Snak, Claas and Bastiaan’s Struggle for Freedom

Three Curaçaoan Enslaved Men and Their Court Cases About the Free Soil Principle in the Dutch Republic


  • Tim van Polanen Leiden University



Slavernij, de vrijheid van Patria, het principe van de vrije grond, Hoge Raad van Holland en Zeeland, Staten-Generaal, Rooms-Hollands recht


In the Dutch Republic slavery was not permitted on its soil in Western Europe. Enslaved people obtained their freedom by setting foot on Dutch soil. In 1776, the scope of this free soil principle was limited by a statute of the States General. From this moment onwards only slaves who remained in the Republic for longer than six months would automatically become free. In the literature, it was hitherto assumed that with the establishment of this statute the first debates about the scope of the free soil principle were initiated. This article demonstrates that this assumption is false. Previously, two court cases from 1735 and 1736, between two enslaved men from Curaçao and their masters, had already given rise to discussion. During these court cases, lawyers and judges elaborately debated the boundaries of the free soil principle. Did every enslaved person automatically obtain their freedom, or was, for instance, the permission of the master required to travel to the Dutch Republic? The two court cases give insight into what contemporaries thought about the free soil principle, thus shedding new light on the States General’s statute of 1776.


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Author Biography

Tim van Polanen, Leiden University

Tim van Polanen works as a PhD-fellow at the Department of Legal History at Leiden University. His main research interests are Roman-Dutch law, Roman law, modern private law, Dutch (colonial) history and slavery. Currently, Van Polanen works on his PhD-project about judicial decision-making within the High Court of Holland, Zeeland and West-Friesland. E-mail:




How to Cite

Polanen, T. van. (2021). Snak, Claas and Bastiaan’s Struggle for Freedom: Three Curaçaoan Enslaved Men and Their Court Cases About the Free Soil Principle in the Dutch Republic. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 136(1), 33–58.