Dutch Brazil, also known as New Holland, was the northern portion of the Portuguese colony of Brazil, ruled by the Dutch during the Dutch colonization of the Americas between 1630 and 1654. The main cities of the Nieuw Nederland were the capital Mauritsstad (today Recife), Frederikstadt (João Pessoa), Nieuw Amsterdam (Natal), Saint Louis (São Luís), São Cristóvão, Fortaleza (Fort Schoonenborch), Sirinhaém and Olinda.
From 1630 onward, the Dutch Republic came to control almost half of Brazil's area at the time, with their capital in Recife. The Dutch West India Company (WIC) set up their headquarters in Recife. The governor, Johan Maurits, invited artists and scientists to the colony to help promote Brazil and increase immigration. However, the tide turned against the Dutch when the Portuguese won a significant victory at the Second Battle of Guararapes in 1649. On 26 January 1654, the Dutch surrendered and signed the capitulation, but only as a provisory pact. By May 1654, the Dutch demanded that the Dutch Republic was to be given New Holland back. On 6 August 1661, New Holland was formally ceded to Portugal through the Treaty of The Hague.
While of only transitional importance for the Dutch, this period was of considerable importance in the History of Brazil. Local Portuguese settlers had to oppose the Dutch largely by their own resources, and made use of their knowledge of local conditions; this struggle is counted, in Brazilian historical memory, as laying the seeds of Brazilian nationhood. This period also precipitated a decline in Brazil's sugar industry, as conflict between the Dutch and Portuguese disrupted Brazilian sugar production, amidst rising competition from British, French, and Dutch planters in the Caribbean.
The Low Countries had long been part of the Spanish Empire; however, in 1568 the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) broke out, and the Dutch established the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. A consequence of the war was Dutch raiding of Spanish lands, colonies, and ships. In 1594 Phillip II, who was king both of Spain and of Portugal (1580-1640), gave permission for Dutch ships bound for Brazil to sail together once a year in a fleet of twenty ships. In 1609, the two countries signed a Twelve Years' Truce in which the Dutch Republic was allowed to trade with Portuguese settlements in Brazil, since Portugal was in a dynastic union with Spain from 1580 to 1640. Portugal's small geographic size and small population meant that for its overseas empire it needed "foreign participation in the colonization and commerce of its empire," and the Dutch had played such a role which was mutually beneficial. As part of the truce, the Dutch also agreed to delay the creation of a West India Company, a counterpart to the already existing Dutch East India Company.
By the end of the truce, the Dutch had vastly expanded its trade networks, and gained over half of the carrying trade between Brazil and Europe. There were 29 sugar refineries in the Northern Netherlands by 1622, versus 3 in 1595. In 1621, the twelve-year peace treaty expired and the Dutch West India Company was immediately created. The Dutch–Portuguese War resumed, and through the new company, the Dutch now started to interfere with the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in America.
As part of the Groot Desseyn plan, Admiral Jacob Willekens in December 1623 led the West Indische Compagnie (WIC) to Salvador, which was then the capital of Brazil and the center of a captaincy famous for its sugarcane. The expedition consisted of 26 ships and 3,300 men. They arrived there on May 8, 1624, on which Portuguese Governor Diogo Tristão de Mendonça Furtado surrendered to the Dutch.
However, by April 30, 1625, the Portuguese recaptured the city, with the help of a combined Spanish and Portuguese force, consisting of 52 ships and 12,500 men. The city was to then play a critical role as a base of the Portuguese struggle against the Dutch for the control of Brazil.
In 1628, the seizure of a Spanish silver convoy by Piet Heyn in Matanzas Bay provided the Dutch WIC the funds for another attempt to conquer Brazil at Pernambuco.
In the summer of 1629, the Dutch coveted a newfound interest in obtaining the Brazilian state (captaincy) of Pernambuco, the largest and richest sugar-producing area in the world. The Dutch fleet of 65 ships was led by Hendrick Corneliszoon Loncq; the WIC gained control of Olinda by February 16, 1630, and Recife (the capital of Pernambuco) and António Vaz by March 3.
Matias de Albuquerque, the Portuguese governor, led a strong Portuguese resistance which hindered the Dutch from developing their forts on the lands which they had captured. By 1631, the Dutch left Olinda and tried to gain control of the Fort of Cabedello on Paraíba, the Rio Grande, Rio Formoso, and Cabo de Santo Agostinho. These attempts were also unsuccessful, however.
