Published On: Thu, Jun 22nd, 2017

Devastaciones de Osorio, Salt, and Herring

dekker_0At night, I walked the elegant, lantern lit, Calle de Las Damas in Santo Domingo. The Calle was the first paved street on the western hemisphere.

I could not avoid a casual encounter with Bartholomew Columbus, known in Spanish as Bartolomé Colón (1461 – 1515) and his nephew, Diego Colon, the founder and builder of this grand colonial town the Viceroy.

Diego Colón served as the 2nd Viceroy of the Indies. He was the eldest son of Christopher Columbus and his wife, Filipa Moniz Perestrelo.

"Your Excellencies, I cannot but marvel at the splendor of your grand city and its fortifications. Indeed, you have forged a miracle for God and King out of nothing but heathen wilderness. "

Both greeted me, a Dutchman, with some disdain, but still benevolently, fit only for administrative governors. The big eight-year war had not started yet, and ‘Devastaciones de Osorio’ was nearly eighty years off.  The herring trading Spanish subjects of the quarreling Low Lands were smelly, had no sophistication, culture or refinement and could never be trusted.

In the 14th century, a Dutchman by the name of Willem Beukelszoon, or Buckles, invented a tasty process for curing herring in brine; the so-called, Buckles' gibbing process. The gills and part of the gullet of the fish were cut out to eliminate any bitter taste.  The liver and pancreas were left in the fish during salt-curing, thus releasing enzymes that flavored the fish.

The herring business in The Low Lands kicked into full swing in the 16th and 17th century, employing at its peak more than 40,000 people in Amsterdam alone.

The Dutch began building ships to transport salted herring to all European export markets, and thus Holland became a seafaring nation. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch herring fisheries in the North Sea were the most sophisticated fishing operations in the world. They demanded massive amounts of salt.

In 1595, the Spanish, frustrated by the 20-year rebellion of their Dutch subjects, closed their home ports to rebel shipping of interlopers from the Low Lands, cutting them off from the critical salt supplies necessary for their lucrative herring industry.

When Portugal, then under Spain's rule, also closed access to its supplies of salt, the Dutch crossed the Atlantic to find salt in Venezuela and on Caribbean islands like Bonaire.

The salt embargo for the Dutch was the result of the Eighty Year War with Spain,  Guerra de Los Ochenta Años, The Dutch War of Independence ( 1588-1648).

The Dutch responded by sourcing new salt supplies from Spanish America where colonists were more than happy to trade. So many Dutch traders, pirates, privateers, and interlopers joined their English and French brethren trading on the remote coasts of Hispaniola.

In 1605, Spain was so infuriated with Spanish settlements on the northern and western coasts of the island that she forcibly resettled their inhabitants closer to the city of Santo Domingo and putting their trade under strict control.

This action that became known as the ‘Devastaciones de Osorio,’ proved disastrous; more than half of the resettled colonists died of starvation or disease. Over 100,000 cattle roamed, lost into the wilderness, and many slaves escaped.

Five of thirteen settlements on the island were razed to the ground, burned and pillaged by ruthless Spanish troops, including the two settlements on the territory of present-day Haiti, La Yaguana, and Bayaja.

Many of the inhabitants fought and escaped to the jungle, or fled to the safety of passing Dutch ships. This Spanish action was counterproductive as English, Dutch, and French pirates were now free to establish bases on the islands, abandoned by the Spanish settlers. The northern and western coasts, where wild cattle were now plentiful and free, became the new settlement paradise of the Promised Land. Spain never regained total control.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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