LETTER from Matthias Beck, vice-director of Curaçao to the directors in Amsterdam

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Noble, Honorable, Esteemed, Wise, Prudent and very Discreet Lords.

My Lords. My last letter to your honors dated the 16th of April went by way of the Caribbean islands.[1]I hope that your honors shall have received it long before the receipt of this; and by failure of this, I enclose a copy, time permitting, to which I shall refer.[2] Since then there returned here in good condition the cargo boat, with those who were commissioned and sent aboard it for the purpose expressed in our previous letter, i.e. while on the way[3] to put in at Caraquas, the most principal capital city (of the mainland) which is situated closest to here. It brought with it a written response from the governor of the same place, who, as has been reported, had a strong inclination towards that which we expressed in our letter to him;[4] but, nevertheless, did not dare show the same publically because of the stipulation which states that it has been approved and concluded in the treaty or articles of peace with His Royal Majesty of Spain and their High Mightinesses the States-General.[5] Enclosed herewith is the original letter which was received as a response from there, as stated above, together with the relation and verbal report concerning how our two commissioners, who were sent to that place, found the mood there.[6] However, it was deemed inadvisable, because of some ships there, to communicate to the lord governor and high council the most principle and separate memorandum which was also entrusted to them,[7] and they did not want to arouse any suspicion or be detained; and especially whereas they had no occasion or opportunity to do so because they were no further than the shore in the harbor below the fortress, and from there were sent off without having been summoned to the capital city of Caraquas. Nevertheless, they were well entertained where they were, by order of the governor of Caraquas, at the landing area of the fortress and at places on the plain and in the harbor, and they were offered everything necessary for furtherance of their voyage to Eustatius.[8] They reported that they had many requests and calls for merchandise such as cloth, linen and hats; however, they had to excuse themselves because they were not allowed to trade along their coasts, harbors or land. Therefore they had not dared to bring anything with them; however, on the other hand, if they had the opportunity to come to Curaçao to purchase Negroes and merchandise, they would be welcome and accommodated to their satisfaction, be it for cash, hides, tobacco or other goods marketable in Europe. They also communicated to various private parties the separate memorandum which was also given to them,[9] and according to opportunity divulged as many details to them as possible and as a result stimulated some interest from which it is hoped your honors shall one time or another derive some benefit. All of which can be seen in detail in the reports and supplemental papers accompanying this, to which I refer for brevity’s sake.[10] Among others there was a certain inhabitant at Caraquas, who is a Biscayer, whom our aforesaid commissioners met there. He informed them that he had a certain new vessel sitting on the stocks with which he intended at the first opportunity to make a voyage along the mainland of Caraquas towards certain small islands approximately opposite Bonairo near the mainland, with the purpose of catching turtles, spending about three weeks of his time there in order to supply himself with them. It is his intention, opportunity permitting, to risk bringing along some tobacco, hides or other prepared goods on the chance that they be pleased to meet him there for trading, and to bring along such merchandise which would be of use to him; and that he would be prepared to make payment there, and would also have a better opportunity there to discuss other business. All of which can be seen in more detail in the papers accompanying this.[11] Therefore, in response to this report and in order to encourage and entice these inhabitants more and more to come here, it was decided, with the advice and consultation of the adjoined councilors here, to venture sending one of the Company’s vessels there with a small cargo of merchandise which I was able to gather together here. We found that the aforesaid Biscayer was sincere in his promises except that he was hindered in bringing along any hides or tobacco, because by order of the governor of Caraquas he had to transport some people to Porto Cabelho[12] on behalf of the king; therefore, in order not to arouse any hostile suspicions in them, he did not dare bring any of these items in his bark on this occasion except for some rough copper or slags which he delivered in payment for the small cargo of merchandise traded by our people. Furthermore, he made a proposal, which he also communicated to me by a letter in his own hand, the original of which I am sending herewith to your honors,[13] in which he intends to trade for as many of the Company’s Negroes which are presently for sale here, under the following conditions; to wit: that the Company itself is to have a ship ready here to take on the Negroes; and after having decided to do business with him, to inform him of such at the arranged place where our people recently met him; then he shall enter the harbor here in person without delay, and make an agreement and set conditions concerning for and at what price the Negroes are to follow him to the place where he hopes to bring them safely and without danger; and no Negroes are to be received before the payment is delivered on board the ship, and he himself or his partner shall also remain on board the ship with the Negroes until the conditions and agreed- upon contract have been completely satisfied. They report that the place where he intends to bring them is on the north side of Cuba where there are neither fortresses nor posts from which their nation can hinder or disturb them; and that he shall even leave his cousin, who is also closely related to the friends where he shall bring the Negroes, here on Curaçao as hostage and security until it is demonstrated that all of his promises have been carried out in good faith. All of which can be seen in the enclosed relations and report of the cornet Balthasar van Essen and Johan Rombouts, which were done for this purpose and accompany this.[14] He requested that he be given an answer to this for his own instruction. Now I desire nothing more than to have your honors’ timely reply to this concerning what I am to do or not to do here; and in the meantime may I come to acquire enough provisions for the Negroes in order to wait for it.

