of the evidence of slaves. White people simply could not be convicted in any case involving a slave.117

A similar situation seems to have prevailed in Suriname. Judicial torture eventually was discontinued, but the bulk of the Criminal Ordinance and the asymmetries in the regard to the testimony and punishment of slaves remained in force. A new criminal code was sent to Suriname only in 1869, six years after emancipation.118 The answer to our initial question, then, is that the practices of criminal justice in regard to slaves in the colonies did not inspire commentary or calls for reform in the Netherlands. Indeed, they operated as a negative counterexample. Dutch commitment to the institution of slavery and racist beliefs served to bracket off that world as one that need not be reformed.

Finally, let us return to Suriname and consider the legacy of the experiences of criminal justice for its slaves and their descendants. We will be led on our path by the curiosity, quest, and imaging of a free man of color, the artist Gerrit Schouten. He was born in Paramaribo in 1779, descendant on his mother’s side of a black grandmother, Bettie van Hannibal, who had been born free shortly after the manumission of her parents. In a long enduring concubinage with a Dutch settler, Bettie had given birth to two children. Her son, Philip Samuel Hanssen, became a law student at Leiden in 1776, the first person of color from Suriname to enroll at that celebrated university; in the next years, he had the chance to hear Bavius Voorda and others expound on the criminal and civil law. Bettie’s daughter, Susanna Johanna Hanssen, was a woman of presence, with talent at the clavichord; she caught the eye of Hendrik Schouten, a young poet and writer from Amsterdam, who had come to Suriname in the mid-1760s. In 1772, Susanna Hanssen and Hendrik Schouten were wed, a marriage that prompted much talk among the settlers: “Schouten, married to the niece of the very rich black woman Nanette Samson,” Governor Nepveu recorded in his journal. Susanna’s family was accustomed to scandal, however: her great-aunt Elizabeth Samson, owner of several plantations, had petitioned all the way to the States-General in the Netherlands in 1764 to win the right for a free black Christian to marry a white Christian. The young Hanssen-Schouten couple kept links with both sides of the family: their oldest son Gerrit was named after his Amsterdam grandfather, while the “very rich black” Nanette Samson was godmother to their two daughters.119

Gerrit Schouten grew up in a household that was a center of intellectual ferment in Paramaribo, his father being a founder of the Society of Suriname Friends of Letters, of which both the lawyer Philip Hanssen and the physician David Nassy were members.120 In such a milieu, Gerrit received encouragement when he turned to art as his calling. By 1812, he was so recognized locally that he was asked to design the monument for the tomb of Suriname’s former Dutch governor Friderici. One of his earliest and most enduring interests, however, was investigating the life of slaves and representing it in dioramas.121 Out of delicately worked painted paper and bits of bamboo and the like emerged tent-boats, with the black rowers at their oars; plantations with slaves working at different tasks, the slave houses clearly shown along with the other dwellings; and a remarkable series of slave dances. In two dance dioramas there are figures that appear to be the black bassia, present but not dancing with the rest.122

In Dirk Valkenburg’s painting of more than a century before, the bassia was a prominent and dignified figure, but dressed as the other slaves; in Schouten’s dioramas, he is still barefoot but wears as ceremonial garb a European uniform. This is reminiscent of the uniforms given by the Suriname government in the late eighteenth century to the tribal chiefs of Maroon groups with whom they had made peace, to indicate their status as official go-betweens.123 Schouten’s image reflects a period when a substantial majority of the slaves were creoles, and the bassia was strengthening his claims to be both an intermediary between master and slave and also a judge and arbitrator of disputes among the slaves.

If the uniformed bassia at the slave dance is a generic figure, we are well informed about the precise identity of three slaves in one of Schouten’s late pictures: Cojo, Mentor, and Present, sentenced to death for setting a huge fire in Paramaribo and other crimes in 1832. By that date Schouten had a close connection with the law: Judge Lammens, president of the Criminal Court, had been an early purchaser of his paintings, and then as a sixty-year old widower in 1827, the judge had married Schouten’s twenty-three- year old daughter, born to the artist and his wife, also a woman of color.124 Although Schouten’s house in Paramaribo was not one of those burned down in the conflagration of 1832, he could follow the story behind the crime as it unfolded, much of it in public pronouncements and hearings.

Slave dance NZD

Figure 7. Slave dance with the bassia in uniform, 1819. Gerrit Schouten,
Slavendans, diorama; Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, Coll. nr. 6371-c. Reproduced
in Clazien Medendorp, Gerrit Schouten (1779–1839) (Amsterdam: Koninklijk
Instituut voor de Tropen and Paramaribo: Stichting Surinaams Museum, 1999),
fig. 28.

A group of slaves, most of them from Paramaribo households, had run away from their owners for fear of punishment after petty losses or small misdeeds. Cojo, a creole approximately thirty years of age, had lost a couple of pennies while buying bread and feared that Missie Peggie Smith, his free black owner with a temper “like a fury,” would give him the Spanish buck. Seven escapees finally ran into each other in the thick bush west of Paramaribo and set up camp there. The first arrivals were Cojo, the twenty-year-old Present, also a creole, and Mentor, about the same age, but born in Africa (although the slave trade had been prohibited by the Dutch government in 1814, smuggling continued apace). The other four ranged in age from the sixty-year-old African Tom and the twenty-five-year-old creole Winst to two teen-aged boys. After committing thefts and setting small fires at nearby plantations, Cojo, Present, and Mentor returned to Paramaribo. The great fire of September 3 grew out their plan to set a small fire in the store of the Jewish tradesman Moses Nunes Montsanto, and steal food during the confusion. Thefts, break-ins, and local fires in the next few weeks led the townspeople to suspect that the great conflagration had been arson rather than an accident. Finally, the teen-ager Frederik was apprehended in the bush near their escapees’ camp. Interestingly enough, the bassias and the slave-watchmen at a neighboring plantation cooperated in his capture; they had decided to turn him in rather than to protect him. The others were then rounded up and imprisoned, and in October the trials began.125

The trial was conducted by the extraordinary process of the old Criminal Code, but with important differences from the eighteenth century. There is no sign that torture was used to extract testimony. Indeed, at one session, when Mentor and Cojo were being questioned together, the African Mentor exclaimed to Cojo in Sranan, “Speak! The whites already know everything, so speak the truth.” The examinations proceeded with greater care than in the Coridon case of eighty years before. “Confrontations” among the slaves, both those accused and others, were held on points of disagreement about events. Cojo even had a confrontation with a free black woman: Cojo said she had given him a hat, Frederika van Puyman said he had stolen it.

No confrontations were held with a white person, however, and no white persons were questioned about the previous punishment of their slaves, although an accused slave accomplice died during the inquiry after being given the Spanish buck by his master, a punishment illegal since 1828. Slave testimony in regard to a white person was still inadmissible.126

What is especially interesting, is that a new story emerged in the course of the interrogations, perhaps planted by the questions of the prosecutor, but also sprouting from seeds in the minds of the slaves. Cojo had initially explained the Paramaribo fire as a diversion to cover the stealing of food, but as he was later testifying before two judges of the Court, he suddenly added that he had wanted to set a fire in Missie Peggie’s house because she punished him. He then expanded: he and his fellows had hoped that once much of the city had been burned to ash and they could become well supplied ith weapons, they would overcome the whites, drive them away, and make themselves masters of the land. The African Tom knew of an abandoned plantation on the Suriname River where they could set themselves up.127

The activities of Cojo, Mentor, and their fellows in Paramaribo— snitching turkeys, pieces of cloth, garments and the like, and then trying to sell them—do not resemble the planning of serious conspirators behind an uprising. Maybe there had been such musings during the long nights at their camp in the bush, or maybe the dream had emerged during their days in prison, prompted by the suspicions of their interrogators. At any rate, the story took hold and was called upon in the severity of the judge’s sentence. There was no prior torture, no stretching on the rack as Stedman had witnessed in the 1770s, but the penalties were still public spectacle—and a huge crowd was to gather to watch the early morning executions on January 26, 1833: whites, free blacks, and slaves. Cojo, Mentor, and Present were to be burned alive on stakes near the house of Montsanto, where the fire had been set. Tom and Winst had been back in the camp during that evening, but they were guilty as runaways, had participated in thefts and burglary, and had supported the conspiracy; they were to be beaten in public and then hanged, their severed heads to be displayed on pikes, their bodies to be buried under the gallows. (Such display after execution had been ended in Europe in 1800 or thereabouts.128) The sixteen-year old Frederik and the fourteen-year-old Christiaan were given lighter sentences because of their youth: to be beaten in public and then to spend the next fifteen years of their lives working the land in chains at Fort New Amsterdam or another military establishment.129

Judge Lammens seems to have been haunted by the three slaves he had sentenced to be burned alive and wanted to capture their image before they died. Or perhaps it was Gerrit Schouten himself who suggested he get their likeness. On January 24, two days before their execution, Schouten visited Cojo, Mentor, and Present and made ink portraits of each of them. The men sat patiently and calmly, unclothed for two hours, while Schouten did his work. Each one has his own distinctive appearance, Mentor being shown with his African markings on his forehead and nose. The three appear engaging rather than sinister, tentative or quizzical rather than fierce. Schouten portrayed human beings, not just dastardly criminals.130

Codjo M P  NZD

Figure 8. Present, Cojo, and Mentor, two days before their execution for arson in
1833. Gerrit Schouten, Present, Cojo, Mentor (1833), ink on paper, Surinaams
Museum Bibliotheek. Reproduced in Medendorp, Schouten, fig. 22 and cat. 179.

