Dutch West India Company
|Founded||June 3, 1621|
|Founder||Willem Usselincx (among others)|
Number of locations
|Amsterdam, Hoorn, Rotterdam, Groningen and Middelburg|
Dutch West India Company (Dutch: Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie, Dutch pronunciation: [ɣəʔɔktroːˈjeːrdə ʋɛstˈɪndisə kɔmpɑˈɲi] or Dutch: GWIC; English: Chartered West India Company) was a chartered company (known as the "WIC") of Dutch merchants. Among its founding fathers was Willem Usselincx (1567–1647). On June 3, 1621, it was granted a charter for a trade monopoly in the West Indies (meaning the Caribbean) by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and given jurisdiction over the Atlantic slave trade, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. The area where the company could operate consisted of West Africa (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Cape of Good Hope) and the Americas, which included the Pacific Ocean and the eastern part of New Guinea. The intended purpose of the charter was to eliminate competition, particularly Spanish or Portuguese, between the various trading posts established by the merchants. The company became instrumental in the Dutch colonization of the Americas.
When the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was founded in 1602, some traders in Amsterdam did not agree with its monopolistic politics. With help from Plancius Peter, a Flemish minister who was engaged in producing maps, globes and nautical instruments, they sought for a northeastern or northwestern access to Asia to circumvent the VOC monopoly. In 1609 English explorer Henry Hudson, in employment of the VOC, landed on the coast of New England and sailed up what is now known as the Hudson River, in his quest for the Northwest Passage to Asia. However, he failed to find a passage. Consequently, in 1615 Isaac Le Maire and Samuel Blommaert, assisted by others, focused on finding a south-westerly route around South America's Tierra del Fuego archipelago, in order to circumvent the monopoly of the VOC.
One of the first sailors who focused on trade with Africa was Balthazar de Moucheron. The trade with Africa offered several possibilities to set up trading posts or factories, an important starting point for negotiations. It was Blommaert, however, who stated that in 1600 eight companies sailed on the coast of Africa, competing with each other for the supply of copper, from the Kingdom of Loango. Pieter van den Broecke was employed by one of these companies. In 1612, a Dutch fortress was built in Mouree (present day Ghana), along the Dutch Gold Coast.
Trade with the Caribbean, for salt, sugar and tobacco, was hampered by Spain and delayed because of peace negotiations. Spain offered peace on condition that the Dutch Republic would withdraw from trading with Asia and America. Spain refused to sign the peace treaty if a West Indian Company would be established. At this time the Dutch War of Independence (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic was occurring. Grand Pensionary Johan van Oldenbarnevelt offered to only suspend trade with the West in exchange for the Twelve Years' Truce. The result was that during a few years the company sailed under a foreign flag in South America. However, ten years later, Stadtholder Maurice of Orange, proposed to continue the war with Spain, but also to distract attention from Spain to the Republic. In 1619, his opponent Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was beheaded, and when two years later the truce expired, the West Indian Company was established.
Some historians date the origins of the firm to the 1500s with arrivals of colonial settlers in what is now called New York long before the English at Jamestown, Virginia.
The first West India Company
The WIC was organized similarly to the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, abbreviated as VOC). Like the VOC, the WIC company had five offices, called chambers (kamers), in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hoorn, Middelburg and Groningen, of which the chambers in Amsterdam and Middelburg contributed most to the company. The board consisted of 19 members, known as the Heeren XIX (the Lords Nineteen). The validity of the charter was set at 24 years. Only in 1623 was funding arranged, after several bidders were put under pressure. The States General of the Netherlands and the VOC pledged one million guilders in the form of capital and subsidy. Unlike the VOC, the WIC had no right to deploy military troops. When the Twelve Years' Truce in 1621 was over, the Republic had a free hand to re-wage war with Spain. A Groot Desseyn ("grand design") was devised to seize the Portuguese colonies in Africa and the Americas, so as to dominate the sugar and slave trade. When this plan failed, privateering became one of the major goals within the WIC. The arming of merchant ships with guns and soldiers to defend themselves against Spanish ships was of great importance. On almost all ships in 1623, 40 to 50 soldiers were stationed, possibly to assist in the hijacking of enemy ships. It is unclear whether the first expedition was the expedition by Jacques l'Hermite to the coast of Chile, Peru and Bolivia, set up by Stadtholder Maurice with the support of the States General and the VOC.
The company was initially relatively successful; in the 1620s and 1630s, many trade posts and colonies were established. The largest success for the WIC in its history was the seizure of the Spanish silver fleet, which carried silver from Spanish colonies to Spain, by Piet Heyn in 1628; privateering was at first the most profitable activity.
In 1629 the WIC gave permission to a number of investors in New Netherlands to found patroonships, enabled by the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions which was ratified by the Dutch States-General on June 7, 1629. The patroonships were created to help populate the colony, by providing investors grants providing land for approximately 50 people and "upwards of 15 years old", per grant, mainly in the region of New Netherland. Patroon investors could expand the size of their land grants as large as 4 miles, "along the shore or along one bank of a navigable river..." Rensselaerswyck was the most successful Dutch West India Company patroonship.
The New Netherland area, which included New Amsterdam, covered parts of present-day New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey. Other settlements were established on the Netherlands Antilles, and in South America, in Dutch Brazil, Suriname and Guyana. In Africa, posts were established on the Gold Coast (now Ghana), the Slave Coast (now Benin), and briefly in Angola. It was a neo-feudal system, where patrons were permitted considerable powers to control the overseas colony. In the Americas, fur (North America) and sugar (South America) were the most important trade goods, while African settlements traded the enslaved—mainly destined for the plantations on the Antilles and Suriname—gold, and ivory.
