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Dutch West Indies

The Dutch colonial possessions in the West Indies were (a) Surinam, or Dutch Guiana, and (b) the colony Curasao. The Dutch forces in the West Indies consisted of a civic guard and infantry, the latter containing, in 1909, 15 officers and 340 officers and men. There are a few guard ships, with some vessels of the royal navy. The militia (Schutterij) of the Isle of Curacao consisted at the end of 1909 of 20 officers and 240 men ; the garrison of 9 officers and 215 men. A vessel of the royal navy was always cruising and visiting the different islands.

The Dutch West India Company controlled the trade west of the Cape of Good Hope, comprising commerce with the west coast of Africa, and the east coast of the Americas. This company was an extraordinary specimen of its kind. It paid high dividends for a time, but its earnings were necessarily precarious for it made them not from the ordinary operations of commerce and colonization, but from armed attacks on the Spanish silver fleets. It was really a corporation of privateers. The character of the company can be estimated from the fact that it actually opposed peace between the Netherlands and Spain; in its remonstrance of 1633 it said that the services desired of it " for the welfare of our Fatherland and the destruction of our hereditary enemy could not be accomplished by the trifling trade with the Indians, or the tardy cultivation of uninhabited regions, but in reality, by acts of hostility against the ships and property of the King of Spain and his subjects."

Dutch West India Company had received a charter in 1607, but while the truce lasted no further action had been taken. In 1609, two years after English settlers established the colony of Jamestown in Virginia, the Dutch East India Company hired English sailor Henry Hudson to find a northeast passage to India. After unsuccessfully searching for a route above Norway, Hudson turned his ship west and sailed across the Atlantic. Hudson hoped to discover a "northwest passage," that would allow a ship to cross the entirety of the North American continent and gain access to the Pacific Ocean, and from there, India. After arriving off the coast of Cape Cod, Hudson eventually sailed into the mouth of a large river, today called the Hudson River.

After unsuccessful efforts at colonization, the Dutch Parliament chartered the "West India Company," a national-joint stock company that would organize and oversee all Dutch ventures in the Western Hemisphere. The charter of the Dutch West India Company was given by the High and Mighty Lords the States General, June 3/13, 1621. Organized as a military rather than a trading corporation, it captured islands in the West Indies, wrested most of Brazil from the Portuguese, and on the ocean inflicted such damage on the Spaniards as made them solicitous for peace at any price.

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. The Dutch lost New Netherland (New York) to the English during the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1664, effectively ending the Netherlands' direct involvement in North America. The Dutch soon lost their possessions in Brazil, and the original company was dissolved; the possessions which the Dutch retained on the coast of Guinea and in South America were unimportant. Small islands in the Gulf of Mexico, which in themselves produced little of value, served as stations for the Dutch carrying trade, which continued to be considerable.

Once the Panama Canal was open, all the West Indies, and more especially the islands of the two Dutch groups, lay no longer on a back eddy but on a main current of the world's commerce. But the transfer of the Dutch West Indies to any other European power would involve the Monroe Doctrine especially as interpreted by the Lodge amendment of 1912. The Dutch West Indies would be worth much to the United States both from a strategic and a commercial point of view. Curasao is of great value because it possesses "one of the finest and most commodious harbors of the West Indies," to quote the report of the United States Naval Department on "Navigation in the Caribbean." This extends far into the interior and is from forty to eighty feet deep.

Netherlands Antilles is a Netherlands overseas territory in the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies. It includes the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St. Eustatius, and the southern part of St. Martin. Its capital is Willemstad. Its former names are Curacao, Netherlands West Indies, and Dutch West Indies. Its colonial status was abolished by the Netherlands government in 1954 but it is considered an integral part of the Dutch realm. There is no positive evidence for the name Antilles. Suriname is a republic in the north of South America, bordered on the west by GUYANA (British Guiana) and on the east by FRENCH GUIANA. Its capital is Paramaribo. It was formerly called Netherlands Guiana or Dutch Guiana or Surinam. Suriname was first settled by the English in 1651 but was ceded to the Dutch by treaty in 1667. It became an autonomous territory under the Dutch crown in 1954 and gained independence in 1975. The country was named for the Surinam River but the meaning of that name is uncertain.

At the peace of Breda, in 1667, between England and the United Netherlands, Surinam was assured to the Netherlands in exchange for the colony of New Netherlands in North America, and this was confirmed by the treaty of Westminster of February, 1674. Since then Surinam has been twice in the power of England, 1799 till 1802, when it was restored at the peace of Amiens, and in 1804 to 1816, when it was returned according to the Convention of London of August 13, 1814, confirmed at the peace of Paris of November 20, 1815, with the other Dutch colonies, except Berbice, Demerara, Essequibo, and the Cape of Good Hope.

The Dutch West Indies include two widely-separated groups, both English-speaking. One consists of St. Eustatius (which served as a depot of supplies for the Americans during the Revolution), Saba, and half of St. Martin-all near Porto Rico; the other includes Curasao and two adjacent islands off the Venezuelan coast. In the late 19th Century the latter group produced chiefly salt, phosphates, and goatskins, besides a limited amount of gold.

The Arawaks are recognized as the first human civilization to inhabit the Netherlands Antilles. A Spanish expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda claimed the island of Curaçao for Spain in 1499 and it remained under Spanish rule until the Dutch took control in 1634. Curaçao was a strategically important point for Dutch military advances against the Spanish and as the center of the Caribbean slave trade. Curaçao became the seat of the Netherlands Antilles Government in 1954.

With origins similar to Curaçao, Bonaire was captured by the Dutch in 1634, and was a granary for the Dutch East Indian Company until 1791, when the government reclaimed control.

The first settlement in Sint Eustatius was established in 1636 and changed hands between the Dutch, French, and Spanish 22 times in its history. In the 18th century the island became a duty-free port for overburdened colonizers shipping back to the homeland, which propelled it into a major port with rapid population growth that lost momentum after the American-British peace treaty in 1783. Columbus was the first to sight Saba, but it was the Dutch who colonized the island in 1640 with a party from Sint Eustatius. Because of its difficult terrain, the island's growth progressed slowly, and it remains the least populated island in the Dutch Kingdom. The Dutch were the first to colonize Sint Maarten in 1631, but within 2 years the Spanish invaded and evacuated the settlers. The Dutch failed in an attempt to regain the island in 1644, but 4 years later the Spanish abandoned the island of their own accord. In 1648 the island was divided between the Dutch and the French; however, complete control of the island was seized numerous times in a series of conflicts. The British became involved as well, taking power for 6-year and 10-year stints. Finally, in 1817, the current partition line between Dutch and French was established. The island flourished under a slave-based plantation economy and the exportation of salt until abolition of slavery in 1863.

In 1845 the Dutch Windward islands united with Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba in a political unit. The abolition of slavery hurt the islands' economy until the 20th century, when oil was discovered off the shores of Venezuela and a refinery was established on Curaçao. In addition, during the same period, an offshore financial sector was created to serve Dutch business interests. Since 1945, the federation of the Netherlands Antilles (Curacao, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten), which is a constituent part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, has been semi-autonomous in most internal affairs. The Kingdom retains authority over foreign affairs, defense, final judicial review, and "Kingdom matters" including human rights and good governance. Aruba was part of this federation until January 1, 1986, when it gained status apart within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

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