The pace at which the Dutch made their presence felt throughout the Atlantic was surprising. Within a period of no more than 50 years, Dutch merchants acquired a powerful position. By the end of the 16th century, Dutch ships were seen in the Caribbean on a regular basis. The availability of salt and – to a somewhat lesser extent – sugar was the main reason for their voyage. They also brought back pearls, hides and tobacco.
The Geoctrooyeerde West-Indische Compagnie (Chartered United West Indian Company), usually referred to as the WIC, was founded in 1621, shortly after the Twelve Years’ Truce with Spain had expired. The main reason for setting up the WIC was the need to give structure to privateering operations. The WIC directed its commercial activities at Africa, Brazil, Surinam, the Antilles and parts of North America. It mostly traded in gold, ivory, cane sugar and slaves. Like the VOC, the company was entitled to wage war against the enemies of the Republic.
From the very beginning, the WIC was not as successful as the VOC. Profits from its commercial activities did not make up for the costs incurred to defend the company against its European competitors. The monopoly simply did not yield enough. Therefore, it is not surprising that the WIC was declared bankrupt in 1674. According to the States General, however, the ‘national interest’ demanded the immediate replacement of the WIC by a new organization. Just like the first one, this second WIC was never to be really successful and it was eventually liquidated in 1791.