And because from these relations and reports of what has happened, your honors’ wise prudence can determine and comprehend better what to do or not to do in this matter than I can write; therefore, I shall expect your honors’ detailed orders and responses on everything as soon as possible for my own instruction. We also trust your honors sufficiently comprehend that if your honors agree that we are to strive to encourage the Spaniards, our nearest neighbors here, to trade with us, as has now begun to a certain extent, that it cannot take place with empty promises, but that we require the means to do so; therefore, we request your honors to consider whether it is not advisable to send as soon as possible for this purpose a fine cargo of merchandise for storage here; and although the Spaniards will not come here themselves to trade, sale thereof could still be made, if your honors approve of it, by sending our vessels off to one or the other islands as the opportunities best present themselves. If there were still such a vessel here as the one that recently came with De Bontekoe, which was five to six feet longer, it would be very useful and suitable for this purpose, with a skipper and sailors upon whom one could rely and trust, because we are not furnished with many of them here.

Since my last letter[15]I have also to the best of my ability put things in order at the site on Bonairo and sent there a trusted person named Johan van Gaalen, whom in my last letter I was considering as a replacement for the deceased commander Hugo Claessen. I furnished him with such a commission and instructions as can be seen in the enclosed copies.[16] I placed under his command there three volunteer soldiers, two from here and one who was stationed there with the former commander, and who requested that he be allowed to serve out his time there; in addition to four Indians with their wives and children, together with ten Negroes and ten Negresses, wives of the aforesaid Negroes, and two small girls, children of the same; altogether twenty-two Negroes, large and small. I have no doubt that he will exert all his efforts not only to put the saltpans there in a good state and maintain them but also in the meanwhile to use every opportunity to cut dyewood and at the appropriate time also to pay attention to agriculture, for which I have given him axes and tools. Enclosed herewith is a letter which I received from him after his arrival there.[17]I hope that your honors will not neglect, as requested in my previous letter,[18] to furnish him with wheelbarrows, shovels, planks and such tools which your honors know are required for the saltpans, because for lack of wheelbarrows he had to take along canvas buckets from here temporarily in order to work the salt out of the pans for drying, until he is furnished with better tools.

Since then I have also sent to the commander at Aruba ten Negroes and two Negresses with axes to be employed for a period of time cutting dyewood so that whenever your honors send one or another ship, it will not have to wait to be loaded, God willing.

The Company’s bark, which took the Negroes there, has returned full of dyewood cut by the Indians. It is finer and better wood than I have ever seen before from Aruba. At Bonairo I trust from the samples received from there that it shall have better and heavier wood than here.

