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Dutch colonization of the Americas

During the 17th century, Dutch traders established trade posts and plantations throughout the Americas; actual colonization, with Dutch settling in the new lands was not as common as with settlements of other European nations. Many of the Dutch settlements had been abandoned or lost by the end of the century, with the exception of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, which remain Dutch territory until this day, and Suriname, which became independent in 1975.

Table of contents
1 North America
2 Caribbean
3 South America

North America

In 1602, the government of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands chartered the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) with the mission of exploring for a passage to the Indies and claiming any unchartered territories for the United Provinces.

In 1609, English explorer Henry Hudson attempted to find a northwest passage to the Indies, instead discovering areas of current United States and Canada, among others giving his name to the Hudson River and Hudson Bay and claiming the surrounding land for the VOC.

After some early trading expeditions, the first settlement was founded in 1615: Fort Nassau, on Castle Island, near present-day Albany. The settlement served mostly as a trade post for fur trade with the natives and was later replaced by Fort Oranje (or Fort Orange) at present-day Albany.

In 1621, a new company was established for with a trading monopoly in the Americas and West Africa: the Dutch West India Company (Westindische Compagnie or WIC). The WIC sought recognition for the area in the New World - which had been called New Netherland - as a province, which was granted in 1623. Soon after, the first colonists, mostly from present-day Belgium and Germany, arrived in the new province.

In 1626, director general of the WIC Peter Minuit "purchased" the island of Manhattan from Indians and started the construction of fort New Amsterdam. In the same year, Fort Nassau was built in the New Jersey area. Other settlements were Fort Casimir (Newcastle) and Fort Beversrede (Philadelphia). In 1655, the main settlement of New Sweden, Fort Christina, was captured after the Swedes had briefly occupied Fort Casimir. Large numbers of the inhabitants of these settlements were not Dutch, but came from a variety of other European countries, including England.

In 1664, English troops under the command of the Duke of York (later James II of England) attacked the New Netherlands colony. Being greatly outnumbered, director general Peter Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam, with Fort Orange following soon. New Amsterdam was renamed New York, Fort Orange was renamed Fort Albany.

The loss of the New Netherland province led to the Second Anglo-Dutch War during 1665-1667. This conflict ended with the Treaty of Breda in which the Dutch gave up their claim to New Amsterdam in exchange for Suriname.

From 1673 to 1674, the territories were once again briefly captured by the Dutch in a renewed war with England, only to be returned at the Treaty of Westminster.


Netherlands Antilles

Dutch colonization of Sint Maarten began in 1620 although the onwership of the island changed hands at least 16 times before 1816, when it was permanently split between France and the Netherlands.

Several other islands were captured and fortified to prevent Spanish attacks in the ongoing Dutch war for independence from Spain and to exploit timber and salt resources:

The Netherlands Antilles remain a overseas territory of the Netherlands, although they were granted self-rule in 1954. In 1986, Aruba was granted autonomy, separately from the other islands.

Virgin Islands

The Dutch established a base on St. Croix in 1625, the same year that the British did. French Protestants joined the Dutch but conflict with the British colony led to its abandonment before 1650. The Dutch established a settlement on Tortola in 1648 and later on Anegada and Virgin Gordo. The British took Tortola in 1672 and Anegada and Virgin Gordo in 1680.


The Netherlands made numerous attempts to colonize the island in the 17th century. Each time, the settlements were destroyed by rival European powers. Dutch settlements on Tobago existed:

South America


The European colony in Suriname was founded in the 1650s by Lord Willoughby, the governor of Barbados. This colony was captured by the Dutch under Abraham Crijnsen during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. It was sold to the Dutch West India Company in 1683 and came to be known as Dutch Guiana. They colony developed an agricultural economy based on African slavery. During the Napoleonic Wars, England controlled Suriname from 1799 until 1816, when it was returned to the Dutch. The Netherlands granted Suriname independence in 1975. Political instability resulted in large numbers of Surinamese moving to the Netherlands.


The Dutch West Indian Company built a fort in 1616 on the Essequibo River. The Dutch traded with the Indian peoples and, as in Suriname, established sugar plantations worked by African slaves. While the coast remained under Dutch control, the English established plantations west of the Suriname River. Conflict between the two countries meant parts of the region changed hands a number of times, but by 1796 Britain had control of the region. The Netherlands ceded he colonies of Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice to Britain in 1814.


Between 1638 and 1640 the Netherlands came to control almost half of Brazil, with their capital in Recife. The Dutch West India Company set up their headquarters in Recife. The governor, Johan Maurits invited artists and scientists to the colony to help promote Brazil and increase immigration. The Portuguese won a significant victory in the Battle of Guararapes in 1649. By 1654, the Netherlands had surrendered and returned control of all Brazilian land to the Portuguese.

See also European colonization of the Americas