The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Maritime Marronage by Slaves from Saba


The Dutch West India company was the principal transporter of African slaves to the West Indies and elsewehere.


This is an interesting document. My friend Rose Mary Allen from Curacao sent it to me after attending a conference of Caribbean historians in the Bahamas. We have permission from the author, Prof. Josue Caamaño Dones from the University of Puerto Rico, to publish it, and also we must thank Mr. Raymond Simmons for his excellent translation of the original document which was in the Spanish language.

I have never seen any Dutch historian refer to this document before. It was found in the Spanish archives in the city of Seville. I will go ahead and post it and then check it with the latest translation and see if we can add more to it as well as some more photos. In the meantime ENJOY!!


The general history of slavery and forms of its resistance from under the yoke of European settlers in various parts of the Caribbean can be well told using a great compilation of literary sources.[1]   In comparison, the phenomenon of maritime maroonage—specifically of those slaves who used the sea as an escape route—has a smaller yet excellent documented source list. Although an abundance of news about the phenomenon exists in sixteenth to nineteenth century literature, only a few proceedings dedicated to documenting these maritime Maroons have been well preserved.

In this brief paper, we present a case of maritime maroonage during the XVII century recently found among Puerto Rican documents conserved in the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain. Our intention is to examine the dynamics of the phenomenon in light of proceedings on record made against 14 slaves who in early April 1654 fled the Dutch island of Saba and reached the southern coast of Puerto Rico in search of freedom.[2]

Saba Island, 1640-1675

The conquests of Curacao and St. Eustatius in 1632 and 1634, respectively, marked the future colonization of the Netherlands Antilles. The Dutch West Indies are officially called Nederlandse Antillen in its official language, Dutch, or Antianan Hulandes in Papiamentu. They are divided into two geographical groups. One, located east of the Virgin Islands, are the Windward Islands St. Eustatius, Saba and the Dutch side of St. Maarten. A second group of islands, located 560 miles southwest and closer to the northern coasts of South America, consists of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire, are known as the Leeward Islands. The development of the islands was uneven. Although their historical development has many common features, the roles assumed by each island in the scheme of intra-Caribbean trade are subject to some disparities due to their ethnic and socio-economic settings. The available bibliography on these islands confirms these aspects.[3]

Saba is a small island of 13 km2 located 150 miles southeast of Puerto Rico and 26 miles northwest of St. Eustatius. The Dutch began to colonize it around 1640 by founding the port of Spring Bay, although Spanish and Dutch settlers had already arrived to the island before 1632. Its economy practically depended on contraband trade with other areas of the Caribbean. As with St. Eustatius, the presence of an 800 meter volcano, now known as Mount Scenery, left barely any room for any planned and extensive agriculture. [4]


St. Eustatius was one of the Dutch slave trading centers for the Northern Caribbean. I recall Mr. Jose Pinedo of Curacao who was married to a girl from Saba telling me how her grandfather would tell him stories of his grandfather going to Africa to pick up slaves for these islands.

During the XVII century, Saba had become a haven for pirates from Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. On the island they found good coasts to settle where they could dock their ships and hide from the persecutions against corsairs like themselves. The pirate society of Saba did not prevent the Dutch governors from succeeding in establishing rum production by the Dutch settlers installed to the task from the cultivation of sugar cane, a fairly prominent sector in the economy. Beyond that, agriculture was almost nonexistent; however, part of the population was engaged in fishing.[5]

During this time, the context of the Atlantic wars in the XVII century determined the evolution of the Dutch West India Company or “Geoctroyeerde West-Indische Compagnie” (WIC) and hence, the subsequent evolution of the islands. The British began to emerge in colonial power and competition. Paradoxically, wars against the Dutch Republic in the 1650s ultimately produced economic, instead of political, developments of the West Indies under Dutch control. In 1654 when the WIC lost control of New Holland of North America and Brazil, and in 1664 when New Holland went into British hands, the colonies of the West Indies resented these failures, despite their remaining in Dutch hands. The Dutch colonial losses were due partly to the struggle WIC had in attracting settlers according to the “patroon” system which involved contracts WIC executed with some merchants, encouraging them to emigrate as settlers to these islands. After the bankruptcy of 1674 a new WIC was rebuilt. It abandoned piracy but increased involvement in the West Indies, as privateers who were focused on the slave trade with Africa transported slaves to the West Indies.[6]

Slavery and maritime maroonage in the Netherlands Antilles

The business of slavery brought an important population influx to the Netherlands Antilles. African slaves led by the Dutch ships to the Caribbean were culturally and ethnically as diverse as native Amerindians. The first slaves were brought to the islands from the regions of Senegal, Gambia and the east coast of North Africa. The increase in European competition for dominance of African markets caused significant changes in the main sources of supply of this workforce, forcing them to seek new supply centers in the Gulf of Guinea and then to the Congo and Angola.[7]

With the exception of the sugar and coffee plantations in Brazil, most of the slaves used in the colonies of the Spanish and Portuguese America also worked in mining, fortifications, domestic service in the larger colonial cities, and as agricultural laborers on farms. However, in the case of non-Iberian economies, and especially in the Caribbean, African slaves were used mostly as plantation workers. Occasionally, some (mostly women) were employed in domestic service. [8]

It is often considered that the legal status of African slaves in the Caribbean rendered them powerless and vulnerable to the greed and violence of their masters. However, as is clear in the case of slaves who in 1656 escaped from the island of Saba and later told their stories, they had various mechanisms, based on their position in the social ladder, to show their discontent and quite often resisted the control of their masters. Passive resistance was a daily means of protest and way of expressing disapproval of their misery. Acts of sabotage of crops and property, simulating illness when they were not sick, or showing signs of extreme laziness were among their tactics. A second mechanism used by slaves to show their discontent was the use of individual and collective violence. Although they were few and sporadic, the latter was the best portrayal of the massive rebellion of slave groups within a complex plantation. In fact, the use of individual violence was more common and was characterized by the assault to the foreman or owner of the plantation. Finally, a last resort to show their rebellion was simply to flee the plantations or house of the owners where they worked. In other words, they would become feral.[9]


Another lithograph showing the ships which trafficked in African slaves. Here they are at anchor in the port of St. Eustatius.