The small ship St. Nicolaes, commanded by Jan Mortier, which as I have previously informed your honors, had put in here and trusted that it would already have arrived in the fatherland, returned here finally on the 27th of this month after a long and extremely difficult voyage. In passing St. Domingo it found a ship of two hundred lasten run aground, from which it salvaged a little pockwood, in addition to anchors, guns and cordage; its skipper and pilot, both from Hamburg, came over with him. They also traded for a few hides and other small items from the butchers on the voyage, with which the aforesaid in passing came back here again in order to obtain his payment for that which I bought from him, as reported in my previous letter,[19] on behalf and for maintenance of the garrison and locations here. For this I shall satisfy him here with dyewood at ten guilders per hundred pounds; all of which can be seen in detail in the accounts and books of administration.[20] Since then, praise God, the ship Den Voogel Struys also safely arrived here on the 31st of this month, commanded by Simon Cornelissen Gilde, by which we duly received your honors welcomed letters dated 23 November 1656 and 12 March 1657,[21] which, God willing, shall be answered in more detail and in a more orderly manner by the same ship. Whereas I have freighted the same ship for your honors’ account in order to take on here as much dyewood as it can carry at three fourth stivers per pound or three oorties and in order to be able to provide a full load, I agreed to two months of demurrage. Nevertheless I hope, with God’s merciful assistance, to dispatch him much sooner, because the dyewood lies already cut in the woods for that purpose and only needs to be brought out, which we have been having the Indians do slowly for some time now; but because we have had no ship here to load it on, we have also not pressured them much. In order to encourage and incite them, I shall reward them with some linen and a drink of brandy (as was also done for the loading of the ship De Bontekoe, and accomplish the loading as quickly as I can; especially since the skipper has stipulated in case he is not able to trade the two large sloops and some merchandise, wet as well as dry, which he has brought here, during the time he is loading his cargo or to send it by other secure means and opportunity to the Caribbean islands, that then only he himself shall be able to visit in passing the island of St. Christoffel in order to put his affairs in order there, provided that he shall bring over to your honors suitable proof that he has not spent more than fourteen days there at the most, on pain of forfeiting his cargo. The arrival of the aforesaid fluyt or ship Den Voogel Struys is a great relief for us here and without the same, because I understand that nothing is to be acquired at the Caribbean islands, we would have found ourselves together with the Negroes in a highly distressful situation; and because your honors have been sending us nothing but rye meal and because the slaughtering of the Company’s cattle, which I have repeatedly reported, is extremely damaging, and also because the young stock will not suffice, and because the aforesaid skipper, as I understand, has a considerable supply of salted meat and bacon, I shall be compelled, if he will agree to a reasonable price, to furnish ourselves with some of it for such payment as we can best agree upon here.

Concerning your honors’ thought that we have relied all too much on provisioning from there and N. Nederlandt, and that through proper management it would not be the case, and that the magazine would be sufficiently spared; especially because experience tells that when the Spaniards were masters of these islands they almost always had to sustain themselves from that which existed here. Regarding what was supposed to have been such a great assistance to them, i.e. the large abundance of fish which could be caught here in such numbers that it was said to be sufficient to be able to maintain and feed a needy garrison even when meat was lacking, which your honors deem to be a good remedy not only when the magazine is poorly stocked, in order to spare the cattle here and especially the female animals, but even provisionally so that we can be prepared and stocked against misfortunes and unproductive years, and therefore, if it had also been practiced here in such a manner and in addition proper attention had been paid to agriculture by selecting places and spots lying near the wells in order to be able to sprinkle and water the same from them during dry years and drought, as is done in many other places, that your honors truly believe that the magazine would not be depleted so quickly, but that the provisions would have lasted much longer; and also as a consequence not have alienated and deprived the Company of so much dyewood which until now has been employed for the acquisition of hard currency; earnestly recommending that I put all of the aforementioned into practice, and furthermore by constant industriousness and diligence to strive for the best management here so that the Company is lightened more and more of its burden and is no longer bereft and deprived of its meager income.

As a response to the aforementioned, I shall, time permitting, inform your honors sincerely of everything, according to my experience during the short time I have been here, so that my writings may merit credence.

