Dutch Brazil

Further information: Groot Desseyn
Dutch Brazil / New Holland
Nederlands-Brazilië or Nieuw-Holland
Dutch colony
Flag Coat of arms
Dutch Brazil 1630-1654
Capital Mauritsstad (Recife)
Languages Dutch
Indigenous languages
Religion Calvinism
Government Colony
   1637-1643 John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen
  1643-1654 Dutch West India Company
   Start 16 February 1630
  Arrival of Maurice of Nassau 23 January 1637
  First Battle of Guararapes 19 April 1648
  Second Battle of Guararapes 19 February 1649
   Defeat by the portuguese 28 January 1654
Currency Braziliaanse Guldens (Brazilian Guilders)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Colonial Brazil
Colonial Brazil
Today part of  Brazil

Dutch Brazil, also known as New Holland, was the northern portion of the Portuguese colony of Brazil, ruled by the Dutch during the Dutch colonization of the Americas between 1630 and 1654.[1] The main cities of the Nieuw Holland were the capital Mauritsstad (today Recife), Frederikstadt (João Pessoa), Natal (the ancient Nieuw Amsterdam before establishing the location at present-day New York City), São Cristóvão, Fortaleza (Fort Schoonenborch), Sirinhaém and Olinda.

From 1630 onward, the Dutch Republic came to control almost half of Brazil's area at the time, with their capital in Recife. The Dutch West India Company (WIC) set up their headquarters in Recife. The governor, Johan Maurits, invited artists and scientists to the colony to help promote Brazil and increase immigration. However, the tide turned against the Dutch when the Portuguese won a significant victory at the Second Battle of Guararapes in 1649. On 26 January 1654, the Dutch surrendered and signed the capitulation, but only as a provisory pact. By May 1654, the Dutch demanded that the Dutch Republic was to be given New Holland back. On 6 August 1661, New Holland was formally ceded to Portugal through the Treaty of The Hague.

While of only transitional importance for the Dutch, this period was of considerable importance in the History of Brazil. Local Portuguese settlers had to oppose the Dutch largely by their own resources, and made use of their knowledge of local conditions; this struggle is counted, in Brazilian historical memory, as laying the seeds of Brazilian nationhood.

Early Iberian-Dutch relations

South America around 1650

The Low Countries had long been part of the Spanish Empire; however, in 1568 the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) broke out, and the Dutch established the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. A consequence of the war was Dutch raiding of Spanish lands, colonies, and ships. In 1594 Phillip II, who was king both of Spain and of Portugal (1580-1640), gave permission for Dutch ships bound for Brazil to sail together once a year in a fleet of twenty ships.[2] In 1609, the two countries signed a Twelve Years' Truce in which the Dutch Republic was allowed to trade with Portuguese settlements in Brazil, since Portugal was in a dynastic union with Spain from 1580 to 1640. Portugal's small geographic size and small population meant that for its overseas empire it needed "foreign participation in the colonization and commerce of its empire," and the Dutch had played such a role which was mutually beneficial.[3] As part of the truce, the Dutch also agreed to delay the creation of a West India Company, a counterpart to the already existing Dutch East India Company.

By the end of the truce, the Dutch had vastly expanded its trade networks, and gained over half of the carrying trade between Brazil and Europe. There were 29 sugar refineries in the Northern Netherlands by 1622, versus 3 in 1595.[4] In 1621, the twelve-year peace treaty expired and the Dutch West India Company was immediately created.[5] The Dutch–Portuguese War resumed, and through the new company, the Dutch now started to interfere with the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in America. In 1624, the Dutch sent a large expedition consisting of 26 ships and 3,300 men.[6]

As part of the Groot Desseyn plan, Admiral Jacob Willekens in December 1623 led the West Indische Compagnie (WIC) to Salvador, which was then the capital of Brazil and the center of a captaincy famous for its sugarcane.[7] They arrived there on May 8, 1624, on which Portuguese Governor Diogo Tristão de Mendonça Furtado surrendered to the Dutch.[8] However, by April 30, 1625, the Portuguese recaptured the city, with the help of a combined Spanish and Portuguese force, consisting of 52 ships and 12,500 men.[9] The city was to then play a critical role as a base of the Portuguese struggle against the Dutch for the control of Brazil.