Maroon or “Cimarron” in Spanish is the general name given to groups fugitives who escaped from the hands of their owners individually, and often also collectively in order to escape their slave status. These groups of slaves were forced to go inland to avoid the danger of being caught by owners and colonial authorities, and organized their residence in remote areas of the colonies where they lived protected by the thick woods making use of natural resources for livelihood. However, as the number of Maroons grew, the forests could not provide everything needed for subsistence and some fugitives were forced to attack plantations and farms in order to seize animals and useful metal. This was especially true in the Netherlands Antilles where there was not much space for the proliferation of these Maroon villages. It was unlike the colony of Suriname where the phenomenon of runaway slaves was very significant. There, the creation of villages of escaped slaves was possible thanks to large tracts of forest and land far away from the centers of white settlement. [10]

The creation in the Netherlands Antilles of a slave community and a Creole culture, shared to some extent with whites and freedmen, occurred while the resistance to slavery continued by the slaves. Their resistance took a variety of forms, shaped by the peculiarities of the slave owners and forms of work, changes in the composition of the population, and geophysical facts of life on the islands. The decisive influence of these factors, in the absence of the supreme act of rebellion, was that the most viable alternative to slavery was maroonage, that is, the permanent abandonment of slave owners and workplaces (haciendas , plantations, white houses, etc.), and in those circumstances the maroonage came to mean in many cases maritime maroonage.[11]

Under the Dutch government, the three Windward Islands Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Martin formed a wedge, so to speak, between Spanish Puerto Rico with their dependencies (the islands of Vieques and Culebra), the Danish possessions and British to the northwest, and the French possessions, southeast. Many of these islands are within sight of each other. This proximity factor of the islands in a patchwork of national property had an important influence on the way maroonage developed in the Netherlands Antilles. There were significant differences in how the maroonage manifested in the rest of the Caribbean theater where aggregates of individual fugitives sometimes created discrete communities that threatened the military plantation system and economy. Regardless of its location, the viability of such communities was based on the topography. Natural barriers such as the jungle, swamp, and hardly penetrable mountains allowed the development of maroon communities to be isolated and able to successfully defend themselves if attacked. Slaves in the Dutch islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Martin did not enjoy any of these advantages. Extensive clearing of forests to make way for sugar plantations for the production of rum or logging destroyed the only advantage of which the Maroons could benefit.[12]

The relatively higher concentration of the slave population in the busiest seaports in the Netherlands Antilles, however, provided opportunities to escape to other islands. These opportunities were generally more effectively exploited by individuals rather than groups of slaves, and more often by men than by women. Although women were the majority of the urban slave population in the Netherlands Antilles, they were mostly employed in domestic service capacity and therefore did not have access to the male world of the docks and the sea. The data regarding slave men during the XVII century does not allow quantification of their employment. It is reasonable to assume that most of them were engaged in maritime work (loading and unloading boats, driving carts to load or unload cargo, and working in warehouses, or as crew on vessels) engaged in commercial activities between the different Caribbean islands. As centers of economic and commercial life, cities also attracted field slaves to sell fruits, vegetables, poultry, grass or firewood. At least on the islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, almost the entire population of slaves was in constant contact with the port cities. These port-towns also provide maritime Maroons the best opportunities for access to transportation across the sea to escape and achieve the much desired freedom.[13]


This lithograph of St. Eustatius is from the period after it went into economic decline.

Saba Island to Puerto Rico: the flight of the slaves

By 1656 the population of the small island of Saba, ruled by the Dutch, was around 500 people. A population of about 200 people included children, women, and men from Holland, France, and England, the English being the largest number. The remaining population included 300 black slaves.[14]

Among these 300 black slaves were Manuel, a 24-30 years old male and a native of Yagaboa in the Gambia River but raised in the Cacheu River and lived since childhood on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde; Jácome, 24-25, a fisherman and native of Brazil, born in the town of Puerto de Cabo; Manuel (Aka Mandú), a 28-30 year old male born in the kingdom of Angola although raised since childhood in Pernambuco in Brazil; Domingo, 22-23 and natural Cacheu River in Guinea-Bissau and raised in Santiago Island in Cape Verde; Francisco, 30-32, seaman, natural Cacheu River in Guinea-Bissau and raised in Santiago Island in Cape Verde; Antonio, 20-35, fisherman, natural kingdom of Angola and raised in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; Pedro (aka Perico.), 20-22 and native of Santiago Island in Cape Verde; Sebastian, of 20-38 and natural Guanda in Congo but established in Brazil land; Pedro, 13 to 14 and a native of the island of Barbados; Isabel, 24-25, married to Manuel and native of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; Ana, 20-24, married with Manuel (aka Mandú.) And a native of St. Paul of the Assumption of Luanda in Angola’s kingdom; Francisca, of 30, marrtied to Jácome and native of Río de Janeiro in Brasil; Isabel, married to Domingo and native of River Cacheu in Guinea-Bissau; y Lucrecia, of 20, married to Sebastián and native of Congo.[15]

These 14 black slaves, nine men and five women, were on the island of Saba for several years. Each came from a different place. Some came from Africa and Brazil. The Dutch and the British who made them prisoners moved to the island of Saba where they had been enslaved. They all understood that they were Dutch prisoners, not their slaves because when they were imprisoned they were free people. After several years of suffering “bad treatment from the Flemish and mainly willing […] to escape to Christian lands where they could live freely and confess the holy Catholic faith, they were committed to flee at the first opportunity they [had].”[16]

The long-awaited opportunity came Saturday, April 1, 1656 in the evening hours, when all black slaves were collected in their huts and masters were at their homes. According to the statements of the 14 black slaves, they all went to the beach on the island of Saba and seeing a barge that was anchored close to the coast, five of them decided (Jácome Antonio, Domingo, Francisco and Mandú) to swim to the barge while the others would resist on the beach if any Dutch approached from land. When the five slaves reached the barge swimming they boarded, and to their surprise they found inside four Flemish men. The slaves quickly took sticks and a knife they carried and started fighting with them. From the fight there was one man dead, a Flemish submitted and was captured by slaves, and the two other Flemish jumped into the sea and fled swimming.

