Published On: Thu, Jun 29th, 2017

The Dutch Virgin Islands

Jacob Gelt DekkerEastward, through the Sir Francis Drake Channel, is an encounter with Caribbean- European history. Drake was the first to complete a circumnavigation of the globe as captain while leading the expedition throughout the entire circumnavigation. Only the Dutchman, Oliver Noord competed with him fro the honor.

Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins had a fleet rendezvous in 1595, on Virgin Gorda. Twenty-six ships anchored in the sound and used the large hill at Bitter End to practice their attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico, with an abundance of riches to be wrested from Spain.

The sea route from New Amsterdam--- New York, after 1664---to South America searched for a convenient halfway refurbishing port in this Virgin Islands area. Thus the Virgin Islands became a crossroad of traffic, commerce, and cultures. The settlers were Dutch, Danish, British, French and eventually, Americans. It produced the most unexpected mélange of people.

Joost van Dyk (1625), a Dutch privateer, licensed by the Dutch West Indies Company, became the "Patron" of Tortola ( later the British Virgin Islands) and moved his operations to the only town, now called, Road Town. Van Dyk set up permanent settlements in Soper’s Hole and traded cotton and tobacco with the Spaniards in Puerto Rico. Supposedly, the Spanish mined copper on Virgin Gorda, an island to the northeast. The mining settlers became treacherous partners in the upcoming conflict with Puerto Rico. Note: "Little Dyk's" is now known as Little Dix.

Joost supported Admiral Boudewijn Hendricks’ attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1625, causing his Spanish trading partners to turn against him. In retaliation, the Spanish laid waste to most of Tortola’s fortifications and factories and destroyed its plantation settlements. Joost van Dyk escaped to a small island north of Tortola, which still bears his name.

Van Dyk moved back to Tortola once the Spanish retreated, but the Spanish ransack precluded the end of the Dutch Virgin Islands. Substantial investments in large stone warehouses, built at Freebottom near Port Purcell, east of Road Town, by the WIC, hoping to facilitate exchanges of cargo between North and South America, were wasted.

In the vast archipelago, Van Dyk competed with the Danish West Indies Company for territory and commerce. The Danes settled in St. Thomas and St Croix.

The Danish West India Company took control of St. Thomas in 1671, after King Christian V decided to secure the island for plantations. Charlotte Amalie, a natural harbor town on the south coast of St. Thomas, founded in 1666, as Taphus, or watering hole for sailors, became the Danish headquarters. The town was renamed as Amalienborg after Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel (1650–1714), Queen consort of King Christian V of Denmark-Norway.

A most peculiar twist of history developed in St. Thomas under Danish control with the Brotherhood of Herrnhut, Moravia, the brainchild of Count Nicolas Ludwig Zinzendorf, Moravian Slaves and the Inuit of Greenland.

One hundred years later, Edward Wilmot Blyden 1832 –1912), the father of pan-Africanism, educator, writer, diplomat, and politician primarily in Liberia and Sierra Leone, once again changed the course of world history, Africa, and the Caribbean.

I tell you all about it in the next chapter.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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