Concerning the Spaniards who were able to sustain themselves during their time here in this country in the manner suggested by your honors: I gladly concur therein because few families were living here in this country, having neither fort nor garrison to maintain, and in particular, as I am informed, having over eighteen thousand head of cattle, besides numerous sheep and goats, which, God preserve, were so destroyed by our personnel and garrison that none were left over; therefore, in order to have breeding and an increase once again, some few have been fetched from the mainland, which since then have increased to a considerable number; and what benefit they can produce, if they are spared, I have informed your honors of many times, to which I refer for brevity’s sake. At the time of the Spaniards there was such a quantity of cattle that they were only slaughtered for the hides and thereby had such a quantity of meat that they could not profit by it. That the Spaniards were able to obtain enough fish here in the interior bodies of water as well as in the bays for their own use, is also quite believable, because some of those who originally helped take this land have told me that no more than five or six Spaniards were living here, and the Indians, who were then here in numbers, supported themselves with the cattle, just as the few do who are now still with us here. During the lean period I expended every effort to catch fish with the Company’s fishnet in the various interior waterways and bays; sometimes making very good catches. However, the men ruined their shoes more than the fish caught by them were worth, because they cannot go fishing barefoot on account of the sharp stones and spiney sea-urchins. Therefore the men are unwilling to go into the water barefoot and will not ruin their shoes which are in short supply; and it is difficult to force them effectively to do so at such remote places. Although there are other bays here and there which abound in fish, until now I have been unable to attempt much with our good will and desire as well as your honors’ good intentions, because it is not easy to row without oars. Just as some time ago I dispatched one of the Company’s vessels to the bay of St. Cruys[22] with as many men as possible in order look after the net, hoping to catch a quantity of fish and to salt the same for the maintenance of the garrison; however, if they had not been warned in time by a Negro who was asked by an evil-doer among the same men to induce many other Negroes to help take over the bark and make off with it we would have lost not only the bark or vessel but also a good quantity of Negroes, as can be seen in the minutes (previously sent over to your honors).[23] For this reason we were compelled to remove the opportunity and stop fishing. Every evening we have to secure our boat and other small vessels with a chain, no matter how poor their condition, in order to prevent Negroes or whites from being able to make off with them. If we only had enough experienced and trustworthy sailors here with one or two suitable and seaworthy vessels and their rowboats, we would be able to send them to other islands in order to catch turtles and fish with much greater security than at this place. I kept a fishnet here from the ship De Bontekoe which I gave to the commander at Bonayro in order for him and his men to fish there in the interior waterways, where there are better opportunities for it than here. If there are no other necessary services required there, they should be able to catch a considerable quantity of fish for us here. I have already recommended this to the commander there; however, as long as there is dyewood to be cut, I have ordered that no time be lost with catching fish but rather to use their time diligently in the cutting of the same and to catch no more fish than is necessary for their use.

Your honors shall also find it difficult to believe that the soldiers who are sent out to catch fish as we ordinarily do, as well as with the fishnet, consider it to be an extraordinary degradation that they have to trouble themselves with it, and they acquit themselves with extreme dissatisfaction that in addition to this their ordinary ration is not followed, and they dare boldly to suggest that if they observe their ordinary professional duties concerning military service, they are not obligated to do more, and that the Company is responsible for their food. Nevertheless, I shall contribute to the best of my ability everything which is possible to do and can be done in this matter according to the existing opportunities here and those which still may arise.

With regard to the salt processed from the saltpans of St. Jan[24] by the Company’s Negroes: That the same Negroes could have been employed to better advantage by cutting dyewood according to your honors’ contention, is nothing more than your honors not paving the correct knowledge and information, because as soon as the salt is set in the pans here, it has to be brought out and processed. Otherwise, if one waits to do so and it rains, then it is all lost. And even if we had had at that time all the equipment for cutting dyewood, we would have been compelled in any case, in order to seek the maximum benefit for your honors, to postpone the cutting of the dyewood for two to three weeks until the aforesaid salt was brought out of the pans to dry, unless there was a ship waiting just for the dyewood and the cost of demurrage was greater than the salt was worth. Otherwise, as long as the wood is standing in the forest it is not lost; however, the salt proceeds to melt in the rain and becomes worthless.