Judge Lammens kept the ink drawings closed away in his memoirs to the end of his days. But the public could view Schouten’s pictures of Cojo, Mentor, and Present lithographed in a book entitled The Black Slaves of Suriname, published in the Netherlands in 1842. Its author was Marten Douwes Teenstra, a firm Christian and abolitionist, who spent the years 1828–1834 in Suriname and whose post there gave him familiarity with every step in the conflagration case; some of his belongings were even stolen by the gang. Within a few months of the executions, Teenstra had published a booklet in Paramaribo summarizing the whole affair and its testimonies and sentences, which he then included together with the pictures of the slaves in his later volume. He thought the crimes of the guilty slaves “horrible” and deserving of the death sentence ordered by the court, but denounced the slave system with its outrageous punishments administered by masters on the plantations as responsible for such brutal behavior. He found Cojo an angry, hardened man, but also “handsome and wellfavored”; if he had been a Christian and a free man, he would have had a different destiny. Still, Teenstra was struck by the slaves’ response in Sranan to the pastor who urged them to pray to Jesus for forgiveness. Indifferent to the Christian message, Cojo said “O alla bakkra moese dedé toe,” “Oh, all the white people must die some day, too.” And Present, holding his chained hands up to the stone window frame, affirmed “These stones must one day break.”131

Natalie Zemon Davis

Natalie Zemon Davis is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emerita from
Princeton University and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Toronto
< nz.davis@utoronto.ca>. Among her many publications are The Return of Martin
Guerre (Harvard University Press, 1983), Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales
and their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford University Press, 1987),
The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), Slaves
on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (Vintage Canada and Harvard University
Press, 2000), and Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds
(Hill and Wang, 2006). This article was originally presented in a shorter version as
the 2010 John Ll. J. Edwards Lecture for the Centre of Criminology, University of
Toronto, and she is grateful to colleagues there for their discussion. She thanks Sara
Beam, William A. Christian, Jr., Colin Dayan, Malick Ghachem, Linda Heywood,
Martin Klein, Paul Lovejoy, Melanie Newton, Rebecca J. Scott, and John
K. Thornton for their valuable advice, although none of them is responsible for any
errors in this essay. Her research assistant, Kate Creasey, was of great help in tracking
down sources in the history of Dutch law.



1. John Gabriel Stedman, The Journal of John Gabriel Stedman 1744–1797, ed. Stanbury

Thompson (London: Mitre Press, 1962), 164.

2. I am quoting here from the excellent published edition of Stedman’s Narrative, drawn

from the 1790 manuscript of this text: John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative of a Five Years

Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, ed. Richard and Sally Price

(Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 480–82 (hereafter

Narr90). I have reproduced here the eighteenth-century spelling found in the manuscript,

but not its capitalization and punctuation. The published version of 1796, sometimes considerably

edited by the publisher, is in this instance quite faithful to the original manuscript:

John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative, of a Five Years’ Expedition against the Revolted Negroes

of Surinam, in Guiana on the Wild Coast of South America; from the year 1772 to 1777, 2

vols. (London: J. Johnson, 1796), 2: 208–10 (hereafter Narr96).

3. For an introduction to and further bibliography on the Creole languages of Suriname,

see Eithne B. Carlin and Jacques Arends, eds., Atlas of the Languages of Suriname (Leiden:

KITLV, 2002) and Natalie Zemon Davis, “Creole languages and their uses: the example of

colonial Suriname,” Historical Research 82 (2009): 268–84.

4. Stedman, Journal, 164 (March 22, 1776).

5. Evidence and discussion of slave crime and punishment are found in several sections of

Philip Morgan’s splendid Slave Counterpoint, Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century

Chesapeake and Lowcountry (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina

Press, 1998), 261–67, 385–98, 468–73. An example of material on crime and law in regard

to slaves in nineteenth-century east Africa is Frederick Cooper, Plantation Slavery on the

East Coast of Africa (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977), 164–67.

6. Elsa V. Goveia, The West Indian Slave Laws of the 18th Century, Chapters in

Caribbean History 2 (Barbados: Caribbean Universities Press, first edition 1970, reprinted

1973). Alan Watson, Slave Law in the Americas (Athens and London: University of

Georgia Press, 1989) is a useful examination of diverse legal codes and ordinances by a

specialist in Roman law, although the author’s lack of familiarity with the actual social

and legal practice in the various American colonies leads him to make deductions from

7. Philip J. Schwarz, Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705–

1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988) and Slave Laws in Virginia

(Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1996); Mindie Lazarus-Black, “Slaves,

Masters, and Magistrates: Law and the Politics of Resistance in the British Caribbean,

1736–1834,” in Contested States. Law, Hegemony and Resistance, ed. Mindie

Lazarus-Black and Susan F. Hirsch (New York and London: Routledge, 1994), 252–81;

Mindie Lazarus-Black, Legitimate Acts and Illegal Encounters. Law and Society in

Antigua and Barbuda (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994);

and Diana Paton, “Punishment, Crime, and the Bodies of Slaves in Eighteenth-Century

Jamaica,” Journal of Social History 34 (2001): 923–54. Also see Jane Landers, Black

Society in Spanish Florida (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999),

chap. 8, 183–201, “Crime and Punishment.”

8. For example, Sharla M. Fett, Working Cures. Healing, Health, and Power on Southern

Slave Plantations (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2002);

James H. Sweet, Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the

African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770 (Chapel Hill and London: University of North

Carolina Press, 2003); José C. Curto and Paul E. Lovejoy, eds., Enslaving Connections.

Changing Cultures of Africa and Brazil during the Era of Slavery (Amherst, N.Y.:

Humanity Books, 2004; and Linda M. Heywood and John K. Thornton, Central Africans,

Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585–1660 (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2007), chap. 4, 169–226.


9. Sjoerd Faber, Strafrechtspleging en Criminaliteit te Amsterdam, 1680–1811. De nieuwe

Menslievendheid (Arnhem: Gouda Quint, 1983); Florike Egmond, Underworlds: Organized

Crime in the Netherlands 1650–1800 (Oxford: Polity Press, 1993); and Pieter Spierenburg,

The Spectacle of Suffering. Executions and the Evolution of Repression: From a

Preindustrial Metropolis to the European Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1984).

10. Sally Engle Merry, “Colonial and Postcolonial Law,” in Blackwell Companion to Law

and Society, ed. Austin Sarat (Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 569–

88, quotations 572, 574; and Lauren Benton, Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in

World History 1400–1900 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

11. A still useful general introduction to Suriname is R. A. J. van Lier, Frontier Society. A

Social Analysis of the History of Surinam (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971); and on its

governing structure, G.W. van der Meiden, Betwist Bestuur. Een eeuw strijd om de macht in

Suriname, 1651–1753 (Amsterdam: De Bataafsche Leeuw, 1987). Valuable eighteenthcentury

sources are Jan Jacob Hartsinck, Beschryving van Guiana, 2 vols. (Amsterdam,

1770; facsimile edition, Amsterdam: S. Emmering, 1974), 521–962; David Nassy, Essai historique

sur la colonie de Suriname, 2 vols. (Paramaribo: n. p. [sic for Amsterdam: Hendrik

Gartman], 1788).

12. On the population of Suriname, see Nationaal Archief, The Netherlands (hereafter

NA), Sociëteit van Suriname (hereafter SocSur), 228, f. 391v (census of 1701); Nassy,

Essai historique, 2: 39, note a; National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom (hereafter

NAUK). WO/146, 1v–3v, census figures 1794–1798.

13. Johannes Postma, “Suriname and its Atlantic Connections,” in Riches from Atlantic

Commerce. Dutch Transatlantic Trade and Shipping, 1585–1817, ed. Johannes Postma

and Victor Enthoven (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003), 306, table 11.5.

14. Johannes Postma, The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade 1600–1815 (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1990), 228–32, 257, table 10.13; 395–401, appendix 19.

Willem Bosman, A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea, Divided into

the Gold, the Slave, and the Ivory Coast. . . Written Originally in Dutch. . . and now faithfully

done into English (London: James Knapton and Daniel Midwinter, 1705), 364.

15. Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, Descrição Histórica dos Três Reinos do Congo, Matamba

e Angola, trans. Graciano Maria de Leguzzano, 2 vols. (Lisbon: Junta de Investigações do

Ultramar, 1965). The Capuchin Cavazzi was a missionary priest in the Kongo and Angola

from1654 to 1667; his Istorica descrizione was first published in Italian in Bologna in 1687.

Bosman, Description, A2v; Postma, Dutch, 64, 136, 363–65. Ludewig Ferdinand Rømer, A

Reliable Account of the Coast of Guinea (1760), trans. Selena Axelrod Winsnes (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 2000); Rømer served as agent at Fort Christiansborg in present-day

Accra from 1739 to 1749. William Snelgrave, A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea, and

the Slave Trade (London: James, John, and Paul Knapton, 1734), A3r, 165. John Atkins, A

Voyage to Guinea, Brasil, and the West-Indies; In His Majesty’s Ships, The Swallow and

Weymouth (London: Caesar Ward and Richard Chandler, 1735); Atkins’ voyage took

place in 1721–1723 (255–65). The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,

or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself was first published in London in

1789; I am using here the ninth edition, published in 1794: Olaudah Equiano, The

Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, ed. Vincent Carretta (London and New York:

Penguin Books, 2003). Equiano’s self-description as having been born in Africa was put

into question by Vincent Carretta in 1999, after his discovery of two documents giving

Gustavus Vassa’s birthplace as South Carolina. Critical discussion by Paul Lovejoy and

others on the provenance and functions of these two documents and on the character of

Equiano’s description of Igbo life confirm his birth in what is now southeastern Nigeria.

For a review of the evidence and the bibliography, see James Sweet, “Mistaken

Identities? Olaudah Equiano, Domingos Álvares, and the Methodological Challenges of

Studying the African Diaspora,” American Historical Review, 134 (2009): 279–81, 301–4.

Christian Oldendorp, History of the Mission of the Evangelical Brethren on the

Caribbean Islands of St,. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, ed. J. J. Bossard, trans. Arnold

R. Highfield and Vladimir Barac (Ann Arbor: Karoma Publishers, 1987). Oldendorp’s

charge was to write a history of the missions and their current state; he spent seventeen

16. Paul Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery. A History of Slavery in Africa, 2nd ed.

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 4, 86. Bosman, Description, Letter 10,

155; Letter 11, 167–77; Letter 18, 341; Letter 19, 357. Equiano, Narrative 35, 37.

Heywood and Thornton, Central Africans, 59. Samuel Johnson, The History of the

Yorubas from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate, ed. O.