In 1628, the seizure of a Spanish silver convoy by Piet Heyn in Matanzas Bay provided the Dutch WIC the funds for another attempt to conquer Brazil at Pernambuco.[9][10]


Recife or Mauritsstad – Capital of the Nieuw Holland in Brazil
Fribourg Palace (1642), residence of John Maurice of Nassau.

In the summer of 1629, the Dutch coveted a newfound interest in obtaining the Brazilian state (captaincy) of Pernambuco, the largest and richest sugar-producing area in the world.[11][12] The Dutch fleet of 65 ships was led by Hendrick Corneliszoon Loncq; the WIC gained control of Olinda by February 16, 1630, and Recife (the capital of Pernambuco) and António Vaz by March 3.[12]

Matias de Albuquerque, the Portuguese governor, led a strong Portuguese resistance which hindered the Dutch from developing their forts on the lands which they had captured. By 1631, the Dutch left Olinda and tried to gain control of the Fort of Cabedello on Paraíba, the Rio Grande, Rio Formoso, and Cabo de Santo Agostinho. These attempts were also unsuccessful, however.

Still in control of António Vaz and Recife, the Dutch later gained a foothold at Cabo de Santo Agostinho. By 1634 the Dutch controlled the coastline from the Rio Grande do Norte to Pernambuco's Cabo de Santo Agostinho. They still maintained control of the seas as well. By 1635 many Portuguese settlers were choosing Dutch-occupied land over Portuguese-controlled land. The Dutch offered freedom of worship and security of property. In 1635 the Dutch conquered three strongholds of the Portuguese: the towns of Porto Calvo, Arraial do Bom Jesus, and Fort Nazaré on Cabo de Santo Agostinho. These strongholds gave the Dutch increased sugar lands which led to an increase in profit.

In 1637, the WIC gave control of its Brazilian conquests, now called "Nieuw Holland," to Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (John Maurice of Nassau), the great-nephew of William the Silent. Within the year, Johan Maurits captured the Brazilian province of Ceara and sent an expedition to capture the West African trading post of Elmina Castle, which became the capital of the Dutch Gold Coast. In 1641 the Dutch captured the province of Maranhao, meaning that Dutch control now extended across the entire coastline between the Amazon and Sao Francisco Rivers.[13]

In 1640, the John, 8th Duke of Braganza declared Portuguese independence from Spain, ending the six decade-long Iberian Union. As a result, the threat of further Spanish intervention against Dutch Brazil declined, since Brazil was originally and had remained a Portuguese colony. In 1641-1642 the new Portuguese regime concluded a truce with the Dutch, temporarily ending hostilities, but the Dutch remained in Brazil. In 1643 in Johan Maurits equipped the expedition of Hendrik Brouwer that attempted to establish an outpost in southern Chile.[14][15] In 1644, the WIC recalled Johan Maurits to Europe in an attempt to cut military expenditures, following the cession of hostilities.

Nieuw-Holland under Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen

African Woman in Brazil by Albert Eckhout, one of the Dutch artists brought by Johan Maurits
The Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue in Mauritsstad (Recife) is the oldest synagogue in the Americas. Jews made up 50% of the white population in Dutch Brazil.[16]

Maurits claimed to have always loved Brazil due to its beauty and its people, and under his rule, the colony thrived.[17] His patronage of Dutch Golden Age painters, such as Albert Eckhout, to depict Brazil's richness resulted in works showing different races, landscapes, and still lifes. He organized a form of representative local government by creating municipal councils and rural councils with both Dutch and Brazilian Portuguese members to represent the population.[18]

Through these he began to modernize the country with streets, bridges, and roads in Recife. On the island of António Vaz, he founded the town of Mauritsstad (also known as Mauricia) where he created an astronomic observatory and a meteorological station, which were the first created by Europeans in the Americas.

