Investing in Dutch Brazil: Credit, Debt and the Sugar-Cycle in the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic world

23 November 2023 - 13:32

Between 1630 and 1654 the Dutch West India Company (WIC) maintained a colony in northeastern Brazil in the captaincies of Pernambuco, Itamaraca, Rio Grande and Paraiba. This colony, which reached its greatest extent between 1637 and 1645, was the first Dutch Atlantic slave society and plantation colony. Although scholarly research in the colony has revived in the past decade, one key aspect remains understudied: the involvement of private entrepreneurs from the Dutch Republic in financing and running the colony. This lacuna is all the more important as those who invested in Brazil in the 1630s and 1640s were the first generation of investors who actively chose to invest in slavery in a Dutch colony. Studying this group of investors was difficult in the past due to a lack of detailed sources. Using an previously undiscovered collection of investment information about Dutch Brazil held in the collection of the BHIC in Den Bosch, this project will provide a thorough understanding of the investment and finances of this crucial colony. Many of these investors would later appear in French, Dutch and English plantation colonies in the Caribbean and the Guyanas, showing a direct continuity of involvement with slavery from Dutch Brazil to these later colonies.

Project lead: Erik Odegaard.

The main proposed outputs of this VENI project are a publicly accessible dataset documenting about twelve million guilders of private investment in the colony, including personal loans, ownership of sugar mills and cane fields, urban real estate, bottomry loans and tax-farms; a book for a general audience detailing the investors of Dutch Brazil and their relevance for later Dutch Atlantic History, to be published in Dutch as part of the Zeven Provinciën series; and a series of peer-reviewed articles on specific parts of this history.

Besides these outputs, Erik is also working on books on WIC-privateering and a new general history of the company, spanning the period 1621-1674.

Duration:  September 2023 -  August 2026.

Picture: (copper engraving, map ), Atlas Van der Hagen, Collection Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag