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Slavery and emancipation


Slavery and emancipation on St. Maarten

When the French and the Dutch settled on St. Maarten in the 17th century, they established the plantation and salt industries. A great shortage of labor arose, and therefore it was decided to bring enslaved Africans. The Africans, brought in against their own free will and under inhumane circumstances, cultivated indigo, tobacco, cotton and sugarcane. They toiled in the sugar factories, and picked salt in the salt ponds. These salt ponds functioned as the primary meeting place for freed and enslaved Africans, to socialize and exchange information, such as calls for emancipation.






Driven by innate desire to be free, the enslaved made strong efforts to escape to the hills and other save havens, forcing the insular authorities to pass anti maroon

 (runaway slave) legislation in 1790. Abolition of slavery ended this “unholy institution” on the northern part of the island. (the French side) in 1848. Slaves on the southern part (the Dutch side), having learned this, set out to the border to become free. Fearing further revolt, the slave owners on the Dutch side pleaded with the authorities for abolition, but received no official reaction. Therefore they decided to release their slaves from bondage, and to pay wages for work. Slavery ended in fact on St. Maarten in 1848; however, the official abolition of slavery for the Dutch West Indian colonies was not proclaimed until the 1st of July 1863.



Emancipation declaration for the Netherlands Antilles

Here you can read the emancipation declaration for the Netherlands Antilles

written by the Governor of Curacao in 1863.



___________________The Governor___________________


To the affranchised population of Curacao and dependencies.


In the month October of last year has been proclaimed in your island the law

by which it pleased His Majesty, our most gracious King, to decree that on

the 1st of July 1863 slavery should ever be abolished in Curaçao and

its dependant Islands


That happy day is here now there.

From this moment you are free persons and enter society as inhabitants of the colony.

Most heartily do I congratulate you with the blessing bestowed on you by the paternal care of the King; sincerely may rejoice in the same, but you must also make yourself worthily of this benefit.


In your previous state you have always distinguished yourself by quite, orderly behavior and obedience to your former masters: now as free persons, I am fully confident of it, you will orderly and subordinate to the government perform your duty as inhabitants of the colony, working regularly for fair wages, which you may dispose of at your pleasure, to provide for yourself and your family.


The government will attend to your interest and promote the same as much as possible.

If you require advice address yourself to the District- commissary of your district or to the other competent authorities they shall assist you in every thing which may tend to promote your well being

Curaçao, the 1st of July 1863.

J. Crol