Under Maurits, protection for Brazilian Jews who had been formerly ostracized was increased. He allowed former Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity to return to their former faith. Non-Catholic Christians, such as Calvinists, were also allowed to practice their faith as part of religious toleration.[17] Furthermore, the Catholic majority in Dutch Brazil was allowed to practice their faith freely, at a time in history in which there was extreme religious conflicts such as the Thirty Year's war between Catholics and Protestants. This was formed into the new law of Dutch Brazil in the peace accord signed after the conquest of the captaincy of Paraiba. The monastic orders of the Franciscans, Carmelites, and Benedictines were quite prominent in the former Portuguese colony. They were also allowed to retain all of their frairies and monasteries and allowed to practice and preach Catholicism among the population.[19]

Although there were Dutch immigrants to Brazil, the majority of the population was Portuguese and Brazilian-born Portuguese, African slaves, and Amerindians, with Dutch rule an overlay on pre-existing social groups.[17] The colony of Dutch Brazil had a difficult time of attracting Dutch colonists to immigrate and colonize in Brazil, as the main attraction of the colony was the extreme riches one could reap from starting a sugar plantation, as it was one of the few major market exporters of sugar to Europe at the time. This would also most likely entail the buying of African slaves, and as such only rich men could afford to start a plantation. There was also very significant risk with border contention and skirmish with the Portuguese from the parts of Brazil still under their control and the nonexistent loyalty of the local Portuguese Brazilians to the Dutch colony. Most of the Dutchmen employed in the Dutch West India Company went back to the Netherlands after they were relieved of duty and did not stay to settle the colony. As such, the Dutch were a ruling minority with a Portuguese and Brazilian-born Portuguese population.[20]

Main Dutch Brazilian Cities
Dutch colonial Name Today
Mauritsstad Recife
Frederikstadt João Pessoa
Nieuw-Amsterdam Natal


Main article: Dutch Brazilians

The Dutch settlers were divided into two separate groups, the first of which was known as “Dienaren” (servants). Dienaren were soldiers, bureaucrats, and Calvinist ministers employed by the WIC.

Vrijburghers (freemen) – or Vrijluiden – were the second group of Dutch settlers who were all the other Dutch settlers that did not fit into the category of Dienaaren. The Vrijburghers were mostly ex-soldiers formerly employed by the WIC but who then began to settle down. Others included Dutch who left the Netherlands to find a new life in Nieuw Holland. This group was the most economically important in Nieuw Holland since most trade was under their control.

The end of Dutch Brazil

After returning from Brazil, Johan Maurits of Nassau became known as "The Brazilian" in the Netherlands.[21]

Demise of Dutch West India Company in Brazil

A year after Maurits was summoned back by the WIC board, the WIC faced a major uprising of Portuguese planters on June 1645. The Portuguese planters around Pernambuco had never fully accepted Dutch rule, and had also resented the high interest rates charged by Dutch moneylenders for loans to rebuild their plantations following the initial Dutch conquest. In August, the planters revolted and prevailed over Dutch forces in a minor battle fought outside Recife, effectively ending Dutch control over the colony. That year, the Portuguese gained Várzea, Sirinhaém, Pontal de Nazaré, the Fort of Porto Calvo, and Fort Maurits. By 1646, the WIC only controlled four toeholds along the Brazilian coast, chief among them being Recife.[17]

In the spring of 1646, the Dutch sent a relief expedition to Recife consisting of 20 ships with 2000 men, temporarily forestalling the fall of the city. Back in Europe, the collapse of Dutch Brazil accelerated Dutch efforts to end its longstanding conflict with Spain, the Eighty Years' War. In August 1647, representatives from the Dutch province of Zeeland (the final holdout against peace with Spain) acquiesced to the Peace of Munster ending the war with Spain. In return, Zeeland obtained promises from the other Dutch provinces to support a second, larger relief expedition to reconquer Brazil. The expedition, consisting of 41 ships with 6000 men, set sail on December 26, 1647.[22]

In Brazil, the Dutch had already abandoned Itamaracá on December 13, 1647. The new expeditionary force arrived late at Recife, with many of its soldiers either dead or mutinous from lack of pay. On August 1649, the Portuguese routed the expeditionary force at the First Battle of Guararapes, fought outside Recife. The Portuguese had sent an armada of 84 ships, including 18 warships to recapture Recife.[23] On February 1649, the Portuguese again routed the Dutch at the Second Battle of Guararapes.[24]

