© Peter Schmidt
Category:The Dutch Golden Age

Dark side of the Dutch Golden Age

There’s a dark side to the years that brought huge prosperity to the Netherlands with the trade in spices, sugar, coffee, tobacco and other goods. From the 16th to the 19th century, the Dutch bought and sold around 600,000 African men, women and children for work at the plantations, in mines, and as household slaves.

Recent years have seen an increase in awareness of this dark past. Slave trade by the Dutch West India Company (West-Indische Compagnie, WIC) contributed to the Netherlands’ status as a global economic power, particularly in the early years. In 1863, the Netherlands abolished transatlantic slavery but traces of the slave trade are still visible in countless places.

Museums and exhibitions

It’s not merely a matter of turning a page and moving on. It’s an inseparable part of Dutch history, and it is not as long ago as you might think. You only have to go back four or five generations to find the enslaved as well as their owners. The Rijksmuseum will present an exhibition on this topic in 2021.

Afterlives of Slavery, an exhibition at the Tropenmuseum that focuses on the stories of slaves and their descendants, was compiled in collaboration with scientists, activists and artists. Curious? Book a guided tour here.

Early in 2022, Tropenmuseum will also inaugurate The Inheritance, a new and comprehensive section on the colonial past and slavery. This permanent exhibition will display the legacy of Dutch colonialism across the globe and in our immediate surroundings, such as inequality, exclusion and racism.

For nearly three centuries, the city of Amsterdam was involved in the slave trade in Dutch colonies in Asia and the Atlantic region. An exhibition at Amsterdams Stadsarchief (Amsterdam City Archives) focuses on 13 Amsterdam locals who were affected in different ways in Brazil, Curacao, Indonesia, Berbice, and at sea. The exhibition runs from 30 June through 18 October 2020.

The Africa Museum is located in the forested, hilly area of Berg en Dal near Nijmegen. In addition to regularly changing exhibitions, the museum highlights Dutch links with the African continent using personal stories, unique objects and contemporary art. There is a permanent section that focuses on slave trade with some 100 objects illustrating that part of Dutch history.


On 1 July 1863, the Kingdom of the Netherlands abolished slavery in Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles with the Emancipation Act. This day is celebrated as a bank holiday in Surinam officially called Dag der Vrijheden (Freedom Day) and is also called Ketikoti or ‘broken chains’. Ketikoti has been celebrated on a large scale in the Netherlands since 2009 with a big festival at Oosterpark in Amsterdam. The Nationaal Monument Slavernijverleden (National Monument for the History of Slavery) was installed here on 1 July 2002.

The Monument van Besef (Awareness Monument) has been located on Surinameplein in Amsterdam since 2003 and represents the shared history of Surinam, the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands.

Weapons, ceramics and liquor were traded in the Lloydkwartier district in Rotterdam from the 17th until the 19th century. These goods were shipped to Africa, where they were traded for enslaved African people. Rotterdam’s ships transported these people to Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles. The Slavery Monument, designed by Alex da Silva, was revealed on Lloydkade in Rotterdam in 2013.

In 2005, the Zeeuws Slavernijmonument (Slavery Monument in Zeeland) was revealed on the Balans in Middelburg. Hedi Bogaers, an artist from Zierikzee, created the monument, designing a sculpture that would make space for consolation and reflection in a heavily charged setting. The monument consists of four granite pillars with black and white bound together by a red stripe in the middle. 

Guided tours and walks

Initiator and tour guide Jennifer Tosch has offered the weekly Black Heritage Amsterdam Tours since 2013. The journey starts on Dam square, the heart of the city. While exploring the African heritage of the past and the diversified Dutch culture, you will see the West-Indisch Huis, the Anne Frank House and the Hermitage Museum. You will also visit the Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum) with its replica of a VOC (Dutch East India Company) ship similar to the ones in which slaves were transported.

The Hague played a leading role in establishing, enforcing and abolishing slavery from the 17th century onwards. Traces of that history are still visible on the streets of the city, with a range of locations reminding us of slavery in the Netherlands’ past.

With the Cacao, Sugar and Slaves tour (download via android or apple*), Amnesty shows part of the history of Middelburg: places that mark the slave trade in the past. Examples of Dutch West Indies Company (West-Indische Compagnie or WIC) warehouses, headquarters of the Middelburgsche Commercie Compagnie (a Dutch trading company) and the residence of the Reverend Smytegelt, who protested against the slave trade.

The GPS route Sporen van Slavernij (Traces of Slavery) (download via android or apple*) reveals often hidden traces of the slave trade in the inner city of Utrecht, known primarily for the Dutch West Indies Company (WIC) and the wealth in terms of money and new products resulting from that trade. The route also focuses on the abolition of slavery.

Jan Pieterszoon Coenstraat is now one of the most popular streets in the Lombok district, but who was he? De Bitterzoete Route (the Bittersweet route) in the Lombok district leads you through several streets and educates, increases awareness, and stimulates a discussion about our colonial history. 

* Tip: The apps are in Dutch but you can still download the route and strike out on your own, or book a guided tour.

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