November 13, 2021

‘Murder ship’ Leusden anchored in Statia four times

 As published in the section "Opinion" of The Daily Herald, St. Maarten, of Friday/Saturday November 12-13, 2021, p. 33


Dear editor,

On Thursday, November 4, news on the search for the Dutch “slave ship” the Leusden travelled the world. Archaeologists were ecstatic at the mere idea of finding the West Indian Company vessel that sank in 1738 just off the coast of Suriname. Within sight of the harbour 664 Africans were killed by the crew.

A French-Dutch expedition has started scanning a large area near the coasts of Suriname and French Guyana with a magnetometer, a drone measuring metal traces. The city of Amsterdam, the Dutch National Heritage Agency and the French Underwater Archaeological Service DRASSM are part of the expedition. The National Heritage Agency thinks the ship is of great scientific importance since a Dutch slave ship was never investigated before. In a report by news agency NOS, Michel l'Hour of DRASSM, and one of the leaders of the mission, says: "Scientists from all over the world are interested in the shipwreck. If we find evidence that the ship is actually De Leusden, then I have found the most beautiful object of my career."

However, I am extremely critical of the approach taken by the scientists. This is exactly what happened when the excavations on the Golden Rock Burial Ground started. Archaeologists were excited at the idea of breaking open an 18th century slave burial ground and analysing bones and teeth in labs. But these bones and teeth are taken from our ancestors, and no one asked the opinion of the descendent community.

In the case of this ship, it involves the murder of 664 African people that the crew knowingly left to drown. For no reason. It is exactly that massacre that should be at the heart of the reporting. Every question that comes to the minds of Africans in de diaspora upon hearing this story must be answered. The atrocity must be officially morally rejected and criminally investigated. We should try to find out who the victims were so that we can commemorate them.”

Conditions on the ship

Historian Leo Balai discovered the story behind the shipping disaster 10 years ago in the Dutch National Archives. He conducted research into the slave voyages of the ship De Leusden and the living conditions of the imprisoned and kidnapped Africans onboard the ships. He obtained his doctorate in 2011 and published the book The slave ship Leusden. Balai is of Surinamese descent, and you notice that in how the book is written and the perspective he takes. He doesn't talk about “slaves” but “prisoners” for example and in the earlier mentioned NOS item he states "it was a huge massacre" instead of “the crew felt like they had no choice”. He also explicitly described all the different steps the Dutch took to dehumanise the prisoners.

Four voyages to St. Eustatius

What many people do not know is that the ship's first four voyages had as their final destination St. Eustatius. It anchored in St. Eustatius in 1721, 1722, 1724, and 1726 bringing respectively 562, 471, 221, 676 prisoners. Many prisoners had died during the journey because of the inhumane conditions on board. The supply of the prisoners to Sint Eustatius was in most cases not intended for St. Eustatius but for owners of plantations on the surrounding islands. The book of Balai notes, however, that a considerable amount of prisoners was sold to people like Simon de Graaf, Joan Donker, Lauren Isnaer, and John Combes, probably with the intention to resell the prisoners at a later stage at a profit.

In total the Leusden made 10 voyages. Balai’s book describes the journeys in detail, including the origin of the captured Africans and the names of people on St. Eustatius to whom they were sold. It also describes the characteristics on which the prisoners in Africa were checked before departure, thus exposing in detail the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade, the crimes against humanity.

Racism in archaeology and Dutch media

So, the archaeologists change the perspective again from black to white, in close collaboration with white Dutch media. Uncritical NINSee guarantees that everyone swallows the spoon-fed story because if a black person confirms the distorted story, they’re covered, the story can't be racist. Unfortunately, there will always be Uncle Tom figures in our community, moving with the oppressor, afraid of losing their subsidy.

Archaeology is per definition a racist academic discipline, and it’s time for that to change. We need more black African-centered historians, black African anthropologists, and black African archaeologist in science. We need to take control over our own narrative.               

Change for the future

We need more black African-centered media and journalists in the Netherlands too. Ubuntu Connected Front (UCF) has a Black Agenda that advocates structural change within the systems. We need strong leaders in our community boldly expressing the thoughts, ideas, and feelings of those who are not comfortable or not able to speak up, making sure their voices are heard. My hope is on the future generation. It was Malcolm X who said, Armed with the knowledge of our past, we can with confidence charter a course for our future.

Radio show Nation Wide Jamaica

On Saturday, November 13, Derrick Simmons and I of UCF Caribbean will be talking about the atrocity on board the Leusden on the Radio Show “Talking History” of Nation Wide Radio JM Jamaica, hosted by renowned historian, Professor Verene Shepherd (time 9-10 am with a repeat broadcast on Thursdays at 7pm and on Sundays at 6:15pm).


Kenneth Cuvalay

Ubuntu Connected Front (UCF) Caribbean


Update November 16, 2021: Archaeologist Jay B. Haviser responds to the letter: Dutch politician beats emotional drum for votes 

Update November 23, 2021: Our UCF Caribbean coordinator and anthropologist, Derrick Simmons, responds to Jay B. Haviser's letter: Response to letter from Dr. Jay B. Haviser

Update November 23, 2021: Response to the letter of Haviser by Jack Theuns: Biased to the bone

Update November 24, 2021: UCF Caribbean chairman, Kenneth Cuvalay, responds to the letter of Haviser: Archaeologist Dr. Haviser not fit as chair Statia Heritage and Research Commission



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