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Dutch West India Company

The Dutch Westindische Compagnie (West India Company), known as the WIC, was established by charter in 1621 and re-estabished in 1675. It traded in the Gold Coast (Ghana) in west Africa, in the New Netherlands (the area around New York) in north America, and in the Caribbean (including Guyana). It continued until 1791 when its stock was bought by the Dutch government. It was extensively involved in the slave trade.

From 1675 it was run from the Netherlands by 10 directors and 50 governors, divided into 5 kamers (chambers), based in different regions of the Netherlands. The most important was the Amsterdam Chamber but it was the Zeeland Chamber, based in Middleburg, which had the greatest influence in Guyana.

The WIC granted possession of Berbice to the van Peere family, who held it until 1714, when it was acquired by the brothers Nicolaas and Hendrik van Hoorn, Arnold Dix, Pieter Schuurmans, and Cornelis van Peere. In 1720, with the consent of the WIC, the planters formed themsleves into a corporation, the Society of Berbice, with the aim of developing the colony. A new charter was granted in 1732, under which a governor was appointed by the WIC, and the number of plantations expanded. However, Berbice was governed in a commercially conservative manner. Foreign settlement was forbidden and all produce had to be shipped to the Netherlands in Dutch vessels. After the Berbice slave rising of 1763 the colony’s white population fell from 286 to 116, and the number of slaves from 4251 to 2464.

Abraham Jacob van Imbyze van Batenburg, who was governor from 1789 to 1806 under both Dutch and British control of the colony, opened the colony to outsiders by granting land along the coast for cotton plantations.

Essequibo appeared to be flourishing c1690 but had almost disappeared by 1708, reduced to little more than a trading post. It was the 1730s before activity returned to the earlier level. By 1735 the WIC had four or five plantations and a further twenty-five to thirty plantations were privately owned, with a total European population of 66 and 859 slaves in the colony.

Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande [1704-75] became governor in 1742 and served in this role for over thirty years, during which time he established the satelite colony of Demerara and opened up both colonies to non-Dutch settlers, in contrast to neighbouring Berbice. Van 's Gravesande's dispatches to the Zeeland Chamber of the WIC were published in 1911 under the title The Rise of British Guiana and are a valuable first hand source for the history of Guyana.

[See Joannes Postma, The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600-1815 (Cambridge, 1990)]

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