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The Secret Modus Operandi in Obtaining Slaves for the Cape: The Ship Hasselt 1658

How were slaves obtained from the Coast of Guinea? This paper looks at the ship Hasselt and secret documents from the VOC which contained its modus operandi in obtaining slaves. The stereotyped image of European VOC personnel raiding African villages and enslaving Africans does not do justice to the historical enslavement process. Researchers have studied: the slave experience on ships, the sale of slaves at their final destination, and the ill-treatment slaves received from their masters. A question to be further addressed is how were the slaves procured in Africa?

The Hasselt brought the second ship load of forced immigrants (slaves) from Popo, Benin (former Dahomey) to the Cape, South Africa on 6 May 1658. There were 148 persons who the VOC intended to be permanent settlers at the Cape. This was the largest number of new forced settlers. The first ship load of slaves were brought just over a month earlier on the Amersfoort. 1658 marked a historical time, transforming the Cape from a vegetable garden and hospital for the VOC to a settlement. These settlers entrenched a permanent non-indegenous population at the Cape, regardless of the status of free or slave. (W Brommaert The Archive Year Book 1938 p 29)

Bruijns: Dutch Asiatic Shipping vol 2
p121 Hasselt 365 tons - pinas
Left Vlie 10 Apr 1657 with 152 people. Captain Jacob Hendriksz Moller. One person died on the way to the Cape. 81 person left the ship at the Cape.

p126 Maria left 10 Apr 1657 Vlie, call at the Cape 13 Jul 1657, and 18 Jul 1658, it was 120 tons - Jacht. The Captain was Klaas Fransz Bording.

R of P Raad p 103 13 July 1657 arrive Jacht (kleine) Maria

Journal vol II p143 Hasselt skipper Jacob Hendrickssen Moocker arrive 16 Aug 1657

R of P R p 110,110 on the 20 August 1657. The Breeden Raedt met to look at the secret instructions: Jan van Riebeeck, Roeloff de Man, Abraham Gabbema (sec), skipper of the Hasselt - Jacob Hendicks Mooker, skipper of Maria - Claes Fransz Bordingh, onderkoopman on Hasselt - Adriaen van de Venne. They were looking at sailing to Arder/Ardrah, near Lagos.

The skipper of the ship Hasselt were given secret instructions which were to be opened only once they reached the Fort at Cabo de Bonne Esperance, at that time they needed to follow the instructions. The Company instructed them to obtain slaves for the Cape, by sailing to Arder, Popo and Apa (Grand Popo on the river toorsee Arder first major slave market east of Mina, 9 km east of Cotonou Apa - 50 miles west of Lagos. Grand Popo is in the country of Benin which formerly was known as Dahomey, this country also had the slave port of Quidah). These places are situated close to one another in the Bay of Guinea, about 60 miles east of the Castle of del Mina (St George de Elmina is in Ghana, Delmina, Major WIC base). These places fell under the one king and one is able to obtain the best class of slaves; civilized, cooperative in working, ingenuity and having no bad intentions. These slaves are submissive, obedient. The ship (jaght) Hasselt should go and trade for a shipload of 300 slaves. Then sail to the Cape and deliver them to the Commander and Council of the fort.

They were instructed that best time to trade and to anchor would be between September and April. It was decided to first send the ship to the Cape with supplies and to ensure that they would arrive on time in Guinea. At the Cape they needed to obtain water and then sail with 60 - 70 sailors. Sailing with the current up the coast of Africa, it ought to take them 3 or 4 weeks to reach Angola. A galjot was also to accompany the Hasselt, as a means of communication and to consult the Council at the Cape if need be. They were also instructed that if they came across prinsen with slaves then they should bring the prinsen to the Cape.

If they were possible to get slaves from the Portuguese, on their Island at Luanda, Angola, then it would not need to be necessary to sail north to Arden. This later option may be hazardous and full of obstacles.

At Arden you will be met by their noble man. Request an audience with the king, this has never been refused. Even though it may take two weeks or even three weeks for a audience to be granted. The kings residence is 14 miles into the interior in the jungle. You will be entertained for about 2 or 3 days. They ought to congratulate him on behalf of rulers of VOC and deliver to him a letter of referral which is sealed. (However you would have a copy to know the contents).

