In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Dutch Caribbean and Guianas

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Sailing Letters
  • Cartographic Compendia
  • Travel Accounts
  • Trade and Smuggling
  • Urban Slavery and Manumission
  • Slavery on the Islands
  • Slave Resistance
  • Abolition and Emancipation
  • Maroons
  • Jews
  • Migration

Atlantic History The Dutch Caribbean and Guianas
Karwan Fatah-Black
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0211


The Dutch ventures into the Caribbean and Guianas coincided with the wave of assaults by northern European countries on the Iberian Atlantic empire beginning in the late 16th century. From those first incursions onward a Dutch presence has been ongoing in the Caribbean and in the Guianas. Most importantly, colonies were founded on Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, and Saba in the Caribbean, and in Suriname, Essequibo, Demerary, and Berbice on the Guiana coast. Failed or short-lived attempts at colonization took place on Tobago and in Cayenne as well as along the Pomeroon and other rivers. The Dutch failure to hold on to their colony in northern Brazil (1630–1654) looms large over the history of Dutch Guiana and the Caribbean. During the collapse of Dutch power in Brazil, many colonists fled the areas of Dutch control and resettled in the Caribbean and in the Guianas. Dutch rule over the Atlantic domains was formally in the hands of the Dutch West India Company (WIC). However, this company was itself spread across various chambers in different cities, mostly having a regional expertise in the West Indies. Furthermore, a number of subsidiary institutions and private companies governed specific colonies, most notably the Suriname Company (Sociëteit van Suriname), which governed Suriname. The Dutch Caribbean islands were mostly under the direct control of the WIC. Only in the Guianas did a mix of both the WIC and other parties govern. This article privileges English-language works over Dutch ones. If a book is available in English and Dutch, the English title will be referenced here.

General Overviews

The colonies in the Caribbean and in the Guianas were included in the charter of the Dutch West India Company, which covered the entire Atlantic world, including North America and Africa. Thus, general overviews tend to have the entire Dutch Atlantic as their focus rather than only the colonies in the Caribbean and the Guianas. The breadth and scope of Goslinga’s work (Goslinga 1971, Goslinga 1985, Goslinga 1990) does come with many drawbacks regarding the quality of the research and its analytical strength. More recently, a small surge in Atlantic histories has been recorded, which has also resulted in collections of essays offering overviews of new research concerning the Dutch in the Caribbean and the Guianas. In the 20th century, van Lier 1971 marks a watershed in the historiography of Dutch colonies in the Americas by taking a social-historical approach. Sometimes referred to as the “forgotten colonies,” Essequibo, Demarary, and Berbice are in what is now Guyana, formerly British Guiana. Since van der Oest 2003 and Kars 2009 (cited under Slave Resistance) and, more recently, Hoonhout 2013 (cited under Trade and Smuggling) and Oostindie 2012 (cited under Plantation Economy), scholarly interest in these colonies is growing. Although Essequibo (1616) and Berbice (1627) were among the earliest plantation colonies of the Dutch they rose to economic significance only in the late 18th century. In the late 18th century it was predominantly English capital and smuggling that helped to boost the development of the plantation economy. Rights for Jews in Essequibo provided the model for their toleration under English and later Dutch rule in Suriname. In these colonies the indigenous population proved resilient against European incursions and they increased demographically during the 18th century. They also played an important role in offering military services to the colonists.

  • Den Heijer, Henk. Geschiedenis van de WIC: Opkomst, bloei en ondergang. Zutphen, The Netherlands: Walburg Pers, 2013.

    This work has seen several reprints and improved editions over the years and remains the starting point for studies of the first and second Dutch West India Companies. Den Heijer includes a chapter on the first Dutch forays into the Caribbean as well as one on the governmental institutions in the Caribbean and the Guianas.

  • Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. The Dutch in the Caribbean and the Wild Coast, 1580–1680. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1971.

    The first volume of Goslinga’s trilogy, and arguably the most comprehensive. Goslinga traces the origins of the Dutch incursions into the Caribbean and the Guianas and their relationship to political struggles in the Dutch Republic. The appendixes include a report of one of the earliest Dutch voyages to Guiana in the late 16th century and various legal and political documents relating to questions of war and peace as well as the slave trade.

  • Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. The Dutch in the Caribbean and in the Guianas, 1680–1791. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1985.

    The second volume of the trilogy covers the history of the second Dutch West India Company (1675–1791) as well as the histories of the Antillean islands and the Guiana colonies. Information on the slave trade in the book is generally outdated and scholars should refer to Postma and Enthoven 2003 for more recent and complete figures.

  • Goslinga, Cornelis Ch. The Dutch in the Caribbean and in Surinam, 1791/5–1942. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1990.

    The last volume of the trilogy can serve as a point of departure for many studies of the Dutch in the Caribbean and the Guianas after the dissolution of the WIC and its subsidiary companies.

  • Lommerse, Hanneke. “Population Figures.” In Dutch Colonialism, Migration and Cultural Heritage. Edited by Gert Oostindie, 315–342. Leiden, The Netherlands: KITLV, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004253889_008

    In this chapter Lommerse has collected all population figures for the Dutch Empire in both hemispheres.

  • Oostindie, Gert. Paradise Overseas: The Dutch Caribbean; Colonialism and Its Transatlantic Legacies. Oxford: Macmillan Caribbean, 2005.

    This introductory book has seen several reprints and translations and is a good starting point for anyone studying Dutch Caribbean history.

  • Oostindie, Gert, and Jessica V. Roitman, eds. Dutch Atlantic Connections, 1680–1800. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

    As a successor to Riches from Atlantic Commerce (see van der Oest 2003), the edited volume on the Dutch Atlantic focuses primarily on inter-imperial connections of trade and shipping in the Atlantic, including the Caribbean and the Guianas. The focus is, however, not only on trade. The volume also contains essays on sexuality, art, and science.

  • Postma, Johannes, and Victor Enthoven, eds. Riches from Atlantic Commerce: Dutch Transatlantic Trade and Shipping, 1585–1817. The Atlantic World. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

    This edited volume collects a range of articles on the main issues regarding the Dutch Atlantic. The volume aims at a reassessment of the importance of the Dutch in the Atlantic world, as well as the economic importance of the Atlantic world for the Netherlands. The volume is an excellent source for trade data of the various colonies in the Caribbean and the Guianas.

  • van der Oest, Eric Willem. “The Forgotten Colonies of Essequibo and Demerara, 1700–1814.” In Riches from Atlantic Commerce: Dutch Transatlantic Trade and Shiping, 1585– 1817. Edited by Johannes Postma and Victor Enthoven, 323–361. The Atlantic World. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

    This article successfully rescues the “forgotten colonies” from oblivion and serves as a starting point for studies of the Dutch period of these colonies. The article provides shipping figures for Dutch, non-Dutch, and slaving vessels that called in the colonies and figures for the number of plantations in the 18th century.

  • van Lier, Rudolf A. J. Frontier Society: A Social Analysis of the History of Surinam. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971.

    This study of Suriname by van Lier is generally regarded as outdated, although his social historical analysis of Suriname’s history continues to be referenced in present-day debates, especially his analysis of the Creoles after slavery and his characterization of modern Suriname as a plural society.

  • van Oers, Ron. Dutch Town Planning Overseas during VOC and WIC Rule, 1600–1800. Zutphen, The Netherlands: Walburg Pers, 2000.

    This urban history collects and compares a large number of settlements that were run by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the WIC. It includes planning histories of Dutch settlements and their defensive works in the Caribbean and the Guianas.

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