Recife dos Holandeses and Dutch Invasion in Brazil

Maurício de Nassau - Recife dos Holandeses
Maurício de Nassau – Recife dos Holandeses

Recife dos Holandeses began with the Dutch invasion that was part of the Netherlands (Netherlands) project to occupy and manage the Brazilian Northeast through the Dutch West India Company.

In 1624, the Dutch had already created the West India Company and initiated plans for the expansion of their domains overseas in Africa and America, as the East India Company achieved, at that time, relative commercial success in Asia.

But how to conquer places already occupied and colonized by the Portuguese and Spanish, even more so at the time of the Iberian Union?

The way was to use force. And so the Netherlands managed for approximately a year to control Salvador, then capital of Brazil.

For the Dutch, the important thing was to smuggle slaves to the plantations of the Northeast and eliminate the middlemen – in this case, the Iberians – in the sugar trade.

map of the coast of Brazil from 1665
“Paskaert van Brasilia van Pernambuco tot C. de S. Antonio”, Doncker, Henrick – O Rio da Prata. Numerous place names of rivers, capes, points and islands line the coast. The map is adorned with rhumb lines, a compass rose, two sailboats, and a decorative title cartouche flanked by two explorers with navigational tools.

Expelled by the Jornada dos Vassalos in 1625, the Dutch joined forces for five years and in 1630 conquered Olinda and Recife.

And this is where we start our text, talking about the Dutch influence in the region in twenty-four years of domination.

Conquering Olinda, after Recife: The lack of Portuguese defenses was decisive for the Dutch success.

History of the Dutch Invasion in Recife

In February 1630 (in 1654 the Dutch left Brazil for good), 56 Dutch ships with 3780 crew and 3500 soldiers commanded by Diederik van Waerdenburch arrived in Olinda.

They quickly took the city, as there was not much Portuguese resistance available.

Afterwards, they headed for Recife and after also conquering the city, they were reinforced by around 6 men sent to help defend the conquered area and expand the domains. But the Portuguese response did not take long.

Matias de Albuquerque, brother of donee Duarte de Albuquerque Coelho – the Count of Pernambuco – organized an offensive against the Dutch the following year, supported by a fleet of 23 Spanish and Portuguese ships.

Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen
Mauritius of Nassau

His greatest merit was knowing how to use the support of the natives and their guerrilla tactics to expel the Dutch from Olinda, who chose to leave the city and concentrate all their defense in Recife.

By controlling Recife, the Dutch began to traffic slaves brought from Africa and sell them to the mill owners of Pernambuco – captaincy that was the main producer of sugar and tobacco at the time -, in addition to trading with mills in the region, since the Recife port was the main exit port for Pernambuco products.

The dominated territory even had its own flag, as the Dutch considered the conquered regions as the “New Holland”.

After this setback and a time without being able to leave Recife, the Dutch tried to conquer nearby coastal regions – in Paraíba in 1634 and in Rio Grande do Norte in 1635 – and had relative success, mainly with the help of Domingos Calabar, who is considered by many as a traitor to the Portuguese crown when reporting to the Dutch several details of the cities and fortifications where the Portuguese defended themselves.

Old map of Pernambuco including Itamaracá, 1643
Map of Pernambuco including Itamaracá, 1643

What many do not consider is that the region's sugar producers themselves started to like the Dutch domination, as there was an almost immediate injection of capital into the business, in addition to the more liberal form of Dutch negotiation being more profitable for the producers.

"Accuratissima Brasiliae Tabula", Hondius, Henricus
“Accuratissima Brasiliae Tabula”, Hondius, Henricus – Magnificent representation of Brazil with the north oriented to the right by a beautiful compass rose. The map is inserted with two regions of Dutch interest in the area: Baja de Todos los Sanctos and Pernambuco. The interior is devoid of geographic information, save for largely imaginary rivers and forests. Instead, the region is filled with dramatic scenes of indigenous peoples, including warfare and cannibalism, and some curious wild animals. The hereditary captaincies established by the Portuguese are marked along the coast. The decorative title cartouche is flanked by a native family and the seas are adorned with sailboats, a sea monster and a compass rose. French text on verso, published 1639-49.

