Charter of the Dutch West India Company
The States General of the United Netherlands to all who shall see these presents or hear them read, greeting, Be it known, that we, noticing that the prosperity of this country and the welfare of its inhabitants consist principally in navigation and trade, which from time immemorial has been carried on by this country with good fortune and great blessing with all countries and kingdoms; and desiring that the aforesaid inhabitants not only be maintained in their former navigation, commerce and trade, but also that their commerce may be increased as much as possible, especially in conformity with the treaties, alliances, conventions and covenants concerning commerce and navigation formerly made with other princes, republics and nations, which we intend shall be punctually kept and observed in all their parts; and finding by experience that without the common help, aid and means of a general company, no profitable business can be carried on, protected and maintained in the parts hereafter designated on account of the great risk from pirates, extortions and the like, which are incurred on such long and distant voyages; we, therefore, many other and different pregnant reasons and considerations also us thereunto moving, after mature deliberation of Council, and for very pressing causes, have resolved that the navigation, trade and commerce in the West Indies, Africa and other countries hereafter designated, shall henceforth not be carried on otherwise than with the common united strength of the merchants and inhabitants of this country and that to this end there shall he established a general company which, on account of our great love for the common weal and in order to conserve the trade and welfare of the inhabitants of this country, we will maintain and strengthen with our help, favor and assistance, so far as the present state and condition of this country will in any way admit, and for that purpose furnish with a proper charter and endow with the privileges and exemptions hereafter enumerated, to wit:
That for the period of twenty-four years no native or inhabitant of this country shall be permitted, except in the name of this United Company, from these United Netherlands nor even from any place outside of them, to sail to or trade with the coasts and countries of Africa, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Cape of Good Hope; nor to or with the countries of America, or the West Indies, beginning at the south end of Terra Nova, through the Straits of Magellan, le Maire, and other straits and passages situated thereabouts, to the Strait of Anjan, neither on the North Sea nor on the South Sea, nor to or with any islands situated on the one side or the other, or between both; nor to or with the Australian or South Lands, extending and lying between the two meridians of the Cape of Good Hope in the east, and of the east end of New Guinea in the west, inclusive. And whoever shall venture, without the consent of this Company, to sail to or to traffic with any places within the aforesaid limits granted to this Company, shall forfeit the ships and goods which shall be found trading upon the aforesaid coasts and lands, the which in the name of the aforesaid Company may immediately and everywhere be 'attached, seized and held as confiscated property for the behoof of the same. And in case such ship or goods shall have been sold or taken to other countries or ports, the owners and partners may be levied on for the value of those ships and goods; except only, that they, who before the date of this charter shall have sailed from these or other countries to any of the aforesaid coasts, shall be permitted to continue their trade till they have sold their goods and come back to this country, or otherwise until the expiration of their charter if they have been granted any before this date, and no longer. Provided, that after the first of July, sixteen hundred and twenty-one, the day and time of the commencement of this charter, no one shall be permitted to send any ships or goods to the places comprehended in this charter even if this Company should not be fully organized before that date; but proper provision shall be made against those who knowingly and fraudulently seek to frustrate our good intentions for the common weal; it being understood that the salt trade at Ponte del Ré may be continued according to the conditions and instructions already given, or to be given by us respecting it, without being in any way restricted by this charter.
That further the aforesaid Company, in our name and by our authority, within the limits hereinbefore set forth, shall have power to make contracts, leagues and alliances with the princes and natives of the countries therein comprised also to build any fortresses and strongholds there; to appoint, transfer, discharge and replace governors, troops and officers of justice and for other necessary services, for the preservation of the places, the maintenance of good order, police and justice, in general for the furtherance of trade, as according to circumstances they shall see fit; moreover, they may promote the settlement of fertile and uninhabited districts, and do all that the service of this country and the profit and increase of trade shall require. And the [directors] of the Company shall regularly communicate to us and transmit such contracts and alliances as they shall have made with the aforesaid princes and nations, likewise [report] the situation of the fortresses, strongholds and settlements by them begun.
