Dutch merchant and maritime history includes a black presence from the sixteenth century onwards. As a country that self-identifies as freedom-loving, the Dutch involvement in the slave trade and slavery creates a problem of justification within the Netherlands. This article explores the development of legal history as well as individual case histories. Slaves could obtain freedom from their owners as a result of an owner's individual decision, by marriage, by baptism, by remaining in the Netherlands long enough, or when their enslaved parents were freed. The Dutch authorities attempted to keep the involvement in slavery out of sight in the Netherlands. The small presence of blacks in the country was the result of a highly selective process of enabling and restricting access. The Netherlands remained 'white' for centuries, in spite of its colonial empire, but not entirely. This article presents the long absence of visibly black communities in Europe as the result of practical restrictions as well as conscious legal exclusion. © 2011 Taylor & Francis.