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

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

My Lord. My last letter dated 11 December 1664,[1] as per accompanying copy, was sent to your honor by way of the Caribbean islands. Since then the Company’s ship De Musch (which I had dispatched there on the 15th of November, according to the enclosed letters) returned here damaged on the 6th of January, as your honor shall have learned from the verbal reports of the passengers (who were aboard it and left on the Caribbean islands to resume their voyage with the first opportunity).

And although I had trusted that we would have received from the fatherland that which I informed your honor about in my most recent letter, we have still heard from neither one nor the other, for it seems that they have also counted us here as lost, or apparently have done so, because we have not heard any news here or from any ships from the fatherland since last September 12th.[2] Nevertheless, because I have employed every means to inform our lords-superior of our situation here, I therefore have no doubts that we shall see any day now what is necessary for the preservation and maintenance of these places.

A ship arrived here on the 14th of January from the coast of Guinea from Arder[3] by the name of De Joffer Catarina commanded by Jacob Dircksen Willree with one hundred and fifty slaves. It had been sent, pursuant to instructions for the service of the Company, towards Casteell del Mina to the Lord Valckenburgh from Amsterdam, bringing some necessities there, which succeeded favorably, notwithstanding that there were various English ships there along the coast. This your honor shall be able to see from the accompanying memorandum, with which the aforesaid skipper provided me from his daily register or journal, to which I refer for brevity’s sake.[4]

After the English made themselves dominant on the coast, the honorable vice-admiral Michiel de Ruyter was ordered to the coast out of the Straits[5] with some warships (without knowing how many, some say twelve and others say twenty-four)[6] in order to restore everything there, as he did when he reached Cabo Verde; and he proceeded from there to the coast of Guinea in order to purge it also of the aforesaid English, which has happened, without a doubt, some time ago, because the blacks of the neighboring places near the castle Del Mina, named Cabo Cors, which was taken by the English, offered to return the same to the honorable General Valckenburch, according to the verbal report of the aforesaid Skipper Willree. However, the honorable General Valckenburch refused the same, knowing well that the English would not be able to hold any of the places taken by them, if the expected relief should arrive. What the aforesaid lord Vice-Admiral de Ruyter carried out at Cabo Verde, your honor may be pleased to see in the attached papers,[7] and we hope to learn any day now about what he did on the coast of Guinea.

If their High Mightinesses, the lords States-General are as determined to maintain N. Neederlandt for the Company as they have begun with Guinea, then we hope that everything shall be favorably restored shortly.

According to news from the Caribbean islands, open warfare has not been announced either in England or in Holland, notwithstanding that they are taking one another’s ships wherever they are able to do so; and if the matter cannot be settled, then we shall hear any day now that it has errupted into open warfare. In all probability, if the Lord God is not particularly pleased to punish Holland, the might of Holland at sea shall extend far above the English, and if the Lord God is pleased to give His blessing to the same, then the Englishman might well regret too late that which he has begun.

I have been informed from the Caribbean islands that Prince Robbert[8] has supposedly left England with 24 ships for the coast of Guinea; others think that it is intended for the Cabo de Bona Esperança[9] in order to seize the same and deprive the East India Company of this supply point, and to watch for the East India fleet, as expected. To counter this, it is said that Vice-Admiral de Ruyter was to go to Cabo Bona Esperança with his accompanying ships in order to prevent this, after his mission to the coast of Guinea. The certainty of one or the other shall be revealed in due time.

Your honor can see in the attached papers what an English pirate or privateer has done here on the island of Bonaira,[10] about which we have informed our lords-superiors at Amsterdam by way of the Caribbean islands and given notice throughout the Caribbean islands, so that all Dutch ships, which are there or might come there, may prepare themselves accordingly and be on their guard against him; and especially so that the same pirate or privateer’s origin may be known; and if he does not have a valid commission, he is to be seized and punished accordingly.

In Zeeland private parties keep common purse of eighteen ships or frigates for privateering against the English, in addition to many other private parties who join with them, so that is to be feared if it is not settled, that the English trade in the Caribbean islands shall also be severely damaged because there shall be no lack of privateers from Holland and Zeeland watching for their ships and vessels which are trading there at the islands, and taking everything away that they can; because the English have not only given them cause thereto but have also shown them the way.

Since my last letter I have sold to the Genoese all the slaves who came here on behalf of the Company with the latest ships, and those who were in the countryside who were determined merchantable and could be spared from here, for the price of one hundred and twenty pieces of eight; and because of these troubles with the English and because there was no prospect of obtaining any slaves from the coast of Guinea, the Genoese left here on the 23rd of January for Cartagena with their ship and the aforesaid purchased slaves. Whether this trade with the Company shall now be renewed in Holland or shall be sought for and continued by other Spaniards as it was previously at this place, only time and opportunity shall tell.

