LETTER from Matthias Beck, vice-director of Curaçao to Petrus Stuyvesant

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Noble, Honorable, Valiant, Wise, Prudent and Discreet Lord. My Lord.

Your honor’s letter of 17 June via the bark Curaçao from the island of Aruba I have duly received from the cornet Balthazar van Essen who arrived here last 24 June aboard the aforesaid bark loaded with some dyewood.[1] Since then the fluyt De Liefde has arrived on 17 November by which we duly received from skipper Anna Douwens both of your honor’s letters dated 15 September and 22 October.[2] I thank your honor highly for the extensive advice which your honor was pleased to convey to me by the same source; and if indeed the soldiers here were beginning to lose heart because it was suspected that the aforesaid fluyt would be delayed above,[3] but are now rejuvinated by its safe arrival, all the more heartening is the news of your honor’s fortunate and successful passage and safe arrival in N. Nederlandt; and the continuing progress with the recapture of the fort and territories on the South River, which were previously conquered and claimed unjustly by the Swedes. It is hoped that the sad and lamentable tragedy between the Indians and our nation, which may have occurred in your honor’s absence, did not happen as I have been given to understand by your honor’s letters and verbal reports, so that those regions would be allowed to flourish and progress all the more.[4] It is extremely audacious of the Indians that they have dared to destroy so many beautiful places containing farms, people and animals. If they have done this with a premeditated design without them having any cause thereto, then they should be acknowledged as public enemies rather than living among them in feigned friendship. It is understandable that this unexpected tragedy is causing your honor much trouble and concern in order to put everything back in order, and I am of your honor’s opinion that through God’s merciful blessing and assistance what has transpired might turn out to be in the country’s interest, because the country folk and farmers have been taught by their own losses that in the future rather than living separately it shall be better to live together in security; especially, as your honor relates that those villages containing as few as ten or twelve houses have remained unmolested.[5]

In reply to your honor’s letter received from the island of Aruba I shall briefly say that your honor’s well-intended advice to go there with the Company’s Negroes in order to cut dyewood we have not considered advisable, because shortly after your honor’s departure from here we found on the west point of this place much more dyewood in considerable quantity and also better wood than we could hope to find on Aruba; especially because the dyewood which came from there aboard the bark, as stated before, was very poor and much different from that which was cut here; also, because it is our experience that there are so few industrious Negroes now here, it would be disadvantageous to distribute them at both places because not only do we have to make ready as much wood as possible for the return of the aforesaid fluyt De Liefde, but, in addition, see to it that salt from the pan of St. Jan not be neglected, and according to time available to clear and make ready gardens on Bonairo on behalf of the Company and the Negroes so that they can be planted for the first rainy season, as has just happened, praise God. For the transport of the horses from Aruba to this place and to Bonairo, for reasons recalled in detail in your honor’s letter, I accordingly asked the skipper Anna Douwensz if he would make one trip there with the fluyt De Liefde before he loaded his cargo here; however, we were not able to arrange it. Therefore, I see no chance to do it before a suitable and well-fitted vessel is sent here expressly for this purpose either by the lords-superiors in Holland or by your honor in N. Nederlandt, and that the suitable time of year be taken into consideration for going there.

The freemen here as well as those of the Company have not been remiss in their duties, and have cultivated more land than I believe has ever been done on this island, so that if the Lord God is pleased to grant His blessing and the rains continue just as they began early in the month of November, then we shall have no scarcity of grain or beans; on the contrary, if the rain ceases early, as many here fear, because it began so late in the year, then we apprehend that the produce, which is presently green and beautiful, shall never fully ripen. Therefore everything depends solely on the mercy and blessing of the Lord.

I do not believe that much cotton and tobacco will be planted this year because everyone is concerned with provisions, of which the freemen especially have had great need, because I have not been able to assist them with necessities; in fact, for some time I was only able to distribute one pound of bread per week to the Company’s servants, so that they had to go into the country to dig up certain roots[6] and bake cakes from them in place of bread, in order to fill their hungry stomachs.