Johnson (London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1921), 101. Samuel Johnson was a Yoruba

and Christian minister in Oyo in Nigeria. His book, completed in 1897, was based on

Yoruba oral traditions and extensive interviews. European observers do not comment on

the general meaning of “crime” in African societies they visited, that is, on whether

“crime” was thought to pollute a community or put it at odds with the gods and on whether

African general understandings of “crime” resembled those with which they were familiar in

17. Bosman, Description, Letter 10, 148; Equiano, Narrative, 42–43; Oldendorp, History,

176–77; and John Matthews, A Voyage to the River Sierra-Leone, on the Coast of Africa . . .

By John Matthews, Lieutenant in the Royal Navy; during his residence in that country in the

years 1786, 1786, and 1787 (London: B. White and Son and J. Sewell, 1788), 123–24.

18. Jean Barbot, A Description of the Coasts of North and South-Guinea, and of Ethiopia

Inferior, vulgarly Angola in A Collection of Voyages and Travels, 3rd. ed. (London: printed

by Awnsham and John Churchill for Henry Lintot and John Osborn, 1746), 5: 301. The

French Huguenot Barbot was an agent for the Compagnie du Sénégal and made voyages

to the Guinea Coast in 1678–79 and 1681–82. After the revocation of the Edict of

Nantes, he moved to England, where he finished this book shortly before his death in

1713. It was first published by the Churchills in 1732. For an evaluation of the reliability

of Barbot’s work, see Robin Law, “Jean Barbot as a Source for the Slave Coast of West

Africa,” History in Africa 9 (1982): 155–73.

19. Bosman, Description, Letter 10, 149–50. A similar procedure in Sierra Leone: a person

accused of causing another’s death by poison was allowed to escape to the headman of a

nearby village, where he or she proclaimed innocence and asked for a draught test as proof.

The person, wearing only plantain leaves, was placed on a high chair in public, given a little

rice or cola nuts, and then required to drink several quarts of “red water.” If the accused survived,

vomiting up the rice or cola nuts unchanged, and survived other ordeals as well, he or

she was proved innocent. Cavazzi, Descrição, 1: 102–6; Atkins, Voyage, 52–53 on the “red

water” test; and Matthews, Voyage, 125–26. A full description of the “red water” test is

given by the physician Thomas Winterbottom, An Account of the Native Africans in the

Neighbourhood of Sierra Leone, 2 vols. (London: John Hatchard and J. Mawman, 1803),

1: 129–32. Oldendorp, History, 172–73. Rømer described an ordeal in Accra where the

god was present in a specially stuffed snake skin; the accused took some dough placed

on the skin and swallowed it saying, “If I have stolen this or that, then let [the god] kill

me” (Rømer, Account, 100–101). In Loango, a “poison ordeal” was administered by the

mwene nkisi, the religious figure who presided over shrines in different parts of the kingdom

(Heywood and Thornton, Central Africans, 106. The “poison ordeal,” known as benge, was

still being administered to attest to innocence or guilt among the Nzakara people in the

Central African Republic in the 1960s (Anne Retel-Laurentin, Oracles et ordalies chez les

Nzakara [Paris and The Hague: Mouton, 1969], 25–31, 72–84).

20. Sweet, Recreating Africa, 122–24; Cavazzi, Descrição, 1:109; Matthews, Voyage,

134–35; Rømer, Reliable Account, 101; and Oldendorp, History, 101 (“the suspect must

attempt to lift a red hot iron ring out of a pot three times with his bare hands”). Cavazzi

reported an additional version of the heat test in the Kongo, the mbau, where a hot iron

was placed on different parts of the body; if the accused was innocent, the heat would

not hurt the skin; a person whom the diviner wanted to help would be given a special ointment

to protect him or her (Descrição, 1:104).. Rømer observed the bodily heat ordeal

among the Akan—drawing a glowing knife over the arm (p. 101)—while a slave from

the Loango region reported to Oldendorp that a diviner there used “a red hot knife,” rubbed

along the suspect’s leg (p. 173).

21. Bosman, Description, Letter 21, 450–52; and Rømer, Reliable Account, 101. Bosman

also witnessed an eye test while he was visiting the kingdom of Benin: a diviner put “green

juice” into the eyes of the accused; if the eyes became red and inflamed, he or she was guilty

(451). Matthews reported an eye test from Sierra Leone: the diviner splashed water from a

pot over which pepper had been suspended into the eyes of the accused. If the accused was

guilty, the eyes would be covered with white film and sight would be lost (Matthews,

Voyage, 134–35.

22. Cavazzi, Descrição, 1: 104. Atkins, Voyage, 52–53; and Rømer, Account, 101.

23. Bosman, Description, Letter 19, 359; and Barbot, Description, 5:337–38. Bosman

also describes a river test in more dangerous waters in the Kingdom of Benin (Letter 21,


24. Description of such assemblies for judgment can be found in Cavazzi, Descrição, 1:

155–58; Bosman, Description, Letter 11, 165–67; Letter 19, 357, 359; and Equiano,

Narrative, 33; his father was one of the local elders or “Embrenché,” “who decided disputes

and punished crimes . . . The proceedings were generally short.”

25. Bosman, Description, Letter 10, 155; Letter 11, 167–77; Letter 12, 201; Letter 19,

352; Letter 21, 442, 449–50, 452; Jean-Baptiste Labat, Voyage du Chevalier Des

Marchais en Guineée, isles voisines, et à Cayenne, Fait en 1725, 1726, 1727, 4 vols.

(Paris: Saugrain, 1730), 2: 81; Snelgrave, New Account, 158; Atkins, Voyage, 204–205,

216–17; 231–32; Equiano, Narrative, 33; Oldendorp, History, 172, 177; A.F.C. Ryder,

“Dutch Trade on the Nigerian Coast during the Seventeenth Century,” Journal of the

Historical Society of Nigeria 3 (1965): 201; and Lovejoy, Transformations, 89.

26. Jan Vansina, “Confinement in Angola’s Past,” in A History of Prison and Confinement

in Africa, ed. Florence Bernault (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003), 62; Francis Moore,

Travels into the Inland Parts of Africa (London: Edward Cave, 1738), 42; and Ryder,

“Dutch Trade,” 196.

27. Equiano, Narrative, 37.

28. Snelgrave, New Account, 158; Atkins, Voyage, 176–77; Oldendorp, History, 177;

Lovejoy, Transformations, 88–89; and Heywood and Thornton, Central Africans, 223.

29. Vansina, “Confinement,” 57–59, 61–62; Thierno Bah, “Captivity and Incarceration in

Nineteenth-Century West Africa,” in History of Prison, ed. Bernault, 70–71, 76; and Arnold

W. Lawrence, Trade Castles and Forts in West Africa (London: Cape, 1963), 190; in the

mid-eighteenth century, the Cape Coast Castle, belonging to the English Company of

Merchants, included a room to be used as a “prison for criminals,” adjacent to rooms for

artisans and for soldiers. On the hut for menstruating women: Bosman, Description,

Letter 12, 210; and Equiano, Narrative, 42.

30. Examples of extreme cruelty in execution in the kingdom of Axim in Bosman,

Description, Letter 11, 169; in the kingdom of Hueda, Letter 19, 357–58; William Smith,

A New Voyage to Guinea (London: John Nourse, 1744), 204; and among the Amina people

of the Gold Coast region, punishing an adulterous woman of high status, Oldendorp,

History, 172. Vansina, “Confinement,” 61; in the 1640s, the Queen Njinga of Kongo instituted

mutilation of the genitals as punishment for infidelity among her male consorts, “but

this is a unique case, and the queen subsequently abandoned this practice.” On emasculation

as punishment of the royal eunuchs of Oyo, see Johnson, History, 60 and Robin Law, The

Oyo Empire c. 1600-c.1836. A West African Imperialism in the Era of the Atlantic Slave

Trade (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 70. Barbot claims that male adulterers near the

Gold Coast European settlement of Little Comendo had one of their ears cut off

(Description, 5:300). On marks of scarification and their meaning, see Oldendorp,

History, 169–70; Johnson, History, 104–9; and Paul Lovejoy, “Scarification and the Loss of

History in the African Diaspora,” in Activating the Past: History and Memory in the Black

Atlantic World, ed. Andrew H Apter and Lauren H. Derby (Newcastle upon Tyne:

Cambridge Scholars, 2010), 99–138. Visiting Yorubaland in 1828, Richard Lander reported

that men found guilty of very serious robbery had their scarification cut off and replaced by

the scarification of another people, after which they were driven to the coast and sold to slave

traders (Richard Lander, Records of Captain Clapperton’s Last Expedition to Africa, 2 vols.

[London: Frank Cass, 1967], 1: 283–84). This is a single and late mention, however; there is

no indication of such facial disfigurement in the descriptions that come from Caribbean

observers in the eighteenth century.

31. Bosman, Description, Letter 19, 364; Postma, Dutch, 237–38; Lawrence, Trade

Castles, 158; and Robin Law, Ouidah. The Social History of a West African Slaving

‘Port’1727–1892 (Athens: Ohio State University Press and Oxford: James Curry, 2004),


32. “Portable prison” in Alexander Geddes, An Apology for Slavery: or Six Cogent

Arguments against the Immediate Abolition of the Slave Trade (London: J. Johnson

and R. Faulder, 1792); “floating dungeon” in James Stanfield, The Guinea Voyage, A

Poem in Three Books (London: James Phillips, 1789). Stanfield was a critic of the

slave trade, who had made such a voyage. Both men are quoted by Marcus Rediker,

The Slave Ship. A Human History (New York: Viking, 2007), 45 and 370, n. 12.

Bosman, Description, Letter 19, 364. Robert Harms, The Diligent. A Voyage through

the Worlds of the Slave Trade (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 250–53. and Law,

Ouidah, 141–44. On the prison features of the Danish slave ship Fredensborg, departing

from Fort Christiansborg in Accra in 1768 with 260 slaves, see Leif Svalesen, The Slave

Ship Fredensborg, trans. Pat Shaw and Selena Winsnes (Bloomington and Indianapolis:

Indiana University Press, 2000), 92, 105.

33. Postma, Dutch, Appendix 8, 366–67. Similarly, the instructions of the Danish Guinea

Company to the captain of slave boats read: “It is recommended to the Captain that the greatest

importance is attached to the conservation of the slaves. He shall personally and

frequently see to it that the officers ensure their proper treatment on board the ship, and that

no member of the crew strikes or kicks them” (Svalesen, Fredensborg, 102).

