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Dutch West Indies - History

So early as 1598 the American coast had been frequented by the Dutch, especially by members of the Greenland Company; but at first no fixed settlements were made. Probably in no other part of the world were the ventures of private enterprise more daring or more persistent. An imposing grant of the whole coast, from Chesapeake Bay to Newfoundland, made in 1614 to two private individuals, became in 1621 the property of the newly-formed Dutch West India Company. Although some settlements were founded and efforts made to bring in new colonists, New Netherland remained throughout its history a matter of very secondary interest to the West India Company. The aim and object of the Company had from the first been to carry on active war with Spain.

Other concerns than the peaceful development of over-sea colonies occupied the minds of the Dutch West India Company. It was started as a move in the war game, and its fate was that without war it could not maintain a profitable existence. Under its charter the Company enjoyed a monopoly for twenty-four years of the trade with the western coast of Africa and with the West Indies and America. In the first year of the Company its enormous expenditure was in great measure recouped by the spoils taken from the enemy. Thus, after Piet Hein's successful capture of the Spanish treasure fleet in 1628, not less than between eleven and twelve million florins were realised from the spoil, which served to pay the shareholders a dividend of over fifty percent.

San Salvador was taken in 1624 by a Dutch force under Jacob Willekens and Piet Hein only to be lost the following year; and, though more than one attempt was made, San Salvador was never again a Dutch possession. To the north, however, their power gradually consolidated itself. Olinda, the capital of the captaincy of Pernambuco, was taken in 1630, and though for two years the Reciff off the mainland was the only Dutch territory, the defection of a mulatto, Calabar, from the Portuguese changed the complexion of affairs. It is computed that between 1623 and 1626 it sent out no less than eight hundred and six vessels, with over sixty-seven thousand soldiers and sailors, and captured no less than about five hundred and fifty ships of the enemy. It did not war with the Portuguese colony alone, but destroyed Truxillo in Central America, and took the island of Curacoa in the West Indies from Spain. Splendid as were these results they by no means pointed the way to commercial prosperity.

Already about 1600 two small forts named Nassau and Orange were built by them on the Amazon, and in 1616 a Zeeland expedition added another. This was abandoned in 1623, and the same year witnessed the reduction by the Portuguese of Nassau and Orange. The Dutch West India Company attempted to retrieve the situation; but the Portuguese had at their disposal superior forces, and at so early a date as 1631 Dutch trading on the Amazon had been a thing of the past. The conquest of Maranhao by the Dutch in 1641 held out the promise of extending their dominion northward. But Maranhao was lost in the following year, and henceforth no attempt could be made to dispute with Portugal the mastery of the Amazon.

The failure of the Dutch fleet under Witte de Witte, which reached the Reciff in March, 1648, announced the doom of the Dutch dominion in Brazil, though in fact a brave resistance was made for another five years. The Dutch historian of the proceedings of his countrymen in Brazil freely recognises that Brazil owed its emancipation from the Dutch rule to the same spirit of patriotism which inspired the Netherlands in their resistance to Spain.

The West India Company was not a financial success. The fleets and garrisons it had to maintain on a far-distant shore were too costly for its resources; and the revolt of the Portuguese in Brazil in 1645 struck the knell of a dominion that had never paid its way. Nevertheless one of the great objects for which the Company was founded had been achieved, its long series of successes in the Western seas was one of the chief factors in exhausting the power of Spain, and in bringing to a triumphant issue the long War of Independence. The purely commercial ventures of the Company were not numerous.

In the Caribbean Sea the islands of Curacoa, Aruba, Bonaire, and St Eustatius still remained in Dutch hands, the only relics of the possessions of the first West India Company. Besides Curacoa, the Dutch possessed Santa Cruz (1625), St Eustatius (1632), and other islands. By the late 19th Century the Dutch possessions in the West Indies were Surinam, or Dutch Guiana, and the colony Curacao. The colony of Curasao consists of the islands Curasao, Bonaire, Aruba, St. Martin (as far as it belongs to the Netherlands), St. Eustache, and Saba, lying north from the coast of Venezuela.

The colony was governed by a Governor, assisted by a Council composed of the Attorney-General and three members, all nominated by the Sovereign. There was also a Colonial Council consisting of the members of the Council and eight members nominated by the Sovereign. The different islands of the colony, except Curacao, were placed under chiefs called 'gezaghebbers,' nominated by the Sovereign.

At the end of 1893 there were 38,542 Roman Catholics, 6,768 Protestants, 809 Jews. The number of schools was 28 with 5,081 pupils. At the same period the number of prisoners was 37. The revenue is derived from import, export, and excise duties, taxes on land, and some indirect taxes. In the Budget for 1895 the revenue was estimated at 691,000, and the expenditure also at 691,000 guilders ; the difference, if there is any, is supplied by the mother-country. The militia (Schutterij) of the Isle of Curacao consisted at the end of 1893 of 30 officers and 362 men; the garrison of 9 officers and 252 men. A vessel of the royal navy was always cruising and visiting the different islands.

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Page last modified: 16-07-2017 18:20:07 ZULU