For the aforesaid reasons and because the aforesaid fluyt De Liefde was suspected to remain above, I have been compelled, with the advice and consent of the officers here, to send the Company’s bark Curaçao once to the island of Martenicq or Guardeloupe with some goats and sheep from the island of Aruba in order to receive from there in trade a supply of provisions. Therefore, on 14 October, because of the illness of the skipper Pieter Willemsz Smit, I dispatched Johan van Gaelen and Cornet Balthazar van Essen to those places as quickly as possible, who, praise God, returned here safely to harbor from the island of Marten[      ] on the 3rd [      ] in the morning, after the arrival of the aforesaid fluyt De Liefde. For 47 goats and sheep, it brought back the value of 10,000 lbs. of tobacco in provisions; namely, meal, cassava, farina and beans. It would have been a good trip if they had known before their departure from Aruba what they discovered later during the voyage that they had taken along too little grass and lacked enough to feed the animals while underway; this and other misfortunes caused almost half of the animals to die on the way.

It shall be necessary to have the Company’s bark make another trip at once to the islands; especially in order to try to encourage a proper blacksmith to come here, and in order to defray the expenses of the trip to send along once again some goats and sheep. Whereas our blacksmith master Arent Reyniertsz died of dysentery at the end of last October, and as your honor knows that nothing can be accomplished here without a blacksmith, we hoped that either your honor in N. Nederlandt or our lords-superiors in Holland would duly be aware of it and would provide us with such a blacksmith at once, as required by the country here; and it shall be necessary that a blacksmith be sent out from Hollant immediately so that we still do not find ourselves [      ] at a loss here if there are none on the islands, and though we have two blacksmiths here, we shall be mindful of means in order to defray the expenses accordingly, with God’s merciful assistance, for the most benefit and profit of the Company.

Skipper Anna Douwensz loaded little salt aboard his ship at St.Jan[7] because it is a poor anchorage, and after the loss of his casting-anchor he sailed from there to the bay of St.[8] from fear of having more accidents; and although I would have gladly sent him there with the Company’s bark for a supply of salt, it is extremely leaky and unfit, and it must first be repaired. And to haul it from there with boats would take a long time; more than the salt taken in would be worth. Therefore, I did not dare take it upon myself to detain him here. In the meantime, while he was taking on his cargo, I had as much dyewood cut and made available as was possible, hoping to be able to fill the mainhold of his aforesaid ship with wood, together with what was cut by the Indians on Aruba, which I however doubt. The commander on Aruba has told me that he believes about three barks full of dyewood will be ready there; and I shall send an officer there with the fluyt in order to load the same, together with a scale and weights to weight it.

The small ship Den Dolphyn, which your honor advised would be dispatched here from N. Nederlandt before winter with the remaining necessary essentials, we await with anticipation; and with God’s merciful help we shall also not neglect to provide your honor again with a good cargo of salt as soon as possible. We also await with anticipation a good barber-surgeon with medicines, because we have none here to comfort and refresh the sick. Since the arrival of the aforesaid fluyt De Liefde, the commissary Nicolas Blanche has finally, after a three month’s illness, departed this world on the 13th of this month of December.

Upon the petition of the baker Hans Fredericks, whom I used as emergency assistance during the illness of the aforesaid Commissary Blansche, deceased, I have permitted him to depart for Holland aboard the aforesaid fluyt, because he has been engaged for some years to a widow there whom he fears otherwise might chance to marry another during his long absence.

I have been compelled to keep here, with his consent, the supercargo of the aforesaid fluyt De Liefde named Laurens van Ruyven in order to employ him here in the Company’s service under my supervision and instruction in place of the commissary N. Blansche, deceased, because I have no one here in the country among the Company’s servants who is qualified or capable thereto.

The secretary Arnoudt Verellen, whom your honor when here warned me would provide little service, I have seen fit, after this was born out by experience, to permit him and his family, upon his own request, also to depart for the fatherland aboard this fluyt; provided only that he let the old servants, who are still here, have their accounts from the old books so that no complaints be left behind in his absence.

