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

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

My Lords. My last letter to your honors dated the 1lth of June last past was aboard the ship St. Nicolaes with skipper Johannes Mortier, which I hope shall have been received before the receipt of this.[1] By failure of this I am herewith sending a copy of it to which I shall refer; and this shall serve as confirmation thereof for accompaniment of-the ship Den Vogel Struys, which since then, to the best of our ability, we loaded, with as much dyewood as it could take for your honors’ account. I have also sent with it the small amount of copper mentioned in my latest letter together with a few hides and some tobacco, which we have since then received, as can be seen by the accompanying bill of lading and manifest,[2] to which I refer. May the Lord God grant that it arrives there successfully at your honors’ place.

Pursuant to my previous letter I have sent our freight boat to the Biscayer at a certain island near the mainland and informed his honor about the proposal concerning the trading of Negroes as can be seen in more detail in the accompanying copy from my last letter to your honors and to him,[3] being of the same content translated from Dutch to Spanish so that it would be better understood; and I shall refer to these. Whereupon his honor decided to come here in person with our freight boat. In his party was also a certain padre named Frey Francisco, trading for some parcels of goods and one to two small Negro girls; a small Negro boy and a few parcels of goods were also sold to the aforesaid Biscayer, for which he bought a small amount of hides and tobacco with our aforesaid freight boat, which is being sent over with this to your honors aboard the aforesaid ship Den Voogel Struys, costing as per bill of lading: fifteen shillings a piece for the hides and six pieces of eight an arobe [4] of twenty-five pounds. I sold over four hundred pieces of eight worth ] of goods with the two small Negro girls to the aforesaid Padre Frey Francisco, all for a civil and reasonable price, in order to encourage and induce them to trade here in this harbor, which I indicated to the Company to be very important. Therefore I gave over the two aforesaid Negro girls to the aforesaid padre for one hundred and fifty pieces of eight each, amounting to a total of three hundred pieces of eight; and to the aforesaid Biscayer a small boy for one hundred twenty pieces of eight and the merchandise which I sold to him from the bearer of this, Simon Cornelissen Gilde, skipper of the ship Den Voogel Struys, for which purpose I expressly bought it here for your honors’ account before their arrival, so that when our aforesaid nearest neighbors come here on such occasions at least they may find something for the asking, until in the meantime we may be sent such similar merchandise by your honors, as has been requested and as I imparted to your honors in my last letter. Although the aforesaid Frey Francisco brought along no payment for that which he bought, I still could not refuse him out of consideration for the first time, according to the agreement and conditions made with our commissary and the skipper of the freight boat before his arrival here; that is, to have them brought back to the designated place with that which they bought, on the condition that whatever remains unpaid for here not be allowed to be brought ashore, much less will it be done until the payment is in the hands of the commissary and skipper in the aforesaid freight boat; and that it be in good-quality hides of ordinary size or measure; and for those not having ordinary measure, they shall be obligated to deliver three for one. These aforesaid hides of ordinary size or measure shall be received in payment on board the freight boat by the aforesaid commissary and skipper, being the cornet Balthasar van Essen and Claes Dircksen Druyst, for and on behalf of the aforestated at twenty shillings a piece; and after satisfaction thereof, that which has been bought shall then be delivered and whatever else they should send as imports with the aforesaid freight boat in hides or specie they shall be satisfied and paid for in such goods ] as they have seen here. For this purpose the aforesaid padre has decided to return here with our freight boat in order to receive such payment provided that he then be transported ] over with one of our vessels here and put ashore near Cora[5] on the mainland. If your honors are pleased with this small beginning as stated above, which was entered into with the aforesaid persons in good faith and in the hopes of further results, and if one should continue to trade with them in such a manner for as long as one can do no better, then I shall eagerly await your honors’ order and approbation for my instruction.

