the dutch were "masters of the world" -- 7/30/19

Today's selection -- from The Barbarous Years by Bernard Bailyn. In the 1600s, the Dutch reached preeminence in the world in commerce and culture. They reached out across the world as well, from North America to Africa and the East Indies. In all, in the 17th and 18th cen­turies, the East India Company shipped an estimated one million people to the East Indies, "of whom approximately half never returned":

"[In the 1600s, the Dutch] mastery of over­seas commerce was making their small nation the most prosperous in Europe: only their relatively slow approach to the possibilities in the Americas might have appeared surprising. But once engaged, the Neth­erlands became for a while a major player in the Atlantic world. Sud­denly the Dutch were everywhere -- in Portuguese Brazil, the islands of the Caribbean, the 'Wild Coast' of Guyana, and the trading stations of West Africa -- just as they were in India, Java, and Formosa, and they were effective managers of population displacements.

"For the United Provinces of the Netherlands, by the early seventeenth century, was itself a melting pot of peoples from all over Europe. Though only recently freed from Spanish rule, the Dutch republic was already famous for its toleration, despite its formal church establishment, and for the opportunities it offered for entrepreneurial enterprise and high wages. To this emerging nation of fewer than two million inhabitants, especially to its coastal cities, came a flood of refugees -- perhaps a hundred thou­sand by 1600 -- from the southern provinces (later Belgium) that had been reconquered by Spain and subjected to stringent enforcement of Catho­lic conformity. Among these refugees migrating north to the Netherlands from Flanders, Antwerp, Brabant, and Hainault were expert textile work­ers, ambitious entrepreneurs, and cultural leaders who would contribute to the 'golden age' of Dutch cultural history. They were joined by Jews and crypto-Jews fleeing persecution in Spain and Portugal, as well as by Pol­ish Socinians, Czech Comenians, Swiss and Prussian Baptists, and English radical separatists. ... In the early seventeenth century, 40 percent of the peo­ple in Amsterdam who registered for marriage were foreign born -- most of them from the western German states. Of that city's 685 wealthiest citi­zens, 160 were Flemish or Walloon in origin, 30 were German, and there were Italian, English, and Scandinavians among them as well.

Dutch East India Company factory in Hugli-Chuchura, Mughal Bengal. Hendrik van Schuylenburgh, 1665

"While thousands of permanent immigrants were settling in family groups in the Netherlands in the early seventeenth century (their num­bers would total half a million by the late eighteenth century), waves of temporary migrants were also arriving annually for seasonal work in the fertile coastal strip of Holland, Friesland, and Zeeland. Short of man­power for the summer haying season and for cutting and dredging peat, this rich littoral, only fifty kilometers wide, drew on the peasant population of a broad hinterland stretching east and south some two to three hundred kilometers. Summer after summer landless, impoverished farm­workers flocked singly to the Dutch coastal provinces, where for a short time they could earn wages better than any otherwise available, then left for home, to repeat the cycle the next season.

"But it was not only agricultural needs that drew foreign laborers to the Netherlands. So too did the manpower needs of the Dutch navy and army, and above all the nation's distant colonies and trading posts after the founding of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. For thousands of north Europeans, the Dutch republic proved to be a transit center for secondary and tertiary migrations. To man the Netherlands' almost con­tinuous wars, whole regiments were recruited from abroad, along with individual mercenaries from the German states, France, Scotland, and Ireland. Many of the tens of thousands of foreigners who worked in the Dutch fleet and the vessels of the East India Company -- perhaps fifty thousand at any given time in the late seventeenth century -- ended in colonial settlements in Asia. In all, in the seventeenth and eighteenth cen­turies, the East India Company shipped an estimated one million people to the East Indies, of whom approximately half never returned.

"A nation only recently formed, still very much in flux -- its official boundaries still contested, its small population continuously supple­mented by refugees from all over northern Europe, its official Calvinist religious culture permeated with the zest and zeal of dozens of radical sects, and its booming commercial economy protected by a large military force -- the Netherlands in the early seventeenth century was entering an era of fabulous accomplishment, overseas as well as at home. Its energy was focused chiefly on its domestic economy, on its global commerce and its East Asian empire, and on the enjoyment of its affluence."



Bernard Bailyn


The Barbarous Years


Vintage Books


Copyright 2012 by Bernard Bailyn


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