Locating the enslaved. Linking data on slavery in Paramaribo (1846)

This project converts a number of datasets on Suriname's colonial history into a Linked Open Data set. This will show where people (formerly) held in slavery lived in Paramaribo in 1846 and how the spatial makeup of the city reveals the racial divide that underpinned colonial Suriname society.

Principal investigator
  • Thunnis van Oort

Since 1826, the colonial government in Suriname established the so-called ‘slavenregisters’ (slave registers) keeping track of the ownership of enslaved people in order to combat illegal slave trade. The slave registers are available online, but not in Linked Open Data (LOD) format. The registers supply information about the ownership of enslaved people and some personal information (name, age, mother’s name), but do not indicate the domicile of the enslaved person. The register recognizes two categories of enslaved: those tied to a plantation and so-called privately owned slaves, who usually served as domestic staff or as craftsmen. This latter category predominantly lived in Paramaribo, the only urban center of the colony, but their exact whereabouts cannot be gleaned from the slave registers.

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Fellowship presentation by Thunnis van Oort

About the project

In this project, a number of datasets on Suriname’s colonial history will be converted into an interconnected LOD (Linked Open Data) set. Linking these datasets will show where people (formerly) held in slavery lived in Paramaribo and how the spatial makeup of the city reveals the racial divide which underpinned colonial Suriname society. In recent historiography, assumptions are made on the emergence of a community of formerly enslaved people and their descendants. This project will deliver quantitative data to verify some of these assumptions.

In order to pinpoint more precisely where Paramaribo’s enslaved were located, the slave registers must be combined with other sources. Key is the civil registry that was introduced in 1828, called the ‘wijkregister’ (city district registry). The colonial government prescribed an annual registration of all of Paramaribo’s free inhabitants (address, name, age, profession, religion, and skin color) and the number of enslaved residing on the plot, categorized by skin color, gender and adulthood status. Not all annual registers have survived completely, the 1846 edition is one of the most complete and is available as structured data, although not in LOD format. A third dataset used to link addresses in the wijkregister to their geographical locations is a vectorized map of Paramaribo’s plots, made available by Suriname’s Land Registration Office (GLIS). And a fourth dataset, that will allow linkage between this map and the wijkregister of 1846, is a concordance of old and new addresses, created by H. Muntjewerff.

The wijkregister and the slave register can be linked via the name of the enslaved’s owner. The first question is, how well can they be linked in practice? And for what share of the enslaved can we posit with what degree of certainty where their domicile in Paramaribo was located? Secondly, regardless of the rate of success of that linking process, the availability of the wijkregister enriched with geographical information will allow for a spatial analysis of Paramaribo’s social structure: how enslaved and formerly enslaved were distributed and clustered across the city. The spatial makeup of the city of Paramaribo will show the racial divide which underpinned colonial Suriname, thereby injecting new quantitative evidence into recent debates on the formation of a community of former enslaved in Paramaribo.

Current developments

Project info


Thunnis van Oort
Thunnis van Oort

Postdoc Onderzoeker, Universiteit van Amsterdam