Many mansions and villas in Delft were built with capital derived from slave trade or labour, Source: Depositphotos

Delft has gotten rich because of slavery, study finds

Delft has gotten rich because of slavery, study finds

The impetus to reckon with this legacy, however, originated from the local government

It’s a common and well-researched trope that Western European countries partially owe their development acceleration in the near past to the exploitative system of colonialism. One Dutch city, Delft, however, wanted to look even deeper into that and see how this legacy has enriched it, more particularly when it comes to its participation in the slave trade.

This uncomfortable historical reckoning was initiated by the local administration, which commissioned several academic researchers to delve into the archives and uncover the truth.

The conclusions of the report were presented on Tuesday evening. According to the historians, thousands of Delft residents travelled to the colonies. Ships went from the city to the colonies and returned with merchandise. There were also people from Delft who owned enslaved people.

What’s next?

For centuries, Delft was one of the most important cities in the Holland region. Both the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (East Indies Company) (VOC) and the West India Company had offices there. VOC and WIC administrators also played an important role in Delft’s city council. The city also had its own harbour on the Maas River. That is now the Rotterdam district of Delfshaven.

What’s more, many of the mansions and villas around the city were built back in the day with capital accumulated from buying and selling slaves, or from their forced labour in the colonies.

The City Council of Delft did not immediately issue an apology, though. “The office of mayor and aldermen will take the time necessary to study the report and issue a response in the second half of this year. We will first talk to the city, and the response will be tailored to that. We will take the time to do this carefully,” said a statement from the municipality.

This report is only the latest in what seems to be a trend among Dutch cities to face up to their controversial historic legacies and shine a light on the dark corners of what is often perceived as glorious history.

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht have apologized for their role in slavery, as have the national government, the Province of Zuid-Holland, De Nederlandsche Bank, and ABN Amro.

On 1 July, the Netherlands will celebrate 150 years since the abolition of slavery in the kingdom.



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