Once the five slaves secured the barge and its Flemish prisoner they approached the beach and picked up the rest of their cohorts, that is, the other nine slaves who remained on the shoreline as lookouts for the escape. Therefore, quickly, on that tense night 14 slaves fled in a barge stolen from the Dutch. After sailing for two days, carrying only a cast iron pot to cook beans, several sticks of guayacán wood to burn and two barrels of water, they arrived on Monday, April 3, 1656 off the coast of Guayama, at that time a place located in the Coamo Valley southeast of the Spanish island of Puerto Rico. Doubting to what land they had arrived, they continued navigating close to the coast area until they saw some cows. Then, four blacks took a small boat that they brought on the barge and went to land, so they report back:

…having arrived they discovered some men so they turned the boat to board the barge and returned with the news that they had found people on land. They put a white flag up and were reciprocated from land with another white flag. They determined to send four of the blacks, namely Mandú, Jacome Francisco, and Domingo. As they reached land, they explained to the men who were there how they came to surrender. The men and the Flemish man took the small boat, went to the barge where they got […] the others who were left … [17]

The men with whom they met on the beach in Guayama proved to be seven inhabitants of the valley of Coamo, six Spanish and one black, who were engaged in fishing in the area. That day, Pedro Sanchez of Aliseda, 25 years old; German Rodriguez, 40; Dionisio Perez, 40; Pedro Ortega, 20; Antonio Antunez; Thomas Rivera; and Domingo Velazquez, a black report they

Governor Moses Leverock and family 1870?

This is a photograph of Governor Moses Leverock a native of Saba who presided over the liberation of slaves on July 1st, 1863 when there were 702 slaves liberated.

saw a barge passing by, and leery they could steal the canoe they had in the beach to fish; they went as discreetly as they could to a place they could defend. Seeing that the barge had passed beyond the point, they continued to follow, always in hiding, so that they could discover who were those inside the barge. Then they saw them throw anchor and place a small skiff into to sea, and four people embarked and arrived to land. Two of them got out of the skiff, and having seen this witness and companions, they and their partners embarked and went back to the barge. Having been discovered, this witness and his companions went to the beach to call them with a white flag, to which they responded with another. They embarked again in the skiff; up to four came and sat on the oars to talk to this witness and other colleagues, asking them where they came from. They said they were blacks who had fled the Flemish and Dutch who occupy the island Saba. They were Christians looking for a place they would find others. This witness and colleagues encouraged them to jump out on the ground and stay. They replicated saying they did not know if that land was Dutch, because although this witness and others spoke Spanish, it could be that they were prisoners and trying to trick them; they told the truth. Having been satisfied that they were in Puerto Rico and on Christian land, they said four blacks landed the skiff and came on land. The witness and the other companions went on board the barge to retrieve the other blacks on it.[18]

In the city of San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico, Governor and Captain General of the island, don Jose Novoa and Moscoso, heard about the arrival of the 14 blacks almost 20 days later. Thus, Saturday, April 22, 1656 the governor ordered an investigation (informaçión) be conducted to find out what happened in connection with the 14 black newcomers from the island of Saba. He also ordered the lawyer Don Pablo de Laza and Olivares, Lieutenant General of the island and people auditor of prisoner of war, to conduct the investigation, who for this should take testimony of witnesses and other measures. Juan Tisol would assist him as the scribe.

The investigation began the same Saturday, April 22, 1656 with the examination of the statements of four of the inhabitants that found the blacks on the Guayama beach, who explain what we have already referred too.[19] Then the lawyer proceeded to examine the statements of the 14 blacks from April 22 to 25, 1656. All responded to the same questions (where they come from, how long had they been on Saba, why and how they fled, what was their religion, what happened during the trip, what was the island of Saba like, whether they were escaped slaves, etc.). Basically, their statements are uniform: they fled the Dutch because of the abuse they suffered; because they were Christians and the Dutch heretics who did not allowed them to practice their faith in freedom; and, above all, they were prisoners -not slaves- of the Dutch as they were born free when they were captured. Each black clarifies where they are natural from, how and where the Dutch captured them, how they were taken to the island of Saba and why they were willing to give up their lives crossing the sea just to achieve freedom. The only disadvantages faced by the declarants were by Francisca, Isabel and Lucrecia. Since the women were unable to speak Castilian (they spoke in “a very muzzled language“) and there was no one who could serve as interpreter, Mr. Laza determined that they had no capacity to take the oath and therefore to testify.[20]

On Friday, June 30, 1656, Mr. Laza took statements from Bartolomé Prentes, a sailor, 20-25 years old, who was the Dutchman who arrived in Guayama as a prisoner of the 14 blacks in the barge nearly three months ago. As Prentes does not speak Castilian, the lawyer orderd Simón Cornelio to serve as interpreter. Asked regarding what happened he declares that

he was sleeping in the barge with two other large Dutch and a small one … [and] they were assaulted by nine blacks. He jumped into the water but was caught and returned to the barge and they embarked in search of Catholic land. During the trip no harm was done to him, but when they sighted land they wanted to throw him into the sea but desisted fearing that they were being followed and might be reached by the Dutch; having not found this respondent, they feared more punishment.[21]

The Governor’s first resolution

Both the governor don Jose de Novoa and Moscoso were aware that the blacks that arrived from Saba had come looking for the land of the Catholics and that the position of lawyer Laza was to give freedom to the 14 blacks. Nevertheless, they ruled in the first sentencing of the case on Tuesday, July 18, 1656 to “take them as slaves for works on the fortifications and until the Royal Council comes to a resolution of it, [and] that the barge be sold with the auditor’s appraisal, and before the royal officials to cover for costs of prosecution.[22]