Concerning the advancement and promotion of agriculture: Every attempt is being made for as much as we have the opportunity and means to do so; however, whoever is informing your honors that in these warm lands considerable produce can be grown during dry years by planting the same near places and spots where there are wells so that they can be watered or otherwise made wet from them when rain is scarce, is giving your honors very bad information and is demonstrating that he has little knowledge of what is required for the complete growth of produce in these warm lands, because it is impossible for crops to reach perfection in this country without rain from above. It is true that in marshy grounds, which are not to be found at all on Curaçao but which I have seen planted in Brasil, that they yielded produce during the dry or summer season; however, on dry ground which is common here on Curaçao, no produce, which can be of any consideration for helping the garrison here, can be obtained without rains. The only place here in this country where water flows out of a hill as a spring is a place called Hato.[25] One that your honors have done this in order to initiate a beginning and introduction of trade here. I shall not fail to observe and obey your honors’ orders and instructions concerning this, God willing, as is only fitting; and still which are kept there. Therefore I stand by my previous recommendation that your honors can do no better than supply this place according to opportunity so that the livestock may be spared and allowed to increase for three or four years without being consumed. They shall produce more benefits for your honors than have been previously comprehended by your honors; and if we have good annual rainfalls so that the crops are successful, then no food will be required here, and whatever durable food is in storage here, can then be kept in storage as a reserve; and in any case these services can be viewed as nothing but an improvement, and the meager income, such as from dyewood and whatever more can be gained from it, shall all flow cleanly into your honors’ hands, although I shall demonstrate and verify that the meager means which I have been compelled to employ for the maintenance of the places and locations here have been done more for your honors’ profit than detriment.

The beans and peas, which were left for us here by Outger Wallissen from De Bontekoe, we find unfortunately to be in such a state that they are more suitable to be fed to beasts than humans; I dared not give them to the Negroes for fear of causing a sickness among them. If these fruits of the soil had come from the Company’s farms and were traded by private parties, we would have considered ourselves cheated, except for the groats and bacon which have stood us good service. Since the departure of the ship De Bontekoe we have news from the Ruyters Quartier, [26] where the Negroes live, that eighteen Negroes, men and women, have died there, to my regret. The documents and evidentiary material thereof shall be sent over to your honors.[27] May God grant that no more shall die.

I have duly received the agreement and conditions which your honors have made with Sr. Henrico Matthias, merchant in Amsterdam, with regard to the same Negroes. After having considered and read it, I find it to be very advantageous for the aforesaid Sr. Henrico Matthias. I can easily understand that your honors have done this in order to initiate a beginning and introduction of trade here. I shall not fail to observe and obey your honors’ orders and instructions concerning this, God willing, as is only fitting; and still in the meantime, if it happens that the expected ship of the aforesaid Sr. Henrico Matthias does not arrive here, of which we have still heard nothing, then I shall wait for your honors’ orders and recommendations: whether or not we should dare engage ourselves with the aforesaid Biscayer on the conditions already extended for the Negroes and with the hope and trust that I shall be able to start a trade here with our nearest neighbors. Therefore I shall also trade at this opportunity for a small cargo from the skipper Simon Cornelissen Gilde for your honors’ account so that if the same[28] comes here, at least we shaft have something, and also on the way to Bonairo with our vessels we shall inform the Biscayer, as well as the other inhabitant previously here or named in the attached papers, with what goods we shall be able to accommodate them if they come here; and also to take a little from everyone in order to show them if the opportunity arises, and to inform the Biscayer at once that I have no orders to let Negroes leave the country before having received payment, and that over four months from now we shall give him a more detailed and precise answer. Therefore I hope in the meantime to receive an answer from your honors, especially because he said he was contented to wait as long as it was convenient for us, even though it may be six months after the date; as he also shall determine the time and place where he can be found. I trust that he would give, under these conditions, at least two hundred pieces of eight for one merchantable Negro and Negress, one with another; and he indicated the price of hides to be eighteen schillings a piece. The small amount of copper, consisting in 13 slags or pieces,which we received from him for the recent merchandise, I shall send to your honors with the aforesaid ship Den Vogel Struys, together with about fourteen hundred pounds of the new dyewood from Aruba for examination. We shall make every effort to investigate the suspected gold or silver mine here; and orders have been issued to dig diligently and energetically as deep as possible with the tools which we have here and those which were sent over by your honors with the latest aforesaid ship so that we can find some good specimens. We shall not neglect to advise your honors promptly about it and to send some samples thereof.

