Netherlands Antilles History
Source: US State Department
The Arawaks are recognized as the first human civilization to inhabit the Netherlands Antilles. A Spanish expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda claimed the island of Curaçao for Spain in 1499 and it remained under Spanish rule until the Dutch took control in 1634. Curaçao was a strategically important point for Dutch military advances against the Spanish and as the center of the Caribbean slave trade. Curaçao became the seat of the Netherlands Antilles Government in 1954.
With origins similar to Curaçao, Bonaire was captured by the Dutch in 1634, and was a granary for the Dutch East Indian Company until 1791, when the government reclaimed control.
The first settlement in Sint Eustatius was established in 1636 and changed hands between the Dutch, French, and Spanish 22 times in its history. In the 18th century the island became a duty-free port for overburdened colonizers shipping back to the homeland, which propelled it into a major port with rapid population growth that lost momentum after the American-British peace treaty in 1783.
Columbus was the first to sight Saba, but it was the Dutch who colonized the island in 1640 with a party from Sint Eustatius. Because of its difficult terrain, the island's growth progressed slowly, and it remains the least populated island in the Dutch Kingdom.
The Dutch were the first to colonize Sint Maarten in 1631, but within 2 years the Spanish invaded and evacuated the settlers. The Dutch failed in an attempt to regain the island in 1644, but 4 years later the Spanish abandoned the island of their own accord. In 1648 the island was divided between the Dutch and the French; however, complete control of the island was seized numerous times in a series of conflicts. The British became involved as well, taking power for 6-year and 10-year stints. Finally, in 1817, the current partition line between Dutch and French was established. The island flourished under a slave-based plantation economy and the exportation of salt until abolition of slavery in 1863.
In 1845 the Dutch Windward islands united with Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba in a political unit. The abolition of slavery hurt the islands' economy until the 20th century, when oil was discovered off the shores of Venezuela and a refinery was established on Curaçao. In addition, during the same period, an offshore financial sector was created to serve Dutch business interests. Since 1945, the federation of the Netherlands Antilles--Curacao, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten--have been autonomous in internal affairs. Aruba was part of this federation until January 1, 1986, when it gained status apart within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. About 85% of Curacao's population is of African derivation. The remaining 15% is made up of various races and nationalities, including Dutch, Portuguese, North Americans, natives from other Caribbean islands, Latin Americans, Sephardic Jews, Lebanese, and Asians. Roman Catholicism predominates, but several other religions are represented, which include Anglican, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Mormon, Baptist, Islam, and Hindu. The Jewish community is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1634. While faltering economic conditions caused the Netherlands Antilles to experience high rates of migration by citizens to Holland from 1998-2002, this trend has largely been reversed in recent years.
NOTE: The information regarding Netherlands Antilles on this page is re-published from the US State Department. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Netherlands Antilles History information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Netherlands Antilles History should be addressed to the State Department.