The Dutch West India Company - Encyclopedia

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THE DUTCH WEST INDIA COMPANY (De Westindische Compagnie), a company founded by letters-patent from the Netherlands states-general dated the 3rd of June 1621. The purpose for which the company was formed was to regulate and protect the contraband trade already carried on by the Dutch in the American and African possessions of Spain and Portugal, and to establish colonies on both continents and their islands. By the terms of the charter the company was to be composed of five boards or branches, established in Amsterdam, Zealand, the Meuse (Rotterdam), the North Department (Friesland and Hoorn), and Groningen. Each was to be represented on the general governing board according to the importance of the capital contributed by it. Thus Amsterdam, which contributed four-ninths of the capital, had eight directors on the board. Zealand, which subscribed two-ninths, had four. Rotterdam was represented by two directors, though it only contributed one-ninth. The northern district and Groningen, which each contributed one-ninth, appointed one director each. Another director was appointed by the states-general. In 1629 a ninth. representative was given to Amsterdam, and the strength of the whole board was fixed at nineteen.

The company was granted the monopoly of the trade with America and Africa and between them, from the Arctic regions to the Straits of Magellan, and from the Tropic of Cancer to the Cape of Good Hope. The policy the company proposed to follow was to use its monopoly on the coast of Africa in order to secure the cheap and regular supply of negro slaves for the possessions it hoped to acquire in America. The trade was thrown open by the voluntary action of the company in 1638. The general board was endowed with ample power to negotiate treaties, and make war and peace with native princes; to appoint its officials, generals and governors; and to legislate in its possessions subject to the laws of the Netherlands. The states general undertook to secure the trading rights of the company, and to support it by a subvention of one million guilders (about ioo,000). In case of war the states-general undertook to contribute sixteen vessels of 300 tons and upwards for the defence of the company, which, however, was to bear the expense of maintaining them. In return for these aids the states-general claimed a share in the profits, stipulated that the company must maintain sixteen large vessels (300 tons and upwards) and fourteen "yachts" (small craft of 50 to loo tons or so); required that all the company's officials should take an oath of allegiance to themselves as well as to the board of directors; and that all despatches should be sent in duplicate to themselves and to the board.

The history of the Dutch West India Company is one of less prosperity than that of the Dutch East India Company. In early days the trade was not sufficient to meet the heavy expense of the armaments raised against Spain and Portugal. A compensation was found in the plunder of Spanish and Portuguese galleons and carracks. In 1628 the company's admiral Piet Heijn captured a vast booty in the Spanish treasure-ships. But this source of profit was dried up by the success of the company's cruisers, which destroyed their enemy's trade. Profit had to be sought in the development of the colonies established on the continent of America. In this field the successes of the company were counterbalanced by not a few failures. The company was never able to secure the control of the supply of slaves from Africa. Its settlement of New Netherland was lost to England. In the West Indies it gained a valuable footing among the islands. It occupied St Eustatius in 1634, Curacao with Bonaire and Aruba in 1634 and 1635, Saba in 1640 and St Martin in 1648. But its greatest conquests and its greatest losses were alike met on the continent of South America. After a first unsuccessful occupation in 1623 of Bahia, which was immediately retaken by a combined Spanish and Portuguese armament, the company obtained a firm footing in Pernambuco. The story of the wars which arose out of this invasion belongs to the history of Brazil. The company had been largely guided in its policy of assailing the Portuguese possessions by the advice of the Jews, who were numerous in Brazil, and who found means to communicate with their fellows in religion, the refugees in Amsterdam. The most prosperous period of the company was during the tolerant and liberal administration of Count John Maurice of Nassau-Siegen (1636-1644).

The monopolist tendency of all Dutch colonization, the religious hostility of the Roman Catholic Portuguese, and the support given by France and England to Portugal after her revolt from Spain, combined at last to make the position of the company in Brazil untenable. It resigned all claim on the country by the treaty of 1661. But though deprived of its establishment in Brazil, the company found a compensation in Surinam and Essequibo (Dutch Guiana), where there was no Spanish or Portuguese population to resist it, and where the resources of the country offered great profits. The advantages of the se' tlement in Guiana were not, however, reaped by the company founded in 1621. In 1674 it had become so embarrassed that it was dissolved, and reconstructed in 1675. The newly formed company continued to exploit the Dutch possessions in America till 1794, when they were all swept into the general reorganization consequent on the French invasion of Holland. The West India Company founded after the Napoleonic epoch in 1828 was only meant to develop trade, and was not successful.

Authorities. - P. M. Nitscher, Les Hollandais au Bresil (the Hague, 1853), the work of a Dutch author writing in French. See also Southey, History of Brazil (London, 18,0), and E. B. O'Callaghan, History of New Netherland (New York, 1846-1848).1848).

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