I’ve continued researching the Dutch Caribbean and have learned a few more interesting things:
(1) It was the Dutch who brought the first black slaves to Jamestown in 1619. I already knew this, but it makes me wonder just who these “Dutch” slavetraders were who introduced slavery to Virginia.
(2) In 1667, the Dutch ceded New Amsterdam (now known as New York) to the British in the Treaty of Breda in order to keep Suriname in northern South America.
I didn’t know this, but it makes sense in light of how the Caribbean colonies, not the North American colonies, used to be the epicenter of European colonialism in the New World.
At the end of the Seven Years’ War, the French ceded Canada to the British in order to retain Guadeloupe and Martinique. During the American Revolution, the British abandoned Philadelphia to the Patriots in order to invade French-held St. Lucia.
(3) Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire – the three Dutch islands in the South Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela – have an arid climate and were never race-based plantation societies in the mold of Barbados or Saint-Domingue.
Of these, Jewish-dominated Curaçao was the biggest slave trading entrepôt of the 17th century in the Caribbean, and the slaves who worked on the island mostly grew food for the stream of African slaves pouring through Curaçao on their way to foreign markets in Spanish America and the French and British West Indies.
Aruba and Bonaire were dependencies of Curaçao – in the former, a few slaves harvested dyewood and worked on a failed maize plantation, and in the latter slaves mined salt for export to other Caribbean islands, but these were both marginal islands in the wider Caribbean plantation world.
(4) Jewish-dominated Suriname in northern South America was a full fledged race-based plantation society in the mold of Saint-Domingue. It also had a reputation for being one of the most brutal slave societies in the New World.
(5) In the northern Leeward Islands, the Dutch jointly occupied St. Martin with the French, and they also controlled St. Eustatius and the small island of Saba.
There seem to have been a few sugar plantations on Saba that used slaves. St. Martin also had sugar plantations. Neither of these islands were big enough though to play a major role in the regional sugar industry.
(6) St. Eustatius was the Curaçao of the Leeward Islands: a major regional slave trading entrepôt that illegally catered to the needs of sugar plantations in the British and French West Indies.
According to Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean, there also seem to have been a lot of Sephardic Jews active here working as merchants and using St. Eustatius as a base for participating in the slave trade.
During the American Revolution, the Jews on St. Eustatius sold a lot of weapons to the Yankees, and the island was occupied in 1781 by the British under Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney who became a hero after defeating the French fleet in 1782 at the Battle of the Saintes which saved Jamaica.
Rodney has been accused of “anti-Semitism” for his actions on St. Eustatius and was harassed by Jewish lawsuits to the end of his life:
“The British government was incensed at this “nest of Spys and Rogues who carry’ed on trade, with the French and Americans – “not properly a colony [but a] … nest of outlaws, or st best Adventurers from every State [selling] … provisions, clothing, and all naval and warlike stores … to the Rebels, and enemies of Great Britain.” The British believed that the French and Americans were only able to sustain “the War in that Quarter of the World” because of “the Supplies they had received from St. Eustatius.”…
The conquest of St. Eustatius was “a day of desolation to the community at large & Jews in particular.” The Jews shared in common “Loss of their Merchandise, their Bills, their Houses, Clothes, [and] Provisions” but they alone suffered the separation of families and the banishment of their men who were not even told the destination of their exile. They “petitioned, intreated, implored, [and] remonstrated against so hard a sentence, but in vain.” They were not allowed to keep their personal possessions, in contrast to the Americans, Dutch, and French. Those found withholding petty cash were set apart for punishment. The 101 adult male Jews were assembled under guard and had the linings of their pockets ripped open and their “clothes torn in pieces in search for concealed money” before thirty of them were “hurried off the island, destitute of everything, to solicit the cold charity of Antigua, and St. Kitts.” The rest were locked in a weighing house for three days; they were released just in time to witness the auction of their holdings.”
The Jews on St. Eustatius were decimated by Admiral Rodney in 1781 just as the slave trade in the British and French West Indies was about to reach its historic peak.
(7) In 1863, the Dutch finally abolished slavery in their Caribbean and South American colonies.