Dutch West India Company

Notes from the Field: Sint Eustatius, the "Golden Rock," Part 1

Reading about the history of vast early America is great. But every so often I find it necessary to go out into the field and see the places I read about. This is, in part, how I came to spend last week in Sint Eustatius, the "Golden Rock" of the 18th-century Atlantic World. This post begins a three-post series about Sint Eustatius, its history, and my visit to the island.


Historic Overview of Sint Eustatius

A small, volcanic island in the Lesser Antilles, Sint Eustatius (also known as Statia) stands in between the islands of Saba and Saint Kitts. Archaeological evidence suggests native peoples lived on Statia prior to the 17th century. However, when the French attempted to settle the island in 1629, they no longer lived on Statia.[1]

French settlement of Statia lasted only a few years. The French feared Spanish attacks and they discovered that Statia lacks a natural source of water.

Sint Eustatius from the Air

The Dutch found Statia uninhabited in 1636 and settled the island. They recognized the island sat at the crossroads of the trade winds and that it had a large, natural harbor with an easy anchorage that could accommodate up to two hundred ships. To overcome the island's lack of natural water, the Dutch built cisterns.

Under the Dutch, Statia grew in two parts: Lower Town along the shoreline and Upper Town atop the steep cliff where people built their houses, churches, and government offices.

Lower Town Sint Eustatius. Building on left is the Old Gin House, so-called for the cotton gin that used to be in the building. Today, the Old Gin House is a hotel.

The Dutch built Fort Oranje at the edge of Upper Town's steep cliff and designed it to protect both Upper and Lower Town. By 1701, it had four bastions. Despite its size and strategic location, Fort Oranje never proved capable of staging an adequate defense of the island because the Dutch West India Company never garrisoned enough soldiers on Statia to man it. As a result, the island changed hands between the French, English, and Dutch approximately twenty-two times, often with the exchange of only a couple of shots, between the 17th and 18th centuries.


Entrance to Fort Oranje

View of Lower Town/Gallows Bay from Fort Oranje

When the Dutch settled Sint Eustatius, they planned to grow tobacco, cotton, and indigo. By the 18th-century they established sugar plantations. However, these cash-crop plantations proved to be secondary to the main source of Statia's wealth, the slave trade.

Statia's position at the crossroads of the African and American trades brought ships from all over the Atlantic into her large harbor. Duty-free trade supplemented the slave trade especially during times of European warfare. The Dutch often declared neutrality, especially during periods of warfare between the English and French. Dutch neutrality allowed all traders to freely trade in Statia.

The last remaining Dutch West India Company logo on Statia. It sits above the doors to the former customs and scale house, which is now part of the Scubaqua Dive Center.

Traders could find just about every type of good in Statia. This fact combined with Dutch neutrality caused Americans to sail to Statia in search of gunpowder, ammunition, and other war materiel during the War for American Independence. Historians estimate that as much as 50 percent of the patriots' war supplies came through Statia.

The American Revolution coincided with the peak of Statia's economic power; the days when those around the Atlantic World referred to her as the "Golden Rock." Two notable events occurred on Statia during the Revolution.

First, on November 16, 1776, the American naval vessel Andrew Doria sailed into Statia flying the new flag of the United States. As per custom, she entered the port by firing a peaceful, welcome salute. The Dutch soldiers in Fort Oranje were to supposed to fire a return salute, but they hesitated. They did not recognize the Andrew Doria's flag. The officer on duty inquired with Governor Johannes de Graaff about what action the men in the fort should take. As the welcome salute signified peaceful entry, de Graaff ordered his men to return the salute. The American press spun this customary salute by the Dutch as the first international recognition of the United States, the "first salute."

The "First Salute" fired by Fort Oranje to welcome the Andrew Doria to Sint Eustatius, November 16, 1776

Johannes de Graaff, Governor of Sint Eustatius


Second, in 1781, British Admiral George Rodney sailed to Sint Eustatius with orders to subdue the island so the Americans couldn't supply their war effort through it. Rodney sacked the island in February. His orders after subduing the island were to head to the Chesapeake to prevent the French navy from meeting up with George Washington's American army. Rodney defied his orders. He remained in Statia to plunder the island in an effort to satisfy personal debts and enrich himself. As a result, the French met up with the American army at Yorktown in October 1781.

Admiral George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney, 1791

British Fleet captures Sint Eustatius, February 1781


Although the American War for Independence had contributed to Statia's wealth, the independence of the United States also contributed to Statia's decline. After gaining independence, the United States sought to trade in different ports and Statia never recovered from Rodney's plundering. Today, the island, with its population of approximately 3,000 people, is an official municipality of the Netherlands.

