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The Berbice colony in 1740 with the plantations and owners along the Berbice u. Canje River
Map showing the area in 1888

From 1627 to 1814 Berbice was a Dutch colony on the north coast of South America , in the Berbice region . Berbice was part of colonies that are also known under the collective name of Dutch Guiana .

Change of ownership

At the instigation of Zeeländers Abraham van Peere a colony was made a start at Berbice from 1627 with the establishment. Initially, barter with locals was carried out here. With the steadily expanding plantation economy, the indigenous people were pushed back more and more.

Dutch rule was interrupted by the British from 1665 to 1666 and 1781 to 1782 when the colonies of Berbice and Essequibo (including Demerara ) were conquered. English rule was replaced by the French from 1782 to 1784. After the French ceded the colony again in 1784, Berbice remained in Dutch possession again until 1796, when it was again and almost definitely occupied by the British. Because of the Peace of Amiens it came back briefly into Dutch hands from 1802 to 1803, after which it was taken over again by the British. With the British-Dutch Treaty of 1814 , Berbice officially fell to the United Kingdom on August 13, 1814 . On July 21, 1831, it was merged with Essequibo and Demerara as British Guiana , before the area became independent as Guyana in 1966 .

Buccaneers, Berbice Law Firm

Like the neighboring colonies of Essequibo and Suriname, Berbice was threatened by piracy . The biggest blow led the French in November 1712, when Berbice under the command of Jacques Cassard by Baron de Mouans pillaged was. Only after buying the equivalent of 300,000 guilders in the form of letters of exchange , slaves and staple products, the pirates withdrew. When the financial risk became too great for the Van Peere family as owners of Berbice and they wanted to give up the colony, after complicated financial transactions the Berbice partnership was founded as the new owner in 1720 .

The law firm already had a role model in neighboring Suriname, the law firm of Suriname . The company was run by a board of directors, originally consisting of seven directors, which was later expanded to nine people. In 1732 an octroi / charter came into force, which u. a. established the independent position vis-à-vis the West India Company (WIC). Through this charter, the society appeared as sovereign over the colony. In principle, the highest power lay with the Berbice law firm. The original monopoly on the delivery of slaves was no longer with the WIC either.

The directorate was based in Amsterdam and the new directors were elected by the board members - usually from among those who held larger shares in the company. In addition, it was decided shortly after the foundation to always elect a council pensioner from the city of Amsterdam as director. This gave the firm a direct connection to the States General of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands . The 37 directors who had been in charge of the firm from its founding in 1720 until its dissolution in 1795 were almost all members of Amsterdam patrician families .

In Berbice the governor was the highest representative of the firm. The governor appointed by the board had to swear an oath to the States General before leaving. In the period from 1732 to 1795 a total of eleven governors were appointed.

Fortifications, governorate

In the 17th century the most important defensive structure, Fort Nassau, was built on Berbice, about 90 km from the coast . The fort was both the administrative center of the colony and the seat of the governor. The first colonial settlements, trading posts and plantations emerged further upstream on the banks of the Berbice and later on both sides of the Canje .

From 1785 Nieuw Amsterdam, today's New Amsterdam, was created as the seat of the governorate at the confluence of the Canje in the Berbice. A settlement called Nieuw Amsterdam existed near Fort Nassau as early as the 17th century.

Slave revolt

Fort Nassau 1770
Plantations directly affected by the uprising, map from 1742

In February 1763, the slaves on the Canje and Berbice plantations came into revolt under the leadership of the slave Cuffy (also Coffy) from the Lelienburg plantation . At that time the colony numbered around 350 whites (including women and children) and almost 4,000 African slaves. After the first plantations were attacked, looted and the buildings set on fire, the fleeing whites first sought refuge in Fort Nassau. Because of its poor condition and the approaching insurgents, the fort was abandoned. The survivors fled downstream to the St. Andries military post , not far from the mouth of the Berbice. Here they hoped for the help of the troops summoned from the neighboring colonies and the Netherlands by Governor van Hoogenheim. Although the blacks were in the majority, they could not agree on a unified line against the Dutch. While Cuffy advocated a division of the country (whites on the coast, blacks inland), his deputy Akara pursued an aggressive tactic. This ultimately led to internal fighting and to Cuffy's suicide in 1763. With the auxiliary troops rushing from Suriname and Sint Eustatius and the military who arrived with six ships from Europe at the end of December 1763, the Dutch were able to recapture the colony.

Around 40 whites and around 1,800 Africans were killed in the fighting. Even if the uprising had failed mainly because of quarrels among the slaves, it was the first serious attempt by a large group of African slaves to create a free country for freed slaves in the New World .

Border dispute, exploration

There was early disagreement about the border between the colonies of Berbice and Suriname. When both Berbice and Suriname were occupied by the British, the two governors van Imbijze van Batenburg (Berbice) and de Friderici (Suriname) agreed in 1799 on the course of the border. The west bank of the Corantijn up to the Duivelskreek was awarded to Berbice. The boundary was the deep water line on the west bank of the Corantijn. This agreement was published on January 20, 1800 in Nieuw Amsterdam (Berbice). It is the basis for the Dutch and later Surinamese claim that the border between Suriname and Guyana lies on the west bank of the Corantijn.

The German explorer Robert Hermann Schomburgk undertook a scientific expedition to British Guiana from 1835 to 1839 and between 1840 and 1844 he traveled the border rivers on behalf of the British government to determine the borders with the neighboring states of Venezuela and Suriname . He explored the border river Corantijn twice, in 1837 and 1843. In contrast to his first voyage, in 1843 he came to the conclusion that in the southern course the Coeroenie and Koetari should be the main river and thus the Corantijn. As a result, the southern border between Guyana and Suriname is still controversial today.


  • Alexander Franziscus Wilhelmus Bosman: Nieuw Amsterdam in Berbice (Guyana); de planning en bouw van een koloniale stad, 1764–1800 / L. Bosman. Lost, Hilversum 1994, ISBN 90-6550-131-2 .

See also