Evidently, Governor Novoa had other plans for the 14 fugitive black slaves. Only three and a half months after their flight from Saba, having arrived in Puerto Rico where they hoped to find freedom and appealing to the Spanish Catholic authorities for protection, the 14 slaves found themselves to be awaiting slavery again. The 14 fugitives from Saba ended up being placed by orders of the royal officials of Puerto Rico, Captain Luis Salinas Ponce de Leon, treasurer, and Don Alonso Menendez de Valdes, accountant, to work on the fortifications. Two days later, on Thursday, July 20, 1656 the royal officials put them all on sale on the barge that was already in the marina of El Tejar. They sent Roberto Beque, prison drummer, crier, to initiate the auction of the barge. And so, that day Juan Gomez, a resident of the city and prison gunner, appeared and bid on the whole barge of slaves, 100 pesos of eight reales silver each (800 reais). As Gomez was the only bidder who made an offer in the auction, he became the owner of the barge of 14 black Saban slaves.[23]

The claim of the Dutch: Captain Francisco de Arnao

Although the 14 black escapees from Saba came to Puerto Rico in search of freedom, and ended up subjected as slaves in Puerto Rico working on the fortifications of the city, their luck only got worse. On Tuesday, May 29, 1657 Captain Francisco Arnao, chaplain of the islands of St. Eustatius and Saba presented himself to governor Novoa in the city of San Juan, as master of the blacks Manuel, Sebastian, Antonio, Pedro, Manuel (aka. Mandú), Francisca, Isabel and Ana. He stated that he was Flemish and, subject to the states of the Gentlemen of Holland, that

under the peace treaty signed in the town of Münster between the king of Spain and the gentlemen of the States of Holland, he asked recovery of his property and to be returned to it from any party subject to His Majesty, [and] asked him the deliver the official declaration when the Blacks arrived, clarifying he would only use said statements in defense of his rights. [24]

Later, on Saturday, June 2, 1657 Captain Arnao also asked the eight blacks to declare his claims to his property to say “if it is true that when they left Saba they were his slaves and were serving him.[25] Captain Arnao came to Puerto Rico decided to claim ownership over eight of the 14 black fugitives from the island of Saba. To this end, not only did he try to make them confess to their condition as slaves before running away –not as prisoners of the Dutch, as they claim- but also enforced international treaties signed between Spain and the Netherlands regarding the restitution of property. The agreements Arnao set to enforce included the Treaty of Munster signed on 24 October 1648 which was combined with the Treaty of Osnabrück signed on May 15, 1648 to form the famous Peace of Westphali. This combination of agreements are what ended the Thirty Years’ War in Germany and the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and Holland. They involved the emperor of the Holy Roman-Germanic Empire (Ferdinand III), the Kingdoms of Spain, France, and Sweden, the United Provinces, and their allies among the princes of the Holy Roman-Germanic Empire. Together they contain several provisions that include detail regarding restitution of property.

Following the request of Captain Arnao, Governor Noboa called the eight black fugitives from Saba to testify, claimed by the Dutchman, on Thursday, June 7, 1657.[26] All eight denied having been slaves of Captain Arnao and added that if they were serving him when they escaped from Saba, it was as prisoners. Each narrated when they were taken prisoner by the Dutch and how they ended up on the island of Saba. To illustrate the point, consider the testimony of two of the blacks. Mandú claimed to be a

Catholic Christian, a native of Pernambuco. He denied having been a slave of Arnao. If he was serving him on Saba it was because he was taken as a prisoner leaving Pernambuco heading to the Bahía de Todos los Santos on a boat, owned by Pedro Martin, Portuguese, being the declarant free and making a living as a cabin boy of the sea and from that place, they brought him as a prisoner to the island of Saba. Because of the mistreatments they were subject to on Saba—the Spanish prisoners as well as the free blacks— he tried with other companions to flee and come to Christian lands to enjoy their freedom. [27]

The black Francisca also declared

to be a Christian Catholic and a native of Rio de Janeiro. She denied being or having been a slave of Arnao. Although she served him in Saba she was a prisoner taken out of a Portuguese sugar ship bund from Rio de Janeiro to Bahía de Todos los Santos, and the respondent was in service Manuel de Golfa and as prisoner brought to Saba. Because of the mistreatments they were subject to on Saba, to white prisoners as well as the blacks, she tried to flee with other companions to come to Christian land to enjoy their freedom and not be in a land of heretics. [28]

After the eight blacks, claimed by Captain Arnao as his property, denied in their statements that they had been Captain Arnao’s slaves, as he claimed, and reported they were his prisoners on Saba, the captain submitted another petition on Tuesday, June 19, 1657 to governor Novoa arguing that slaves claimed by him

“declared to be in my service while and when they fled, negating to be my slaves but only my prisoners, which nevertheless, your Lordship will deliver them to me for all that is clear from the record in general is this :

  1. Because said slaves confessed in their information, ex officio to your Lordship when they came to this city as fugitives, that at the time and when the Dutch captured them they were slaves of the Portuguese they mentioned, and being captured the prisoners became goods of war and ownership of such goods are transferred to the winner. Thus, having the Dutch war against the Portuguese, they legitimately acquired any goods seized from each other. Therefore, in consequence, I legitimately possess the said slaves as incurred by a good war and acquired them from those who owned them.
  2. The other is that as said aforementioned slaves never claimed not to be so at the time when they were arrested, they had to be slaves by presumption of law that all blacks are slaves until proven otherwise. Accordingly,having confessed that they were serving me at the time when they fled, it is clearly understood that they were my slaves, and if so, I must then be delivered without litigation,restituting possession of them, whose escapes tripped me of such, as the owner recognizes what is due and his, can take them under his power. Therefore,ask and beg,to be given the slaves, because the records substantiate his request.”[29]

