The Dutch government had no clearly established laws governing slavery in the 1600s. In the colony of New Netherland, enslaved people could marry, attend religious services, receive payment for their work, and petition the government. In 1644, the enslaved people of New Netherland took advantage of this circumstance and began petitioning for their freedom. Many of these petitions were approved, but there were often limits to the freedom that enslaved people were granted.
Mayken van Angola’s two-year quest for freedom began in 1662, thirty-four years after she was first brought to the colony as a slave for the Dutch West India Company. These three documents chronicle her fight for freedom. They show how enslaved people of New Netherland negotiated with the Dutch West India Company, and the stumbling blocks that could get in their way.