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The so called ‘hoofdgelden’ were the main source of income for the Society of Suriname (SvS). (Fatah Black, 2013: 80) They were a tax on people present on any given plantation, payable in sugar and subject to certain regulations. These were described by Wolbers as such:

‘Annually one had to pay, at a the office of capita tax in Paramaribo, 50 pounds of sugar for every white and enslaved person above 12 years old and 25 pounds for all between the ages of 3 and 12, whilst children younger than 3 were not taken into account. For those who did not have sugar plantations the amount of sugar due was made payable in stuivers [comparable to the English penny, though not an exact match: a Dutch Rijksdaalder was worth 20 stuivers while its English equivalent the Crown was worth 24 pennies, NM]. The rate was a stuiver per pound so for adults 50 stuivers per capita and for the children 25 stuivers.’ (1861: 169, translation NM)

In 1693 special regulations regarding the transport and delivery of the sugar were introduced. Special sugar inspectors executed regular quality checks and a standardised barrel became mandatory for all sugar producers. (Wolbers, 1861: 169) On the annual Generale Lijsten der Hoofdgelden(GLdH) the amounts of ‘whites’ and ‘red and black slaves’ present on plantations were listed by plantation owner, as was the calculated amount of sugar due.

Coming into being of the GLdH

In 1682 Suriname came into the possession of the West Indian Company (WIC) and at that same time the capita tax was established. Shortly thereafter the WIC sold two equal parts of the colony to the governor of Suriname, Cornelis van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck, and the city of Amsterdam. The three owners of Suriname founded the Society of Suriname in 1683. This commercial enterprise set up an office in Paramaribo, especially for the collection of the capita tax.

The official establishment of the capita tax can be found in the charter of the Staten van Zeeland drawn up on August 3, 1682 concerning the transfer of Suriname to the WIC. Article 4 of this charter described the way in which the capita tax was applied.

‘Art. IV.

Dat de voorsz. eerste thien Jaren ge-escouleert wesende, de gemelte Compagnie niet en sal vermogen oyt of oyt eenighe Lasten of Impositien op te stellen, ofte te heffen buyten die gene de welcke in dit Articul specifiquelyck staen ter neder gestelt, ten ware uyt noot ende te gelyckelyck met vry en liber consent van den Gouverneur ende den Politycquen Raet aldaer, de welcke mede ten dien eynde door de Coloniers selve, ende uyt de beste onder haer geformeert sal werden; ende namentlyck sal de voorsz. Compagnie noyt meer mogen trecken als drie guldens voor yder last dat een Schip groot is, voor uyt-gaen, en gelycke drie guldens voor in-komen, wegens het Last-geldt van de Schepen, ende voor de binne-lasten niet anders als vyftigh pont Suycker voor yder Opgezeten, soo Blancken als Negros, wegens Hooft-gelt jaerlycks, en twee en een half per cento van de waerde van alle Goederen, de welcke van daer na dese Landen sullen werden versonden, ofte aldaer verkocht wegens Waegh-gelt, sullende ten dien eynde, ende specialyck mede tot voor kominge van veele frauden ende disordres aldaer een of meer Wagen werden opgerecht, ende by yder Wage gestelt een bequame Keurmeester die de Suyckeren sullen moeten keuren, of die bequaem zyn om gelevert te konnen werden, ende sullen aldaer alle Goederen by betalinge ofte afleveringe t'elckens ende soo meenighmael als verkocht ofte van daer na dese Landen versonden werden, het voorsz. Waegh-geldt van twee ende een half per cento subject zyn, ende moeten werden gewogen en overgeslagen.’

(Hartsinck, 1770: 626-7)

The same charter stipulated that the colonists in Suriname were exempt from paying this tax for ten years (article 2) and that the same applied to new or future colonists (article 3).

‘Art. II.

Dat de voorsz. Compagnie gehouden sal zyn voor den tydt van tien achter een volgende Jaren, aen alle de Coloniers en Opgezetenen aldaer, indistinctelyck te verleenen exemptie en immuniteyt van alle lasten, waer mede althans beswaerdt zyn, uytghenomen alleen het Lastgelt van de Schepen, ende het Waegh-gelt, in voegen als het selve by het vierde Articul sal gereguleert werden tot voorkominge van frauden en disordres de welcke als nu ten merckelyken nadeele van de Colonie selfs aldaer in swang gaen.

Art. III.

Dat oock alle die genen de welcke hier na sigh op de voorsz. Colonie sullen komen ter neder te stellen, voor gelycke thien Jaren sullen hebben gelycke vryheyt en exemptie.’

(Hartsinck, 1770: 626, the charter can be found at the National Archive in The Hague, archive of the second WIC, access number, inventory item 1323F)


As a historical source the GLdH is perceived to be unreliable, especially where the population of enslaved people is concerned. The historical regulations, but also the nature of the data itself play a part in this perception. Children, runaways and deaths were not taken into account and on top of that, then as now, people were inclined to pay as little tax as possible so the tax statements by the plantation owners often downplayed the actual number of enslaved people present. Research into the early slavery period in Suriname is scarce precisely because of a lack of reliable data. Especially compared to the period after 1730 when the free market came into play and registration increased significantly both in volume and accuracy. However, because they are practically the only source on population numbers in the early period, the GLdH still hold a lot of value. In the database we have attempted to enhance the reliability by presenting a set of corrections and additions on the historical data.