Two days after captain Arnao argued his position and submitted his written appeal requesting the transfer of eight black slaves he claimed were his, the royal officials of Puerto Rico, Captain don Luis de Salimas Ponce de León and Alonso Menéndez de Valdés, submitted a letter to the governor on Thursday, June 21, 1657 requesting that captain Arnao’s appeal be denied. Note that they did not ask that captain Arnao’s petition be denied in order to set the slaves free (based on Arnao’s claim that he owned the eight black in question). Instead, they wanted to retain possession of the blacks as slaves to leave them working at the fortifications of the city. They argue that 1) captain Arnao is not a legitimate party to the case because it had not been proven that he was Dutch; 2) in the case that he was Flemish, and according to the statements of the blacks, they did not appear to be his; and 3) the governor should declare Captain Arnao as not a legitimate party in the dispute and the slaves should pass to the royal orders of His Majesty as have other slaves who who came from the Windward Islands and Santo Domingo to Puerto Rico.[30]

The same day that royal officials submit their request to keep the blacks for the fortifications, the eight blacks claimed by Captain Arnao submitted a letter to the governor requesting to be freed. They had received a transcript from Arnao’s last arguments and requests—specifically in relation to the blacks as having been lawfully obtained based on the series of treaties between Spain and the Netherlands regarding just war— and had been able to respond against it. In their petition, the blacks presented that captain Arnao had no right over them and that the governor should favor them on the basis of being free and not as slaves of the Dutch. The petition states the following:

Manuel, a native of the island of Santiago in Cape Verde; Sebastian, a native of Guandu, land of Congo; Manuel Mandú, a native of Pernambuco; Antonio, a native of the kingdom of Angola; Francisca, a native of Rio de Janeiro; Isabel, a native of San Thomé, coast of Luanda; Ana, a native of the kingdom of Angola; and Pedro are the “colored, who came in search of a land of Christians… fugitives from the island of Saba where we were prisoners… without prejudice to our right, and affirming first and before all else in our statements we have made regarding Captain Francisco de Arnao petition, who says to be Flemish, and now back in the city… in response to the above presented petition [of Arnao] that your Lordship sent us saying we and others contained in this petition are [Arnao’s] slaves, we refuse in any and every bit of its contents, for its lack of truth. Thus, your lordship, in fairness, you must deny what the said Captain Francisco Arnao requests and favor us in our cause, protecting our freedom. As it is recorded in the file of our statements that we are not and have never been slaves to this or other foreigners but were only prisoners…I … ask … [you not to] admit or allow us to be under their power. As Christians… see the bad treatments … we and all other prisoners, white and black, [had in Saba]. [As] fugitives [we] tried to come… to enjoy the good enjoyed by all Christians and our freedom… Please, your Lordship [we] ask and beg to be denied to the said Captain Francisco de Arnao who, so against us, aims and declares not to have… any rights… and encourages us as Christians in our [search for] freedom… we come to find, under the cover of your Lordship, hope and we ask you for justice, etc. Manuel. Sebastian. Antonio. Manuel Mandú.”[31]

The case did not loosen up. For each request submitted by Captain Arnao before the governor, the blacks claimed by Arnao responded with yet another petition. On top of the extension in time of the cause, the royal officials mediated their advantage. On Friday, June 22, 1657 Captain Arnao requested again before the governor that the eight blacks be returned to him, in spite of the claims by the royal officials.[32] The same day, the governor was ready to rule on the case and instructed all parties to present the final allegations they claimed to have in their favor.[33] On Monday, June 25, 1657, Captain Arnao, who seemed sick and tired of going back and forth before the governor, and even more so of the of the Spanish bureaucracy, decided to submit another petition to the governor, perhaps thinking it would be the last time he would do so. This time he requested an investigation to be made with witnesses to prove he is Dutch and, therefore, the rightful owner of the eight slaves he claimed.

Captain Arnao submitted five witnesses before the governor for the inquiry. It took place between Tuesday and Wednesday, June 26-27, 1657. When they made their declaration, each of the five witnesses expressed more or less the same terms. Obviously, they were all in favor of Arnao’s cause. Witnesses were Juan de Mediola, 30 years old, a resident of the city of San Juan and native of the city of Seville; Joseph de Luna, 35, Ensign, a resident in the city of San Juan and neighbor of Seville; Lucas de Galarza, 25, a resident of San Juan and a native of Veracruz; Salvador de Montes de Oca, 27, a resident of San Juan, a neighbor of Santo Domingo; Henrique Moli, 34, a resident of San Juan, a native of Lubeck in Germany and neighboring Amsterdam.[34] After this investigation, the scales of the case were tipped to one side of the cause. Here are two of these statements. The Ensign Joseph de Luna, declared he

knows the parties and knows Arnao to be Dutch and live on the island of St. Eustace with his wife and property, which is subject to the states of Holland from where its governor comes, and as such provide free passage to Spanish prisoners who were fleeing the island of San Cristobal as prisoners of the British.; he witnessed this and others in the group of 19 slaves Arnao brought to this city. He knows that Arno also came to ask for some blacks who had fled the island St. Eustace who contributed to this island and so he heard from Arnao and the islands and has confirmed they certainly are his.[35]

While for his part, Henrique Moli said

Arnao is Flemish, a native of a village attached to the town of Amsterdam, and they heard of him publicly for over 20 years now. He met three of his married daughters in this town of Amsterdam and is Dutch as such; he is resident in the island of Saint Eustatius, where he has his ranch and home, where he met this witness. He knew that St. Eustatius is subject to the states of Holland from where its governor comes from. He knew eight blacks male and female he had in his captivity ran away from Arnao with six other blacks in Arnao’s boat this past year of 1656. In conformity to this, the governor of Eustatius wrote to his lordship’ General, the letter written in Latin read by this witness to his lordship. To this end, Arnao came to this port and all together brought 20 Spanish prisoners who fled the island of San Cristobal from the British on the Island Eustaquio.[36]

Once the investigation with the statements of the five witnesses called by Captain Arnao concluded, he asked once again to governor Novoa for the restitution of the eight black slaves that he claimed were his. Given this, and seeing all the information gathered, the governor resolved, by sentence dated Tuesday, July 10, 1657, that he was

aware that the blacks were slaves when they were seized by the Dutch and that when they fled they were at his service and being eight slaves contained in his request property of Arnao and according to peace and capitulations settled between Spain and Holland, he said:

