When her slave owner, Jan Pieter Pfeffer, died, she stood tall and demanded that her arrears be paid. Her demand for the police and courts to enforce her owner, Jan Pfeffer’s will, which promised her freedom after his death, shocked Dutch society.
The story of Aspasia, an enslaved African on the Jan Pfeffer plantation, was recorded in the estate’s inventory, which historian Ramona Negron discovered.
According to the Low Countries, Pfeffer owed only two debtors: Aspasia and another plantation owner named Salomon du Plessis, who was entitled to 1440 guilders.
When Aspasia learned of this, she approached the estate managers and requested that the two guilders owed to her by Pfeffer be paid. Her claim was that Pfeffer carried her debt to his grave and thus qualifies her to possess what is hers. Aspasia’s claim was not the only one that ruffled feathers. When Pfeffer made his will on January 12, 1755, he stated that Aspasia’s servitude would end when he died.
After her owner died, Aspasia petitioned the Court of Police and Criminal Justice in Suriname for the release of an enslaved person on August 8, 1755.
Such demands are typically made on behalf of someone who is enslaved by another person.
Aspasia broke protocol by referring to Pfeffer’s will, which stated her slave owner’s intent to release her without condition, and one that never required Pfeffer to acknowledge. On July 5, a copy of the request was sent to Amsterdam and registered in the community, sending thrills and waves to the streets of Suriname.
On August 15, the court granted her request, stating that Aspasia’s release papers would be given to her and that she was no longer bound.
In signing her release papers, she stated that the cross placed in her hands confirms her endorsement.
Historian Negron stated that the stories of Aspasia and other enslaved people had been buried in the archives because when plantation owners’ records like Pfeffer’s are captured, details about slaves are left out or scattered throughout the books. He chastised colonial authorities for adopting such a stance.
He claimed that in order to come across such stories, historians and researchers would have to delve deeper into the archives and reconstruct the stories in bits and pieces as they came across them.
Negron stated that such a pivotal case as Aspasia taking control of her destiny to reclaim her freedom and fortunes should not have been overlooked.
He does not find it surprising, he says, given the volumes of documents typically prepared and archived on behalf of key stakeholders in the slave trade. Matters such as the strides made by the enslaved people have no value to their business or profits and would be ignored.
Negron went on to say that the reason there is so little literature on the enslaved is because they were also forbidden from reading and writing.
Such an opportunity would have allowed them to tell and preserve their own stories. Even those who could read had no pen and paper to write their own history, burying their deeds and milestones in obscurity. Any such stories captured in biographies, diaries, or letters were done after the fact, and are frequently third-person accounts.
The Dutch erected invisible barriers that made it nearly impossible to properly document the history of enslaved Africans. Those that have been told are written from the perspective of the slave trader or owner.