In 1683 the Suriname Society, a subsidiary of the Dutch West India Company and the City of Amsterdam,* was established to develop the new overseas colony of Suriname. The Society sent a varied assembly of goods and people to the new territory. The minutes of the heeren bewindhebberen, or directors of the Suriname Society, for 1683-1684 give an impression of who and what was included on the Atlantic voyage:
AMSTERDAM CRIMINALS – Six prisoners, provided the municipality of Amsterdam paid the costs of their passage. (p. 235)
BOYS – Twelve young “apprentices” to serve the Society for a period of five years, without pay; board and lodging were provided and there was a chance of permanent employment. (p. 274)
BUILDING MATERIALS – Cedar planks, axes and other tools; models of and components for watermills and windmills for assembly locally. (passim)
BUILDING WORKERS – With good communication skills: 'with adequate knowledge and skills to construct mills and sluices and the experience to teach others how to do so.' (passim)
CASH – 36,990 guilders for the Society itself; 10,000 guilders and a further 20,000 guilders to pay overdue salaries of soldiers in 1684.
CREW – The Society’s personnel policy seems to have been highly modern. A complaint on the part of a captain concerning four disobedient sailors was resolved through mediation. Both the captain and the four sailors were interviewed courteously. The sailors were to return to the ship and see out their contract, but the captain was told in no uncertain terms that he should treat his crew more fairly. (p. 165)
FOOD – Food and victuals for the "governor’s table". (passim)
HORSES – To be loaded in Stavanger, Norway. (p. 204)
ORPHAN GIRLS – Due to a shortage of marriageable women in Suriname, twelve girls from the Amsterdam orphanage were dispatched to the colony. **
PASSENGERS – As the Society felt the need to increase the number of white people in the colony, the West India Company was obliged to carry at least twelve white passengers on every ship heading for Suriname. The passage cost 30 guilders. ***
POPISH PRIESTS – Roman Catholics were forbidden in Suriname. Two “popish priests” disguised as soldiers had crossed the Atlantic (on board a ship named, remarkably, St Peter) "to propagate the papacy there". The Society decided to send two additional Protestant ministers to counter this danger. (p. 180)
SHEETS and medicines for the sick. (passim)
SLAVES – The Society discussed a proposal to stow 700 "Negros Slaves" from Angola on the ship, named The Golden Tiger. Although it was officially equipped to carry 500 slaves, the ship was said to be so comfortable and spacious that 700 would certainly fit in. The Society agreed, on condition that in Angola "no delay occurred in loading and sailing "(p. 190, 3 July 1684). Once in Suriname, the slaves were to be sold in pairs at auction. ****
SOLDIERS – Eight to ten soldiers to be recruited from among the French refugees (Huguenots). (p. 165)
TEACHERS – A certain Gideon Florinois (?) applied to become a teacher “in the French language” and visitor to the sick. He asked for an advance of 300 guilders and was given 150 guilders instead (p. 229).
WEAPONS – The first governor of Suriname, Cornelis van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck, was murdered by mutinous soldiers at Fort Zeelandia in 1688. (passim)
*The third partner was the wealthy Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck family. The minutes of the Suriname Society covering the years 1683-1696 have been in the IISH/NEHA archives since 1927. The citations reproduced here are taken from the minutes for 1683-1684. See also The Dutch in the Caribbean World database.
*** Accoord met de Staaten van Zeeland aangegaan, wegens de Koop en Overneminge van de Colonie van Suriname... en andere stukken de Societeyt van Suriname concernerende (Amsterdam 1683) p. 12. Call no KNAW AB E 4960
**** idem p. 11
Text: Margreet Schrevel
The first Governor of Suriname, Cornelis van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck, portrayed by Adriaan Hanneman (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)