Susanna du Plessis

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Susanna du Plessis, or Maria Susanna Duplessis (1739 – 1795), was a Dutch plantation owner in Dutch Surinam. She is a legendary figure in the history of Surinam, where she has become a metaphor of a cruel and sadistic slave owner. She is the subject of songs, plays, fairy tales and legends as well as books.

Life[edit]

Plantation 'Nijd en Spijt' (owned by Susanna du Plessis) and 'Alkmaar' near the Commewijne River

Born in 1739 in Paramaribo, Susanna was the daughter of Dutch lawyer Solomon du Plessis and the plantation owner Johanna Margaretha van Strijp. She descended from French Huguenot refugees. She married in 1754 at the age of 15 to Frans Laurens Willem Grand; he died early, the marriage having produced no children. She was a plantation owner at age 23. In 1767 she married Frederik Cornelis Stolkert, son of Elisabeth Buys and eight years younger than Susanna.

Susanna du Plessis was a successful plantation owner who created a fortune on her plantations, which she managed personally, as she had secured the right to manage her own property in her marriage contract. She divorced her husband Frederick in 1783, accusing him of cruelty and claiming she feared for her life. She then moved to the capital Paramaribo.

Already during her own lifetime, she was mentioned, though not by name, in publications describing the cruelty of slavery, which contributed to the anti-slavery movement. She allegedly drowned the baby of one of her slaves because it wouldn't stop crying. The most famous story about her cruelty is about the mulatto slave concubine of her husband, Alida, whose breasts she allegedly cut off and served to her husband at dinner. There is however no confirmation of any of the stories told about her sadistic treatment of her slaves. It is plausible that she was the subject of a smear campaign by her ex-husband and the governor, who had been a political advisory to her father.

She died in Paramaribo in 1795 and was buried at the gravesite "De Oude Oranjetuin" in Paramaribo. Her tombstone reads: "Finally I have come to rest". It was placed in the floor of the Reformed church in Paramaribo in 1835.

Legacy[edit]

Susanna du Plessis was the object of the play Susanna Duplessis (1963) by Jo Dompig and Eddy Bruma. Her alleged acts of cruelty are also featured in the novel ‘Flarden’ by Codfried Schreef.

References[edit]

  • Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland
  • Ellen Ombre, ‘Flarden’, in: Idem, Maalstroom (Amsterdam 1992) [kort verhaal].
  • Philip Dikland, ‘Koffieplantage Nijd en Spijt aan de Commewijnerivier’, op: http://nationaalarchief.sr (oktober 2006).
  • Hilde Neus-van der Putten, Susanna du Plessis. Portret van een slavenmeesteres (Amsterdam/Paramaribo 2003).
  • Slaven en hun meesteres. Suriname in de achttiende eeuw (2004) [Bronnenboekje bij de tentoonstelling ‘Susanna du Plessis, portret van een slavenmeesteres’, uitgegeven door de Stichting Surinaams Museum].