In 1637, aiming at the definitive administrative consolidation of the region, the Netherlands sent to Brazil the one who would become the main character in this occupation, Count Maurício de Nassau.

The Capital of Dutch Brazil

Nassau made important changes in “New Holland”

Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, better known to Brazilians as Maurício de Nassau, held the position of governor, captain and admiral general of Brazil on behalf of the West India Company.

Skilled negotiator, he always sought to reconcile Dutch interests with local merchants and planters, regardless of their nationality, and end disputes with the Portuguese, since the struggles that were still being fought, even if isolated, caused so much damage to local producers as well as the Dutch.

For this Nassau ordered that new territories be occupied. Thus, parts of Sergipe and Maranhão were conquered by the Dutch.

view of Recife and Olinda XNUMXth century
view of Recife and Olinda XNUMXth century

The Count also created the Chamber of Escabinos, in the mold of the Municipal Chambers at the time, with the function of legislating and also judging cases in the first instance still in the colony.

But it was in the urban, cultural and religious plan that Nassau left his name marked forever in Brazil.

Dutch Fortifications - Albernaz Charter of 1640
Dutch Fortifications – Albernaz Charter of 1640

– Urbanization of Recife

The design of the Mauritstad, or “City of Mauritius”, which today encompasses the neighborhoods of Santo Antônio and São José, in Recife, is designed by architect Pieter Post.

Bridges, canals, dikes and buildings were built, as well as the Freeburg Palace, seat of Nassau's government.

Map of Recife in Brazil by the Dutch
Map of Recife in Brazil by the Dutch

The botanical garden, the natural museum and the astronomical observatory, the first in America, were also built.

Other architects and engineers helped in Recife's urbanization, focusing mainly on basic sanitation. Nassau also ordered the creation of a garbage collection service and a group of firefighters.

Also from this period were the construction of several forts by the sea, such as Forte do Brum and Forte Orange, aimed at defending the occupied areas.

– Cultural expedition

Nassau brought a number of scientists to Brazil, including physician Willem Piso and mathematician, astronomer and naturalist Georg Marcgraf, who studied the local fauna, flora and diseases.

The Historia Naturalis Brasiliae belongs to the two, which can be considered the first scientific work on Brazilian nature.

Map of the North Coast of Pernambuco and the South Coast of Paraíba - by João Teixeira - 1640
Olinda is represented on the left side. At that time, the Captaincy of Pernambuco was occupied by the Dutch.

Also on the delegation were landscape artist Frans Post – brother of architect Pieter Post – and portrait artist Albert Eckhout.

The painting on the side, “African Woman”, is by Eckhout, who also painted several canvases depicting the African natives and slaves who lived in the region.

This is a rare and fascinating aerial view of Olinda and the coast of Pernambuco based on the work of Hessel Gerritsz, who is credited in the title. It illustrates the attack and capture of the Portuguese settlement of Olinda by a Dutch fleet under the command of Hendrick Corneliszoon Loncq in 1630. It was published in Emmanuel van Meteren's History of Holland.
This is a rare and fascinating aerial view of Olinda and the coast of Pernambuco based on the work of Hessel Gerritsz, who is credited in the title. It illustrates the attack and capture of the Portuguese settlement of Olinda by a Dutch fleet under the command of Hendrick Corneliszoon Loncq in 1630. It was published in Emmanuel van Meteren's History of Holland.

The expedition sponsored by Nassau also featured cartographer Cornelis Golijath and humanist Caspar Barlaeus.

It is unnecessary to stay here enumerating the importance of the coming of these scientists and artists to Brazil at a time when the European metropolis already enjoyed a relative cultural advance while the colonies received very little attention in these aspects.