Statian Sunset


[1] No hard evidence exists for why the native inhabitants of Statia left the island. An exhibit in the Sint Eustatius History Museum offered two possibilities: first, native inhabitants left the island in fear the Spanish would raid their island and enslave them. Second, the Spanish raided the island and enslaved its native peoples sometime during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley

Jansson-Visscher_mapWhat did the world of the seventeenth-century Hudson Valley look like? At the 35th Annual Conference on New York State History, historians Leslie Choquette, Jaap Jacobs, Paul Otto, and L.H. Roper grappled with what the region looked like from Native American, Dutch, English, and French perspectives.

In this post you will discover what these scholars had to say about life in the Hudson Valley during the seventeenth century.


Rise of English vs. Dutch Competition

Jaap Jacobs discussed how the decentralized nature of the Dutch West India Company and the Dutch East India Company worked well: Decentralization allowed investors to send Dutch ships into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans to take advantage of new trade opportunities in an organized way.

Jacobs admitted that the Dutch benefitted from the English Civil War (1642-1651) because the English turned their attention inward while the Dutch turned their attention outward. Likewise the Spanish and Portuguese devoted their attentions to their colonies and the closing years of the Eighty Years War. By the 1640s, the Spanish no longer had the means to defend its colonies. With its main competitors distracted, the Dutch expanded their trade networks around the globe.

The Dutch began to face serious competition for global trade during the 1650s. Between 1652 and 1674, the Dutch and English engaged in three wars known as the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Jacobs succinctly expressed the outcomes of these wars:

1st Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654): Marginal victory for the Dutch. • 2nd Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667): Victory for the Dutch although the Dutch lost New Netherland. • 3rd Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674): Narrow escape for the Dutch that effectively ended their activities in the Atlantic World.


The French

Leslie Choquette outlined the differences between New France, New England, and New Netherland.

The French commenced their North American forays in 1534, when Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence River. Between 1598 and 1608, the French attempted to found trading settlements in New France, all proved unsuccessful. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec with twenty-eight men.

Le_Canada_ou_Nouvelle_FranceChoquette argued that New France had two characteristics that distinguished it from New England and New Netherland.

1. The people of New France formed an alliance with indigenous peoples.

New France suffered from hostility and warfare, but the New French fought distant Native Americans, not those who lived nearby.

2. New France suffered from a very low rate of European immigration, which hampered its development as a colony.

Choquette discussed the need for scholars to move away from nationalistic histories of New France.

English nationalistic histories suggest that New France experienced low immigration because the French were incompetent. They also posit that the French had great relations with the “savages” because they were “savages.”

French nationalistic histories assert that the people of New France coexisted well with their Native American neighbors because the French were a tolerant people. They address low immigration rates to New France by suggesting that no Frenchman wanted to leave “Belle France” and that England experienced high rates of migration to its North American colonies because what Englishman would not want to leave England?

Choquette stated that French-centered histories discount the fact that the French could be just as ruthless as the English and Dutch when it came to dealing with Native American peoples who were not their allies. Both the English- and the French-centered histories also discount the fact that de Champlain had to enter an alliance with Native Americans on Native American terms. He entered the alliance not because the French were tolerant, but because Native American nations controlled the territory outside European colonial settlements.


Native Americans

Paul Otto wants historians to understand that economic, religious, and social norms structured the seventeenth-century encounter between Native American and European peoples in the Hudson Valley.

Otto believes that if historians can understand Native American economic, religious, and social structures then they will have a better sense of what took place in the colonial Hudson Valley; European interactions with Native Americans and Native American participation in those interactions made the formation of societies in the Hudson Valley possible.

Otto asserts that historians must understand two things if they are to understand how colonial society developed around the Hudson Valley:

wampum101. The Iroquois

The Iroquois occupied lands inland from European settlements. The distance between the Haudenosaunee peoples and Europeans gave the Iroquois time to adapt to European settlement before European diseases ravaged their populations.

Historians must also develop a understanding of Haudenosaunee society. Prior to European colonization, the Iroquois had brought their five different linguistic and cultural groups together into one metaphorical longhouse. In this communal longhouse, the Haudenosaunee peoples developed rituals for how to negotiate and deal with their differences. One ritual revolved around wampum and the exchange of wampum to settle disputes and seal agreements.

2. Where did wampum come from?

The Iroquois peoples did not make wampum. They traded for the beads which Munsee peoples along the coast of Long Island and southern New England made from the whelk and quahog shells they found along their beaches.

Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Munsee and Iroquois interacted and exchanged wampum. This trade demonstrates that North America was not a land where people lived in isolation from one another, but a land made up of diverse peoples with sophisticated trade and diplomatic networks.

Otto believes that once historians understand how Native American societies functioned before the arrival of Europeans, they will better understand why European settlements developed as they did because many formed in response to their interactions and relations with the Native American societies around them.