Respecting and with regard to the pirates: We shall regulate ourselves exactly according to your honors’ most recent instructions.

The advancement of agriculture and the promotion of all sorts of produce, especially those which we hope can serve to relieve your honors’ expenses, neither has been nor shall be lacking in our efforts.

We have cleared and prepared a large area for cotton and have written everywhere in the islands for good and fresh seed. When the same has been received, planted and good results produced, we shall contribute our best knowledge and ability here to have the same promptly cleaned, because one of the same sort of little mills used in Siara[29] has also been brought here from the Barbados, and I can have as much done in this way as will be required.

We have now received office supplies with the ship Den Vogel Struys, so that the commissary shall be obliged to proceed to copy out the garrison books and administrative accounts, and, God willing, to have them sent to your honors with the aforesaid ship without any deficiencies.

The aforesaid ship St. Nicolaes has also taken on its cargo of dyewood here, consisting in the following:

For and on behalf of that which was traded by him previously as well as recently for the Company's account, as shown by account, amounts altogether to  lbs. 27500: 
For and on behalf of the delivered goods and earned salary of Johannes Roodenburgh and Frans Bruyn  lbs. 8600: 
For your honors' account as shown in the accompanying manifest[30]   lbs. 9600: 
Total  lbs. 43900: 

And whereas we shall send your honors, God willing, a more detailed and informative report of everything with the ship Den Vogel Struys, which is presently here taking on cargo, I shall end this.

And herewith,

Noble, Honorable, Esteemed, Wise,
Prudent and very Discreet Lords,

My Lords,

I commend your honors, after extending my humble and dutiful respects, to the merciful protection of the Almighty and remain,

My Lords,

Your honors’ humble servant.[31]

Curaçao in Fort Amsterdam, the 11th of June 1657.


This letter does not survive.
Apparently Petrus Stuyvesant did not see fit to copy the copy of the 16th of April.
Their destination was St. Eustatius.
This letter does not survive.
The Spanish governor objected to this stipulation because article VI of the 1648 treaty of Westphalia specifically prohibited any trade relations between Dutch and Spanish holdings in the West Indies. See Lieuwe van Aitzema, Saken van Staet en Oorlogh, Vol. 3 (The Hague: 1669), p. 260.
None of these letters has survived.
This does not survive.
The island of St. Eustatius.
Does not survive.
None has survived.
Does not survive.
Porto Cabelho is located west of Caracas, Venezuela.
Does not survive.
Do not survive.
Does not survive.
Do not survive.
Does not survive.
Dated 16 April; does not survive.
Does not survive.
Do not survive.
Do not survive.
St. Cruys is a bay on the west shore of Curaçao.
Do not survive.
St. Jan is a bay on the west shore of Curaçao just east of St. Cruys.
Hato is a bay along the east coast of Curaçao.
Ruyters Quartier at the eastern-most end of St. Anna Bay, Curaçao.
Do not survive.
i.e., the Biscayer
i.e., Ceara, region north of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.
Does not survive.
As a copy this was left unsigned by Matthias Beck.


Translation: Gehring, C., trans./ed., Curaçao Papers, 1640-1665 (New Netherland Research Center and the New Netherland Institute: 2011).A complete copy of this publication is available on the New Netherland Institute website.