Aruba nature shot of the north coast near Alto Vista

The “quiet” years of Aruba (1639 – 1700); incidents worth mentioning

In the era that Aruba was property of the WIC, from a history timeline perspective, it was quite unremarkable. That does not mean that nothing noteworthy happened. There is not much documentation to be found on these “forgotten” years. Nevertheless, here are some chapters in Aruba’s history worth telling. Even though one tends to forget, it is interesting to realise that during this Period The Dutch were at war with the Spanish, till 1648, the Portuguese and with the English. The latter was called the Anglo-Dutch wars of 1652-1654 and 1665-1667. In the end it resulted in the Dutch losing New Amsterdam (New York) to the English (but getting Surinam in return).

The first economic activity on Aruba – Export to New Amsterdam

Of the 3 islands, Curacao was the most important one. And Aruba was always under the shadow of its larger sister Island. Nevertheless, the Dutch WIC started breeding horses on Aruba, that they would export. Remarkably the first export of Aruban horses was to New Amsterdam, current New York. I say this, because for the past decades from the late 1980’s up to now, New York is still the number 1 source market for Aruba’s tourism industry.

The export endeavour was not successful though. There is not much of this history to be found. There is a report however, of a ship called “De Eyckenboom” that transported 20 slaves from Curacao and 50 horses from Aruba to New Amsterdam. Unfortunately half of the horses perished during the journey and the rest arrived to weak to even stand on their own feet. The original documentation, a letter from the Governor Peter Stuyvesant dated June 25 1660, mentioning this can be found HERE. Four years after the journey of “De Eyckenboom” the British captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch, and changed the name to New York.

Letter from Peter Stuyvesant to the Directors of the WIC June 25 1660

Pirates of The Caribbean…..on Aruba

The Dutch were engaged in various wars, such as the Franco Dutch war and the 4 Anglo Dutch wars. During these periods there were many privateers or buccaneers, also known as pirates, roaming the sees between the Caribbean islands. These were seamen and sailors who would attack military and merchant vessels of a specific country with the blessing of another one (privateering). Jan Erasmus Reining, a Dutch buccaneer was one of them. He even served under the more famous Henry Morgan & Rock Brasiliano. Reyning’s visit to Aruba is documented. See it HERE on page 237. He landed on Aruba in 1677, fleeing from St. Maarten after being defeated by French Admiral Duc d’Estrées. His fame stems from the book: The Devils Anarchy; The very remarkable travels of Jan Erasmus Reyning, Buccaneer. Or as the book is called in Dutch: “Zeer aanmerkelijke reysen gedaan door Jan Erasmus Reyning”.

Zeer aanmerkelijke reysen gedaan door Jan Erasmus Reining

These visits from pirates have also found their way into Aruba’s folklore. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about fishermen seeing ghosts at night. These fishermen would tie up and hide their boats between mangroves or other vegetation on and near the beaches. Legend has it that there have been pirates who buried treasure on Aruba, and cut off the head of one of their crew and buried the body and head with the treasure to guard it.  I don’t know if it is true, but I hope that someday someone does find treasure dating back to these years.

Aruba is still Spanish property…..or is it Dutch?

During the 80 years war with Spain, the Dutch captured Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire for their salt pans and strategic positions off the coast of the mainland. This happened without fierce battles or dramatic events. It happened so swiftly and quiet that the Spaniards did not realise they lost the Islands. Proof of this is the fact that it was not until almost 100 years later, that the then Spanish ambassador to the Dutch Republic, Vizconde de Herreria, asked an official status of specifically Aruba. The Dutch replied that they did not understand the fuss. Aruba has been theirs for a long time already. The original letter still exists in the archives of Simancas, Spain.

So the take-away on our Aruba roots here are:

  • Aruba was property of the WIC and not really part of the Dutch “7 province republic”
  • The population consisted of Arawak Indians that emigrated from the mainland &     a few Europeans employed by the WIC
  • Aruba was an “experimental” ranch for breeding goats and horses
  • Aruba was spared much of the violence and battles of the many wars waging in that period




Aruba’s third era. The Dutch are coming. (1590 – 1623)

Last time we checked Aruba was part of Spain, the biggest superpower in the world at that point in time. Besides some possible pirate and buccaneer attacks, nothing very remarkable happened. According to most documentation Aruba became part of The Netherlands somewhere around 1636. But before we rush through, let’s go back and find out what has led to this development.

The Netherlands as we know it now, did not exist back in the 1600’s. In that period they were part of the Spanish kingdom in Europe. I use “they” because The Netherlands were a group of regions (nowadays provinces): Holland, Friesland, Groningen, Utrecht, Zeeland, Gelderland and Overijsel. These regions started a rebellion around 1568 which started the “80 years war”. The war ended in 1648, with the birth of a new nation: The Republic of the Netherlands. Important to note is that the Dutch Kingdom did not yet exist. This would come later. It was during the war however, that in The Netherlands a company was founded, which would change the course of Aruba’s history. The “Verenigde West-Indische Compagnie”, or WIC in short. One of the purposes of the WIC was to wage war and piracy against Spain, in an attempt to weaken its economy and therefore means to wage war. Another purpose was to engage in maritime commerce and get a piece of the pie in the Americas. One of their first engagements was in Brazil. However, they expanded to more regions, which included the lesser Antilles, and …Aruba.


One of the main endeavours of the WIC men was looking for salt. This was a key ingredient for their haring (fish) exports, which was big business. Around 1590, the Dutch from the regions Holland and Zeeland wandered the Caribbean looking for the white gold. A major location for this was the coastal area of Punta de Araya. This large area was not well guarded by the Spanish, so the Dutch could harvest salt for a long time without any problems. The Spaniards fought back and in 1623 the Dutch were expelled from Punta Araya. Till this day, you can visit the Spanish fort built for just this purpose.castilloaraya_1200x800c


If you scroll and zoom out on the following map, you can see how vast the salt-pans were and still are.

This forced the Dutch to look for alternative locations to harvest salt. This is when they started considering the Islands of Curacao, Bonaire,  St. Maarten and Aruba. Besides salt, the Islands were also of strategic importance for a couple of reasons:

  • they were excellent bases for piracy against Spanish merchant ships (especially laden with gold and silver)
  • the Dutch wanted a piece of the Caribbean pie, which was being dominated by the British and the French

We have to remember, the 7 Dutch regions were still at war with Spain, as part of the 80 year war. The Kingdom of The Netherlands still did not exist.

The take-away here is that Aruba became Dutch because of:

  • the need for salt,
  • piracy bases
  • the prestige race of colonising the Caribbean Islands
  • The war with Spain

Additional sources:

  • Nederlanders overzee; Leonard Blusse & Jaap de Moor; ISBN 90 6135 361 0 
  • First Forts: Essays on the Archaeology of Proto-colonial Fortifications; edited by Eric Klingelhofer; ISBN 978 90 04 18754 2