This book should be available now so this is the final snippet.
1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies – Snippet 41
Tromp leaned back and shook his head. “No. Men who have no freedom have little to lose. When such men are also being worked to death, they understand quickly enough that soon they will also lose the last thing they value: their lives, and those of their families. At that point, it is only logical for them to risk the probable suicide of unarmed rebellion rather than continue toward the certain suicide of eventually dying of malnourished exhaustion in the fields.”
Haet leaned in aggressively. “And then why are the Spanish so successful using slaves, Tromp? They seem to do well enough and get rich while doing it.”
Tromp studied Haet calmly but very directly. “Because, Mijn Heer Haet, the Spanish are not hanging on by their fingernails, as we are. They are routinely re-supplied, routinely reinforced, and routinely involved in ruthlessly squashing any hint of resistance in their subject populations.”
“And the Dutch East India Company does no less. And thrives!” countered Haet.
Jan van Walbeeck spoke quietly and without any trace of his customary animation. “I have been to those colonies, Haet, have been among their slaves. Have seen, have felt, the hatred for us in their eyes, in their gestures, in their quiet, patient watching. Are those Pacific colonies profitable? Yes, most certainly. Are they safe? Only so long as you have guns trained on the slaves, Haet. And one day — and it will only take one day — we will be weak, or forgetful, and we will stumble. And they will slaughter us and drive us back into the seas which brought us like a curse to their shores.”
Haet snorted. “So you prefer the natives to your own kind, van Walbeeck?”
“No, Haet, but I understand that they feel about us enslaving them on their own land exactly the way we felt about the Spanish doing the same to us in the Netherlands. And you know what we did to the Spanish when we finally got the chance.”
Haet was going to speak, but swallowed whatever words he might have spoken.Â
Tromp exchanged glances with van Walbeeck. Good: the conversation had remained on a practical footing. The ethical discussions over slavery had long ago proven themselves to be emotional morasses which achieved nothing but the expenditure of countless, profitless, hours. And they invariably led to the slaveholding faction accusing their opponents of succumbing to up-time influence (often true) and, by extrapolation, being Grantville’s lackeys (not at all true). Indeed, since adolescence, Tromp had been disquieted by the circuitous rationalizations his countrymen and others employed when resolving their Christian piety with their grasp upon the slaveholder’s whip. But, as an admiral, his life had not had much direct involvement with such matters, or the resolution of such issues.
But here in a New World where the Dutch colonies were hanging on by a thread that only remained uncut because the Spanish had not yet discovered it, the domain of the military and the commercial had begun to overlap. With no help or even news coming from the United Provinces, all choices, all decisions made locally had a bearing upon all other local decisions. And so Tromp had been compelled to weigh both the practical and ethical burdens and benefits of slavery.
Van Walbeeck, having arrived in Oranjestad ahead of him, had been an invaluable interlocutor on the matter, and the smattering of copied up-time texts in his library had been the catalyst for their discussions and grist for much deep thought. Leaving Recife, Tromp had been leaning against slavery for practical reasons, which happily aligned with his largely unstudied ethical misgivings. But the past year at Saint Eustatia had confirmed him in the belief that, just as he had felt it his duty to become a church deacon if he was to live a Christian life and not merely profess one, so too he could not truly call himself a Christian without also working to undo the institution of slavery.
Van Walbeeck turned mild eyes upon the gathered contingent of councilors. “Any other observations on the matter?”
The quiet, careful Servatius Carpentiere, shrugged. “There will be much unrest among the colonists, particularly since the Politieke Raad approved your recommendation to prohibit raising tobacco.” His voice was apologetic. One of Tromp’s most stalwart supporters, Carpentiere was raising an issue that clearly had been pressed upon him by the colonists, but would certainly play into the hands of the admiral’s detractors.
Musen lost no time wielding it as a rhetorical weapon. “You see, Admiral? Your own hand-picked advisers from Recife foresee problems with your decisions. First you prohibit the further acquisition of slaves. Then you urge the growing of cane sugar, which involves immense amounts of labor, in place of tobacco, which is much easier to grow and harvest. And which was why most of us came to Oranjestad in the first place.”
Tromp nodded. “Yes. That is true. And when you came, tell me: what did you plan to do with the tobacco?”
Haet, not seeing the trap, blurted out, “Why, sell it, of course!”
“Back in –” and he stopped.
Tromp just nodded again. “Exactly. ‘Back in the Provinces.’ Or ‘Europe.’ It hardly matters where, specifically. The problem is that those markets are an ocean away from us here, and our own ports are unreachable, due to the Spanish. What few ships hide in smaller harbor towns are merely jachts which have no reason to brave the swells of the Atlantic. And even if they knew we still existed here, ready to trade, what of it? Yes, jachts are fast, nimble ships. But useless for freighting smoke or anything else in bulk. So tell me, Mijn Heer Haet, given the changes since you arrived here, where, now, would you sell your tobacco?”
Musen smoothly changed the footing of his side’s argument to a less disastrous posture. “Even if that were to be true, Admiral — cane sugar? The most labor-intensive crop in the New World?”
“And the only one for which we have any local use,” replied van Walbeeck. “What else would you grow for high profit? Cotton? The labor is almost as bad as cane but, again, there’s the same problem: where would you sell that cotton? The fact that drives all our choices is this, Mijn Heer Musen: we no longer have access to markets. Our ships cannot come here safely, and we cannot spare any to undertake the equally perilous voyage from here to Europe. And what’s more, any regular commerce between us and our homeports would only tell the Spanish — or others — where to find us, where to hunt us down and exterminate us.
“So we grow sugar. We may eat it ourselves, and we may make rum — which has local value even to the natives, in these parts. And which we may further refine into disinfectants and a flammable fluid. And if we cannot grow so much because we have no slaves? Well, firstly, we have no shortage of able-bodies without tasks to occupy them. And so we will learn that you do not need slaves to grow cane, and set the pattern for creating a durable local economy which is not based upon slavery.”
Haet looked as though he might spit. “I did not come here to work like a dog in the fields. I came here to get rich.”
Tromp nodded. “Yes. But apparently fate had other plans.”
Jehan de Bruyne rubbed his chin. “Or perhaps it is Martin Tromp that has had other plans.”
Tromp kept his head and voice very still. “I assure you, Mijn Heer, that being defeated by treachery at Dunkirk, and seeing the Dutch fleet reduced to three dozen hulls, was not any plan of mine. And it is that outcome — that and no other — which forces these changes upon us. You wished to be rich? Fair enough. I wanted to return home, to my wife and children. As do many of us who fled to Recife.” He stood. “What men want is of little matter to the will of God and the hand of fate. I suggest we focus on a new want that we should all share: the desire to stay alive long enough for our own countrymen to find and succor us. Because that outcome is by no means certain.” By no means, indeed. “Now, Mijn Heeren, if we are quite done, I have arrangements to make for the fleet. About which you shall be informed shortly. Good day.”
The envoys from both the Politieke Raad and the original colonists’ Council nodded their way toward the door they had entered through. Van Walbeeck rose to go as well, but Tromp motioned him to stay in his seat with a down-waved palm.
When the rest had left, Jan cocked his head like a quizzical spaniel.
Tromp sighed. “Stay and hear what I tell the captains. Someone will need to report it to the Raad and Council. And the rest of the colonists, too.”