Slavery in New Netherland

Schout Pieter Tonneman, pltf. v/s Andreis Joghimsen, deft. Pltf requests definite judgment on the monies deposited by the deft. Regarding the irregular tapping on the Sabbath to negroes and heard the 28. Feb. last. Deft. denies having tapped on a Sunday during preaching. Is asked if he will swear, that he gave no drink, either directly or indirectly, himself or by his wife, at the time when Steenwyck's negro played the Jews harp at Govert Loockerman's? Answers, Yes; and confirmed the same on oath at the hands of the President. Therefore Burgomasters and Schepens excuse him for the fine fixed therein and dismiss the Officer's demand and adopted conclusion herein.
-- Minutes of the Court of Burgomasters and Schepens of New Amsterdam, 7 March 1662

Although most Africans in New Netherland were deemed slaves or "half-slaves," not all relationships between Dutch and African descendants were based on the slave-master relationship. In fact, African and European relationships were amicable at times. Free white settlers sometimes served as witnesses for marriages between enslaved people, slaves and servants gathered for leisure activities and worked together. In a few instances, black and white New Netherlanders even married and had children together.

Sundays, holidays, and evenings provided enslaved Africans with time off to relax and meet with fellow New Netherlanders. Although the use of alcohol was prohibited on the Sabbath and other religious holidays, free and enslaved New Netherlanders frequently met and enjoyed alcoholic beverages on these days. In 1662, for example, Andries Joghimsen appeared in court for serving black New Netherlanders alcohol on Sunday, and Geertje Teunis was accused of serving hard liquor to a slave on the "Day of Fasting."

The colony did not have laws that forbade interracial marriages, and not once did the Dutch Colonial Council punish interracial relationships. These relationships may have been frowned upon, but they were certainly not prohibited. Several African and Dutch New Netherlanders married, and multiple children came out of these interracial relationships. The Dutch Reformed Church consecrated these marriages and the baptisms of their children, which suggests that the church did not object to interracial marriages. As long as both partners were protestant Christians, the Church accepted their unions. In 1650, for example, Harmen Janszen from Hessen, a German immigrant, married Maria Malaet from Angola, and Jan "the negro" married Annetie Abrahams in the Dutch Reformed Church of Brooklyn in 1663.

Some Dutch settlers had intimate relations with their slaves. The most well-known example is that of Captain Jan de Vries who had a child with one of his enslaved women, a woman referred to as Elaria (also referred to as Elarij, Clara, Hillarij, and Swartinne). De Vries named their son Jan and had him baptized in New Amsterdam's Dutch Reformed Church in August of 1647. Records do not reveal whether or not the couple married, but Elaria did inherit part of his property in Manhattan close by the Fresh Water pond.

Anthony Jansen Van Salee and Grietje Reyniers were the colony's most infamous interracial couple. Van Salee, also known as Anthony Jansen de Turck, Anthony Jansen van Vaes, or Anthony Jansen the Mulatto, born in Cartagena, was a settler of Dutch and African descent. Not only was his mother African, his father was a Dutch privateer who converted to Islam. He met his wife Grietie Reijniers in the Dutch Republic where they agreed to marry. Once they settled in New Netherland, they quickly received a questionable reputation. The couple appeared in the colony's court on multiple occasions for various offenses, many of them slander or debt related. Eventually, this led to their banishment from New Amsterdam in 1639. It remains unclear if the fact that they were an interracial couple contributed to their troubled reputation, but it certainly did not help their case.

While the relationships between white and black New Netherlanders were often better than presumed, physical appearance and ethnic background did inform certain assumptions or prejudices. Reverend Jonas Michaelius, for instance, described Angolan women as "thievish, lazy, and crude trash." When Jeremias Van Rensselaer wrote to his brother about a land grant dispute, he used the phrase "as if my Negro had said it" to indicate that his protests had been considered valueless.1 These and other similar examples of racial attitudes show that racial prejudice existed in the colony, but interracial relationships proved much more complex than is often assumed.


1. 25 April 1664. Jeremias van Rensselaer to Jan Baptist van Rensselaer


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