Published On: Mon, Jul 24th, 2017

What is in a name, Commander, Count Jean II d’Estrées

Jacob Gelt DekkerThe confusion over Isla de Aves and Archipelago Las Aves may have had more consequences than just Queen Isabella’s administrative error and the resulting sovereignty. It may well have caused the disastrous ruin of half the French fleet in 1678, and the death of twenty sailors.

The catastrophe happened with a major campaign during the Franco-Dutch war of 1672-1678. The Disaster Year for the Republic of the Low Lands was 1672. The Coupe de Grâce, after years of war with England, arrived when the Republic was attacked, simultaneously, by England, France, Bernard von Galen, Bishop of Münster, and Maximillian of Bavaria, Archbishop of Cologne. It was a disaster from all perspectives.

Economically, the Republic never recovered from the crisis during the last part of the 17th and 18th century. The legendary Dutch Golden Age had lasted no longer than fifty years before it was trashed by envious neighbors. The deterioration of the economy and Dutch global power already started in 1652, with the first Anglo-Dutch war; after that, the Republic was constantly at war. Even the celebrated art market suffered and collapsed.

Supposedly, Jan Vermeer's widow ‘complained how her husband was unable to sell work.’ Leading maritime artists, like, Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son Willem II, moved to London, never to return.

The war spilled over to the West Indies, regarded as a very rich trade route for the Dutch. In 1678, France sent a fleet of thirty ships from St. Kitts, under the command of veteran maritime Commander, Count Jean II d’Estrées, for a campaign ‘to burn down Curaçao, once and for all.”

But at the Las Aves Archipelago, the drunk d’ Estrée’s crew made serious navigational errors and nine ships ran aground, or struck reefs and sank; twenty men drowned. The French maritime charts may have confused the Las Aves Archipelago with the Island. With the loss of half his fleet, d'Estrées returned to France in shame. 'What disaster was in your name, d’Estrée?'

For the next hundred years, Curaçao celebrated the lucky date with a special holiday of Thanksgiving. Curacao won the battle but lost the war. The Asiento slave trade was taken away from the WIC in 1713, with the Treaty of Utrecht and passed on to England and France, who transported respectively 2,5 million and 1,6 million Africans across the Atlantic. In 1733, the WIC also lost its monopoly on the slave trade in the West Indies domestic markets.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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