Dutch Empire/The Atlantic

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Dutch conquests in Brazil and the Caribbean

In the Atlantic, the West India Company concentrated on wresting from Portugal its grip on the sugar and slave trade, and on opportunistic attacks on the Spanish treasure fleets on their homeward bound voyage. Bahia on the north east coast of Brazil was captured in 1624 but only held for a year before it was recaptured by a joint Spanish-Portuguese expedition. In 1628, Piet Heyn captured the entire Spanish treasure fleet, and made off with a vast fortune in precious metals and goods that enabled the Company two years later to pay its shareholders a cash dividend of 70%, though the Company was to have relatively few other successes against the Spanish. In 1630, the Dutch occupied the Portuguese sugar-settlement of Pernambuco and over the next few years pushed inland, annexing the sugar plantations that surrounded it. In order to supply the plantations with the manpower they required, an expedition was launched in 1637 from Brazil to capture the Portuguese slaving post of Elmina., and in 1641 successfully captured the Portuguese settlements in Angola. By 1650, the West India Company was firmly in control of both the sugar and slave trades, and had occupied the Caribbean islands of Sint Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire in order to guarantee access to the islands' salt-pans.

Unlike in Asia, Dutch successes against the Portuguese in Brazil and Africa were short-lived. Years of settlement had left large Portuguese communities under the rule of the Dutch, who were by nature traders rather than colonisers. In 1645, the Portuguese community at Pernambuco rebelled against their Dutch masters, and by 1654, the Dutch had been ousted from Brazil. In the intervening years, a Portuguese expedition had been sent from Brazil to recapture Luanda in Angola, by 1648 the Dutch were expelled from there also.

On the north-east coast of North America, the West India Company took over a settlement that had been established by the Company of New Netherland (1614-18) at Fort Orange at Albany on the Hudson River, relocated from Fort Nassau which had been founded in 1614. The Dutch had been sending ships annually to the Hudson River to trade fur since Henry Hudson's voyage of 1609. In order to protect its precarious position at Albany from the nearby English and French, the Company founded the fortified town of New Amsterdam in 1625 at the mouth of the Hudson, encouraging settlement of the surrounding areas of Long Island and New Jersey. The fur trade ultimately proved impossible for the Company to monopolise due to the massive illegal private trade in furs, and the settlement of New Netherland was unprofitable. In 1655, the nearby colony of New Sweden on the Delaware River was forcibly absorbed into New Netherland after ships and soldiers were sent to capture it by the Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant.

Ever since its inception, the Dutch East India Company had been in competition with its counterpart, the English East India Company, founded two years earlier but with a capital base eight times smaller, for the same goods and markets in the East. In 1619, the rivalry resulted in the Amboyna massacre, when several English Company men were executed by agents of the Dutch. The event remained a source of English resentment for several decades, and in the late 1620s the English Company shifted its focus to from Indonesia to India.


Dutch Empire

Introduction • Bibliography • Authors • Glossary • Print Version

Origins of an Empire • Dutch Revolt • The Beginning of an Empire • Asia • The Atlantic • Culture During the Golden Age • Anglo-Dutch Wars • Wars With Sweden • Later Wars • Batavian Republic • Kingdom of Holland • Under the French • Belgian Revolution • Expansion in the East Indies • Suriname and the Caribbean • German Invasion of the Netherlands • Japanese Invasion of the East Indies • Indonesian National Revolution • Suriname Independence • Language • Place Names • Architecture • Kings and Queens • Stadtholders of Holland • Governors-General of the Dutch East Indies • Director-Generals of New Netherland • Governors of Cape Colony • Maps and Pictures

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