34. Snelgrave, New Account, 163, 168–73. Harms, Diligent, 314–15 on different practices

in regard to shackling male slaves once the boat was on the high seas: “perhaps the most

common practice . . . was to watch the captives closely and reward the ones who seemed

most cooperative by removing their shackles.” The captain of the Fredensborg punished

the slaves involved in a planned rebellion by beatings and by placing them in both ankle

and wrist irons connected to long chains (Svalesen, Fredensborg, 114).

35. Snelgrave, New Account, 187, warning another ship captain “that he had on board so

many Negroes of one town and language.” Equiano, Narrative, 56–57; Rediker, Slave Ship,

276–79, 303–6; and Bosman, Description, Letter 9, 130–31. According to the linguist

Norval Smith, “it is well known that West African Pidgin Portuguese was spoken on the

Gold Coast until the 18th century . . . and on the Slave Coast even longer” (“Pernambuco

to Surinam 1654–1665,” in Spreading the Word. The issue of diffusion among the

Atlantic Creoles, ed. Magnus Huber and Mikael Parkvall (Westminster: University of

Westminster Press, 1999), 293. Rømer speaks of “Negro-Portuguese terms” during his

years at Fort Christiansborg (Reliable Account, 164–65). Winterbottom, Account, 1: 211–

12; and Christian Ludwig Schumann, Saramaccanisch Deutsches Wörter-Buch (1778; hereafter

SD Wörter-Buch), in Die Sprache der Sarmakkaneger in Surinam, ed. Hugo

Schuchardt (Amsterdam: Johannes Müller, 1914), 102: “sippi, skippi Schiff,

36. Harms, Diligent, 315–16; Svalesen, Fredensborg, 86; Rømer, Reliable Account, 199;

and Rediker, Slave Ship, 270–73, 307.

37. Snelgrave, New Account, 97–106.

38. The classic introductory text is Goveia, West Indian Slave Laws. Further description of

laws regarding masters’ treatment of slaves in Jamaica in Diana Paton, “Punishment,” 926–

27; in Antigua and the Leeward Islands in Lazarus-Black, Legitimate Acts, 33–34; and in the

British Caribbean more generally in Lazarus-Black, “Slaves,” 258–59. On the importance of

masters being specifically forbidden to “torture” their slaves in the French Code Noir of

1695, see the major study of Malick Ghachem, “Prosecuting Torture: The Strategic Ethics

of Slavery in Pre-Revolutionary Saint-Domingue (Haiti),” 985–1029, in this same issue of

Law and History Review. Article 42 of the Code Noir reads: “Pourront pareillement les

Maîtres, lorsqu’ils croiront que leurs Esclaves l’auront mérité, les faire enchaîner et les

faire battre de verges, ou de cordes, leur deffendant de leur donner la torture, ni de faire

aucune mutilation de membres . . . ”

39. Van Lier, Frontier Society, 128; and J. A. Schiltkamp and J. Th. de Smidt, eds., West

Indisch Plakaatboek. Plakaten, Ordonnantiën en andere Wetten, uitgevaardigd in Suriname

1667–1816 (hereafter Plakaten), 2 vols. (Amsterdam: S. Emmering, 1973), no. 556, articles

15–17 (December 27, 1759); no. 876, articles 13–14 (August 31, 1784).

40. Van Lier, Frontier Society, 134, quoting from the minutes of the High Court of Policy

and Criminal Justice, September 29, 1762.

41. Petrus Dittelbach, Verval en Val der Labadisten (Amsterdam: Daniel van den Dalen,

1692), 55; J.D. Herlein, Beschryvinge van de Volk-Plantinge Zuriname (Leeuwarden:

Meindert Injema, 1718), 112; Hartsinck, Beschryving, 916; Van Lier, Frontier Society,

127; Goveia, West Indian Slave Laws, 51; and Alex van Stipriaan, Surinaams Contrast.

Roofbouw en overleven in een Caraïbische plantagekolonie 1750–1863 (Leiden: KITLV,

1993), 371–73.

42. Pieter van Dyk, “Het Leeven en Bedryf van een Surinaamsze Directeur, met de

Slaaven, op een Koffi-Plantagie,” in Nieuwe en Nooit Bevoorens Geziene onderwyzinge

in het Bastert Engels, of Neeger Engels (Amsterdam: Widow of Jacobus van Egmont, n.

d. [ca. 1765]) reprinted with English translation in Jacques Arends and Matthias Perl,

43. Stedman’s defense of slavery as an institution, as long as it is humanely conducted, in

Stedman, Narr90, 168–74, 533–36; and Narr96, 1: 201–7, 2: 279–81. For an insightful discussion

of the character and impact of Stedman’s pictures of punishment in the setting of late

eighteenth-century sensibility and theories of the sublime, see Mario Klarer, “Humanitarian

Pornography: John Gabriel Stedman’s Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the

Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796),” New Literary History 36 (2005): 559–87.

44. John Gabriel Stedman, “The Progress of Modern Ambition, or the Outlines of a

Military Life, being a genuine Narrative founded on facts by John Gabriel Stedman Esq,”

James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota, MS 1772oSt, 2r-v. Stedman was glad

that he was “unmercifully whipped” by his father for his petty thefts as a boy as it “cured

[him].” Sent from the Netherlands to Scotland at age eleven to live with his uncle,

Stedman was neglected by his uncle and got into mischief with “bad companions,” breaking

into the church to steal the parson’s pigeons and getting into street fights. Here he was beaten

once again, “sometimes for things actually done, sometimes for not”(3r-v).

45. Stedman, Journal, 132 (August 27, 1773), 143 (January 29, 1774), 145 (March 7,

1774), and 150 (April 17, 1774).

46. Stedman, “Progress,” 28r-v.

47. Stedman, Narr90, 39, 94–96, 264–68; Narr96, 1:15, 94, 325–29 (the editor changed

Stedman’s “despisable executioner” to “detestable executioner”; Journal, 150 (April 17 and

23, 1774), 152 (June 29, 1774), and 185 (September 7, 1776).

48. Stedman, Narr90, 94, 366; Narr96, 1:93, 2:59. NA, Suriname Oud Notarieel Archief

(hereafter SONA), Burgerlijke Stand, Reformed marriages, vol. 1, p. 262. G. Debien and J.

F.Kraal, “Esclaves et plantations de Surinam vus par Malouet, 1777,” West-Indische Gids 36

(1955): 57–58. Pierre-Victor Malouet (1740–1814) served as an administrator in the colony

of Saint Domingue for several years and then for a time in Guyane. He wrote of Mrs.

Godefroy’s plantation also in his Collection de Mémoires et Correspondances officielles

sur l’Administration des Colonies, Et notamment sur la Guiane française et hollandaise,

5 vols. (Paris: Baudouin, l’an X [1802]), 3:43: “J’avois vu chez madame Geoffroy cing

cens esclaves ne connoître d’autre bonheur que celui de la servir, et son atelier gémissant

sur le sort d’un domestique qu’elle avoit par punition chassé de sa presence.”

49. I am making a major study of this plantation over several decades in my current book

Braided Histories: Four Generations of a Slave Family in Colonial Suriname. The documents

being analysed here are NA, SONA 194, pp. 950–990; SONA 202, pp. 605–43,

and SONA 695, pp. 497–516. Fauquemberg was sold to a new owner in 1768, who was

unable to finance his purchase properly; Kruythoff was replaced by a succession of managers,

and in early 1772 the most important male slaves fled the plantation for the

Maroons (SONA, 240, pp. 587–612).

50. Wim Hoogbergen, The Boni Maroon Wars in Suriname (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990),

34–35; and Harry van den Bouwhuijsen, Ron de Bruin, and Georg Horeweg, Opstand in

Tempati, 1757–1760 (Utrecht: Instituut voor Culturele Antropologie te Utrecht, 1988),

13–16, 64.

51. For the existence of “courts that slaves convened among themselves” in Jamaica,

Antigua, and other places in the British West Indies, see Lazarus-Black, “Slaves,” 260–

61. Philip Schwarz makes interesting speculation about the slaves of Virginia “develop

[ing] their own customary law . . . rules to which slaves commonly attempted to bind themselves,

as opposed to those regulations to which masters tried to force slaves’ conformity.”

But he considers that the slaves “obviously could not transfer the laws and judicial institutions

of their homelands to the New World “(Slave Laws, 52–53). I will be here considering

“judicial” practices and processes among the slaves, some of them carried over in

adapted form from Africa.

52. Bosman, Description, Letter 13, 231 (burial of slaves with kings in Gold Coast polities);

and Letter 21, 450. On the burial of slaves with the king of Dahomey and other royal

sacrifice of slaves, see Melville J. Herskovits, Dahomey. An Ancient West African Kingdom,

2 vols. (New York: J. J. Augustin, 1938), 2:53–55. Burial of the “life-slaves” with the king

of the Akim along the Gold Coast in Rømer, Account, 184.

53. Martin A. Klein, Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa (Cambridge and

New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), chap. 2, especially 1–15, quotations

drawn from 2, 5, 13. Klein’s evidence moderates the harsher and more schematic view of

Claude Meillassoux in his pioneering Anthropologie de l’esclavage. Le ventre de fer et d’argent

(Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1986), 117–18, 270–72. Klein’s view is consistent

with the overall picture of slave regimes in Africa given by Paul Lovejoy,

“Relationships of Dependency, 1600–1800,” in Transformations in Slavery. A History of

Slavery in Africa, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 112–39.

54. Oldendorp, History, 220; and Stedman, Narr90, 175; and Narr96, 1:207.

55. Van Dyk gives the Neger Engelsche bassia for the Dutch word officier (“Leeven,”

168, 174); a 1798 language book gives basja and basian for the Sranan and bastiaan for

the Dutch translation (G. C. Weygandt, Gemeenzaame Leerwyze om het Basterd of

Neger-Engelsche [Paramaribo: W. W. Beeldsnyder, 1798], 137–38). The word is connected

with the Dutch baas. Hartsinck, Beschryving, 916 (“bomba”).

