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The Netherlands in the Age of Discovery

Portugal had fallen under the dominion of Philip II of Spain in 1580, and the Dutch, who were also subjects of this monarch, and who used hitherto to purchase the products of the East at Lisbon, and distribute them over the north of Europe, having been driven into rebellion by Philip's tyranny, were in consequence excluded from all the ports in his dominions. They resolved therefore to try to make their way to the East direct, but they feared the naval power of Spain in the Atlantic and the eastern seas. It was at that time a prevalent notion, that the northern extremities of both continents were circumnavigable, and the Dutch were therefore induced to attempt the passage by the north of Europe and Asia ; but, after three successive failures, they saw themselves obliged to abandon this project, and became convinced that, if India was to be reached, it could only be by the south.

In the year 1596, a company of Dutch merchants sent out a squadron of four well-armed vessels, under the command of Cornelius Houtman, who, during a long residence at Lisbon, had collected the necessary information ; and after a somewhat tedious navigation, they reached the port of Bantam in the island of Java. On the return of this fleet, as the practicability of establishing a trade with the East was now established, the original company was increased ; and, in 1599, a fleet of eight vessels was sent out, under the joint command of Houtman and Van Neck. They visited the coasts of Java and Sumatra, and Van Neck then returned to Amsterdam with four of the vessels richly laden with spices. The trade proved so lucrative, that new companies were formed every year, and new squadrons sent out. Even so early as the year 1600, forty Dutch vessels went round the Cape. The profits on their trade to the East is said to have averaged about thirty-seven percent.

Stirred to action by Spanish oppression, the Netherlands enjoyed the commercial supremacy of Europe for more than a half century following 1590, occupying most of the old Portuguese possessions in the East, as well as valuable areas in North and South America. In 1605, having reinforced their fleet in the East with nineteen vessels, carrying 2000 veteran soldiers, they attacked and reduced all the remaining Portuguese settlements in the Moluccas, and thus made themselves masters of the entire trade of the eastern seas. They then made on attempt on Malacca, but met with a repulse, and afterwards aided the natives of Ceylon against the Portuguese ; but it was not until the year 1656, and after a siege of Seven months, that they succeeded in reducing their chief settlement, Columbo, and expelling them totally from that island. They had already (1640) reduced Malacca, after an obstinate resistance. Having thus established their empire over the isles of the eastern seas, they built, as a capital, at Jacatra, on the north-western coast of the isle of Java, a town which they named Batavia. Unlike the Portuguese, they were not anxious to form establishments on the continent of India, contenting themselves with the lucrative commerce of the isles, to which they added that of Japan, from which the Portuguese had been driven by the native government.

Holland, after gaining her independence from Spain, preferred opening new avenues for trade, and waited until she saw a chance of profitable barter with the natives before giving much attention to the New World. In 1609 Holland was the leading commercial country in Europe. Her port of Amsterdam was the busiest one in the world. She had a large trade with the East Indies by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and her merchants much desired a short water route for their ships to that distant country. They engaged the English explorer Henry Hudson to make a search for one. Hudson sailed away from Amsterdam, April, 1609, in a vessel named the Half Moon. On this voyage he skirted the coast of Greenland and went south along the coast of North America as far as what is now the state of Virginia. On his return he entered the waters of what is now known as Delaware Bay.

On the third voyage of Hudson, the Dutch based a claim to the country each side of the Hudson River, southwesterly to the Delaware and as far to the east as the Connecticut River. This country they called the New Netherlands. In 1614 a settlement was made by the Dutch on what the Indians called Manhattan Island. This settlement was the beginning of our present city of New York. Another settlement, called Fort Orange, was made at a point about one hundred and forty-five miles up the river, which has grown to be our present city of Albany. Trading posts were also established to the south along the Delaware River. Later, in 1621, a new company was formed in Holland called " The Dutch West India Company." This company directed the affairs of the New Netherlands. The Dutch did not busy themselves in searching for silver and gold. They did not as a rule-attack the Indians and thus make enemies of them. They wished to trade with the Indians and sought furs rather than gold.

But the Dutch were not equal to the task of building up a permanent commercial empire of great extent. Like ancient Athens, the Netherlands were a loosely united group of jealous city-states - rather than a compact national unit; the "Spanish Fury" helped to ruin Antwerp and the closing of the Scheldt ended its prosperity; the Dutch devoted their energy chiefly to commercial activity with little attention to permanent colonial policy; and in the contest with England under Cromwell and during the early years of the Restoration the Dutch were thoroughly worsted.

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Page last modified: 26-08-2012 19:02:26 ZULU