  1. That the eight blacks were to be delivered to Arnao as his own property he owned at the time of the flight.
  2. Because the blacks were Roman Catholics and Arnao of a different religion, he may not take them away from this island to take them to St. Eustatius or elsewhere where the reformed religion is professed.
  3. If he paid their bond, they would be taken to land of Christians where they would be delivered and disposed of. [37]

Of the 14 maritime Maroons arriving in April 1656 to the beaches of Guayama south of Puerto Rico from the Dutch island of Saba, eight would be returned to its rightful owner in July 1657. Both the Dutchman, who came to the island to reclaim his property, as well as the runaway slaves and even the royal officers of Puerto Rico used the mechanisms afforded to them by the regulations of the Spanish legal and judicial system, to try to prevail in the case that is initiated by a request for restitution filed by Captain Arnao . As discussed below, these eight slaves remained in Puerto Rico along with the rest of the 14 fugitive slaves of Saba at least until after 1673.

The claim for restitution of the Dutch: Captain Floris Simón

A few months after finishing the cause for the restitution of the slaves claimed by Captain Francisco de Arnao for eight of the 14 fugitive slaves from the island of Saba, Captain Floris Simón, Dutch, resident and secretary of Saba came to Puerto Rico, and introduces on Wednesday, November 7, 1657 a request for restitution of five of those 14 maritime Maroons. Captain Floris Simón arrived to claim Pedro, a slave he owned; Jácome, a slave owned by Pedro and Adriana Suaris, his wife, residents of the island of Saba, whom he represents by proxy; and Domingo, Francisco e Isabel, three slaves of Mary de Petris, wife of Pedro de Bris, governor of the island of Saba and deceased, which he also represents by proxy. These restitution proceedings, including the filing of the proxies, submitting petitions, and the request through testimony before the governor for the five blacks who had been his slaves, took from Wednesday November 7 to Saturday, November 17, 1657.[38]

Captain Floris Simon came to Puerto Rico with a very clear mission: to seek restitution of the blacks proving they were slaves in Saba, and seek restitution, in accordance with the treaties signed between Spain and the Netherlands. As manifested by one of the two witnesses presented by Captain Floris Simon, when he was undergoing procedures for submission and confirmation of the proxies that he brought with him, Don Juan Ruiz de Castro, 29 years old and living in San Juan, says

he knew Captain Floris, Pedro Suaris and his wife Adriana Suaris, of Dutch nationality, and knew her while tried on Island of Saba as prisoner with other Spanish partners, which in the presence of this witness and Ensign Mateo Gomez, Spanish, who was also a prisoner, they said a slave named Jácome had fled them in the company of other black slaves from different owners and they had news that they were in this town. A power of attorney was given to Floris to recover them in accordance with the peace treaty confirmed between Spain and the Netherlands.[39]

On Saturday, November 17, 1657 the governor decreed that he be given “to forward the petition to the royal officers, and the blacks being destitute, he appointed to them in this lawsuit defender Sergeant Sebastián Martín Dávila, commission which he accepted.[40] That same day the defender of the blacks took oath; he “gave as his guarantor Juan Sanabria, a resident of the city.”[41] After two weeks, on Saturday, December 1, 1657 the royal officials submitted a petition to the governor Novoa to deny captain Floris Simón his claim on the black Jácome, on behalf of the Suarises, because the blacks are in the account of the King in the Council of the Indies; nor should it be allowed the claim of the other four blacks because Simón was only admitted as a party to the case of Jácome while representing the Suarises.[42]

Two days later, on Monday, December 3, 1657, the governor took statements from the five blacks subjects of the claim by Captain Floris Simón. Basically, the five statements were similar. All allege that they were not slaves but Saba prisoners, who were taken prisoner by the Dutch while freemen and fled seeking land of Christians and a place to enjoy their freedom. For example, Jácome the black subject of the claim of the Dutch on behalf of the Suaris, declared

to be a Christian Catholic, native of the kingdom of Brazil. He denied having been a slave but free because although he was in service of Pedro Suaris from the Dutch nation and inhabitant of Saba, he was captured [not sold] for two years by captain Lambres Pechelingue, who first imprisoned him in the bahía de Todos los Santos. Because of the ill treatment received by all prisoners, they made plans with fellow companions to flee to a land of Christians to enjoy our freedom.[43]

That same day Isabel declared, as one of the three slaves also claimed by the Dutchman but in this case on behalf of Mary Petris, widow of Pedro de Bris, governor of Saba now deceased. Isabel said the she too was a

“Christian Catholic, born in Cacheu and denied being or having been a slave, but free. She fled Saba in company of Domingo, her husband, and other partners. Although at the time she fled from Saba Island, which is Flemish and English, she was serving Pedro de Bris, governor of Saba, as a prisoner. Due to abuse upon her as well as all prisoners they tried to flee and come to land of fellow Christians, as they did, to enjoy their freedom.” [44]

And as a last example, consider the statement by Pedro, the slave whom captain Floris Simón comes to claim as his property. Pedro, like his colleagues, he said that he was

“Christian catholic, a native of the island of Santiago in Cabo Verde. He denied being or ever have been a slave, but a freeman; although at the time he fled the island of Saba with his fellowmen, the island of Saba was populated by Flemish and English, he was serving captain Floris as a prisoner and because of the ill-treatment to all prisoners, he tried to flee and come unto a land of Christians to enjoy their freedom, as they did “.[45]