56. On the black drivers, see Stipriaan, Surinaams Contrast, 276–83; Gert Oostindie,

Roosenburg en Mon Bijou. Twee Surinaamse plantages, 1720–1870 (Dordrecht and

Providence: Foris Publications, 1989), 67, 105–106, 165–66; Rudi Otto Beeldsnijder,

“Om werk van jullie te hebben”: Plantageslaven in Suriname 1730–1750 (Utrecht:

Instituut voor Culturele Antropologie te Utrecht, 1994), chap. 7; NA, SONA 194,

pp. 982, 984; SONA 202, pp. 632–33; and SONA 695, p. 509. Of the many plantation

inventories I have examined, I have found only one, La Confiance on the Suriname

River, where in 1752 one of the two bassias was described as “mulat” (NA, SONA 193,

pp. 855–70).

57. Stipriaan, Surinaams Contrast, 278; and Van Dyk, “Leeven,” 166, 184–85, 18–88.

Thomas Pistorius, Korte en Zakelyke Beschryvinge van de Colonie van Zuriname

(Amsterdam: Theodorus Crajenschot, 1763), 90: the black officer must not be malicious

or arrogant. Weygandt, Gemeenzaame Leerwyze, 138.

58. Stipriaan, Surinaams Contrast, 277–78; Hoogbergen, Boni Maroon Wars, 26, 33, 69,

89–90, 132–33. The slave revolt on the Danish island of St. John had black drivers or bombas

in its leadership.

59. Dirk Valkenburg, Slave Play in Suriname (ca. 1797), Den kongelige Maleri-og

Skulptursamling, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, KMS inv. 376. On

Valkenburg’s stay in Suriname and on the Winti dance being portrayed in the painting,

see Natalie Zemon Davis, Women on the Margins. Three Seventeenth-Century Lives

(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 190–91.

60. For example, during the period from 1730 to 1750, five slaves on the plantation

Vlammenburg on the Commewijne River claimed their bassia was a poisoner. In 1735,

on the sugar plantation Crawassibo on the Commewijne with 133 slaves, the bassia

Mingo was accused of poisoning a female field slave. He claimed that earlier she had dissimulated

serious illness, and therefore when she had become actually ill, she was not

taken seriously, and she died. Although Mingo’s story was believed by the court, it is

clear that he was not on good terms with his co-slaves. Beeldsnijder, Plantageslaven, chap. 7;


(accessed July 7, 2010). The Nationaal Archief Suriname had this website in July 2010. Since

that date, the website has been suspended for reconstruction. The date at which the website will

be reopened and its new address are still unknown (email letters from Audrey Koenders and

Tanya Sitaram of the Nationaal Archief Suriname, December 8–10, 2010). Readers seeking

further information about material derived from this website can contact me.

61. Oostindie, Roosenburg, 100–107, 164–66; Oldendorp, History, 225–26; NA, SONA,

202, pp. 632, 634–35; and SONA, 228, pp. 9–37 (“Amiba officieresse”). On the “slave mistress”.

. . “who acquiesced to her master’s demands but also used the privileges she wrested

from her master to benefit her enslaved compatriots,” see Trevor Burnard, Master, Tyranny,

and Desire. Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World (Chapel Hill

and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 228–29.

62. Hartsinck, Beschryving, 904; Stedman, Narr90, 521; Narr96, 2: 262–63; and Nassy,

Essai historique, 2:64–69. Using an example from the 1820s, Humphrey Lamur has

suggested that the role of driver and priest were combined (Stipriaan, Surinaams

Contrast, 282). This may well be the case some of the time in the nineteenth century,

when diviners were reacting to the increase in Christian missionary actitivity on the plantations,

but in the eighteenth century, what evidence we have suggests these are ordinarily separate

63. Frank Dragtenstein, “Trouw aan de Blanken.” Quassie van Nieuw Timotibo, twist en

strijd en de 18de eeuw in Suriname (Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2004); Stedman, Narr90,

581–82; Narr96, 2: 346–48; Natalie Zemon Davis, “Stedman’s Suriname Book in Sweden,”

in Vänskap over Gränser. En Festkrift till Eva Österberg, eds. Kenneth Johansson and Marie

Lindstedt Cronberg (Lund: Historiska institutionen, Lunds Universitet 2007), 85–86; and

Nassy, Essai, 2: 69–70.

64. Van Dyk, “Leeven,” 205–6.

65. Margot van den Berg, “‘Mi no sal tron tongo’: Early Sranan in court records, 1667–

1767,” Master’s thesis, University of Nijmegen, 2000, 43–45; available on her website

http://home.hum.uva.nl/oz/vandenbergm/ (accessed December 5, 2010). Nationaal Archief

Suriname web site, Plantations, “Palmeniribo aan de Surinamerivier,” http://archiefsuriname.

com/geschiedenis/plantages/surinamerivier/palmeniribo (accessed July 7, 2010; see note 60

above); and J. M. Van der Linde, Surinaamse Suikerheren en hun Kerk (Wageninen: H.

Veenman and Sons, 1966), 126–27. The previous owner of Palmeniribo, the former governor

Jan van Scharphuisen, was Reformed, but the plantation was adjacent to those with Jewish

proprietors; communication among adjacent slave populations may have led to Saturday

being viewed as a day free from work. In any case, Scharphuisen acknowledged Saturdays

off in his testament of 1699. Palmeniribo then passed to Scharphuisen’s niece, the daughter

of a Reformed pastor, and to her husband, Jonas Witsen of Amsterdam. In 1706 Witsen

sent Dirk Valkenburg to the plantation as “book-keeper, scribe, and painter,” and the painter

must have been an important figure during the uprising.

66. Christian Ludwig Schumann, Neger-Englisches Wörterbuch (1783), as quoted in

Arends and Perl, Creole Texts, 16; and Margot van den Berg and Jacques Arends, “Court

Records as a Source of Authentic Early Sranan,” in Creoles, Contact and Language

Change: Linguistics and Social Implications, eds. G. Escure and A. Schwegler

(Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publications, 2004), 22.

67. Van Dyk, Bastert Engels, 119; Jean Nepveu, “Annotations op de Surinaaamsche

Beschrijvinge van Anno 1718” (1770), in Arends and Perl, Creole Texts, 79; Schumann,

SD Wörter-buch, 24, 78, 79, 83; and Johannes Andreas Riemer, “Wörterbuch zur

Erlernung der Saramakka-Neger-Sprache (1779),” in Arends and Perl, Creole Texts, 287,

306, 314.

68. Stedman, Narr90, 524; Narr96, 2:265; Schumann, SD Wörter-buch, 65–66, 75–76,

89; and Riemer, “Wörterbuch,” 284, 301, 325. On theft among slaves in other plantation

societies, see Burnard, Master, 164–66, 200; and Morgan, Slave Counterpoint, 113.

69. Van Dyk, “Leeven,” 184–85, 189, 196–98: Filida is forced to have sex with the manager,

and her husband is flogged at his orders. The husband weeps while being whipped

“saying [the manager] had raped his wife” and then swallows his tongue to commit suicide.

Filida accuses the master “you killed my husband so I could be your whore” and escapes

from the plantation. Stedman, Narr90, 271; Narr96, 1:335; Narr90, 529: “If a Negro and

his wife have never so great an attachment to each other, the woman, if handsome, must

yield to the loathsome embraces of a rascally manager, or see her husband cut to pieces

by the whip for daring to think of preventing it”; and Narr96, 2: 273. Bouwhuijsen et al.,

Opstand, 115: a Maroon, explaining why slaves run away, includes among the reasons

that the drunken manager “kisses our wives,” “soent [sic for zoent] onse wijven.” And

see below, Coridon’s murder of the owner Thoma in conflict over his wife.

70. Stedman, Narr90, 526; and Narr96, 2:268: the editor has cut Stedman’s whole phrase

from the manuscript, which in the published version reads “they are also susceptible of the

tender passion, and jealousy in their breasts has produced the most dreadful effects.”

71. Stipriaan, Surinaams Contrast, 314–15, 315, table 46; Oostindie, Roosenburg, 133,

table 2; Stedman, Narr90, 536 (Stedman adds that such separation happened less often

among the slaves than among married couples in Europe); and Narr96, 2:281. On polygyny

among the Saramacca Maroons, see Schumann, SD Wörter-buch, 66; Sally Price, Cowives

and Calabashes, 2nd ed. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), chap. 3, 77–78;

and Richard Price, Alabi’s World (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press,

1990), 382–83 (Price’s research on the Saramacca Maroons leads him to conclude that “the

proportion of adult men who, at any given time had two or more wives [was] closer to 20

percent”). The word for “co-wife” does not appear in the Neger Engelsche vocabularies for

kinship drawn by Van Dyk from the plantations or by Weygandt from slaves and free blacks

also associated with Paramaribo. On the general picture: Barbara Bush, Slave Women in

Caribbean Society 1650–1838 (Kingston: Heinemann Publishers; Bloomington and

Indianapolis: Indiana University Press; London: James Curry, 1990), 84–102. On the picture

in different regions: Bernard Moitt, Women and Slavery in the French Antilles 1635–1848

(Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2001), 25–33 on gender imbalance

in the slave trade (gender ratio is roughly equal or a slight predominance of men

until the late eighteenth century); mention of some polygamy in Saint-Domingue in the

late eighteenth century, when women were beginning to outnumber men on some plantations

(32, 84). In Jamaica: Burnard, Master, 162–64 (slave Maria has serial lovers or marriages).

In Antigua, Lazarus-Black, Legitimate Acts, 87–88. In Barbados: Hilary McD Beckles,

Natural Rebels: A Social History of Enslaved Black Women in Barbados (New

Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989), 118–21; and Hilary McD Beckles, Centering

Woman. Gender Discourse in Caribbean Slave Society (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers;

Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers; Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 1999), 3–8: in

Barbados, exceptionally among Caribbean slave societies, female slaves were more numerous

than male already in the seventeenth century, and Beckles finds a mixture of polygynous

and monogamous unions there.

72. Hartsinck, Beschryving, 778; Opstand, 9; Wim Hoogbergen, “The History of the

Suriname Maroons,” in Resistance and Rebellion in Suriname: Old and New (Studies in

Third World Societies Publication 43 (Williamsburg VA: Department of Anthropology, college

of William and Mary, 1990), 77; Stedman, Narr90, 525; Narr96, 2:266–67; and Price,

Alabi’s World, 159.

