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Emulating a Portuguese Model

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The Slave Policy of the West India Company and the Dutch Reformed Church in Dutch Brazil (1630–1654) and New Netherland (1614–1664) in Comparative Perspective

image of Journal of Early American History

This article presents a new perspective on the master-slave relationship in New Netherland in order to complement the existing theories on the treatment of slaves in that Dutch colony. It shows how prior to the loss of Dutch Brazil, the West India Company modeled its slave policy after Portuguese practices, such as the formation of black militias and the use of Christianity as a means to foster slave loyalty. It also points out that in the initial slave policy of the Dutch Reformed Church was characterized by the ambition to replace the Iberian Catholic Church in the Americas. While the Reformed Church in the early decades of the Dutch colonial expansion was characterized by a community-building spirit and a flexible attitude toward newcomers, the loss of Brazil shattered the dream of a Protestant American continent and gave way to a more exclusivist approach with a much stronger emphasis on orthodoxy. This led to a dramatic change in attitude vis-à-vis slaves, which is reflected in the segregationist policies―both at a social and a religious level―in later Dutch slave colonies such as Suriname.

Affiliations: 1: Dept. of German and Dutch Studies, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA,


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