Olinda PE in 1671
Arx Principis Guiljelmi, Montanus, Arnoldus – The work of Montanus was perhaps the greatest illustrated book on the New World produced in the 1639th century. It contained over one hundred beautifully engraved plates, views, and maps of North and South America. The plaques vividly depict forts, festivals, occupations, Dutch fleets, battles, religious rites and customs of the native inhabitants. This important work has been translated into German by Olivier Dapper and into English by John Ogilby. Several of the plates were later acquired by Pierre Vander Aa. Impressive view of the Dutch William Fort on the Afagados River with its central church and strong palisades. Olindia is located on a hill in the background. Fort Príncipe Guilherme was part of the Dutch defenses of Pernambuco. This detailed engraving was inspired by a XNUMX painting by the celebrated Dutch painter Frans Post.

Much important information about our country during the colonial period was produced by this and other expeditions that brought European scholars to Brazil.

Unlike the first Portuguese who came to Brazil to settle and produce in the Hereditary Captaincies, the Dutch not only expected to trade with the people who lived here, but also to develop the conquered region.

Painting by Hassel Gerritsz on the invasion of Salvador in 1624
Painting by Hassel Gerritsz on the invasion of Salvador in 1624

– religious tolerance

Nassau was a Calvinist and even so he made no restrictions on the Catholicism already ingrained in the region by the Portuguese. In addition, he encouraged the arrival of Jews of Portuguese origin who were refugees in the Netherlands to “New Holland”.

Even with the guarantee of freedom of religion by the government of Nassau, there was a certain anti-Semitism in the region, motivated mainly by the Portuguese. In Recife, the first synagogue in the Americas was founded, the Kahal Zur Israel.

Kahal-Zur Israel Synagogue in Recife PE
Kahal-Zur Israel Synagogue in Recife PE

For those who are more interested in knowing about the Dutch contributions, I would advise a visit to the Recife City Hall website, which contains other interesting data.

But when reading about the time when the Dutch controlled a part of Brazilian territory, the thought immediately comes to mind: "What would these regions be like today if the Netherlands controlled them for a longer time?"

Unfortunately, we can only imagine, as Nassau left the administration of Recife in 1644, dissatisfied with the interference of the West India Company in the territory.

The new administrators who came to Brazil ended up causing the Pernambuco Insurrection.

The "War of Divine Light"

One off to the Dutch!

A certain bearded German once said that everything in history can be summed up in economic – or production – relations. Keeping the due proportions, we can say that Brazilian merchants and producers provoked the Pernambuco Insurrection because they began to lose money.

The Dutch who replaced Nassau in the administration of Nova Holanda practically tore up the count's political will and began to collect from the sugarcane producers the debts incurred with the Dutch.

Not that the producers didn't pay, but apparently everything was charged at a time when the weather didn't help much and the sugarcane and tobacco harvest was very weak, causing losses for both sides.

The main leaders who fought against the Dutch were: the plantation owner João Fernandes Vieira; soldier André Vidal de Negreiros – named Master-in-Field during the combats – and soldier Antonio Dias Cardoso, now patron of the 1st Special Forces Battalion of the Brazilian Army; the native Felipe Camarão, better known as Potiguaçu, who led several guerrilla actions; and black Henrique Dias, who commanded several former slaves who fought together with the Portuguese and Brazilians for the region's liberation.

The Pernambucana Insurrection is considered by traditional Brazilian military historiography as the first patriotic movement in Brazil and featured very violent struggles, such as the Battle of Guararapes, portrayed in the painting above, by Victor Meirelles, painted only in 1789.

The Guararapes War, Painting by Victor Meirelles, painted in 1879.
Guararapes War

In the year 1654 the Dutch definitively left Brazil, despite the fact that a definitive peace treaty was only signed in 1661, after part of the Dutch fleet threatened Lisbon, demanding payment of compensation for the loss of the territories.

Dutch Reef

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