The settlers Albert Burgh, Samuel Blommaert, Samuel Godijn, Johannes de Laet had little success with populating the colony of New Netherland, and to defend themselves against local Indians. Only Kiliaen Van Rensselaer managed to maintain his settlement in the north along the Hudson. Samuel Blommaert secretly tried to secure his interests with the founding of the colony of New Sweden on behalf of Sweden on the Delaware in the south. The main focus of the WIC now went to Brazil. Only in 1630 did the West India Company manage to conquer a part of Brazil. In 1630, the colony of New Holland (capital Mauritsstad, present-day Recife) was founded, taking over Portuguese possessions in Brazil. In the meantime, the war demanded so many of its forces that the Company had to operate under a permanent threat of bankruptcy. In fact, the WIC went bankrupt in 1636 and all attempts at rehabilitation were doomed to failure.
Because of the ongoing war in Brazil the situation for the WIC in 1645, at the end of the charter, was very bad. An attempt to compensate the losses of the WIC with the profits of the VOC failed because the directors of the VOC didn't want to. Merging the two companies was not feasible. Amsterdam was not willing to help out, because it had too much interest in peace and healthy trade relations with Portugal. This indifferent attitude of Amsterdam was the main cause of the slow, half-hearted policy, which would eventually lead to losing the colony. In 1647 the Company made a restart using 1.5 million guilders, capital of the VOC. The States General took responsibility for the warfare in Brazil.
Due to the Peace of Westphalia the hijacking of Spanish ships was no longer allowed. Many merchants from Amsterdam and Zeeland decided to work with marine and merchants from Hamburg, Glückstadt (then Danish), England and other countries. In 1649, the WIC obtained a monopoly on gold and enslaved Africans in the kingdom of Accra (present-day Ghana). In 1662 there were contacts with the owners of the Asiento, which were obliged to deliver 24,000 enslaved Africans. In 1663 and 1664 the WIC sold more enslaved Africans than the Portuguese and English together.
The first West India Company suffered a long agony, and its end in 1674 was painless. The reason that the WIC could drag on for twenty years was due to its valuable West African possessions.
The second West India Company
When the WIC could not repay its debts in 1674, the company was dissolved. But because of high demand for trade with the West (mainly slave trade), and the fact that still many colonies existed, it was decided to establish the Second Chartered West India Company (also called New West India Company) in 1675. This new company had the same trade area as the first. All ships, fortresses, etc. were taken over by the new company. The number of directors was reduced from 19 to 10, and the number of governors from 74 to 50. The new WIC had a capital that was slightly more than 6 million guilders around 1679, which was largely supplied by the Amsterdam Chamber.
From 1694 until 1700, the WIC waged a long conflict against the Eguafo Kingdom along the Gold Coast, present-day Ghana. The Komenda Wars drew in significant numbers of neighboring African kingdoms and led to replacement of the gold trade with enslaved Africans.
After the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, it became apparent that the Dutch West India Company was no longer capable of defending its own colonies, as Sint Eustatius, Berbice, Essequibo, Demerara, and some forts on the Dutch Gold Coast were rapidly taken by the British. In 1791, the company's stock was bought by the Dutch government, and on 1 January 1792, all territories previously held by the Dutch West India Company reverted to the rule of the States General of the Dutch Republic. Around 1800 there was an attempt to create a third West Indian Company, without any success.
- Dutch colonization of the Americas
- Economic history of the Netherlands (1500–1815)
- List of director generals of New Netherland
- List of trading companies
- Atlantic slave trade
- Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions
- New Holland (Acadia)
- James LaFleur, ed. Pieter van den Broeck
- "Freedoms, as Given by the Council of the Nineteen of the Chartered West India Company to All those who Want to Establish a Colony in New Netherland". World Digital Library. 1630. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- (Dutch)Klein, P.W. (1965) De Trippen in de 17e eeuw, p. 150.
- "Conditions as Created by their Lords Burgomasters of Amsterdam". World Digital Library. 1656. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- (Dutch)Heijer, H. den (1994) De geschiedenis van de WIC, p. 97.
- (Dutch)Dillen, J.G. van, (1970) Van Rijkdom tot Regenten, p. 169.
- (Dutch)Dillen, J.G. van, (1970) Van Rijkdom tot Regenten, p. 127.
- Boxer, C.R. (1957) The Dutch in Brazil 1624 - 1654. Oxford, Clarendon Press. ISBN
- (Dutch) Brakel, S. van (1918) Bescheiden over den slavenhandel der Westindische Compagnie, p. 50, 67. In: Economisch-Historisch Jaarboek IV.
- (Dutch)Binder, F. e.a. (1979) Dirck Dircksz. Wilre en Willem Godschalk van Focquenbroch(?) Geschilderd door Pieter de Wit te Elmina in 1669. Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 27, p.7-29.
- (Dutch)Klein, P.W. (1965) De Trippen in de 17e eeuw, p. 182.
- Schmidt, Benjamin, Innocence Abroad: The Dutch Imagination and the New World, 1570-1670, Cambridge: University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-521-80408-0
- Van Groesen, Michiel, (ed.) "The Legacy of Dutch Brazil", Cambridge University Press, 2014.
- Dutch Portuguese Colonial History Dutch Portuguese Colonial History: history of the Portuguese and the Dutch in Ceylon, India, Malacca, Bengal, Formosa, Africa, Brazil. Language Heritage, lists of remains, maps.
- Facsimile of 15 WIC books Relating about the events in Brazil in the 17th century (PT & NL)
- WIC ship halve maan The GWC ship the Halve Maan.
- Charter of the Dutch West India Company Text of the Charter of the Dutch West India Company: 1621
- Netherlands West India Company GWC