73. Johannes Andreas Riemer, “Riemers Mitteilungen über die Freineger und ihre Sitten

und Gewohnheiten,” in Die Mission der Brüdergemeine in Suriname und Berbice im achtzehnten

Jahrhundert, 3 vols., ed. Fritz Staehelin (Paramaribo: C. Kersten for the

Missionsbuchhandlung in Herrnhut, 1913), vol. 3, part 2, 267–68; and Price, Alabi’s

World, 375. Equiano noted in his description of the corpse impelling the coffin-bearers

toward the guilty party, which he had seen in his Igbo village, that “[it] is still used by

the negroes in the West Indies” (Interesting Narrative, 42, 245 n. 69). It was also practiced

among slaves in Antigua, [ Mrs. Flannagan], Antigua and the Antiguans. A Full Account of

the Colony and its Inhabitants from the Time of the Caribs to the Present Day. 2 vols.

(London: Saunders and Otley, 1844; reprint London Spottiswoode: Ballantyne, 1967) 2:


74. Hartsinck, Beschryving, 906; Nassy, Essai historique, 2:74; Stedman, Narr90, 582;

Narr96, 2 : 346; and Dragtenstein, Quassie, 33.

75. Schumann, SD Wörter-buch, 76; Riemer, “Wörterbuch,” 301–2; Riemer, “Mitteilungen,”

in Staehelin, Mission, vol. 3, part 2, 265–66; and Price, Alibi’s World, 373–74.

76. Riemer, “Mitteilungen,” in Staehelin, Mission, vol. 3, part 2, 266: “Schwurtrank”


77. Sweet, Recovering Africa, 120–23; and Nassy, Essai historique, 2: 69–70.

78. Quoted by Dennis Forsythe, “Race, Colour and Class in the British West Indies,” in

The Commonwealth Caribbean into the Seventies, ed. A. W. Singham (Montreal: McGill

University Centre for Developing-Area Studies and Washington D. C.: Howard

University Committee on Caribbean Studies, 1975), 21.

79. See also the role assigned the cook Lukresia in Van Dyk, “Leeven,” 205 (Lukresia at

the slave meeting); 216–17 (Lukresia’s important role when the owners finally arrive). An

example of women having a formal voice in local governance in African polities is found

in provincial towns in Yorubaland. As described by Samuel Johnson (History, 77), “The

Iyalode, i.e. queen of the ladies, is a title bestowed upon the most distinguished lady in

the town . . . Some of these Iyalodes command a force of powerful warriors, and have a

voice in the council of the chiefs.” Possibly the Iyalode participated in the decisions regarding

punishment. Robin Law does not mention the Iyalodes in his study of the Kingdom of

Oyo, although he does talk of the Iya Oba, or King’s Mother, at court, who sometimes

served as a regent during the king’s minority (Oyo Empire, 70–71). Catherine

Coquery-Vidrovitch discusses African queens and gives several examples of women who

served as chiefs in different parts of black Africa. She also calls attention to the power

women could acquire in those societies that were matrilineal (Les Africaines. Histoire des

femmes d’Afrique noire du XIXe au XXe siècle [Paris: Editions Desjonquères, 1994],

chap. 4, 64–81). Women diviners, when called upon for an ordeal, also played an important

part in criminal justice in African polities. Most often, however, the councils deciding on

punishment seem to have been composed of men.

80. Staehelin, Mission, vol. 3, part 1, 337–38; Riemer, “Mitteilungen,” in ibid., vol. 3, part

2, 270–72; Hoogbergen, Boni Maroon Wars, 45, 66, 188; and Price, Alabi’s World, 159–62,

373 n. 38 Example of slaves on plantation Jaglust denouncing one of their numbers to the

owner as a poisoner; the owner decided to sell him for the good price of 1000 guilders rather

than turning him over to the government for prosecution (Stipriaan, Surinaams Contrast,

281). The yielding up of poisoners by their co-slaves to plantation authorities is suggested

by an article in the plantation ordinance of 1759: it prohibited managers from initiating

an inquiry on their own of “witchcraft or poisoning (wissi off vergift), of which one black

accuses another out of revenge and without proof”; the manager must instead report such

rumors to the owner (Plakaten, no. 556, art. 17 [December 27, 1759]).

81. Hartsinck, Beschryving, 824–26, 875, 882–84; Nassy, Essai historique, 2: 31; Van

Lier, Frontier Society, 47; and Van der Meiden, Betwist Bestuur, 91–92. Searching the register

of the University of Leiden, I found twenty-five men from Suriname signing up for

studies in law during the entire eighteenth century. Some of them, such as Samuel Paul

Pichot (inscribed 1733), were from major plantation families and played an important role

in the government, others not (Guillaume Du Rieu, ed. Album Studiosorum Academiae

Lugduno Batavae MDLXXV-MCCCCLXXV [The Hague: Martin Nijhoff, 1875]). Ten students

from Suriname registered for studies in law at the University of Utrecht during the

eighteenth century (Gert Oostindie and Emy Maduro, Antillianen en Surinamers in

Nederland, 1634/1667–1954 [Dordrecht: Foris Publications, 1986], 30). In 1821, the

English barrister Jabez Henry commented on the judicial expertise of those administering

the criminal law in neighboring Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice, which had passed to

the British in 1814 and which he had observed as commissioner there: “The persons called

upon by the constitution of the Dutch colonies . . . to be familiar with the corpus juris [and]

to lead the prisoner through the labyrinth of a criminal process . . . are seldom versed either

in the law or the language in which it was written”, Report on the Criminal Law at

Demerara and in the Ceded Dutch Colonies (London: Henry Butterworth, 1821), 70.

82. Simon van Leeuwen, Commentaries on the Roman-Dutch Law (first published in 1664

as Het Rooms-Hollands-Regt) (London: Joseph Butterworth and J. Cooke, 1820), book 5,

chaps. 27–29, 660–89. The criminal ordinance of Philip II, as used in the Netherlands, is

published in French and Dutch in Bavius Voorda, De Crimineele Ordonnantien van

Koning Philips van Spanje . . . Verzeld van eene Verhandling over het Verstand van de

Ordonnantie (Leiden: Honkoop and van Tiffelen, 1792), 55–74. The criminal ordinance

of Philip II, as used in the Netherlands and the Dutch colonies, is published in English translation

by Jabez Henry, Report on the Criminal Law at Demerara and includes “General

Observations” by Henry in which the status of slaves is discussed; quotation from p. 66.

Antonius Matthaeus, On Crimes. A Commentary on Books XLVII and XLVIII of the

Digest (1644), trans. M. L. Hewett and B. C. Stoop (Capetown and Johannesburg: Juta &

Co., 1987), 1:34: “to abuse someone is not very serious, but the person involved makes it

a serious offense, e.g., if a slave abused his master.” An overview of Netherlands’ criminal

law with special reference to the town of Mechelen/Malines: Louis Th. Maes, Vijf Eeuwen

Stedelijk Strafrecht. Bijdrage tot de Rechts- en Cultuurgeschiedenis der Nederlanden

(Antwerp: De Sikkel and The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1947). Two excellent studies of

the criminal law in action and crimes in the Netherlands are Faber, Strafrechtspleging and

Egmond, Underworlds.

83. Plakaten, no. 400 (May 9, 1741), no. 485 (February 6, 1750); no. 701 (May 17, 1769),

no. 489 (February 26, 1750), and no. 778 (August 15, 1777). Van Lier, Frontier Society,

139–40, 145–46 (quoting Governor Jean Nepveu from his “Annotaties op het werk van

J. D. Herlein”).

84. Beeldsnijder, Plantageslaven, chap. 12. Of the slaves who could not be recaptured for

trial, most of them were accused of being part of an uprising and then escaping; of the rest,

7% of this group were accused of poisoning, 3% of theft. On the cruelty of the punishments,

see also Van Lier, Frontier Society, 136.

85. Voorda, Crimineele Ordonnantien, 354–61, commenting on Article 32 on the conducting

of criminal trials by “extraordinary process.” Henry, Report, 29 note, commenting

on Article 32 on “Extraordinary Process.” Also see, J.E.A. Boomgaard, Misdaad en Straf

in Amsterdam . . . 1490–1552 (Zwolle: Uitgeverij Waanders, 1992), 50–51; and Faber,

Strafrechtspleging, 30–33.

86. On the essential role of torture in judicial procedures in late medieval and early modern

Europe, see Edward Peters, Torture, expanded edition (Philadelphia: University of

Pennsylvania Press, 1996), chap. 2, 40–73. On the use of judicial torture in the

Netherlands, see Egmond, Underworlds, 28 and, especially Faber, Strafrechtspleging, chap

8, “Tortuur.” Egmond mentions a range in torture methods from thumbscrews to the rack.

Faber distinguishes between what was called “small torture” (“flogging a person until he

speaks the truth”) and the less frequently used “great torture” of the rack (112–13; 117,

Table 8). Although still a part of judicial procedure in the late seventeenth and eighteenth

century in Amsterdam, torture was used in a minority of cases (132–35, 134, Table 9). In

Suriname, the torture described by Stedman seems to be the practice in the majority of

cases against slaves, and the choice of the rack more appropriate, as flogging was a routine

part of much plantation life.

87. Hartsinck, Beschryving, 912; Van Dyk, “Leeven,” 237; Schumann, SD Wörter-buch,

73; Stedman, Narr90, 516; Narr96, 2: 258; Charles J. Wooding, Evolving Culture: A

Cross-Cultural Study of Suriname, West Africa and the Caribbean (Washington, D. C.:

University Press of America, 1981), chap. 4, 85–112 on the concept of the soul; Price,

Alabi’s World, 309–10; and Davis, Women, 185–86, 324 n. 182.

88. Plakaten, 449 (December 22, 1745).

89. Already in 1743, Governor Mauricius had written the Society of Suriname about

impracticality of the death sentence: the slaves were not afraid of death, and their owners

were unwilling to turn them over in death sentence cases when their capital investment in

the slave was more important to them than the slave’s offense. Mauritius was already thinking

of new forms of confinement and public work for the slaves (NA, SocSur, Brieven und

Papieren 271, 217v, as quoted in Beeldsnijder, Plantagesleven, chap. 12). On correctional

institutions as criminal prisons in eighteenth-century Amsterdam, see Pieter Spierenburg,

“From Amsterdam to Auburn: An Explanation for the Rise of the Prison in

Seventeenth-Century Holland and Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of Social

History 20 (1987): 442–48.