The supplies, sent by your honor aboard the aforesaid fluyt, which were put ashore here according to the receipt given to the skipper, are as follows:

200 skipples of peas

133 ditto of wheat

60 ditto of rye

One hogshead containing no more than 12 kan of French wine

One hogshead of vinegar

Two half pipes of mum[9]

Timberwork: 33 beams, 24 deck support planks of about two inches thick, five pieces for gun platforms, 15 spars and some pieces of plank for the watering trough and horse stall.

Whereas I understand from your honor’s letter that these supplies, which have been sent by your honor, as aforementioned, for and on behalf of the garrison here, have for the most part been produced on your honor’s own plantation and shipped for your honor’s own account; therefore, I am supposed to give in exchange three or four lasten of dyewood to the skipper Anna Douwensz or your honor’s cousin Van Lidt[10] in order to be credited for as much as it shall yield in Holland. And whereas the dyewood has been loaded by the skipper Anna Douwensz one with the other and thus is consigned in the manifest to the lords-superiors; therefore, I dutifully asked their honors about the same and have informed your honor of my good intentions, whereby I trust that nothing shall be neglected as a result.

From the skipper Anna Douwensz I have bought two small hogsheads of French wine and two half ankers of brandy-wine from Cologne in place of the hogshead sent by your honor which came ashore empty and filled with spigots. The skipper says that it was done on the South River by the foreigners and shipped over this way. I have also bought from him one package of rough Osnabrueck linen containing 112 ells to be used here in the service of the Company. I have given the skipper a bill for the lords-superiors to pay for the cost of the same.

After the departure of this fluyt, De Uefde, God willing, I shall look into the business accounts kept by the deceased commissary Blansche: provisions as well as merchandise and equipment; everything which has taken place here during my directorship, and send the pertinent results over to your honor at the first opportunity as well as to the lords-superiors.

Although it was my intention, now that the rainy season has passed, to do our best to find enough dyewood for another shipload here as well as on the other islands, I am now not sure whether I shall be able to accomplish it, partly because the wood is scarce here and partly because we have no blacksmith to make the necessary ironwork and to repair broken items. A Frenchman has come here from a privateer who said he was a locksmith but cannot even repair the soldiers weapons much less harden an ax or knife; therefore we urgently need a capable blacksmith. Even the freemen cannot live here in the countryside without one because when their ironwork breaks it must be repaired.

Most profitable here for the Company, in my opinion, is to work hard on all three islands obtaining suitable dyewood and pock wood, wherever there is some available, by having it cut and made accessible so that the ships can fetch it whenever possible; to clear the saltpans on Bonairo in order to collect as much salt there as possible which can then be shipped to N. Nederlandt and wherever else the most benefit and profit for the honorable Company can be realized. The saltpan on St. Joan has already been repaired so that I hope to receive salt from there twice a year, as I have also written to the lords-superiors about when we can acquire a license from the government in England in order to be permitted to export horses from here to the Barbados, for as many as can be spared yearly from Aruba; and for this purpose to commission suitable and well-ventilated ships sufficiently provided with barrels of water and necessities so that the honorable Company may realize thereby the maximum profit at that place.

Among all the Company’s Negroes here I have now discovered through experience that there are no more than twenty who are able to do heavy labor, and who are sufficiently capable to work at cutting dywood and in the saltpans, whereby your honor can judge what work there is to be done; because there are not enough here to carry out what is necessary, to say nothing about distributing them on the other islands; therefore, it would be to the honorable Company’s benefit and advantage that they furnish themselves here with more diligent and hardworking Negroes and at the best opportunity possible to get rid of those who perform little service, because during sparse times they want to eat, nevertheless, as well as the best of them who then have to be kept from work in order to go out looking for food for them or one is compelled to feed them all from the magazine.

