The Pinkster King and the King of KongoThe Forgotten History of America's Dutch-Owned Slaves

The Pinkster King and the King of KongoThe Forgotten History of America's Dutch-Owned Slaves

Jeroen Dewulf

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781496808813

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


This book presents the history of the nation’s forgotten Dutch slave community and free Dutch-speaking African-Americans from seventeenth-century New Amsterdam to nineteenth-century New York and New Jersey. It also develops a provocative new interpretation of one of America’s most intriguing black folkloric traditions, Pinkster. Dewulf rejects the traditional interpretation of this celebration of a “slave king” as a form of carnival. Instead, he shows that it is a ritual rooted in mutual aid and slave brotherhood traditions. By placing Pinkster in an Atlantic context, Dewulf identifies striking parallels to royal election rituals in slave communities elsewhere in the Americas, which he relates to the ancient Kingdom of Kongo and the historical impact of Portuguese culture in West-Central Africa. Whereas the importance of African-American fraternities providing mutual aid has long been acknowledged for the post-slavery era, Dewulf’s focus on the social capital of slaves traces concern for mutual aid back to seventeenth-century Manhattan. He suggests a stronger impact of Manhattan’s first slave community on the development of African-American identity in New York and New Jersey than has hitherto been assumed. While the earliest historians working on slave culture in a North American context were mainly interested in an assumed process of assimilation according to European standards, later generations pointed out the need to look for indigenous African continuities. The findings of this book suggest the necessity to complement the latter with an increased focus on the contact Africans had with European?primarily Portuguese?culture before they were shipped as slaves to the Americas.