This is important regarding the Negro trade because the aforesaid Biscayer, who is now here in person, has informed me specifically that one should presume nothing else, if a sincere and good result thereof is hoped for, than the quickest and nearest route, of which he informed me how and in what manner; that one should trade not only in shiploads of Negroes but successively more in good current merchandise. If it be that the same is ready here in the harbor with a ship and necessities, he himself is willing, as soon as someone is sent to him who knows of the designated place, to come here in person to make such an agreement and conditions with the Company, by which, he is convinced, the Company as well as he should profit considerably. The place where the Negroes are to be brought is actually called Porto Velo.[6] There the trading permit and license can be obtained in order to be allowed to trade them there freely, by paying one hundred and thirteen pieces of eight for each Negro, which is the privilege of the king; however, the license is granted only to their own nationals. Nevertheless it can be done sufficiently under the pretext of having hired a Dutch ship and crew in order to haul and bring over the Negroes, stating that the Negroes and merchandise aboard the ship belong to their own nation. Therefore the aforesaid Biscayer wants to contract for and buy the Negroes from the Company under the following conditions: That he or his partner shall embark in person with another five to six of their nation in the ship lying ready to sail, without expense to the Company, together with the Company’s skipper, commissary, soldiers and sailors, and therewith pursue their voyage to Porto Velo, and after receipt of a license from the governor there to trade the Negroes, who are then to be sold there as soon as possible after arrival at a price high enough that it will sufficiently cover the expense of the aforesaid privilege to obtain the license, which they also intend to assume themselves; and after safe arrival there, pay to the Company for each Negro and Negress from eighteen to thirty years of age two hundred reals or pieces of eight in staves of silver or pieces of eight; and they can in addition obtain there such a license to be able to sail on to such places and locations in order to load the ship with such cargo as exists in the area and is most important and beneficial for the Company. At the same time, because the prices for merchandise have been agreed upon here, we shall expect payment there for it in the same manner as for the Negroes. Nevertheless the Company is to assume the risk of the sea and expenses of the Negroes until the destination; however, when they have arrived there, they shall be sureties for them, so that the conditions agreed upon here on behalf of the Company are executed in full as is befitting, against which the aforesaid Biscayer pledges his life and shall remain here in person in the fort or leave another qualified person at the choice of the Company on pain of forfeiting his life, so that there is here neither intention nor suspicion of fraud therein; and also on the condition that the underaged Negroes as well as the old and infirm be given a special and lower price. Thus it has been resolved upon such conditions, at any time when there is a ship ready here with Negroes, from now on, he shall be informed thereof at the place and location designated by one who knows, as stated above. Whereupon he shall then come, and with God’s merciful assistance execute that which is stated above. The other proposal and condition, as mentioned in my last letter,[7] about bringing the Negroes north of Cuba, he says he will not be able to bring about as successfully as this. This I am also sending shortly in the Spanish which he himself set to paper and to which I shall also refer. As he told me, a trail would thereby be blazed by which they would come here in the future to trade for Negroes and other merchandise, establishing a trade of importance. Thus, when the afore- mentioned offered itself to me, I did not want to lose any time in informing your honors of it, so that, if your honors should realize that the Negroes who came over here should and could be traded under such conditions, your honors may be pleased to issue such orders thereupon as soon as possible, as your honors deem it best and most suitable.

We have also learned from the aforesaid Biscayer and Padre Frey Francisco that a Dutch ship has supposedly arrived above the Margerites[8] with parcels of goods, aboard which are only two Spaniards; the rest, skipper as well as sailors, are Dutch. It is loading hides there and we presume it to be Mr. Henrico Matthias’ ship which we are expecting here; however, until now we have heard nothing of it.

Whatever goods were bought here from the skipper of the ship Den Voogel Struys on behalf of and out of necessity for the garrison and posts here, and especially for trade with our nearest neighbors, the Spaniards, may your honors be pleased to see from the accompanying account, as well as from those papers concerning what was sold to the aforesaid Biscayer and Padre Frey Francisco. As stated above I am waiting for the remaining payment of it with the freight boat, which I shall send over to your honors, God willing, at the first opportunity, together with anything else transacted in the meanwhile.

May the Lord God give His blessing that the Spaniards may be encouraged by this small beginning to come here to trade. It would be more profitable for your honors to have a stock of merchandise here for sale in the manner as stated above. If your honors do decide to send merchandise, then please send mostly such items as mentioned in my previous letter[9] and those to be written down shortly by the aforesaid Biscayer and attached hereto. I trust that the remainder of the parcels of goods or linen, which were bought from the skipper of the ship Den Vogel Struys, shall be sold upon the return of the aforesaid Padre Frey Francisco, so that if others come I doubt that we shall have anything to sell them.

As a result of news received from a Company boat coming ] from the Caribbean islands, since the loading here of the aforesaid ship Den Vogel Struys, the skipper changed his plans and is making his return voyage from here by way of N. Nederlandt, for reasons explained more thoroughly in the accompanying papers, to which I refer for brevity’s sake.[10]

If it happens—may the Lord God mercifully forbid that those rumors and reports such as received here by the aforesaid boat are true—that Holland has gone to war with France as well as England, then I have no doubt that your honors shall not only give us here timely warning thereof but also suitable assistance so that we may not only be better on our guard but also, in case they want to visit us, we may be found equal to defending our lives and these places; and it is truly necessary that we receive some definite news about it soon so that they do not try, under pretext of still being our friends, to frequent our places and harbors, causing us thereby the most damage. We shall nevertheless be watchful and on our guard against this, according to our meager and best ability; and for this reason we have already warned Aruba as well as Bonairo to be on their guard, and depend further on your honors’ paternal care.