Provided that when they have chosen a governor general and prepared instructions for him, the same must be approved, and the commission given by us; and further, that such governor general, as also other vice governors, commanders and officers, shall be obliged to take the oath of allegiance to us and also to the Company.
And if the aforesaid Company in any of the aforesaid places be cheated under the pretense of friendship or badly treated, or if any money or goods entrusted by them be kept without their receiving restitution or payment, they may according to circumstances and the best of their ability cause the loss to be made good by all such means as can properly be employed.
And as it will also be necessary for the establishment, security and defense of this trade to take some troops along, we will, according to the condition of the country and the situation of affairs, furnish the said Company with such troops for field and garrison duty as shall be necessary, provided they be paid and supported by the Company.
Which troops, besides the oath already taken to us and to his Excellency, shall swear to obey the commands of the said Company and to help promote their interests to the utmost of their ability.
That the provosts of the Company on shore shall have power to apprehend any soldiers or other of the military that have enlisted in the service of the aforesaid Company and to confine them on board ship in whatever city, place or jurisdiction of this country they may be found; provided the provosts first inform the officers and magistrates of the cities and places where this occurs.
That we will not take any ships, ordnance or ammunition belonging to the Company, for the use of this country, except with the consent of the said Company.
We have further granted, privileged and conceded this Company, and do hereby grant and concede, that they may pass freely with all their ships and goods without paying toll to any of the United Provinces and that they may use this freedom in the same manner as the free inhabitants of the cities of this country enjoy their freedom, notwithstanding some persons who are not free should be members of this Company.
That all the goods which this Company during the eight next ensuing years shall carry out of this country to the West Indies and Africa, and other places comprised within the aforesaid limits, and those which they shall bring thence into this country shall be exempt from outgoing and ingoing convoy charges; provided, that if at the expiration of the aforesaid eight years, the state and condition of this country will not admit of this eight years' freedom's continuing for another term of years, then outgoing convoy charges and license fees on the said goods and merchandise coming from the places mentioned in this charter and again exported from this country, during the whole term of this charter shall not be rated higher by us than they are rated at present; unless we should be again engaged in war, in which case all the aforesaid goods and merchandises shall not be rated higher by us than they were in the last list in time of war.
And in order that this Company may have a good government, to the greatest profit and satisfaction of all the participants, we have ordained that the said government shall be vested in five Chambers of directors — one at Amsterdam which shall have the management of four ninths; one Chamber in Zealand, of two ninths; one Chamber on the Maze, of one ninth; one Chamber in the Noorder-quartier; of one ninth; and the fifth Chamber in Friesland together with Stadt ende Landen, also of one ninth — upon the conditions set forth in the register of our resolutions and the agreement drawn up respecting it. And the provinces in which there are no Chambers shall be accommodated with as many directors, divided among the respective Chambers, as the number of hundred thousand guilders which they shall furnish to the Company.
That the Chamber of Amsterdam shall consist of twenty directors; the Chamber of Zealand of twelve; the Chambers of the Maze and of the Noorder-quartier each of fourteen; and the Chamber of Friesland together with Stadt ende Landen also of fourteen directors. If it shall hereafter appear that this work can not be carried on without a greater number of persons, then more may be added after notice to the Nineteen and our approbation, but not otherwise.
And the States of the respective united provinces are authorized to make such regulations, either for their Noble Mightinesses' ordinary deputies or for the magistrates of the cities of their province, concerning the registration of the participants and the election of directors, as they think proper, according to the constitution of their province; provided that no person in the Chamber of Amsterdam shall be chosen a director who shall not in his own name participate in the Company for the sum of six thousand guilders; in the Chamber of Zealand for four thousand guilders; and in the Chambers of the Maze, of the Noorder-quartier. and of Friesland, with Stadt ende Landen, for the like sum of four thousand guilders.
