Dutch East/West India Companies

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Dutch East/West India Companies

Two Dutch companies controlled much trade for the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. Like modern corporations, trading companies had private investors who received charters from European governments to control trade in particular parts of the world. The companies had power to establish and control local governments in their regions. They waged war as necessary to protect their regions from native inhabitants and from other foreign powers.

Dutch East India Company

The East Indies was the European name for the islands centered on what is now Indonesia, southeast of India. They were the source of much profitable trade for European countries in the colonial period.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Netherlands was a major European trading power in Southeast Asia. In 1602, investors formed the Dutch East India Company to control trade in that region. The Dutch parliament, called the States-General, gave the company a twenty-one-year monopoly (exclusive control of business) on trade in the East Indies. The States-General also gave the company power to wage war against Spain and Portugal, other European powers that wanted the region's lucrative trade.

The Dutch East India Company was profitable for almost two hundred years. The region that it controlled was eventually called Dutch East India. The company went bankrupt and dissolved in 1800.

Dutch West India Company

In the early seventeenth century, European merchants had to sail around South America or Africa to get to India. Explorers searched for a faster route through North America to the profitable Asian markets. In 1609, English adventurer Henry Hudson (d. 1611) explored the river that bears his name, near present-day New York City, for the Dutch East India Company. Failing to find the desired Northwest Passage, Hudson instead established what would prove to be a lucrative fur trade with Native Americans.

In 1621, Dutch investors formed a company called the Dutch West India Company. They received a charter from the States-General to monopolize trade along the Atlantic coasts of Africa and the Americas for twenty-one years. In 1624, thirty families led by Captain Cornelius May sailed to the New World, settling on the Delaware River. Their colony became known as New Netherland. The third governor of New Netherland, Peter Minuit (1589–1638), moved the capital of the colony to Manhattan Island in 1626. The town settlement there was called New Amsterdam .

Challenging the Monopoly

Dutch businessmen who wanted to profit from trade in the East Indies disapproved of the monopoly held by the Dutch East India Company. Dutch merchant Jacob Le Maire (1585–1616) and navigator Willem Corneliszoon Schouten (1585?–1625) gathered investors to finance an expedition to search for a route to the East Indies not controlled by the company. At the end of May 1615, two ships sailed from the Dutch seaport of Hoorn, piloted by Schouten and his brother, Jan Schouten.

In October 1616, the expedition finally reached Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies. The governor of the Dutch East India Company did not believe that the adventurers had found a new route. He seized their ship (only one finished the voyage), arrested Le Maire and Schouten and ten crew members, and he sent them back to the Netherlands for violating the Dutch East India Company's exclusive trading rights.

Le Maire died on the return trip, but Schouten survived. Le Maire's father sued the Dutch East India Company over the situation. After two years of litigation, a court ruled that Le Maire's expedition had found a new route to the East Indies, south of the Strait of Magellan off the tip of South America. The Dutch East India Company was ordered to return Le Maire's ship and cargo to Le Maire's father. The waterway Le Maire had helped to discover was named Le Maire Strait.

Three years later, with approval from the States-General, the Dutch West India Company issued the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions. It granted land, called a patroonship, to company members who settled at least fifty people on their land within four years. The purpose of pa-troonships was to attract settlers for farming the land and engaging in the fur trade on the Hudson River. The Company had the exclusive right to sell furs brought down to New Amsterdam from inland. Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (c. 1585–1643) ran the most successful patroonship near what is now Albany.

In 1646, Peter Stuyvesant (c. 1612–1672) became the final director of New Netherland. Investors considered his strict government effective. One of his accomplishments was capturing Swedish settlements for New Netherland.

In 1664, Charles II (1630–1685) of England decided to seize New Netherland for his brother James (1633–1701), the Duke of York. Four British warships led by Richard Nicolls (1624–1672) reached New Amsterdam and secured the unprepared colony by September. New Amsterdam was renamed New York .