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This book aims to revise the history of Dutch world trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While studies of Dutch economic expansion tend to focus on the East India Company and its Asian empire, activities in the Atlantic have been neglected. Consequently, their importance has been seriously underestimated. By examining the transit trade in the Caribbean, this thorough and original study presents an alternative view of the Dutch seaborne empire, facing east as well as west.
The Dutch transit trade in the Caribbean revolved around Curaçao and St. Eustatius, small islands that did not have much in common with other colonies in the region. Sugar and tobacco production in St. Eustatius was never a prosperous enterprise and Curaçao proved to be unsuited for the cultivation of cash crops. But enterprising merchants turned these Dutch possessions into entrepôts,local counterparts of Amsterdam, from where a wide variety of European commodities was sent to foreign colonies in exchange for tropical produce. Although outlawed by French, English, and Spanish mercantilist policies, inter-imperial commerce became a booming business, providing the Dutch in the New World with a niche which was much more profitable than historians have realized. The Caribbean contraband trade thus helped the Dutch to survive the loss in the mid-seventeenth century of most of their territorial empire in the Western hemisphere.