The Dutch finally lost control of Recife on January 28, 1654, leaving to the Portuguese their colony of Brazil and putting an end to Nieuw Holland.[25]

In the aftermath of the Dutch occupation, Portuguese settled scores with Amerindians who had supported the Dutch. There were tensions between Portuguese who had fled the area under occupation and those who had lived under Dutch occupation. The returnees attempted to litigate to regain the properties they had abandoned, which in this sugar-producing area included sugar mills and other buildings, as well as cane fields. The litigation dragged on for years.[26]

The conflict in Brazil's northeast had severe consequences. The Brazilian sugar economy, which had thrived during the Dutch period, never recovered, in part because both sides practiced a scorched earth policy that disrupted sugar production but also because the British, French, and Dutch Caribbean became a major competitor to Brazilian sugar. Brazil's economy in the second half of the seventeen century was in sharp decline. Not until the discovery of gold in southern Brazil did Portugal's colony recover economically.[27]

The Dutch period in Brazil was "a historical parenthesis with few lasting traces" in the social sphere.[28] Dutch artistic production in Brazil left an important visual record of the people and places in the early seventeenth century.

Peace treaty

Seven years after the surrender of Recife, a peace treaty was organized between the Dutch Republic and Portugal. The Treaty of The Hague (1661) was signed on August 6, 1661,[29] and it demanded that the Portuguese would pay 4 million réis over the span of 16 years in order to help the Dutch recover from the loss of Brazil.

See also

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  1. The term "New Holland" should not be confused with the later term for present-day Western Australia.
  2. Acta Historiae Neerlandicae IX By R. Baetens, H. Balthazar, etc.
  3. James Lockhart and Stuart B. Schwartz, Early Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press 1983, p. 250.
  4. Parker 1976, p. 64.
  5. Catherine Lugar, "Dutch West India Company" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996, vol. 2, p. 421.
  6. Francis A. Dutra, "Dutch in Colonial Brazil" in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1996, vol. 2, p. 415.
  7. Lockhart and Schwartz, Early Latin America, p. 2150.
  8. Facsimile of manuscript regarding the ending of hostilities:Tractaet van Bestand ende ophoudinge van alle acten van vyandtschap als oock van traffijq commercien ende secours ghemaecht ghearresteert ende beslooten in s'Graven-Hage den twaelf den Junij 1641 ...;
  9. 1 2 Dutra, "Dutch in Colonial Brazil" p. 415.
  10. Lugar, "Dutch West India Company", p. 421.
  11. "The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics". Google Books. p. 121. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  12. 1 2 "Recife—A City Made by Sugar". Awake!. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  13. Parker 1976, p. 70-71.
  14. Robbert Kock The Dutch in Chili at coloniavoyage.com
  15. Kris E. Lane Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500–1750, 1998, pages 88-92
  16. Judeus Suas Extraordinárias Histórias e Contribuições para o Progresso da Humanidade, p. 117, at Google Books
  17. 1 2 3 4 Lockhart and Schwartz, Early Latin America, p. 251.
  18. Schwartz, Stuart B. Early Brazil: A Documentary Collection to 1700. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  19. Schwartz, Stuart B. Early Brazil: A Documentary Collection to 1700. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  20. Schwartz, Stuart B. Early Brazil: A Documentary Collection to 1700. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  21. Maurício de Nassau, o brasileiro Mariana Lacerda
  22. Parker 1976, p. 71-72.
  23. Dutra, "Dutch in Colonial Brazil", p. 418.
  24. Parker 1976, p. 72.
  25. Facsimile of manuscript regarding the surrender of Dutch Brazil:Cort, Bondigh ende Waerachtigh Verhael Wan't schandelyck over-geven ende verlaten vande voorname Conquesten van Brasil...;
  26. Dutra, "Dutch in Colonial Brazil", p. 419.
  27. Lockhart and Schwartz, Early Latin America, pp. 251-2.
  28. Lockhart and Schwartz, Early Latin America, p. 251
  29. Facsimile of the treaty:Articulen van vrede en Confoederarie, Gheslooten Tusschen den Doorluchtighsten Comingh van Portugael ter eenre, ende de Hoogh Mogende Heeren Staten General ...;

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