Still in control of António Vaz and Recife, the Dutch later gained a foothold at Cabo de Santo Agostinho. By 1634 the Dutch controlled the coastline from the Rio Grande do Norte to Pernambuco's Cabo de Santo Agostinho. They still maintained control of the seas as well. By 1635 many Portuguese settlers were choosing Dutch-occupied land over Portuguese-controlled land. The Dutch offered freedom of worship and security of property. In 1635 the Dutch conquered three strongholds of the Portuguese: the towns of Porto Calvo, Arraial do Bom Jesus, and Fort Nazaré on Cabo de Santo Agostinho. These strongholds gave the Dutch increased sugar lands which led to an increase in profit.
In 1637, the WIC gave control of its Brazilian conquests, now called "Nieuw Holland," to Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (John Maurice of Nassau), the great-nephew of William the Silent. Within the year, Johan Maurits captured the Brazilian province of Ceara and sent an expedition to capture the West African trading post of Elmina Castle, which became the capital of the Dutch Gold Coast. In 1641 the Dutch captured the province of Maranhao, meaning that Dutch control now extended across the entire coastline between the Amazon and Sao Francisco Rivers.
Maurits claimed to have always loved Brazil due to its beauty and its people, and under his rule, the colony thrived. His patronage of Dutch Golden Age painters, such as Albert Eckhout, to depict Brazil's richness resulted in works showing different races, landscapes, and still lifes. He organized a form of representative local government by creating municipal councils and rural councils with both Dutch and Brazilian Portuguese members to represent the population.
Through these he began to modernize the country with streets, bridges, and roads in Recife. On the island of António Vaz, he founded the town of Mauritsstad (also known as Mauricia) where he created an astronomic observatory and a meteorological station, which were the first created by Europeans in the Americas.
Under Maurits, protection for Brazilian Jews who had been formerly ostracized was increased. He allowed former Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity to return to their former faith. Non-Catholic Christians, such as Calvinists, were also allowed to practice their faith as part of religious toleration. Furthermore, the Catholic majority in Dutch Brazil was allowed to practice their faith freely, at a time in history in which there was extreme religious conflicts such as the Thirty Year's war between Catholics and Protestants. This was formed into the new law of Dutch Brazil in the peace accord signed after the conquest of the captaincy of Paraiba. The monastic orders of the Franciscans, Carmelites, and Benedictines were quite prominent in the former Portuguese colony. They were also allowed to retain all of their frairies and monasteries and allowed to practice and preach Catholicism among the population.
Although there were Dutch immigrants to Brazil, the majority of the population was Portuguese and Brazilian-born Portuguese, African slaves, and Amerindians, with Dutch rule an overlay on pre-existing social groups. The colony of Dutch Brazil had a difficult time of attracting Dutch colonists to immigrate and colonize in Brazil, as the main attraction of the colony was the extreme riches one could reap from starting a sugar plantation, as it was one of the few major market exporters of sugar to Europe at the time. This would also most likely entail the buying of African slaves, and as such only rich men could afford to start a plantation. There was also very significant risk with border contention and skirmish with the Portuguese from the parts of Brazil still under their control and the nonexistent loyalty of the local Portuguese Brazilians to the Dutch colony. Most of the Dutchmen employed in the Dutch West India Company went back to the Netherlands after they were relieved of duty and did not stay to settle the colony. As such, the Dutch were a ruling minority with a Portuguese and Brazilian-born Portuguese population.
The Dutch settlers were divided into two separate groups, the first of which was known as “Dienaren” (servants). Dienaren were soldiers, bureaucrats, and Calvinist ministers employed by the WIC.
Vrijburghers (freemen) – or Vrijluiden – were the second group of Dutch settlers who did not fit into the category of Dienaaren. The Vrijburghers were mostly ex-soldiers formerly employed by the WIC but who then began to settle down as farmers or engenho lords. Others who didn't fit the Vrijburgher or Dienaren categories included Dutch who left the Netherlands to find a new life in Nieuw Holland as traders. This group was the most economically important in Nieuw Holland since most trade was under their control.
