The French are the first to singe the Spanish beard in the New World. The English, under Queen Elizabeth, were to set the beard aflame. But it is the Dutch in the early seventeenth century who truly scourge the whiskered Spaniard from head to toe. Few indeed hate the Spanish as do the Dutch, and with a vengeance do they follow in the spirit of their Sea Beggar forebearers. It is not, however, the Dutch navy that first batters Spain in the Americas, but private enterprise. Although set up for trade, the Dutch West India Company can hardly expect Spanish cooperation in the quest to intrude on the acquisition of the riches of the Americas. Much of the WIC is therefore composed of privateers—even privateer fleets—in the first half of the seventeenth century. And with a vengeance do they harry the Spaniard and seize his wealth, including a plate fleet, and simultaneously establish colonies on both continents. But wars do not last forever, and as the Dutch seize ground in the Caribbean, North America, Brazil, and Surinam, honest trade with the Spaniard takes over, and the fierce Dutch fighting captains who might have otherwise served the WIC as privateers now serve among the French and English buccaneers in the second half of the century. Only in time of war will some of them abandon their buccaneer brethren and serve the Dutch.

Dutch Factions

Dutch Privateers

In the second half of the seventeenth century, Dutch privateers in the Americas compete with English and French buccaneers for the best Dutch captains. Many would rather remain among the buccaneers even when their homeland is at war with the English or French. Others, such as the renowned Jan Erasmus Reyning, accept Dutch commissions in time of war and serve against their former brethren without hesitation. Given Dutch tolerance, it is not surprising that some Dutch privateers are commanded by captains of mixed race, the most famous being Diego the Mulatto, who first served the Dutch, then, decades later, among the French buccaneers. Dutch privateers, following a long tradition of quasi-naval sea service, are fierce, swashbuckling fighters who are proud of their heritage, often quick to anger and quarrel, and who possess superb skills in seamanship and gunnery.

Dutch Navy

In the first half of the century, it is the captains and admirals of the Dutch West India Company who prove the mettle of the Dutch fighting seaman in the Caribbean— Corneliszoon “Pie de Palo” or “Wooden Leg” Jol, Diego the Mulatto, and Hendrick “Lucifer” Jacobszoon, among many others. Whether officer or seaman, a man of the Dutch navy is a fighter known for close action with great guns, cutlasses, or, in tavern brawls, knives. By the second half of the century, though, it is the true Dutch navy that cruises the Caribbean in time of war. Their admirals are renowned for their fighting ability and tenacity. Jacob Binckes and Abraham Crijnsen (“Admiral Crimson”) among the most notable, these fleet commanders boldly attempt to expand Dutch possessions in the New World—with mixed success. Even the greatest among them, Michiel de Ruyter, makes two Caribbean cruises with similar results. Alas, as the period ends and the eighteenth century begins the Dutch navy is diminished, never to quite equal its seventeenth century heyday when it was a match for any navy in the world.

Dutch Caribbean Militia

The Dutch militias in the Caribbean and South America are largely a product of the Dutch West India Company. They are organized and armed similarly to those of the English and French with a couple of exceptions. First, they are often augmented by small numbers of hired professional soldiers. Second, given the great Dutch tolerance for a variety of religious faiths, especially as compared to other European nations, Dutch militias tend to be much more diverse. In Brazil, Surinam, and the Caribbean, it is not uncommon to have large numbers of Jews serving in the militia, and at least some companies appear to have been entirely Jewish. Dutch militia companies are typically of two sorts, reflecting the practice in the Netherlands: the Burgher Guard composed of social elites, and the common militia. As is ever the case, the effectiveness of militias depends on equipment, training, and how often they are called to arms to fight rather than drill. In Brazil and Surinam, Dutch militia companies are prepared in time of war to engage European enemies and are always prepared to defend against Native Americans protecting themselves from European encroachment. In the Caribbean, the Dutch militia companies seldom see action except in time of war, defending against raids and invasions, or augmenting Dutch expeditionary forces. Dutch militias are generally well-trained, and even merchants take great pride in their service. Long arms range from matchlock muskets and bandoliers with chargers to flintlock muskets and cartouche boxes, depending on the time and place, although the matchlock predominates through much of the century.

Dutch North American Militia
(1624-1664 & 1673-1674)

Much like their brethren in South America, the Dutch militia in the New Netherlands are generally well-armed and well-trained. They divide their duties between defending against possible Native American retaliation or English invasion and making incursions against their Swedish neighbors. Dutch soldiery in New Netherland falls into three categories: hired professionals, the Burgher Guard (composed of local social elites), and the common militia. Most famously led by one-legged Governor Peter Stuyvesant, the New Netherland military companies see action over time in Kieft’s War and the Esopus Wars against Native Americans and in the capture of New Sweden in 1655. Throughout the period, matchlock muskets and bandoliers are the norm, although most local citizens prefer flintlocks. However, the local government fears that flintlocks, which are especially suited for woodland warfare, will fall into Native American hands. Many of the militia infantry probably wear morions in action, as is common among the Dutch infantry at the time.


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