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HISTORY OF THE DUTCH EMPIRE
 
 


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Dutch trade in the east: 1595-1651

The first Dutch expedition round the Cape to the far east, in 1595, is captained by Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, a Netherlands merchant whose only knowledge of the orient comes from trading in Lisbon. The survivors of this journey get back to Holland two years later. They bring valuable cargo. And they have established a trading treaty with the sultan of Bantam, in Java.

Their return prompts great excitement. Soon about ten private vessels are setting off each year from the Netherlands to find their fortune in the east. The States General of the newly independent Dutch republic decide that this unlicensed trading activity, in distant and dangerous waters, needs both control and protection.
 









In 1602 the States General form a Dutch East India Company, with extensive privileges and powers. It is to have a tax-free monopoly of the eastern trade for twenty-one years. It is authorized to build forts, establish colonies, mint coins, and maintain a navy and army as required.

With these powers the company takes only a few decades to deprive Portugal of the spice trade. A capital is established at Batavia, in Java, in 1619. The Portuguese are driven out of Malacca by 1641 and from Sri Lanka by 1658. But the main focus of Dutch attention is the Moluccas - the Indonesian islands of which the alternative name, the Spice Islands, declares their central importance in the eastern trade.
 







The Moluccas are the source of the most valuable spice of all, the clove, coveted for many different purposes - as a flavour in food, as a preservative, as a mild anaesthetic, as an ingredient in perfume, even to mask stinking breath. In pursuit of Moluccan cloves, and also nutmegs, the Portuguese make local treaties as early as 1512.

In the early decades of the 17th century the Dutch East India Company gradually excludes the Portuguese from trade in the Moluccas. The Dutch also take on, and oust from the islands, another European nation attempting to get a foothold in the region - the English East India Company.
 







The Dutch control the trade in cloves with ruthless efficiency. During the 17th century clove trees are eradicated on all the Spice Islands except two - Amboina and Ternate - to limit production and keep prices high. Strict measures are taken to ensure that plants are not exported for propagation elsewhere (a restriction successfully maintained until the late 18th century).

The Portuguese never recover their trading strength in the east. But in expelling the English from the Moluccas, the Dutch unwittingly do them a favour. The English East India Company decides to concentrate its efforts on India.
 







Meanwhile the Dutch company has taken a decision, small in itself, which has momentous results. Dutch sea captains have discovered that it is feasible to sail directly northeast across the Indian Ocean from the southern tip of Africa. This makes the Cape a very important port of call for taking on water and fresh supplies.

In 1651 the company decides to meet this need by establishing a small Dutch settlement on the bay beneath Table Mountain. By now there is also a thriving Dutch colony on the other side of the Atlantic.
 






Dutch in America: 1624-1664

In 1621 the States General in the Netherlands grant a charter to the Dutch West India Company, giving it a monopoly to trade and found colonies along the entire length of the American coast. The area of the Hudson river, explored by Hudson for the Dutch East India Company in 1609, has already been designated New Netherland. Now, in 1624, a party of thirty families is sent out to establish a colony. They make their first permanent settlement at Albany, calling it Fort Orange.

In 1626 Peter Minuit is appointed governor of the small colony. He purchases the island of Manhattan from Indian chiefs, and builds a fort at its lower end. He names the place New Amsterdam.
 









The Dutch company finds it easier to make money by piracy than by the efforts of colonists (the capture of the Spanish silver fleet off Cuba in 1628 yields vast profits), but the town of New Amsterdam thrives as an exceptionally well placed seaport - even though administered in a harshly authoritarian manner by a succession of Dutch governors.

The only weakness of New Amsterdam is that it is surrounded by English colonies to the north and south of it. This place seems to the English both an anomaly and an extremely desirable possession. Both themes are reflected in the blithe grant by Charles II in 1664 to his brother, the duke of York, of the entire coastline between the Connecticut and Delaware rivers.
 







New Amsterdam, and behind it New Netherland, lie exactly in the middle of this stretch. When an English fleet arrives in 1664, the Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant accepts the reality of the situation and surrenders the territory without a shot being fired. New Amsterdam is transformed without upheaval into New York.

This reduces the Dutch presence in the new world to the region of Guiana, in south America, where the first settlements are established before 1616. Taken over by the company from 1621, they survive on sugar grown with slave labour. Frequently disputed between Dutch, French and English interests, the Dutch section of the Guiana coast eventually becomes Surinam.
 






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