I recently received a report that the superiors of the aforesaid Genoese also made a contract in Spain with the Royal Company of England for the acquisition of slaves. This acquisition was to take place on the island of Jamaica, and already a large ship of the aforesaid Genoese has come to Jamaica in order to pick up the slaves according to the contract of the Royal Company; but because no slaves had arrived there yet for the Royal Company, they were allowed to buy as many slaves as they could from the English planters and settlers. Regarding the same contract, all commissions against the Spaniards here in these West Indies were withdrawn from all English privateers and ships, and they were forbidden to cause damage on land or sea to the Spanish nation. Also, a valuable Spanish prize was brought to Jamaica by English privateers and they had to return it without compensation. I doubt whether this English Royal Company will now be able to fulfill the contract, if it is of any importance, with the Genoese because of these disruptions and troubles caused by themselves on the coast of Guinea; besides, there are the privateers from Holland and Zeeland who shall look to cause them much disruption in their slave trade as well as in all their other trade on the coast of Angola and everywhere else possible, (against which they have previously not been prepared), as long as these troubles last. When the Genoese learn that the English do not fulfill their negotiated contracts punctually, they shall immediately leave with suspicions of deceit, because the Genoese are of a nationality who are very punctual and precise in their business.

The bearer of this, Skipper Jan Poppen, who has decided to take his galiot there from St. Christoffel, has brought us news here that the king of Spain has died as well as the duke of York in England;[11] and that France and Spain are on the verge of war again, against which there is heavy armament in the Spanish Netherlands, the certainty of which shall reveal itself shortly; the emperor and Turks have concluded a truce or peace for the period of twenty years.[12]

For the second time now we are witnessing here a comet with long fiery trails.[13] It was seen here two months ago as well as in Europe. What it signifies is best known only to the Supreme Giver of all good who will mercifully deflect from us all well-deserved plagues and punishments, and let everything redound to the honor of His most holy name for the good of His people unto salvation.

If the bearer of this, Jan Poppen, who has been accommodated with horses from Bonaira pursuant to your honor’s recommendation, had gone directly from here to your honor’s place, then I would have sent over with him the two hundred pieces of eight which came back with the ship De Musch, together with that which has accrued to your honor in the meanwhile, as per the accompanying account; however, because he was plundered by an English pirate during his most recent voyage from here to the islands and because the Indian Fransquiet from Curaçao, who sailed out with him, was taken from his galiot by the same pirate in order to guide them in their villainous deeds, as is customary by the aforesaid pirates; therefore, I considered it better for your honor’s sake to wait for another more secure opportunity directly from here, because these troubles have subjected the routes ] by way of the islands to too much danger.

Mister Balthazar Stuyvesant, your honor’s esteemed son, to whom I hope to have much occasion to be of service, is, praise God, presently with us in good health, as your honor shall be able to learn from his letter.[14] The inopportune takeover of N. Neederlandt by the English is his deepest concern; otherwise, I can plainly see, as it is only natural, that he prefers N. Neederlandt to Curaçao because the diversion of Nieuw Neederlandt cannot be found here, and he enumerates for us the qualities there to such an extent that we also let our thoughts and desires go there for a change and good restoration, so that, whenever it pleases God Almighty to do so, we would be very much inclined to spend our old age in such a well-blessed land with our family.

We have had a bad season here this year so that we barely harvested enough produce from the plantations in order to be able to sustain the Negroes who worked on them. Only the sugar cane is progressing nicely. For this reason I am busy setting up a small sugar mill in order to see what it will produce. If a profit can be realized from it, then we shall do our best to look for a good opportunity and a suitable piece of land for your honor’s son, Mr. Balthazar Stuyvesant, just as I have done already at St. Joris, which was previously a Company’s garden. If nothing better or more suitable is found thereto, we shall make a trial of it there next season, God willing and with your honor’s advice and approval; and we shall require eight to ten good slaves for it, which the Company allows the inhabitants here because they have to be used for agriculture, at one hundred seven and a half pieces of eight, which your honor’s son Mr. Balthazar Stuyvesant shall almost be able to realize with the monthly salary credited to his account, which he has shown me.[15] Therefore I shall write to the Company on his behalf and hope to receive a response soon thereto.

I only now hope that the trade, whether in slaves or otherwise, can be reestablished at this place, or that the works,[16] which your honor knows is underway here proves to be profitable and well conceived by the people knowledgeable therein; otherwise, because the mature dyewood here in the countryside has mostly been consumed, as well as all the rest that is here in the countryside, it is to be expected that there is not enough to be able to cover the annual expenses of the Company, by which the Company, according to its old custom, shall seek to manage things. Moreover, if they do not effect a restoration of Nieuw Neederlandt, then it is my feeling that by lack of that which has been stated to your honor, they will then be satisfied with a small garrison, as no blame can be laid upon them with regard to management, even though it is difficult for me and those who have something to lose in such times as we live, it can be continued, and the Company will also be satisfied then with a lesser servant. I only write this according to my feelings between us, because they are things that could happen; therefore may your honor continue his speculations and thoughts on the same subject for our benefit so that we may be assisted in such matters by your honor’s wise and prudent advice as to where the safest and best place would be for us to take refuge; because in Holland, according to news I have received from there, not much is earned even by those who are already well-placed. I have said nothing about new arrivals.[17]

Concerning our goats and sheep at St. Crous: undiminished by your honor’s better advice, I would rather have the majority of them slaughtered, packed in salt and sent to the islands to be traded for sugar, and to have the proceeds thereof remitted either there or in Holland, as your honor thinks best; unless in the meanwhile a better opportunity arises here, of which I shall then take advantage. I have no other opportunities in the islands except at St. Christoffel and St. Crous, because the trade has been forbidden us at all the other islands, French as well as English.

The reference to a certain surgeon’s mate in your honor’s letter last 13/23 October[18] is worthy of consideration. With regard to your honor’s recommendation, I wish that I had the opportunity to be able to accommodate him here; however, because we have no assurance that the slave trade will be continued, and also because we have been provided for the present with more of them than we need here for our purposes, I therefore shall more likely be constrained to relieve the Company of them. Otherwise, if there were an opportunity here, I would prefer him” over another.

I have replied to the letter received from the honorable secretary Van Ruyven [19] concerning the two young slaves which were bought here years ago from the Company by his brother the commissary.[20]I refer to it for brevity’s sake.

It is my feeling that if these English troubles and hostilities cannot be reconciled, we shall shortly have frigates here from Holland and Zeeland, which shall reestablish themselves here by way of the Caribbean islands and elsewhere, because it is one of the safest and most suitable harbors here in the West Indies for keelhauling and provisioning their ships.

The bearer of this shall probably bring your honor more recent and better news from the Caribbean islands, and that everything shall be favorably restored so that it would be the most beneficial and profitable and much more estimable for both nations.

If the bearer of this returns here with his galiot, and if your honor could arrange for him to bring from there a suitable mast for one of the Company’s barks here, it would be a service to me; namely, fifty-seven feet long and thirty-seven inches thick and it should be somewhat tapered toward the top; whatever it costs shall be sent to your honor in cash, God willing, at an opportune time, at the same time satisfying the bearer for his troubles.


Noble, honorable, valiant, wise, prudent and very discreet lord, I commend your honor, after all our greetings, to the merciful and blessed protection of the Almighty, together with Mrs. Stuyvesant and the entire beloved family, and I remain, as long as I live,

Curaçao, in Fort
Amsterdam, the 16thof April 1665.

My Lord,
Your honor’s most
devoted and obedient
friend and servant,
M. Beck.

My Lord.

May your honor be pleased to receive from the bearer of this, Jan Poppen, these following items which came back with the ship De Musch and are now being sent again:

One barrel of Curaçao sugar

One barrel of fine salt

One anker of preserved lemons

Two pots of sweets

One hammock

Four hundred and thirty-four conchshells

I hope to send more and better Curaçao sugar directly from here, as is to be found in the above-mentioned barrel. I humbly request that the gesture be accepted with kind favor. Farewell.

Addressed: ]

My Lord
Petrus Stuyvesant residing on the Mannhatans in Nieuw Neederlant

By the galiot De Hoop, may God preserve.


See 17:101 for this letter.
The news came via a private ship, De Vergulde Fonteyn, see 17:96, paragraph 6.
Arda in present-day Dahomey.
See 17:88 for an extract from Willree’s journal.
De Ruyter was stationed in the Mediterranean at the time.
Translator’s parentheses.
These papers do not survive.
Prince Rupert and his cousins Charles II and James, duke of York, were founders of the Royal Africa Company.
i.e., Cape of Good Hope.
See 17:102 for this account.
Philip IV, king of Spain, died in 1665; however, James, duke of York did not die until 1701. Rumors of his death may be associated with his actions at sea against the Dutch.
The Peace of Vasvar was concluded in 1664.
This was the comet Hevelius named after Johann Hevelius of Danzig.
This letter does not survive.
This account does not survive; see 17:105 for another account concerning Balthazar Stuyvesant.
i.e. the sugar mill operation.
It is unclear whether Beck is referring to an additional problem of new settlers coming to Curaçao or the problem of competing for positions with the West India Company in Holland.
This letter does not survive.
i.e. Nicolaes van Ruyven, commissary on Curaçao.
This letter from Cornells van Ruyven does not survive.


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.