In 1775 the enslaved Maria complained to the directeur of her plantation just outside of Paramaribo about the circumstances she had to work in. When she approached him, she was pregnant. She said she knew she had been bought to work, but that – in order to work – she ... (Show more)
In 1775 the enslaved Maria complained to the directeur of her plantation just outside of Paramaribo about the circumstances she had to work in. When she approached him, she was pregnant. She said she knew she had been bought to work, but that – in order to work – she also had to eat, and she was not given the time to do so. When she continued explaining she could not manage to do the same work as the other slaves because of her pregnancy, the directeur kicked her in the stomach. That caused her to have a miscarriage. The directeur showed no pity; after three days he asked her why she was not working and he hit her again. This forced Maria to make the ‘wanhoopige resolutie’ to run away into the forest. Maria clearly suffered from bad working conditions and mistreatment. When negotiating with the directeur did not have any effect, she chose to disappear. In similar court records of the Dutch West and East India Companies (WIC & VOC) one can encounter a highly diverse range of men and women that populated the cities of the Dutch empire: Africans, Asians, European settlers, Euro-Africans, Eurasians, in free as well as enslaved positions. On top of that, these court cases are exceptional when compared to other colonial sources, since they are one of the few sources where women like the enslaved Maria are allowed to speak themselves, instead of being described by men. Consequently, they can among others be used to show how women living in the early modern Dutch colonial empire employed various ways to improve their socio-economic position.
This paper wants to compare work strategies and their outcomes of women living in the urban area of Paramaribo and its rural environments. The purpose of this approach is twofold: to examine why some women managed to gain more independence than others, and whether the geographical position of women (in or outside the city) was a decisive factor. Accordingly, the life courses of three types of women occurring in the WIC court records will be analyzed: enslaved women, women of European and women of non-European status. With questions such as ‘How did the work strategies and outcomes of enslaved women in Paramaribo differ from enslaved women on plantations outside of the city?’, this paper wants to show whether and how women took advantage of socio-economic opportunities despite the omnipresent lack of freedom and inequality in colonial contexts such as the colonial city of Paramaribo.
In order to study the outcomes of strategies and potential explanations, this paper will make an attempt to complement the small court-snapshots of the lives of women in Suriname with information from other sources. These include baptism, marriage and funeral registers (DTB-registers) and notarial archives (containing for example testaments and inventories). Women of (non-)European status, free as well as enslaved can be found in these sources, which are essential to reconstruct the social contexts and networks of women and the outcomes of their economic strategies. (Show less)