As all the black stated they were not slaves in Saba but prisoners of the Dutch, and they were free when captured, Captain Floris Simon introduced a new petition on Tuesday, December 11, 1657 requesting another inquiry regarding the status of slaves of the blacks claimed. To that end, he produces before the governor three witnesses who will favor him. They are Gaspar de Espinosa, 23 years old and living in the city of San Juan; Fadrique Goverte, 30 and a native of Holland, sailor; and Fredrique Driquenz, 32 and a native of Holland, “arraiz” of the barge that led the Spanish prisoners from the island of St. Eustatius to the city of San Juan. The three declared in similar terms. They declared they knew it to be true that the slaves claimed by the Dutch are runaway slaves. Frederic Goverte, for example, stated that he

met Pedro Suaris and Adriana Suaris, his wife, and met Pedro de Bris, deceased, who was the governor of the island Saba, and met Mary Petris, his wife, all residents of that island; knew the blacks were slaves because he saw that Jácome, Francisco, Domingo and Isabel were in Suaris’ service at the time when they fled that island and these are the same [blacks} there that day that have been declared [slaves]; also knew said captain Floris Simon whom he has treated, communicated with, and who came in his company and knew, so having seen him, that the black named Pedro was Suaris’ slave, serving in that island of Saba, where the witness was and saw him in that service.[46]

At this point in the case, the Wednesday, December 12, 1657 Captain Floris Simón requested to be handed over the five slaves.[47] Two days later, on Friday, December 14, Sergeant Sebastian de Ávila, defender of the blacks, asked that the request for restitution of the Dutch captain be rejected. The defender of blacks said, and in my opinion rightly so, that the request made by the Captain Floris Simon itself and on behalf of their constituents to deliver him the five blacks

“should be denied […] not be legitimate; as such, the blacks should be free according to their statements; for that reason, they escaped from the captivity where they were. They should be made use of under your lordship to which it belongs; so, the said blacks should be protected; so I ask your lordship and beg to deny the said captain Floris Simón what he requests against said blacks. Protecting them, your Lordship, in their freedom would be justice.”[48]

Although the blacks’ defendant asks for their freedom and that justice favor them, the royal officials in Puerto Rico, that is, the accountant and treasurer, ask the governor in a letter of request on the subject on 15 December 1657, that the request of the of the Dutch captain should be denied and the blacks not be released to them, but be used as slaves at the royal works of city fortifications. That is, they sought the same request as applied in the case of the eight slaves claimed by captain Arnao; they should not delivered to Dutchman, but applied as slaves of the King. Or as they present,

“Your Lordship has to deny that claim, so in general and the following::

  1. Because the information given by Captain Floris provided only two witnesses to testified from his same nation and his friends so they should be banned and contradict the information.
  2. Because all slaves who have come to this island and to Santo Domingo from the Windward Islands populated by foreigners have been applied as royal possession of His Majesty and sold and proceeds placed in his royal coffers.
  3. Because upon the arrival of the slaves to this island, notice had been given to His Majesty in the Royal Council of the Indies, where If they had any right, the said captain Floris and parties may ask Him what suits them.

For all these reasons, they ask and beg, captain Floris should be denied the claim of his pretention to have the five slaves delivered to him.”[49]

Finally, after examining the arguments of each party: the slaves were represented by their counsel; the Dutch represented by Captain Floris Simón himself, who also claimed for himself; and the royal officials representing the interests of the Crown, Governor Novoa, with the advice of the lawyer don Pablo de Laza y Olivares, delivered a ruling with the judgment, which ordered that the five blacks be delivered to Captain Floris Simón on behalf and of his constituents, “in compliance with what is stated in the capitulations held between his Majesty and the lords of the states of Holland.”[50]

The final battle against slavery (concluded)

In 1662 the lawyer Don Gaspar Velez Mantilla, a member of the Council of His Majesty, judge and most senior Major of the Royal Audience of Santo Domingo, and auditor of the island of Puerto Rico and its royal coffers, was in Puerto Rico. The Honorable Velez, among other tasks, was on the island to complete the impeachment trial of the former governor Novoa, who had left the government in 1661 and was replaced by don Juan Pérez de Guzmán, new governor and captain general of Puerto Rico. During the trial proceedings of the impeachment, Mr. Velez seized Novoa ‘s goods to collect the fines imposed on it. Among the seized goods were 12 blacks, and were found to be of the 14 fugitives from Saba.

When Velez tried to sell the blacks in public auction, and for not knowing anything about their flight from Saba, they “went asking them to declare for free because they were not slaves captured while the Dutch in Cape Verde and they offered information.” On Tuesday, July 11, 1662, because of the situation, said the lawyer, and since “there have been several black seized from Novoa who claim to be freemen, and to know the truth, and not to defraud the Royal Treasury, and so they are not in bondage those who were free, being destitute and people who have been unable to attend the proceedings that suit them  … [I] order ex officio to receive information about this cause.” A new investigation began to determine, again, if the blacks were slaves or freemen, and how and why Governor Novoa had them in his possession as slaves[51]

In the files regarding the blacks fleeing from Saba, there is no record of the sale of slaves apparently made by the Flemish owners (Captain Francisco de Arnao and captain Floris Simón) to governor Novoa. Neither is there a record that justifies since when and under what circumstances he came in possession of them. All we know so far is that the Saba slaves remained in Puerto Rico, subject to further investigation, at least until 1673.

As we have noted, the phenomenon of maritime maroonage is complex, and a multidimensional examination allows us to see other underlying realities: the intra-Caribbean relations, spatial mobility of slaves, colligation of interests in the slave world, the cohesion in the maroonage world— the struggle, in short, to survive. We dedicate this essay to the 14 blacks, men and women, who in the spring of 1656, devoured the sea.




[1] Scarano, Francisco A. “Slavery and emancipation in Caribbean history”, in B.W. Higman (ed.), General History of the Caribbean – Vol. VI: Methodology and Historiography of the Caribbean. UNESCO: UNESCO Publishing / MacMillan Education Ltd., 1999, pp. 233-282. Moscoso, Francisco. “Formas de resistencia de los esclavos en Puerto Rico, siglos XVI-XVIII”. América Negra, Pontifica Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia, núm. 10, 1995, pp. 31-48. Knight, Franklin W. (ed.). General History of the Caribbean, Vol. III – The Slave Societies of the Caribbean. London: UNESCO Publishing, 1997. Knight, Franklin W. “Race, ethnicity and class in Caribbean history”, in B.W. Higman (ed.), General History of the Caribbean, Vol. VI: Methodology and Historiography of the Caribbean. UNESCO: UNESCO Publishing / MacMillan Education Ltd., 1999, pp. 200-232.