Everyone need to prostrate themselves in front of the king, by lying flat on the ground, as per their custom (with the exception of the koopman who had to sit on his side on a little mat). At that point they needed to explain their reason for visiting his majesty's throne:
1. Request with all reverence and awe that he would consent and grant them a shipload of slaves, which they want to purchase from his Kingdom. Beseech his assistance.
2. Avoid mentioning the number of slaves wanted. Request at first only the quality and not the quantity of slaves.
3. The best items to be traded should then be revealed, the best boegies (small white little seashells also known as cauries from Maldives), delicate coral, iron staffs, cotton clothes and the best silk material, Cyperse clothes which would be used with the sale.
4. Only a third of the trading goods were initially to be brought to the king.
5. The trade was to take place on the street and not in the kings court.
6. No old men or old women were to be traded only kloecke, young men and as few women as possible.(Ek het kloeck gelukkig al voorheen teëgekom en dit beteken gewoonlik "sterk". So was Jan Stevensz Botma (die ouer Botma broer) se vrou "Kloeck en gesont" en hy self "Kranck en te bedde leggende" toe hulle hulle testament opgestel het. My woordeboek sê dit kan ook dapper en lywig (soos in groot) beteken.)

7. Treat sucklings the same as old people. (avoid trading for them)
8. They would be able to accommodate 300 slaves on the ship. If they had more space they would be able to take up to 500 slaves but no more.

While they were trading the ship had to be on guard not to fall victim of the enemy, the Portuguese or others.

At Arden or the place where you obtain the slaves you would be able to obtain palm oil, beans and groats for the slaves.

They needed to be as expeditious as possible, it was expected to take 2 or 3 months to get the numbers of slaves and then to be able to depart again. If they were lucky hopefully there will be no other ships on a similar mission, if that is the case the time period would be short. It would be preferable to get the slaves to the Cape in the summer months, since they are from a warm climate and the Cape is cold in Winter and if they came then there would be more casualties due to the weather. Thus a quick dispatch would be preferable.

Mention is also made that apart from these three places to obtain slaves, there were also Rio Calbario (Rio Calbario - Blacks come on ship to trade, town called Focko, Dutch called it Wijndorp, many Dutch died here), Rio del Rey (Rio del Rey - 4 degree 25 min NBr) and Cameroons, the going price there is 20 gulden per slave, but these slaves are not as good as those at Arden. At these other places the slaves are also hardheaded, and evil and the supply were available all year round. At Rio del Rey and Rio Calbario one travel inland with little boats to go and trade. If they were not able to get slaves from Arden or the full quota then they should try these other options.

From Angola sail to the Caep keert, and from there follow the monsoon winds, this is far safer than sailing down the coast of Africa.

If returning from Ader: sail to Cabo de Lopo Gonsalves (Kaap Loop, today known as Kaap Lopo Goncalves), where they could replenish their water, firewood and other supplies. From there follow the same instructions as above. If they went to Annabon they would be able to get a number of fruit trees which they could bring to the Cape.

The slaves health needed to be taken care of, that they were cleansed. This would help that the slaves did not make trouble and opposition and even taking over the ship. The shipscrew were instructed to always be vigilante in order to avoid a mutiny by the slaves.

The ship was also fitted out with a 'schans'. This is protective barricade amidships to prevent rioting slaves attacking the crew. This will ensure the rear of the ship is secure and 'back doen macken' in order to house the sailors and thus leave the overloop to accommodate the slaves. It was felt that using the ruim would not be good due to the stench and safety.

A journal was to be kept with copies so that they would be able to supply the Cape with three sets. One to be kept with the ship, the other to be kept at the Cape and the third to be sent to Batavia.

If any advice needs to be sent from Arder they should not hesitate in sending a ship.

If they carried out the instructions they would receive praise and honour.

This secret instructions were written at Den Hague by the VOC on 5 March 1657.

On arrival at Ardra have all flags waving. Shoot three cannon blasts towards the sea. Then if whether permits go to land with a chialoup taking a letter to the king, which is written in Dutch or Portuguese. This should be given to those folks living close to the beach, then return to the ship. Every morning return to the coast with chailop awaiting for a response. You will be welcomed by between 2 and 300 persons to be escorted to the kings residence. Take between 30 and 40 boegis and some corral and 50 to 60 wristbands. You will only be taken in during the evening since no white person can enter or exit during the day.