We fervently desire that the Spanish merchants were here with the awaited ship for which your honors contracted regarding the Negroes; it would relieve us of them so that we would be able to stretch our provisions much longer.

The Indians here complain that the horses are not able to endure the incessant hauling of dyewood out of the craggy and wooded areas, as they have been doing now for some time; and that they themselves are not accustomed to so much work. Although there is still dyewood available here, I shall temporarily let the matter rest out of consideration for the above, and in the meanwhile look into it at Bonayro and Aruba, so that if in the meanwhile or after receipt of this your honors send another ship, it may return home again not empty but, God willing, with a full load. Concerning the assistance I have had from the freemen here in loading this ship’s dyewood, I refer myself to the extract from our daily register which accompanies this.[11]

We have been and still remain in need of a smith here, because the three smiths, who have been employed in this trade, one after the other, in the short time I have been here, have shortly thereafter fallen sick so that one died and two could no longer work; the youngest, upon his earnest request, is also coming over there on this occasion in such a condition that by all human standards he shall not make it home alive. Therefore we humbly request that your honors provide us as soon as possible with a good smith from there who can do both rough and fine work. We shall then attach one of the Company’s Negroes to him for assistance in order to learn the trade, as recommended in your honors’ last letter.[12] We do not have an eighth of the tools needed to carry out your honors’ wishes in every way; and it is only for want of a smith.

Since the arrival here of the aforesaid ship Den Vogel Struys, we began to look into the alleged gold or silver mine, and continued as long as our tools were sufficient thereto; however, we have not yet worked at those places which I have been considering but at another place which was pointed out to us here by one of the oldest Indians named Diego, where since the time of the Spaniards there has been talk about a gold mine. Although we worked to a depth of four to five fathoms, we could still find nothing that struck our eye and for lack of suitable tools can work no deeper. I am trying to involve neither your honors nor myself therein, I only say that if your honors want a thorough report of such important matters, then it warrants a visual inspection done by people who are experts in this so that neither exertions nor expenditures are made in vain. Nevertheless, if we are furnished with sufficient tools for it, we shall not neglect to do our best at the present location as well as at the other places; and if we find something promising, we shall send it to your honors as soon as possible.

Four to five barrels are being sent to Mr. Pergens[13] aboard this ship Den Vogel Struys, both good and poor, which we have worked out of the aforesaid location from the first of this month until now, in case there is any official expert there who can give some evaluation of the specimens; I have also written to Mr. Pergens about this, to which I refer for brevity’s sake.

Accompanying this are the books of administration of the deceased commissary Nicolaes Blanche as well as the present commissary Laurens van Ruyven, in addition to the garrison book, from my arrival here until the end of December 1656.[14] What has happened since then I shall send over to your honors in the following books. Whatever is not mentioned here in this letter I trust that your honors shall find in the accompanying papers, to which I refer for brevity’s sake.

For that which I bought from the skipper Simon Comelissen Gilde for your honors’ account, as per accompanying account, I have therefore issued the aforesaid skipper three identical bonds on your honors behalf, of which the others are invalid when one is satisfied. I have no doubts that your honors will give the aforesaid skipper satisfaction and let him enjoy his payment. I have also bought from the aforesaid skipper for your honors’ account, now just before his departure, a large, well-fitted sloop, to be employed here for your honors’ maximum service and profit, for the sum of one thousand guilders as per bond issued separately to the aforesaid skipper, to be paid after the safe arrival and voyage of the ship and its goods; may the Lord God mercifully grant its success.


Noble, honorable, wise prudent and very discreet lords, I commend your honors, after my humble respects, to the merciful protection of the Almighty, and remain as long as I live,

Curaçao in Fort Amsterdam,
the 28th of July 1657.

My Lords,
your honors obedient and
devoted servant,

M. Beck


See 17:27 for this letter.
Do not survive.
Do not survive.
i.e., arroba,a Spanish weight equalling 25 pounds of 16 ounces each.
Cora is located at the eastern corner of the Gulf of Maracaibo, Venezuela.
Probably Porto Bello on the Caribbean side of Panama near the present Panama Canal; cf. 17:57.
See 17:27
Probably Margarita, between Tobago and Tortuga off the coast of Venezuela.
See 17:27
Do not survive.
Does not survive.
Does not survive.
Jacob Pergens, director of the Dutch West India Company, chamber of Amsterdam.
None of these books survives.


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.