Between 2006 and 2010 Asia Maior/Atlas Maior Publishers, in cooperation with the Netherlands National Archives, the Royal Dutch Geographical Society and URU-
Explokart/Utrecht University, produced the Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company*. This made use of authentic 17th- and 18th-century maps and
other visual materials in order to present an overall survey in seven volumes of the cartography and topography of all the areas which at that time came under the charter of
the VOC. During the process of publishing the separate volumes it became increasingly clear from the many reactions from readers that upon completion of the VOC Atlas
project a comparable high-quality publication relating to the Dutch West India Company (WIC, 1621-1791) should follow it.
After all, the Atlas of the VOC covers only half of the enormous area within which Dutch overseas expansion took place at such a remarkable rate from the end of the
sixteenth century. In the same period, within two decades from its founding year 1621, the WIC in the Atlantic region also built up an extensive maritime colonial empire,
which in its, albeit short, heyday was scarcely inferior to that in the East. From New Netherland and the Caribbean Islands to the Gold Coast, from Guyana and Brazil to
Angola, everywhere on the coasts of America and Africa around 1640 the WIC had important possessions and settlements and was a formidable power at sea. And just as
with the VOC, here too the Company’s territorial expansion was accompanied by the development of its own cartographic office, which over the years produced a
voluminous WIC archive of land maps and sea charts, ground-plans and topographical drawings of all kinds. Unfortunately for various reasons in our time much less of this
has been preserved than in the case of the VOC, but as a whole this legacy, also thanks to several important collections overseas, proved during preparatory research in
recent years to be wide and varied enough to allow the compilation of a representative and academically sound historical and cartographic work of reference.
The arrangement of this Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch West India Company in two volumes is not based on a regional subdivision of the charter area, as was the case
with the VOC Atlas, but on the fact that actually there were two Dutch West India Companies. When the Old or First WIC was set up in 1621, it was primarily intended as an
instrument of war in the struggle with the Spanish and Portuguese enemy, for which purpose the States-General authorized it to engage in privateering against ships under
Spanish flag and to capture bases and possessions of the Spanish Crown. Initially the development of its own trading organization was a secondary consideration, but later
this gained more and more importance, with the acquisition of territorial colonies in New Netherland, the Caribbean and Brazil. However, with the end of the war with Spain
in 1648, and some years later also with Portugal (which in the meantime had become independent), this new orientation proved to be insufficient to allow the Company to
continue as a trading enterprise, with the result that finally the First WIC had to be declared bankrupt in 1674.
Immediately after this the New or Second WIC was set up with fresh capital, and this focused its attention exclusively on trade under a monopoly granted by the States-
General for the Atlantic area. It was in this period that the notorious three-way trade system took shape, based on a chain of Company forts on the coast of West Africa,
where in exchange for weapons and European products gold and in particular slaves were acquired for sale in the European colonies in the Americas, and then sugar and
other plantation products were brought back from the Americas to the Dutch Republic. In contrast to the VOC, however, the New WIC kept the monopoly on the Dutch trade
in its charter area for only a relatively short time. The last monopoly was already lifted in 1738, and after that in the later 18th century the Company applied itself mainly to
running the remaining Dutch possessions in Guyana and the Antilles. When the second and final bankruptcy occurred in 1791, all these then fell to the state.
The first volume of the Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch West India Company, Volume I: The Old WIC, 1621-1674*, was published in November 2011. Its focus is to a
large degree on the two major territorial possessions that the WIC acquired in the Americas, namely New Netherland and Dutch Brazil, in addition to chapters on the Dutch
islands in the Antilles, the early settlements on the Wild Coast (Guyana) and Surinam, and the Dutch slave forts on the coast of West Africa. The second, concluding volume
has appeared in November 2012.
Volume II: The New WIC, 1674-1791
This Volume II: The New WIC, 1674-1791 deals exclusively with the cartographic and historical-topographical legacy from the period between c. 1670-1810 relating to the
only four areas in the Atlantic region which completely or partially still came under the Dutch West India Company after 1674. These were the six Dutch islands in the
Antilles (Sint Eustatius, Saba, Sint Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire), the colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice on the Wild Coast (present-day Guyana), the
colony of Surinam, and the chain of Dutch forts and secondary settlements along the Gold Coast (Ghana).
Between these four areas, and also between the various sub-regions within each of them, there occur substantial differences as regards the number and quality of the
surviving maps, plans and topographical depictions. Concerning the Dutch Antilles for example, many of the approximately 140 reproductions included in the Atlas are maps
and plans of Company forts and smaller defence works, in particular those on the main islands of Sint Eustatius and Curaçao. Among other things, this allows for the
presentation in this Atlas volume of a nearly complete survey of the urban development of Curaçao’s fortified capital Willemstad from the late 17th century up to the early
The plantation colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice will be represented by about 170 maps and other depictions in the Atlas. A majority of these are general and
detail maps of the ever-expanding plantation areas along the rivers and in the coastal plains, but in addition a fair number of large-scale project plans and drawings have
been preserved. The latter relate to the various (modest) defence works and to both of the new towns that were designed here as seats of local government in the late 18th
century, Nieuw-Amsterdam on the Berbice (now New Amsterdam, Guyana’s second-largest city) and Stabroek on the Demerara (the present national capital, Georgetown).
A much greater and more varied number of 17th- and 18th-century maps, plans and topographical depictions are still available where Surinam is concerned, which in late
WIC times was by far the most important Dutch colony in the West Indies. Volume II: The New WIC, 1674-1791 will contain some 370 of the most remarkable ones, which
combinedly will present a unique overview of Surinam’s colonial development from its conquest by the Dutch in 1667 until well into the early 19th century. This selection of
course includes many general maps of the colony in its entirety, detail maps of individual plantations, and plans of various forts such as Nieuw-Amsterdam, Leiden,
Braamspunt, Friderici and Purmerend, but also all 146 sheets of the first large-scale cadastral map of ‘the populated and cultivated parts of the Colony of Surinam’
completed by the military engineer J.C. Heneman in 1787-1803, and a complete sequence of all known manuscript town plans of Paramaribo up to the Great Fire of 1821!
Finally, in contrast, the cartographic and pictorial legacy from the New WIC era relating to West Africa is again rather limited, allowing for the reproduction of no more than
about 100 items in the forthcoming second Atlas volume. Foremost among these are a number of general maps and charts of the entire coast roughly between Mauritania
and Angola, within which, needless to say, the emphasis is much on the Gold Coast and the Slave Coast, the only parts where the Company still held permanent
settlements at that time. Furthermore, there are maps, project plans and views of the Dutch forts and smaller posts on this coast, such as Elmina, Coenraadsburg, Nassau,
Crèvecoeur, Amsterdam, Vredenburg and Batenstein, in addition to a few maps made during later incursions into the interior.
The regular list price of Volume II: The New WIC, 1674-1791 is € 295/- per copy exluding P&P. Rates of P&P per copy: Europe EU € 25/-; rest of Europe € 35/-; all other
countries € 75/-. Readers’ orders may be submitted by using the order form on this website.
Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch West India Company, Volume II: The New WIC, 1674-1791. Henk den Heijer, Piet Emmer et al, one-time edition November 2012, max.
1200 individually numbered copies, 472 pp, hard-cover, slipcase, 59 x 41.5 x 6 cm, c. 12 kg, approximately 800 maps, ground-plans and topographical depictions in
facsimile. ISBN/EAN 978 90 74861 00 7. Regular list price € 295/- excluding P&P.
* out of print
Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch West India Company (WIC).
© Rijksmuseum Amsterdam