The Company’s cows are still doing well and increasing abundantly; however, before the arrival of the fluyt De Liefde we had to slaughter for some time two oxen every week as sustinence for the garrison, and as long as no salted meat or bacon is received we shall still continue to slaughter them. We hope that the expected ship Den Dolphijn shall also bring food for our relief so that the oxen may increase in the meantime and also so that no cows have to be slaughtered, as we have not as yet, thank God, had to do.

I have established another corral at St.Joris[11] in the most suitable place in the countryside where the cows mostly go for grazing and where there is no scarcity of water in the dry season; therefore, half of the cows shall be distributed there among good and capable overseers at the first opportunity because more than half of them spend the night outside the corral of the sour sop[12] garden.

Although Mr. Roodenburgh ] promised your honor when here to have his Negroes, through his servant Franck, cut 28 lasten dyewood for the account of the honorable Company at thirty stivers per hundred pounds for when the aforesaid fluyt De Liefde returns; nevertheless, his aforesaid servant has, with great discontent, cut no more than 12 lasten; and whereas the aforesaid Franck received from me here in payment parcels of goods and food from the magazine, except for 500 guilders which he says he owes Mr. Rodenburgh ] and is to be balanced off; therefore, I shall await your honor’s good advice and instructions in response to this and govern myself accordingly.

Although I previously had thought that the planted crops were developing well, it has in the ten to twelve days since then rained little and that only on the west end but not at all on the east end. Whereas the crops have already been destroyed there and if no more rain comes, may God forbid, then it is likely that none of the produce will ripen, and if we receive no relief or food from N. Nederlandt or from Holland, then we shall find ourselves in an extremely bad situation and all necessary work, beneficial to the Company, must come to a standstill; therefore, it is always necessary to have some durable provisions here against a poor harvest. And although I would like to stretch the meager provisions, which we presently have as usual, a bit longer for the aforesaid consideration and distribute, in proportion to our present situation, 3 ½ lbs. of bread, 1 ½ kans of pottage and 2 lbs. of fresh meat for the common people, and in proportion according to the condition of [      ] for the officers, there are some here who incite others and refuse to receive the ration; whereas it is dangerous, especially at such remote places, when one does not have enough food to give the soldiers, I shall nevertheless, together with the chief officers, attempt to be as frugal as possible, and in the meantime await the paternal care of your honor and the noble lords-masters.

The fluyt De Liefde has taken on here over 62 last of dyewood and 20 last of salt, and I hope that it will take on another 10 to 12 last of dyewood at Aruba, when, I trust, it will not be much short of a full load. Whereas I have accordingly informed the noble lords-masters of additional necessary matters, I shall for brevity’s sake refer thereto.

Herewith, noble, honorable, wise, prudent and very discreet lord, I shall, after my humble and our most devoted respects, be pleased to commend your honor to the merciful protection of the Almighty, and remain,

Curaçao in Fort Amsterdam, 24 December 1655 My Lord, Your obedient and devoted servant,

M. Beck.


Petrus Stuyvesant must have written this letter from Aruba before his return to New Netherland. Does not survive.

De Liefde participated in the 1655 invasion of New Sweden; letters no longer extant.
i.e., probably in New Netherland.@@@
See NYHM, XVIII:35-37, 40 for documents concerning the 1655 Indian attack on Manhattan.
See LO: 206-207, 234, 368-369 for ordinances to. form villages for mutual defense against the Indians.
Probably the cassava plant whose roots yield a meal for baking bread.
A harbor along the western shore of Curaçao between Piscadero and St. Cruys.
Name of this place was accidently left out at end of line when copying; probably St. Cruys, which is 1.5 miles west of St. Jan.
mum, a strong ale popular in the 17th Century; made from wheat malt, oat malt, and flavored with herbs.
Either the Nicolaes van Lith mentioned in 17:20 or Willem van Lith, Petrus Stuyvesant’s power of attorney in Holland, see NYHM 3:360.
St. Joris Bay at the east end of Curaçao.
i.e. zuurzak, (anona muricanta), a variety of custard apple.


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.