*Picture of wampum belt courtesy of the Iroquois Museum


Q&AAudience Q & A Highlights

Both the French and Dutch were seventeenth-century peoples who held similar Christian world views, but why did the Dutch seek to avoid interaction with Native Americans while the French sought close interaction?

Leslie Choquette attributed the close interactions the French had with neighboring Native American peoples to the fact that the French had “lucked out” when they settled in the St. Lawrence Valley. The French settled in an area devoid of Native American farming communities. Sometime between the 1540s and 1600, Native American warfare pushed the Iroquois peoples out of the St. Lawrence Valley. The Iroquois practiced sedentary farming.

The people who inhabited the St. Lawrence Valley when the French arrived lived nomadic and semi-sedentary lives. This meant the French faced little-to-no competition for land. Without competition for land resources, the French had an easier time establishing good relations with the peoples who lived near their settlements.

Choquette also described a major difference between French conceptions of land ownership and Dutch and English understandings of property ownership. The people of seventeenth-century France thought about land in feudal terms. The king owned all the land, but it was possible to farm the king’s land. This feudal conception of property ownership accommodated the idea that both the French and Native American peoples could “own” the same land at the same time.

Paul Otto added that the Dutch and English sent colonists to settle in areas populated by Native American peoples. The Dutch and English sought to farm land that Native Americans also farmed. Competition for the land increased proportionately with the expansion of Dutch and English settlement. He hypothesized that if Dutch and English settlement had occurred on a smaller scale as it had in New France then there would have been less conflict because there would have been less competition for the land.


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The panelists collaborated to write [simpleazon-link asin="1438450974" locale="us"]The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley[/simpleazon-link]




The 3 Companies of New Netherland

Three companies played a role in the establishment of New Netherland. In this post you will find a brief overview of these companies and learn about how they contributed to the establishment of New Netherland.


Dutch East India Company

Official Name: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (United East India Company)

vocNickname: VOC

Charter Date: 1602

Charter Highlights: The States-General granted the VOC a monopoly on navigation and trade in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The VOC had the authority to enlist and command soldiers and sailors in a company army and navy and to make treaties and form alliances with the peoples living throughout their jurisdiction.

Involvement with New Netherland: The VOC hired Henry Hudson to explore a possible northern route to the Pacific Ocean. They ordered Hudson to sail north from the Netherlands, over Scandinavia, around the northern boundaries of Nova Zembla, and through the Bering Strait into the Pacific Ocean.

Hudson encountered ice, freezing temperatures, extreme winds, and a cold, mutinous crew off the coast of Norway. Rather then return to the Netherlands, he sailed west to North America, where he became the first European to explore the Hudson River.


New Netherland Company

Official Name: Nieuw-Nederlandt Compagnie

Nickname: N/A

Charter Date: 1614

Charter Highlights: Monopoly on navigation and trade to New Netherland for 3 years or 4 voyages.

Involvement with New Netherland: Instituted a regular trade with the Native American peoples of the Hudson River Valley.

Built Fort Nassau on Castle Island across from Albany, New York. The fort served as a trading post and residence for the traders and bosloopers (forest walkers) who opted to live in New Netherland year round. The fort fell into disrepair after 1618.


West India Company

Official Name: West-Indische Compagnie

Dutch-West-India-CompanyNickname: WIC

Charter Date: 1621

Charter Highlights: The States-General granted the WIC a monopoly on navigation and trade in the Atlantic Ocean.

The WIC had the authority to make peace treaties and alliances with the peoples living within their trade jurisdiction and the ability to enlist and command soldiers and sailors in a company army and navy.

The States-General also tasked the WIC with colonizing New Netherland to protect this possession from English encroachment.

Involvement with New Netherland: It took the WIC 2 years to raise the funds it needed to begin its operations; it raised over 7 million florins.

In 1624, the WIC built Fort Orange on the west banks of the Hudson River. The fort served as the center of their fur trade operations.

Also in 1624, the WIC settled 30 Walloon families in New Netherland. The WIC scattered these families along the 3 rivers it claimed as part of New Netherland: the Connecticut, Delaware, and Hudson Rivers. The WIC settled 18 of these families around Fort Orange with the hope that the colonists would be able to establish farms and support the WIC soldiers and traders stationed at Fort Orange.


What IfWhat If?

Would you have settled in New Netherland under the same terms the WIC offered the first Walloon families? Why or why not?

The first Walloon families contracted with the WIC to live in New Netherland for a minimum of 6 years on land that the WIC provided them. The first New Netherlanders also agreed to help the WIC build necessary fortifications and buildings and serve in the militia during times of war.

In exchange, the WIC promised to supply the settlers with land, seeds, and livestock, 2 years of free food and necessities, and allowed them to hunt, fish, find and operate salt pans and pearl beds, and look for precious metals. Additionally, the WIC allowed the Walloons to worship freely in their homes or at public Dutch Reformed services.