In 1640, John, 8th Duke of Braganza declared Portuguese independence from Spain, ending the six decade-long Iberian Union. As a result, the threat of further Spanish intervention against Dutch Brazil declined, since Brazil was originally and had remained a Portuguese colony. In 1641-1642 the new Portuguese regime concluded a truce with the Dutch, temporarily ending hostilities, but the Dutch remained in Brazil. In 1643 Johan Maurits equipped the expedition of Hendrik Brouwer that unsuccessfully attempted to establish an outpost in southern Chile. In 1644, the WIC recalled Johan Maurits to Europe in an attempt to cut military expenditures, following the cession of hostilities.
A year after Maurits was summoned back by the WIC board, the WIC faced a major uprising of Portuguese planters on June 1645. The Portuguese planters around Pernambuco had never fully accepted Dutch rule, and had also resented the high interest rates charged by Dutch moneylenders for loans to rebuild their plantations following the initial Dutch conquest. In August, the planters revolted and prevailed over Dutch forces in a minor battle fought outside Recife, effectively ending Dutch control over the colony. That year, the Portuguese gained Várzea, Sirinhaém, Pontal de Nazaré, the Fort of Porto Calvo, and Fort Maurits. By 1646, the WIC only controlled four toeholds along the Brazilian coast, chief among them being Recife.
In the spring of 1646, the Dutch sent a relief expedition to Recife consisting of 20 ships with 2000 men, temporarily forestalling the fall of the city. Back in Europe, the collapse of Dutch Brazil accelerated Dutch efforts to end its longstanding conflict with Spain, the Eighty Years' War. In August 1647, representatives from the Dutch province of Zeeland (the final holdout against peace with Spain) acquiesced to the Peace of Munster ending the war with Spain. In return, Zeeland obtained promises from the other Dutch provinces to support a second, larger relief expedition to reconquer Brazil. The expedition, consisting of 41 ships with 6000 men, set sail on December 26, 1647.
In Brazil, the Dutch had already abandoned Itamaracá on December 13, 1647. The new expeditionary force arrived late at Recife, with many of its soldiers either dead or mutinous from lack of pay. On April 1648, the Portuguese routed the expeditionary force at the First Battle of Guararapes, fought outside Recife. The Portuguese had sent an armada of 84 ships, including 18 warships to recapture Recife. On February 1649, the Portuguese again routed the Dutch at the Second Battle of Guararapes.
The Reconquest of Recife was a military engagement between the Portuguese forces under Francisco Barreto de Meneses and the Dutch forces of Captain Walter Van Loo. After the Dutch defeats at Guararapes, their surviving men, as well as other garrisons of New Holland, joined in the area of Recife in order to make a last stand. However, after fierce fighting, the Portuguese victoriously entered the city and the remaining Dutch were ousted from Brazil.
The Dutch finally lost control of Recife on January 28, 1654, leaving to the Portuguese their colony of Brazil and putting an end to Nieuw Netherlands.
In the aftermath of the Dutch occupation, Portuguese settled scores with Amerindians who had supported the Dutch. There were tensions between Portuguese who had fled the area under occupation and those who had lived under Dutch occupation. The returnees attempted to litigate so as to regain the properties they had abandoned, which in this sugar-producing area included sugar mills and other buildings, as well as cane fields. The litigation dragged on for years.
The conflict in Brazil's northeast had severe economic consequences. Both sides had practiced a scorched earth policy that disrupted sugar production, and the war had diverted Portuguese funds from being invested in the colonial economy. After the war, Portuguese authorities were forced to spend their tax revenues on rebuilding Recife. The sugar industry in Pernambuco never fully recovered from the Dutch occupation, being surpassed by sugar production in Bahia.
Meanwhile, the British, French, and Dutch Caribbean had become a major competitor to Brazilian sugar due to rising sugar prices in the 1630s and 1640s. After the WIC evacuated Pernambuco, the Dutch brought their expertise and capital to the Caribbean instead. In the 1630s, Brazil provided 80% of the sugar sold in London, while it only provided 10% by 1690. The Portuguese colony of Brazil did not recover economically until the discovery of gold in southern Brazil during the 18th century.
The Dutch period in Brazil was "a historical parenthesis with few lasting traces" in the social sphere. That said, Dutch artistic production in Brazil left an important visual record of the people and places in the early seventeenth century.
Seven years after the surrender of Recife, a peace treaty was organized between the Dutch Republic and Portugal. The Treaty of The Hague (1661) was signed on August 6, 1661, and it demanded that the Portuguese would pay 4 million réis over the span of 16 years in order to help the Dutch recover from the loss of Brazil.