BERBICE AT THE END OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Between 1764 and 1777 economic progress in Berbice was very slow on account of the fact that the planters refused to agree to increased taxation. In addition, successive governors were incompetent and were unable to motivate development. It was not until Pieter Hendrik Koppiers became governor in 1777 that positive changes were seen.
When the Dutch reorganised the colony of Berbice after the slave rebellion of 1763 collapsed, a small town grew up around Fort Nassau which continued as the capital. However, with the steady migration to the coast, a new settlement began to establish itself near the mouth of the Berbice River at its junction with the Canje River from around 1782 when the French took possession of the colony. When the British took back control the following year, they expanded the granting of lands on the coast to planters, many of them English, and this encouraged more people to move to this new settlement.
With the opening of new lands, plantations, on which mixed farming took place, grew up on the west coast and the west bank of the Berbice River. Many of these plantations cultivated cotton, and a few small mills to process the cotton were erected on them.
In 1784, Berbice was handed back to the Dutch, and Koppiers, who had been removed by the French, was reappointed as Governor. He immediately cancelled all the land grants made by the British and the French and ordered the planters to vacate those areas. The affected planters protested this order in petitions sent to Directors of the Berbice Association and the States-General in Amsterdam. The States-General agreed that lands granted by the British should remain in the hands of those who owned them on condition that a land tax was paid. However, it ordered that lands granted in West Berbice by both the British and French must be abandoned. As a result, many plantations on the West Coast and West Bank Berbice, especially those south of Itacha, reverted to bush after cultivation ceased.
The cutback on cultivation saw a reversal of economic progress in Berbice, and the Berbice Association placed the blame for this on Governor Koppiers. The Directors expressed their dissatisfaction over his administration and reprimanded him on many occasions. He subsequently asked to be relieved of the position of Governor and migrated to Demerara. After he left, Abraham Jacob van Batenburg was appointed as Governor.
In 1784 when Berbice was restored to the Dutch, an engineer, Herlin, was sent from Amsterdam to build a town in the area of the growing settlement at the junction of the Berbice and Canje Rivers. The land was cleared of the forest and divided into quarter-acre lots, and soon a few scattered houses were erected. By 1791, the town, named New Amsterdam, was firmly established and became the new capital of Berbice; and soon after, the Governor, Van Batenburg moved into a newly built Government House.
Meanwhile, the States-General of the Netherlands was concerned that the trading activities of both the West India Company and the Berbice Association were conducted more for the benefit of those two organisations rather than for the Dutch nation as a whole. As a result, the Company's charter failed to win renewal in 1791 and Essequibo-Demerara was placed under the control of a "Council of Colonies", a department of the Dutch Government. Four years later, the charter of the Berbice Association was cancelled and the colony was put under the control of a "Committee of Colonial Affairs" in Amsterdam.
In 1796, Essequibo-Demerara and Berbice were seized by the British. In Berbice, Batenburg was kept on as Governor by the British who again continued the granting of land to new settlers who migrated mainly from Barbados. Over a hundred new cotton plantations were established and slaves were imported in greater numbers. The slave population grew from 8,232 to 17,885 during the period 1796-1802. Large areas of land were also put up for sale by the colony's government, and much of these were bought by Lord Seaforth who became Governor of Barbados in 1801.