THE BEGINNING OF THE COLONY OF BERBICE
In 1627, Abraham van Pere, a Dutch trader, received permission from the Dutch West India Company to start a colony on the Berbice River. Shortly after, he sent 40 men and 20 boys to settle at Nassau, about 50 miles upriver. Van Pere had a good knowledge of the territory since he had apparently been trading with the Amerindians of the area for a few years before 1627. He later applied his trading skills when he was contracted by the Zeeland Chamber to supply goods from Europe to the Dutch settlements in Essequibo.
At Nassau, where a fort was built, the settlers planted crops and traded with Amerindians. African slaves were introduced soon after the settlement was established to cultivate sugar and cotton. The situation was very peaceful until 1665 when the settlement was attacked by an English privateer. However, the colonists put up a strong defence and the English left after causing some damage to the settlement. This was a period of war between the English and the Dutch, and an English expedition led by Major John Scott attacked and seized Dutch settlements in Essequibo.
Meanwhile, the Berbice administration attempted to expand the size of the colony by establishing a trading post as far west as the Demerara River. At that time the Demerara area was unoccupied, but the West India Company objected to the presence of the trading post after claiming that the Demerara River fell under its jurisdiction. The trading post was then moved in 1671 to the Abary River which eventually became the boundary of Berbice and Demerara.
During the late 1680s when yet another European war was being waged, the French privateer, Jean Baptiste du Casse attacked Suriname and Berbice in 1689. His attack on Suriname was a failure, but he did some damage to the Berbice settlements. Commander de Feer of Berbice agreed to pay a ransom of 6,000 guilders before du Casse agreed to withdraw.
Berbice remained at peace until 1712 when the infamous French buccaneer, Jacques Cassard, with official French support, sent his men in warships to attack the colony. This was the period of the War of the Spanish Succession when the English and Dutch were allied against the French. The ships, commanded by Baron de Mouans, sailed up the Berbice River and attacked Fort Nassau. The Dutch commander, de Waterman, was forced to surrender the colony.
De Mouans demanded a ransom of 10,000 guilders for the private estates and 300,000 guilders for the fort and the estates of the van Pere family. While the private planters were able to raise the sum demanded of them, the Commander could only manage to gather 118,000 guilders on the van Peres' account. De Mouans grudgingly accepted this sum and a promissory note for the remainder. To ensure that this note was honoured, he left with two members of the Berbice Council as hostages. The buccaneers also took with them 259 of the best African slaves.
The van Pere family refused to pay the balance of the ransom to de Mouans, but after negotiations that lasted two years between the French company that sponsored the buccaneers, and Van Hoorn and Company, financial backers of the van Pere family and other Berbice planters, the Dutch company settled the issue by paying 108,000 guilders for the colony. The van Pere family subscribed a quarter of this sum, thus maintaining a financial interest in the colony.
Following this raid, Berbice suffered an economic decline. While the payment of the ransom was being negotiated between 1712 and 1714, the French firm that financed the buccaneers took away two shiploads of sugar. After the ransom was paid, there was great need to repair damage that occurred during the raid and also to improve production of sugar, but there was a severe shortage of slaves. The Dutch West India Company refused to permit Van Hoorn and Company, the financial backers of the Berbice colony, to transport slaves with their own ships and insisted that only the Dutch West India Company's ships had to do so. But since an advance payment of two-fifths of the price for each slave had to be made to the Company, slaves were hard to come by since the Berbice planters could not raise the credit required.
While the lack of slaves slowed progress, the shortage of capital for investment also posed a severe drawback. Since profits could not be seen, the Commander, de Waterman, was dismissed, but his successor Anthony Tierens could not do any better. The directors of Van Hoorn and Company then decided to raise capital by forming a new company with the express purpose of raising 3,200,000 guilders. This new company, the Berbice Association, was launched in 1720 but it could only start with a working capital of one million guilders.
Anthony Tierens, the Commander, now came under the supervision of the Berbice Association. He was ordered to establish new plantations and to introduce coffee cultivation. By 1722, he was able to establish on the Berbice River the plantations of Johanna, Cornelia, Jacoba, Savonette, Hardenbroek, Dageraad, Hogelande, Elizabeth and Debora.