Middelburg, October 1, 1761. Captain Jan Menkeveld raises the anchors of De Eenigheid, a ship of the Middelburg Commercial Company (MCC). The 36 crew members are about to embark on their triangular journey: from the North Sea via the West African coast to colonies in the Caribbean and the Americas (West Indies).
When the wind from the east finally takes them from the Oosterschelde to the North Sea, cheers erupt. Off to Africa, where trade goods – including textiles, guns, gunpowder, drinks, and knives – are exchanged for ivory, gold, and enslaved Africans. The captain aims to engage in trade as early as possible because the farther south the trading spots, the more expensive the people.
Ultimately, with 319 Africans and 33 crew members, the ship sets course westward. Here, 299 enslaved individuals are sold to work on one of the many plantations, such as in Suriname, Berbice, and Essequibo. Loaded with goods from Africa and the colonies, De Eenigheid departs on December 19, 1972. Back to Middelburg...
Of this and 113 other triangular journeys between 1720 and 1889, almost all documents have been preserved in the MCC archive. From purchase receipts for goods before departure to the logbooks of the captain, ship doctors, and chief seaman. In other words, eyewitnesses to the slave trade. "The officers made very detailed reports of everything that happened during the journey," says Anneke van Waarden-Koets, archivist at the Zeeuws Archive, which manages the MCC documents.
"The journeys surpass everyone's imagination, but through this, we have an idea of how the slave trade took place. In total, the MCC shipped 31,000 people, of whom about four thousand did not survive the journey..."
"The journeys surpass everyone's imagination, but through this, we have an idea of how the slave trade took place"
Anneke explains that the archive also contains reports of uprisings by the enslaved individuals. These reports show that they did not let everything happen without resistance. "Descendants sometimes ask if these people did not revolt," says the archivist. "We can then tell them that uprisings occurred on various MCC ships, such as on the ship Vigilantie."
"On this ship, the captives revolted on the coast of Africa and twice during the crossing," Anneke continues. "But they were suppressed. On the Marowijne River in Suriname, the Vigilantie ran aground. The Africans managed to take over the ship then. The crew fled ashore, taking eighteen enslaved individuals with them. Unfortunately, the ship drifted and was later found. The surviving Africans were sold nonetheless."
Showing to a Broad Audience The MCC archive is on UNESCO's World Heritage List for documentary works. It is the honor of the Zeeuws Archive to show it to as broad an audience as possible. Anneke: "We have scanned all the documents and translated the weblog of the MCC ship De Eenigheid into English, including the linked theme site."
And they do much more. They give guest lectures, have created walking routes along traces of the slavery past in the city, hold exhibitions, and so on. Anneke: "Currently, the exhibition 'Eyewitnesses of the Slave Trade' is on display here. The emphasis is on what people wrote at that time, but there are also memoirs to be heard from books. From the German slave captain Nettelbeck and from the enslaved Equiano."
"Special is also a note from plantation owner Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande"
"Special is also a note from plantation owner Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande," she continues. "He found out that his 'kitchen maid' speaks the same language as an old African man. He has her ask the man 'why they all were so thin, whether they had suffered hunger since about 60 had died on the journey.' This and much more can be seen in our new and refurbished showcases from SDB. How exactly? My colleague Maarten de Bie knows all about that!"
Behind every object in a showcase lies a special story. The showpiece has earned its place behind glass for a reason. We tell these historical, exciting, and captivating stories in the Showcase Story section.
Do you also have a Showcase Story to share? Let Colinde van de Vliet know via [email protected].