This trade only procured 271 slaves and a number of them old and not of the best gender. On the journey back to the Cape 43 died

The onderkoopman Adriaan van de Venne sailed from Vlie on 10 April 1657 with the Hasselt. They arrived 15 August 1657 at the Cape. Leaving the Cape on the 10 Sep 1657 to the Coast of Guinea and arrived back at the Cape 6 May 1658. The Hasselt left 22 May 1658 for Batavia.


The reports that was made of their trip and trade gives us other glimpses into what else took place.

Journal p 145 20 Aug 1657 Cape Council, plus ship breede council meet to look at the secret instructions. They decided to man the Hasselt with 70 men, if they capture a Portuguese ship then they would need the men to man it. The Maria 36 men. After Angola if they got no prize then 10 men from Hasselt will transfer to Maria and return to the Cape

Secret Documents: Letter Received C 409 1649-1660 p 790-804

Journal Vol II p143 p 145 20 Aug 1657 Council of Cape and Broad Council of Maria and Hasselt met to study the secret instructions. Decided to man Hasselt wit 70 men, since they would need that number in case they captured a worth-while prize of Angola. They would need to have men to man the other ship. But after Angola the Hasselt will continue with 60 men, with 10 men transferring to the Maria to join the 36 men who were allocated to her.

Journal Vol II p 146 12 full leaguers of barley to be taken to feed the slaves, also 12 leaguers of meal.

Boeseken Slaves and Free Blacks

On the 3 September the Hasselt and Maria set sail, but had to return back to the Cape due to wrong winds, arriving in Table Bay in September 6. Second sailing from Cape September 10.

Four months later Maria returns to the Cape. Informing the skipper that the Hasselt, Maria and little sloop 't Robbejacht did arrive opposite Luanda on 26 September, they did pursuit one ship but lost it. When Maria came back she had nothing apart from lemon and apples trees from St Helena.

On 5 February the Maria and 't Robbejacht was sent to explore for slaves, go as far as Luanda and then return via St Helena.

Journal Vol II p 216 22 January the Maria arrived from Angola via St Helena. They gave the following letter from the Hasselt which was written 20 October 1757: On the 26 September they they (Hasselt, Maria and Robbejacht) reached the 8 degree 30 minute latitude, which is the latitude of Loando de St Paulo. On the 30th September the lookout on the topmast sighted a vessel at 2 glasses in the afternoon. Since it was late in the day they did not chase it. We took in our sails in order not to be seen. As soon as it was dark, we unfurled the top and main sails with the hope to come upon her. At 4 glasses in the first watch we saw her to the windward side. We turned towards her and hailed her and were told that she was from Flushing. We told her to strike sail, but instead she set sial and moves away from us. We followed her for 2 or 3 glasses and we lost sight of her. Some think she was a privateer others that she was a Portuguese vessel. On the 15 October they found themselves in calm water and so near the shore that they could see Loando. There were 4 ships at anchor between the island and mainland. The Portuguese could see them clearly, thus they decided to sail for Cabo de Lope Gansalvo for water and fuel, and then to proceed to Arder. They transferred 10 men to the Maria and send her with this report to the Cape. (by intercepting a Portuguesenot to infringe the rights of WIC) (Hierdie uurglas is gebruik om half-uur inkremente in tyd af te meet. Die aanvanklike doel daarvan was om wagbeurte ter see op te deel in 8 30-min seksies, en die stuurman sou die uurglas byderhand hou om die afmeting te doen. Hy sou dan elke halfuur die skip se klok lui om die tydsverloop aan te dui - een lui vir die eerste 30 min, 2 luie vir die 2'e ens.... In algemene skeepstaal is die half-uur na verwys as 'n "glass", oftwel die tyd wat dit neem totdat die "glass" weer omgedraai moet word.)

