Preface from the Book – Slave Ship Leusden

Originally published in 2013 in native Dutch, and English version is soon to follow  This book is an adaptation of my scientific research into the history of the Leusden, one of the last slave ships of the West-Indian Company (WIC). This type of vessel was usually deployed for other activities following one or more slave voyages. The Leusden is an exception and has exclusively undertaken slave voyages from her maiden voyage in 1719 until she foundered in 1738, amounting to ten crossings in total.  During those ten voyages, 6564 captives were embarked; 1639 of whom did not survive the crossing. An additional 102 captives perished in the slave stores prior to being sold, resulting in an overall death count of 1741. This proportion constituted more than a quarter of the number of captives embarked in Africa; an incredible waste of human lives.
The history of this slave ship has gone almost entirely unnoticed until now. This is remarkable given that its final voyage ended in the single largest human tragedy in Dutch maritime history. The Leusden departed from Elmina, located in modern-day Ghana on the 19th of November 1737. On board were 700 African captives, destined to be sold as slaves in Suriname. On 1 January 1738, the Leusden foundered at the mouth of the Marowijne River in Suriname. At the time of the disaster there were still 680 captives on board. A mere 16 of them survived. The way in which the crew sent the remaining 664 African prisoners to their deaths is unimaginable, even considering the inherent cruelty of the slave trade.

In part I, I will be dealing with subjects which are important with regards to comprehending the trans-Atlantic slave trade and, relative to this, the role played by the Netherlands. In part II, I will tackle the history of the Leusden from it being built in 1719 until the disastrous sinking in 1738. In describing the ten voyages, nearly all possible scenarios that could take place on slave ships feature; uprisings, disease, conflicts involving ships of other nations and, ultimately, murder. In the commentary I will demonstrate how the naval disaster of the Leusden led to a eminently unique crime in the history of the international slave trade.

A final comment regarding my use of the term ‘captives’ in stead of ‘slaves’ or ‘enslaved’. Albeit that African traders sold these people to European traders, who in turn would sell them on to slave owners in America, there is no reason to label them slaves during their passage on the ships. The slave ship was the temporary dwelling place for the captives for the purposes of forced transport to a situation of total submission in a slave colony. My preference for designating them as captives corresponds with the aim of describing as clearly as possible, the position and circumstances in which they found themselves once on board of the slave ships. Clearly, whilst on a slave ship we cannot yet speak in terms of a master and slave relationship. That particular rapport only came into being once the captive had been sold in America and became a slave owner’s possession.

Finally, a few words of gratitude. Firstly, towards my publisher for helping to make this popularised version of the Leusden possible. Also, to my wife Dita Vermeulen because she has shown enormous patience in assisting me with rendering the scholarly story of the Leusden more accessible by writing this book.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply