Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie

Full-scale replica of a Dutch sailing ship – a VOC-ship in the Golden Century of Holland.

The “Prins Willem”, built in 1651 at Middelburg, Zeeland (the Netherlands) was one of the largest of East Indiamen to be constructed during the 17th Century.

Built to withstand long and often hazardous sea voyages, the East Indiaman enabled the Dutch East Indie Company to participate in the highly profitable trade with Asia and contributed to the Netherlands’ dominance of world trade during the 17th Century.

The “Prins Willem” was seconded to the Dutch Navy during the First Anglo-Dutch War. The ship was the flagship of Witte de With in the Battle of the Kentish Knock during the First Anglo-Dutch War.. After returning to the merchant navy, the “Prins Willem” made five journeys to South East Asia along the lucrative spice route, before being wrecked off the island of Brandon on the return voyage to the Netherlands in February 1662.

A full-scale replica was recently built in Holland and shipped to Japan to be a major attraction in Nagasaki Holland Village, in Omura (Japan), a Dutch-themed amusement center.

To maximize their competitive advantage, the government persuaded the many competing trading companies to pool their financial assets to create the United Netherlands Chartered East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) in 1602. Under the charter granted by the States General to the VOC, the company was granted monopoly rights to trade and navigation for 21 years over the vast reaches east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. The company consisted of chambers (kamers) in six port cities-Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft, Enkhuizen, Middelburg, and Hoorn-made up of individuals chosen from the community of wealthy merchants and bankers. The chambers assigned from their members delegates to sit on the central board of 17 directors (Heeren XVII), the number allotted each chamber based on the regional representation of capital in shares contributed. Amsterdam held the largest number of seats at eight. The company was given the power to conclude treaties of alliance and peace, to wage defensive war, and to build forts and trading posts.

Backed by the government’s blessing, the VOC constituted the world’s first trading company based on permanent shares of capital. Fitted out with gunpowder and cannonballs, fleets were dispatched to the East Indies-more than a year’s journey away-to take Portuguese military/trading posts by force. In 1605 armed merchantmen captured the Portuguese fort at Amboina, in the Moluccan Islands, which the VOC then established as its first secure base in the Indies. In the midst of declaring dazzling dividends that jumped from 50 percent in 1606 to 329 percent in 1609, the company soon emerged as master of the spice trade. The Dutch seized Jakarta in 1619, renaming it Batavia and making it the administrative center of the Netherlands East Indies. Interloping English traders on Amboina were massacred in 1623. By the mid-17th century, the company operated as a virtual state within a state, the distance from the homeland and the wealth its ships brought home compelling the States General to leave the fi rm alone and give it virtually a free hand in the East Indies. The richest private company in the world, in 1670 the VOC counted 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, a private army, and 50,000 employees.

Employing ruthless methods to push their competitors aside, the company moved beyond the Indies to drive the Portuguese systematically from the trading posts they had held for a century in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on the South Asian subcontinent. By 1658 they held all of coastal Ceylon and, a decade later, they occupied isolated trading stations on the southern coasts of India. Moving farther afield, they founded Fort Zeelandia on Formosa (now Taiwan) in 1624, drove the Portuguese out of southern bases on the island and, in 1641, pushed the Spanish from northern holdings, before the Dutch in turn were expelled by Chinese arriving from the mainland in 1662. Regular trading relations were also established with Japan. From 1641 to 1854 the Dutch were the only Europeans permitted to trade there, exchanging European goods for Japanese gold, silver, and lacquerware from their isolated island post of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay.

Within only a few short decades, East Indiamen ships had won fame for the seemingly irrepressible daring of their captains and crews. South and east of Batavia they pressed on to within sight of western Australia’s barren shore and Abel Tasman (1603-59) sailed beyond the continent’s east coast to discover Tasmania, Fiji, and New Zealand. Jacob Le Maire (c. 1585-1616) and Willem Schouten (c. 1567-1625) sailed two vessels from Texel in 1615 west across the Atlantic, discovering a new route to the East Indies through Cape Horn, rounded for the first time on January 29, 1616, and which Schouten named for his birthplace. They sailed in search of gold, but they found none, leaving instead a legacy in new island discoveries, including the Admiralty Islands and the Schouten Islands in the southwest Pacific.

Enticed east by spices, the Dutch traveled west in search of salt, their sources in Portugal closed by Spain in 1621. The Dutch West India Company (Geoctroyeerde West-Indische Compagnie, WIC) was chartered that year, under a central governing board of 19 members (Heeren XIX), to finance incursions into the Spanish and Portuguese Americas, where the Venezuelan coastal pans in particular furnished a fine natural salt with which to preserve the fishing fleets’ catch. Caribbean waters offered added benefits in goods from contraband trading with Spanish settlements and in booty seized from preying on Spanish ships. The capture by Piet Heyn (1577-1629) of the Spanish silver fleet in 1628 assumed mythic status in the Dutch historical memory.

Anxious to secure trading depots on Caribbean islands, the WIC occupied Curaçao, the largest of the Leeward Islands and one that had long been abandoned by the Spanish, in 1634. Aruba was seized in 1636 and the Dutch, together with the French, drove the Spanish from Sint Maarten, which they divided between them in 1648. Sint Eustatius (Statia) was colonized by the company in 1636 with settlers from Zeeland, and Saba with those from Sint Eustatius in about 1640. Colonies were founded in Guyana (1625-1803), Brazil (1630-54), Suriname (1667-1975), and Demarara (1667-1814). The WIC under its governor-general John Maurits of Nassau-Siegen (1604-79) made an especially vigorous effort to occupy northeastern coastal areas of Brazil. The Dutch transformed the region into a profitable colony, largely through sugar production, and Jewish merchants arrived to set up operations at Recife before Dutch colonizers were ousted by the Portuguese, the discoverers of the country, who returned in force in 1654.

Colonists on Sint Eustatius first planted tobacco but soon switched to sugar, and sugar plantations established throughout the Dutch Caribbean islands furnished the bulk of Europe’s supply in the 17th century. On Sint Eustatius as well as on Curaçao, the largest of the Leeward Islands, the WIC established slave depots for trade with the continental Americas.

A fashion fad in Europe for furs drew the Dutch north. In Dutch service, Englishman Henry Hudson (1565-1611) in 1609 sailed his De Halve Maan (The Half Moon), a brand-new ship with a crew of eight Englishmen and eight Dutchmen, up the river later named for him and, in doing so, laid claim to one of the most strategically significant slices of the North American mainland. The first permanent settlement of Fort Orange (just south of present-day Albany, New York) was founded in 1614 to trade directly with Native Americans for beaver pelts even before the settlement of New Amsterdam was made in 1626 on Manhattan island, famously purchased by Governor Peter Minuit (1580-1638) for 60 guilders ($24) worth of goods. Unlike elsewhere in their empire where the Dutch preferred not to plant settlements but rather to set up military trading posts at strategic spots to which the native inhabitants would come to trade, their North American territory became a real colony. Not only soldiers and WIC employees came but also ordinary settlers, who arrived intending to stay. Its history short (1614-64) and tempestuous, marked by wars with Native American tribes, threats from intruding Swedes and English, and, above all, neglect by a ruling company-wholly engrossed in the struggle against Spain-more intent on privateering and profitmaking than attracting emigrants, New Netherland managed, nevertheless, to bequeath a scattering of settlements from western Long Island up the Hudson and Mohawk rivers as far as present-day Schenectady, New York, that has left an enduring legacy in place-names, folklore, and English-language loanwords.

Under the auspices of the VOC, Jan van Riebeeck (1619-77) founded Cape Town, southern Africa’s oldest settlement, in 1652. At first a watering place for ships bound to and from the Far East, the Cape Colony saw settlers start to arrive by the end of the 17th century. By then a series of forts and trading posts dotted the West African coast, first serving as watering stations but soon also operating as slave markets to meet the constant need of Dutch New World plantations for such labor. Curaçao, in particular, grew wealthy on the trade. In 1637 the Dutch wrested Elmina from the Portuguese, their strongest fortification on the Guinea coast. They also sold captive labor to other nations, bringing the first 19 slaves, captured from a Spanish slave ship, to Virginia in 1619, and, from 1663 to 1701, Dutch traders held the state contract (asiento) for transport of African slaves to Spain’s American colonies. Global trading ties gave a cosmopolitan character to the major cities, especially those in Holland, that was probably unmatched in Europe. The Dutch acquired a fl air for foreign languages that they have retained ever since. A traveler remarked: “There is no Part of Europe so haunted with all sorts of foreigners as the Netherlands, which makes the Inhabitants as well Women as Men, so well versed in all sorts of Languages, so that, in Exchange-time, one may hear 7 or 8 sorts of Tongues spoken. . . .” (Howell 1753, 103).

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  1. Pingback: The Adirondacks Conspiracy … a Royal Hustle … THE DUKES OF ALBANY / Pukes of YORK / …. A Royal MAFIA | The Adirondacks Conspiracy

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