90. Riemer, “Mitteilungen,” in Staehelin, Mission, vol. 3, part 2, 267–68 and Price, Alibi’s

World, 374–75. In addition, Schumann includes the word “asempreh” in his Saramaccan–

German dictionary and defines it as “a kind of torture: a cord with a knot is bound around

the head and tightened very firmly in order to compel a malefactor to confession” (SD

Wörter-buch, 49).

91. Torture to extract a confession is mentioned in none of the descriptions of criminal

proceedings in Africa used for this article. I have consulted the specialists Paul Lovejoy,

Linda M. Heywood, and John K. Thornton on this matter, and they do not know of any mention

of it in the many sources they have used. Paul Lovejoy points to examples of torture for

punishing slaves and in the killing of slaves in ceremonies, but finds “nothing relating to

  1. ” He notes that this “absence of evidence” does not prove “that it was not important

some place” or did not occur “on occasion,” but it “suggests it didn’t happen” (email of

June 28, 2010). Linda Heywood and John Thornton comment, “our impression is that while

Central Africans might use torture as a punishment (or certainly they had cruel and painful

punishments), we don’t find evidence of it as a device for inquiry, or to obtain confessions.

We have to add a proviso, though, these there was a very deep interpenetration of European

ideas into Central Africa, especially in Angola. We suspect without proof that the Portuguese

may well have used torture as a technique of inquiry, and that this may have also been the

case among the African traditional authorities closest to them. But having said that, we can

think of no specific examples of it” (email of July 11, 2010). I am grateful to Professors

Lovejoy, Heywood, and Thornton for their kind assistance.

92. The missionary efforts of the Moravian Brethren among the Sarmaccan Maroons is

fully described in the Richard Price’s excellent Alabi’s World. On Alabi’s description of

his past wrong beliefs and efforts to pacify the gods, see 120, 135, 266–67. In 1777, a

young Saramaccan, believing it necessary to pacify his snake god, poisoned three children.

He aroused suspicion by his agitated conduct in the presence of the slow death of the third

child, and was seized by the child’s relatives. He refused to undergo the kangra ordeal,

promised to confess, and then, urged by the Christian captain Alabi, finally did so. If he

made this decision to escape torture, it did not help, for the tribal council turned him over

to the relatives for execution, which they did in slow steps over a period of three days


93. Stedman, Narr90, 266–67, Narr96, 1: 327–28; and Journal, 153 (April 17, 1775).

According to Stedman, the manager of L’Espérance was George Frederik Ebbers, brutally

punitive toward his own slaves for trying to run away. One of them had succeeded in escaping,

was captured on a neighboring plantation, and was brought back by two armed slaves

belonging to that plantation. When the runaway slave slipped out of their grasp and escaped

again into the woods, Ebbers took out his anger on one of the two slaves who had brought

him back. Shortly afterward, Ebbers became the manager of the Roosenberg sugar plantation,

where there was again controversy about his conduct in regard to the slaves

(Oostindie, Roosenburg, 83–84, 184). He died in good repute in the Reformed Church in

1788 (NA, SONA, Burgerlijke Stand 28, Churchbook,http://www.nationaalarchief.nl/koloniaal_

suriname/dbase_gereformeerden/database/zoeken [accessed December 6, 2010]). For

other reports of the murder of slaves by owners at which Stedman expressed indignation

at either the mildness of the penalty or the impossibility of proof in the case because the

testimony of slaves against whites was not accepted: Stedman, Narr90, 115, 340–41, and

Narr96, 1:126, 2:25–27

94. The details on the conduct of Benjamin Pousset and his murder of the slave Serie

come from the interrogations about the events for the Court of Policy and Criminal

Justice: NA, SocSur, Brieven und Papieren 272, 825r–866r. The case is also discussed by

Beeldsnijder, Plantagesleven, chap. 12. On the burial of Pousset’s wife at Sinabo in

1738, NA, SONA, Burgerlijke Stand 23, deacon’s accounts http://www.nationaalarchief.

nl/koloniaal_suriname/dbase_gereformeerden/database/zoeken (accessed December 6,

2010). More detail on the plantation Sinabo and summary of an inventory in November

1743 at http://archiefsuriname.com/geschiedenis/plantages/commetuanekreek/sinabo

(accessed July 15, 2010; see note 60 above).

95. Hendrik Talbot was born in The Hague and had moved as a young man to Suriname

by 1708, when he married Maria Brugman, born in Amsterdam, but living in Suriname.

By 1737, Talbot was the owner of Slootwijk sugar plantation on Commetuane Creek off

the Commewijne. He died in 1766.http://archiefsuriname.com/geschiedenis/plantages/

commetuanekreek/slootwijk (accessed July 15, 2010; see note 60 above). NA, SONA,

Burgerlijke Stand 9, Churchbook; 26, Greatbook . http://www.nationaalarchief.nl/koloniaal_

suriname/dbase_gereformeerden/database/zoeken (accessed December 6, 2010)

96. NA, SocSur, Brieven und Papieren 273, 94 r-v (Jacob Halewijn van Werden to the

Society of Suriname Directors, January 1, 1744), as cited in Beeldsnijder, Plantagesleven,

chap. 12.

97. This account of Amand Thoma, the uprising on the Bethlehem plantation, and

Thoma’s murder and its aftermath has been compiled from NA, SocSur, Journal 201, 10–

19, 396–98, 408, 412–16, 429, 435, 473; and Van der Meiden, Betwist Bestuur, 103,

110–12; http://archiefsuriname.com/geschiedenis/plantages/commewijnrivier/bethlehem

(accessed July 16, 2010; see note 60 above): Thoma purchased Bethelem in 1737. NA,

SONA, Burgerlijke Stand 9, Churchbook, 258, 1719: Amand Thoma and his wife Marie

Croes received as members of the Reformed Church; baptisms of their children, 1720, 1722,

1725 (godparents Hendrik Talbot and his wife, 1727); 23, deacon’s register, death of

Marie Croes, 1738 http://www.nationaalarchief.nl/koloniaal_suriname/dbase_gereformeerden/

database/zoeken (accessed December 6, 2010). “The term Bokken is a name given in the

Dutch colonies to Indian peoples” (Hartsinck, Beschryving, 8, Index).

98. NA, SocSur, Journal 201, 435.

99. Ibid, 416, 473; and Van der Meiden, Betwist Bestuur, 111.

100. Stedman, Narr90, 102–3; Narr96, 1: 108. Spierenberg, Spectacle, chap. 2, especially

29–41. Gene Ogle, “Slaves of Justice: Saint Domingue’s Executioners and the Production of

Shame,” Historical Reflections/Reflexions historiques 29 (2003): 275–93.

101. NA, SocSur, Journal 201, 406; Van der Meiden, Betwist Bestuur, 111. The Maroon

attack led by Samsam on September 17, 1751 was on Zorghoven plantation on the

Commewijne River.

102. Legal–anthropological studies of African judicial process in the 1950s and 1960s

give an interesting picture of the workability of oaths and ordeals as one procedure within

the larger frame of customary law (T. Olawale Elias, The Nature of African Customary

Law (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1956), 222–36; Max Gluckman, ed.,

Ideas and Procedures in African Customary Law (London: Published for the International

African Institute by the Oxford University Press, 1969), especially chap. 5, 153–66,

William A. Shack, “Guilt and Innocence: Problem and Method in the Gurage Judicial

103. Equiano, Interesting Narrative, 33.

104. Long before 1776, there had been the principle that a slave was free once in the

Netherlands: in the words of the jurist Simon van Leeuwen in 1664, “With respect to persons,

every one is free among us by their birth; and slavery, unknown among us and not

in use: so that in order to protect natural liberty, slaves who are brought here from other

countries are declared to be free as soon as they reach the limits of our countries, notwithstanding

their masters” (Commentaries, Book 1, art. 4, 28). In fact, to be realized,the slave

had to petition the government for that freedom with the aid of the master; and that rarely

happened (Alison Blakeley, Blacks in the Dutch World [Bloomington and Indianapolis:

Indiana University Press, 1993], 226). The Suriname boat lists found in the Governor’s notebooks

give the names of persons returning with their slaves from the Netherlands (e.g., NA,

SocSur, Journal 201, p. 450 [1750]; 205, pp. 908–909 [1765]; 206, p. 603 [1769]. Therefore,

the Edict of 1776 at least placed a time limit on how long an owner could hold a person

enslaved in the Netherlands. For the Edict, see Oostindie and Maduro, Antillianen en

Surinamers, 15–16. On Quassy’s role, Dragtenstein, Quassie, 75, 100–101. On the status

of slaves in France, see the important book by Sue Peabody, There Are No Slaves in

France: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Regime (New York:

Oxford University Press, 1996).

105. Stedman lived in Amsterdam until 1784, when he moved to England with his Dutch

wife. He freed his personal slave Quaco, whom he had brought from Suriname after a year

and six weeks. He did not complete the manuscript of the Narrative until 1790, and, after its

publication in London in 1796, the translation in Dutch did not appear until 1799, but he was

discussing it and showing his Suriname drawings, which included drawings of torture, to

local people in 1778. His journal for the years 1777–1778 does not show him frequenting

circles of men of the law, but he did dine with the Governor. .Journal, 203, 214, 216,

219, 237.

106. G.C. J. J. Van den Bergh, The Life and Work of Gerard Noodt (1647–1725). Dutch

Legal Scholarship Between Humanism and Enlightenment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988),

173–74, 217–21; and Gerard Noodt, Opera Omnia, 2 vols. (Leiden: Elias Luzac, 1760), 1:

144; 2: 530–31.

107. Van den Bergh, Noodt, 280–81. Noodt was still giving lectures in 1724, a year before

his death (95). Du Rieu, Album Studiosorum, 861: “Jacobus Groenewout, Surinamensis,”

aged 20, registers for studies in Law, Dec, 1718. This is Jacob Greenwood, from one of

the English settler families that stayed on after the colony passed to the Dutch. On torture in

Roman law, see Peters, Torture, chap. 1, 11–39.