Journal Vol II p 265,266 6 May 1658 It began to rain heavily and the wind increased in force, the ship Hasselt arrived. It had left from the Gulf of Guinea, from Popo on 22 February with 271 slaves, 43 died on the way which left 228 slaves. The ship had left Cabo de Lopo Gonsalvo on 15 March and on 21 March had sailed from Annabon. The Hasselt on the outward voyage had captured two Portuguese ship. They had placed the cargo of both in the one ship and then manned it with 6 Dutchman from the Hasselt and dispatched her to the Cape on 15 November. She never arrived, in the Gulf of Guinea the Hasselt heard from the WIC ship Arendt that the second mate with his crew had given themselves over to drunkardness. Thus everything was lost (Cargo valued at 20,000 guilders, consisting of 185 casks of palm oil, several thousand small casks of soap, 65 pioliers of brandy, 2 casks of sugar and 10 pipes of canary wine. They also reported that a Danish ship had attacked and captured the Swedish trading station on Cabo Cors. The wind had died down and on the 7th the slaves from Guinea were landed. They were exceptionally fine, strong and lively lot. The officers of Hasselt also mentioned that the merchandise for trade was plenty but not ideal, thus they they would be obliged to take whatever the Africans wished to be rid of: young, old, halt and lame. If the merchandise were consisted of boegies, bead, and curios they would be able to trade what they wished and would get preference above other traders.

W Brommaert in Archives Year Book 1938 p26 van Riebeeck refers to them as "bijsonder fraey, cloeck ende lustich volcq" then he quotes a letter dated 22 May 1658 by van Riebeeck "'n groot aantal bejaarde mannen en vrouwen, kreupelenen kraamvrouwen bevinden waarmee hij niets kan uitrichten, dat twee derden van hen ziek liggen en er elke dag nieuwe sterfgevall voorkomen"

R of P R p 144, 145, 8 May 1658 Mission complete and successful. They estimated that they would be able to obtain from the remainder trading items 3 or 4 times the number of slaves from the East in comparison with what they got, which would amount to 1,000 to 1,200 slaves.

Van Riebeeck en sy Gesin p 167 by 5 Maart 1659 - 80 were sent to Batavia, 52 died, 41 in service of the Company, 55 sold to vryburghers

Boeseken Slaves and Free Blacks

Slaves and free blacks p 13 Those from Guinea were sold for 100 guilders at first.

The Hasselt which was the second ship load of slaves brought to the Cape has given us an insight how initial contact was made between European slave ships and African villagers and chiefs. It contained protocol and customs used in approaching an African slave supplier.

The Atlantic slave trade relied on the African middlemen Ransford p49. African "kings" were raiders of their African neighbours Ransford 61 to supply the Hasselt and other traders. Ransford p 25 states that "domestic slavery flourished in Guinea long before the arrival of white men. People could be enslaved through debt, capture in battle, or inheritance of the status". The Europeans exploited an existing evil social system and/or found willing African accomplices/middlemen who imposed slavery on their fellow Africans? There was also the Arabs slavers - what part did they play in establishing a culture of a slave market? What role did tribalism play in slavery and vice versa? Ransford p63 states that slavery left contemporary Africa as a field of warfare, in which the inhabitants are wolves to each other. This paper revealed a specific tragedy of a VOC ship Hasselt, enslaving fellow humans and of Africans capturing and selling their own people into slavery. The supply and demand of this trade was met by a partnership by Africans and Europeans, both were culpable of the evil of slavery

Die boog van Guinea

Kake p 170 from the 7th - 20th century 14 million Africans taken to the Muslim world as slaves.

Gueye p 150 "the slave trade a very ancient practice in Africa. The Europeans did not invent it only exploited it."

Pieter van Dam: Beschryvinge van de Oost Indische Compagnie Deel II vol 3

A Ryder Benin and the Europeans
A Dalzel De Geschiedenis van Dahomy
A Scholefield The Dark kingdoms: The impact of White Civilization on three Great African Monarchies, Heineman 1975
O Ransford The Slave Trade, Readers Union 1971

Vijf dagregister van het Kasteel

United Nations Papers: Mbaye Gueye "The slave Trade within the African continent" The African Slave trade from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. UNESCO 1979

United Nations Papers: IB Kake "The slave trade and the population drain from Black Africa to North America and the Middle East" The African Slave trade from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. UNESCO 1979

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