[2] “Expediente sobre la fuga de los negros de la isla de Saba, 1656-1673”. Cartas y expedientes de los oficiales reales de la isla de Puerto Rico, 1660-1700. Archivo General de Indias de Sevilla, España, Sección Audiencia de Santo Domingo, legajo 167, folios 212-294v. (En adelante: AGI, SD 167, f. / ff.)

[3] Antunes, Cátia. “Desarrollo y características de una sociedad multicultural”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 421-440. Crespo Solana, Ana y Pieter C. Emmer. “Las islas holandesas en la época colonial. Evolución político-económica”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 441-477. Nagelkerke, Gerard A. Netherlands Antilles: A Bibliography 17th Century – 1980. The Hage: Smiths Drukkers-Uitgevers B.V., 1982. Oostindie, Gert and Rosemariyn Hoefte. “Historiography of Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles”, in B.W. Higman (ed.), General History of the Caribbean, Vol. VI: Methodology and Historiography of the Caribbean. UNESCO: UNESCO Publishing / MacMillan Education Ltd., 1999, pp. 604-630. Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. A short history of the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam. Assen, Netherlands : Van Gorcum, 1990. Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. The Dutch in the Caribbean and in the Guianas, 1680-1791. Assen, Netherlands; Dover, N.H.: Van Gorcum, 1985. Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. The Deutch in the Caribbean and on the Wild Coast, 1580-1680. Assen, Netherlands, 1971.

[4] Crespo Solana, Ana y Pieter C. Emmer. “Las islas holandesas en la época colonial. Evolución político-económica”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, p. 455

[5] Crespo Solana, Ana y Pieter C. Emmer. “Las islas holandesas en la época colonial. Evolución político-económica”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 455-456

[6] Crespo Solana, Ana y Pieter C. Emmer. “Las islas holandesas en la época colonial. Evolución político-económica”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, p. 456.

[7] Antunes, Cátia. “Población en las Antillas neerlandesas, siglos XVI-XXI”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 413-416.

[8] Antunes, Cátia. “Desarrollo y características de una sociedad multicultural”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, pp. 432-435.

[9] Íbid.

[10] Antunes, Cátia. “Desarrollo y características de una sociedad multicultural”, en Ana Crespo Solana y María Dolores González Ripoll (coords.). Historia de las Antillas, Vol. III (Cuarta Parte: Las Antillas Neerlandesas) – Historia de las Antillas no hispanas. España: Ediciones Doce Calles, S.L., 2011, p. 436-438.

[11] Hall, B.W. Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, pp.124-138.

[12] Hall, B.W. “‘Grand Marronage’ from the Danish West Indies”. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 476-498.

[13] Hall, B.W. Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992, pp. 124-138.

[14] AGI, SD 167, ff. 221v-222.

[15] AGI, SD 167, ff. 219-238v.

[16] AGI, SD 167, ff. 219-220.

[17] AGI, SD 167, ff. 220-220v.

[18] AGI, SD 167, ff. 215v-216.

[19] AGI, SD 167, ff. 215v-219.

[20] AGI, SD 167, ff. 219-238v.

[21] AGI, SD 167, ff. 239v-240.

[22] AGI, SD 167, ff. 240-240v.

[23] AGI, SD 167, ff. 240v-241. Por un autor del gobernador del 21 de julio de 1656, se metió lo procedido de la venta del lanchón, luego del pago de costas, en la caja real: 1) por llevar el lanchón a San Juan con gente y comida: 263.5 rs.; 2) por darle de comer a los negros desde 28 de abril hasta 18 de junio de 1656: 248 rs.; 3) el quinto al Rey de lo procedido de la venta del lanchón: 160 rs.; y 4) el quinto que toca al gobernador: 128 rs.

[24] AGI, SD 167, ff. 241v-242.

[25] AGI, SD 167, f. 242.

[26] AGI, SD 167, ff. 242v-245v.

[27] AGI, SD 167, ff. 243-245v.

[28] AGI, SD 167, ff. 244-244v.

[29] AGI, SD 167, ff. 245v-246.

[30] AGI, SD 167, ff. 246v-247.

[31] AGI, SD 167, ff. 247-248.

[32] AGI, SD 167, ff. 248-248v.

[33] AGI, SD 167, f. 248v.

[34] AGI, SD 167, ff. 249v-253.

[35] AGI, SD 167, ff. 250-250v.

[36] “Declaración de Henrique de Moli, 26 de junio de 1657”. “Expediente sobre la fuga de los negros de la isla de Saba, 1656-1673”. Cartas y expedientes de los oficiales reales de la isla de Puerto Rico, 1660-1700. Archivo General de Indias de Sevilla, España, Sección Audiencia de Santo Domingo, legajo 167, folios 252-253.

[37] “Auto del gobernador don José Novoa y Moscoso, 10 de julio de 1657”. “Expediente sobre la fuga de los negros de la isla de Saba, 1656-1673”. Cartas y expedientes de los oficiales reales de la isla de Puerto Rico, 1660-1700. Archivo General de Indias de Sevilla, España, Sección Audiencia de Santo Domingo, legajo 167, folios 253-254.

[38] AGI, SD 167, ff. 254-257.

[39] AGI, SD 167, ff. 254v-255.

[40] AGI, SD 167, ff. 256-256v.

[41] AGI, SD 167, ff. 256v-257.

[42] AGI, SD 167, ff. 257-257v.

[43] AGI, SD 167, ff. 258-258v.

[44] AGI, SD 167, ff. 259v-260.

[45] AGI, SD 167, ff. 258v.

[46] AGI, SD 167, ff. 261v-262.

[47] AGI, SD 167, ff. 262-262v.

[48] AGI, SD 167, ff. 262v-263.

[49] AGI, SD 167, ff. 263-263v.

[50] AGI, SD 167, ff. 264v-265.

[51] AGI, SD 167, ff. 266v-

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