108. Van der Bergh, Noodt, 281, n. 56; Antonius Matthaeus, De Criminibus ad Lib. XLVII

et XLVIII Dig. Commentarius, 5th ed. (Antwerp: Franciscus Grasset, 1761), book 48, title16,

“De Questionibus,” 696–728, especially chap. 5, 724–28: “whether torture is a legitimate

mode of searching the truth.” There were critics of judicial torture in the Netherlands before

Matthaeus, such as the exiled Remonstrant preacher Johannes Grevius, whose Tribunal

reformatum was published in Frankfurt in 1624 (Peters, Torture, 82; Spierenburg,

Spectacle, 189). But Matthaeus was a pioneer in a major legal text on criminal law.

Postma, Dutch, 18–22.

109. Cyrille Fijnaut, “Cesare Beccaria in de Noordelijke Nederlanden,” Delikten en

Delinkwent 20 (1990): 214–26.

110. Cesare Beccaria, Dei Delitti e delle Pene con una raccolta di lettere e documenti

relativi alla nascita dell’opera e alla sua fortuna nell’Europa del Settecento, ed. Franco

Venturi (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1965), chap. 16, Della tortura, 42; chap. 28, Della Pena

di Morte, 64–67. Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments and Other Writings, ed.

Aaron Thomas and Jeremy Parzen (Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto

Press, 2008), 35, 53–55. Thomas and Parzen sometimes translate “schiavitù” as “penal servitude,”

but Beccaria uses the same word throughout. The Dutch translation uses the word

“slavernij” (Verhandeling over de misdaden en straffen [Amsterdam: Gerrit Bom, 1768]; I

am grateful to Ton Bruins of the Bijzondere Collecties of the University of Amsterdam

Library for checking this edition for me.)

111. Steven Epstein, Speaking of Slavery. Color, Ethnicity, and Human Bondage in Italy

(Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001), xii–xiii, 49–50.

112. Fijnaut, “Beccaria,” 219–20; and Voorda, Crimineele Ordonnantien . . .Verhandling

[new pagination begins with the Verhandling], chap. 1, 37–40, 59, 83–84, 103, 154, 195.

Among the French criminalists cited by Voorda throughout his Appendix, 479–504, is

Daniel Jousse. Jousse (1704–1781) had stronger reservations about Beccaria’s proposals

than Voorda, especially in regard to Beccaria’s views on the role of judges, but Jousse

argued that the use of torture in the first stage of questioning, that is, to get a confession,

was not a necessary instrument of justice (Antoine Astaing, “Le refus du dogmatisme et

du pyrrhonisme: la preuve pénale dans la Traité de la justice criminelle de France,

(1771),” in Daniel Jousse: un juriste au temps des lumières 1704–1781, ed. Corinne

Leveleux-Teixeira [Limoges: Presses universitaires de Limoges, 2007], 71–83).

113. Faber, Straftsrechtspleging, 146–47; Egmond, Underworlds, 28; Louise Rayar and

Stafford Wadsworth, trans. The Dutch Penal Code (Littleton, CO: Fred B. Rothman,

1997), 2–4; Simon Schama, Patriots and Liberators. Revolution in the Netherlands 1780–

1813 (London: Collins, 1977), 260–61; G. Graaf Schimmelpenninck, Rutger Jan

Schimmelpenninck en eenige gebeurtenissen van zijnen tijd, 2 vols. (The Hague and

Amsterdam: De Gebroeders Van Cleef, 1845), 1:136–38.

114. David Nassy, Memoire sur les moyens d’ameliorer la Colonie de Suriname

(ms.,1795), 232–5, 30–31; and NA, Eerste Afdeling, Inv. 8 (microfilm HM 2/7760,

Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

Nassy had sent this memoir to the Directors of the Society of Suriname just as it was

being replaced by a single governmental Committee for the Affairs of the Colonies,

which would supervise all the Dutch colonies in the West Indies and on the African

Coast. David Nassy, Lettre-Politico-Theologico-Morale sur les Juifs. Dans laquelle on

dévéloppe le Principe de l’Egalité parmi les Hommes (Paramaribo: A. Soulage Jr., n.d.

[1799]), x, xxxiv, xlii;.and Nassy, Essai historique 1:59.

115. Cornelis Ch. Goslinga, The Dutch in the Caribbean and in Surinam 1791/5–1942

(Assen/Maastricht: Van Gorcum 1990), chap 5, 163–202.

116. F. van Heshuysen, “Memoire sur la Forme du Gouvernement de Surinam et de la

Nature de chaque Employ,” March 21, 1805, in NAUK, WO1/148, 557 (“au deffaut de confession”).

As for the Jews, full civil rights, allowing them to hold an office on the Court and

other important functions, were not extended to them along with all citizens “no matter what

their creed or colour” in Suriname until 1825 (Van Lier, Frontier Society, 94).

117. Henry, Criminal Law, i, 13, 66–68, 74, 94. Jabez Henry, The Judgment of the Court

of Demerara in the Case of Odwin v. Forbes (London: S. Sweet, 1823), 10 note: “when the

Law of Holland is referred to . . . [it is] . . . the ancient law . . . which still prevails in the

Dutch colonies, which never admitted the Code Napoléon or that of the Batavian

  1. ” Johannes van der Linden, Institutes of the Laws of Holland, trans. Jabez

Henry (London: J. and W. T. Clarke, J. M. Richards, J. Ridgeway, 1828), 523 on abolition

of torture, and alternate means at the judge’s proposal; 523 note: Henry’s comment on the

practice of French judges of confining a reluctant prisoner in secret on bread and water.

Jabez Henry (1775–1835) was a barrister of the Middle Temple.

118. Van Lier, Frontier Society, 137.

119. NA, SONA, Burgerlijke Stand, Churchbook 10, pp. 35, 86, 139, 170; Testaments,

37,193 r-v (will of Hendrik Schouten, ill, son of Gerrit Schouten of Amsterdam, August

30, 1768); NA, SocSur, Journal 207, p. 523. Album Studiosorum, 1121. and Cynthia

McLeod, Elisabeth Samson. Een Vrije Zwarte Vrouw in het Achttiende-Eeuwse Suriname

(The Hague: Uitgeverij Conserve, 1996), 40–49, 92–101.

120. Letterkundige Uitspanningen van het Genootschap de Surinaamsche Lettervrienden.

Four volumes of the periodical of the Friends of Letters were published in Paramaribo by

W. H. Poppelmann from 1785 through 1787. Hendrik Schouten and the planter-poet Paul

François Roos were the founding spirits; the names of Philip Hanssen and David Nassy

first appear on the list of members in volume 2.

121. On Gerrit Schouten’s life and especially his work, see the splendid book by Clazien

Medendorp, Gerrit Schouten (1779–1839). Botanische tekeningen en diorama’s uit

Suriname (Amsterdam: Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen and Paramaribo: Stichting

Surinaams Museum, 1999). Schouten also created dioramas of the lives of the Caribs and

Arawaks and, from the 1820s on, watercolors of the plants of Suriname.

122. Medendorp, Schouten, 26, fig. 4; 67–70, 146–57. African dance scenes are reproduced

and described in detail on p. 64, fig. 28; and pp. 146–50. The uniformed figures

appear in fig. 28 and plate XV on p. 147. An independent colored lithograph by

Benjamin Farre, A Scene in Dutch Guiana in 1826, also has a barefoot figure in uniform

watching the scene (66, fig. 30).

123. Staehelin, Mission, 3, part 2, 217; and Price, Alabi’s World, 228, 410–11.

124. Medendorp, Schouten, 17, 31.

125. The details on the arson case of 1832 are all derived from the documents and texts

printed by Marten Douwes Teenstra, De Negerslaven in de Kolonie Suriname en de

Uitbreiding van het Christendom onder de Heidensche Bevolking (Dordrecht: H.

Lagerweij, 1842), chapter 4, 177–304. Cojo’s “Mistress Peggie” was the free black

M. M. Smith, who leased Cojo from his actual owner, D. M. Sanchez (271).

126. Teenstra, Negerslaven, 239, 240–41, 245, 255–57.

127. Ibid., 251–53.

128. Spierenburg, Spectacle, 190.

129. Teenstra, Negerslaven, 287–93, 301 (on the large number of spectators). Two other

slaves, who had served as fences for the stolen goods, were given sentences similar to that of

the teen-agers. A Swiss plantation manager, who had been living in Suriname since 1823,

wrote home to his parents about the executions: “This sentence, which will appear frightful

to all civilized people, is necessary here, when one considers how few in number we white

people are, and that we are dealing with beings without instruction, almost brutes, for whom

any sentiment in the soul is unknown and who respond only to physical pain. The goal was

to make an impression on the multitude [of slaves].” Marc Warnery, “Seul au milieu de 128

nègres.” Un planteur vaudois en Guyane hollandaise au temps de l’esclavage. Lettres à ses

parents, 1823–1835, ed. Thomas David, Olivier Pavillon, and Janick Marina Schaufelbuehl

(Lausanne: Éditions d’en bas, 2008), 209.

130. Medendorp, Schouten, 53–54, fig. 22. Teenstra, Negerslaven, 296.

131. Medendorp, Schouten, 53–54. The manuscript of Lammens’ memoirs, with the original

of Schouten’s signed portraits, is in the Surinaams Museum. The lithographed pictures

appear, without credit to Schouten, together with Teenstra’s picture of the big fire, as the

frontispiece of the 1842 Negerslaven. Teenstra’s initial booklet was entitled

Bijzonderheden betrekkelijk den Brand te Paramaribo, in den nacht van den 3den op den

4den September 1832 (Paramaribo: J. J. Engelbrecht, April 1833). Among the many subscribers

to the booklet were Judge Lammens and Gerrit Schouten’s brother Hendrik Schouten

(Negerslaven, 181, 185–86). On Teenstra’s comments on and quotations from the slaves

and on Teenstra’s Christian and abolitionist sentiments, see Negerslaven, 287, note, 297,



This article was originally published in Law and History Review, Volume 29, Special Issue 04 (November 2011), pp. 925-984. Copyright © the American Society for Legal History, Inc. 2011 : http://www.cambridge.org/

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