That the first directors shall serve for the term of six years and that at the expiration of the said term, first one third part of the number of directors, selected by lot, shall be changed; and two years after a like third part; and again after two years, the last third part; and thenceforth successively, the oldest in the service shall be retired; and in the place of [each] retiring director or of such as shall at any time die, or for other reason leave a vacancy, three others shall be nominated by the directors, both remaining and retiring, together with those chief participants who in person and at their own expense shall care to join them, from which number the aforesaid respective provinces, deputies or magistrates, shall elect new directors and successively supply the vacancies; and they shall be considered chief participants who in their own name participate for the same amount as the respective directors.
That the accounts of the equipment and fitting out of the ships, with their appurtenances, shall be rendered three months after the departure of the ships and that one month thereafter copies shall be sent to us and to the respective Chambers; and the Chambers shall (as often as we see fit or they are requested by the [other] Chambers) send to us and to each other an account of the returns and also of the sales of the same.
That every six years a general accounting shall be made of all outfits and returns, as also of all gains and losses of the Company, to wit, one relating to trade and one relating to war, each separate; which accounts shall be rendered publicly, notices being previously posted, to the end that every one who is interested may attend the hearing of the said accounts; and if before the expiration of the seventh year the accounts are not rendered in the manner aforesaid, the directors shall forfeit their commissions, which shall be appropriated to the use of the poor, and they shall nevertheless be held to render their accounts as aforesaid within such time and under such penalty as shall be fixed by us respecting the delinquents. And none the less a dividend shall meantime be declared from the profits of the trade as often as it shall be found that ten per cent has been gained.
No one shall be permitted during the continuance of this charter to withdraw his capital or sums advanced from this Company; nor shall any new participants be admitted. If at the expiration of twenty-four years it shall be judged well to continue this Company or to erect a new one, a final accounting and estimate shall be made by the Nineteen, with our approval, of all that belongs to the Company, and also of their necessary expenses, and after the aforesaid settlement and estimate any one may withdraw his money or, in proportion thereof, in whole or in part, continue and share in the succeeding Company; and the succeeding Company shall in such case take the remainder, which shall be found according to the accounting and estimate, and pay the participants who do not think fit to continue in the Company their share at such times at the Nineteen, with our knowledge and approbation, shall think proper.
That so often as it shall be necessary to have a general Assembly of the aforesaid Chambers, it shall be by Nineteen persons, of whom eight shall come from the Chamber of Amsterdam, four from Zealand, two from the Maze, two from the Noorderquartier, two from Friesland and Stadt ende Landen; provided, that the nineteenth person, or so many more as we shall at any time think fit, shall be deputed by us for the purpose of helping to direct the affairs of the Company in the aforesaid Assembly.
By which general Assembly of the aforesaid Chambers, all matters relating to this Company shall be considered and decided; provided, that in matters of war, our approbation of their resolution shall be asked.
The aforesaid general Assembly being summoned, it shall meet, whenever they are about to fit out, to resolve how many ships they shall send to each place for the account of the Company in general, and no individual Chamber shall be permitted to undertake anything not included in the aforesaid common resolution but [all] shall be bound to carry it into effect and to execute it. And if any Chamber should fail to comply with the common resolution, or be found to act in violation thereof, we have authorized, and by these presents do authorize, the said Assembly immediately to cause reparation to be made for such failure or violation, wherein, on request, we will assist them.
The said general Assembly shall be held the first six years in the city of Amsterdam, and the following two years in Zealand; and so on alternately in the aforesaid two places.
The directors who by commission of the Company shall go from home to attend the aforesaid Assembly or otherwise, shall have for their expenses and daily allowance four guilders a day, besides boat and stage fare; it being understood that those who go from one city to another to attend the meetings of the Chambers as directors and managers shall receive no allowance or traveling expenses at the charge of the Company.
And if it should happen that in the aforesaid general Assembly any weighty matter came before them, wherein they could not agree, or even in which one side should scruple to impose its decision on the other, the same shall be left to our decision; and whatever shall be determined upon shall be followed and carried into execution.
And all the inhabitants of this country, and also of other countries, shall be notified by public posting of notices within the month after the date hereof that they may be admitted into this Company during five months from the first of July, this year, sixteen hundred and twenty-one, and that they may pay the money they wish to invest in three payments; to wit, one third at the expiration of the aforesaid five months and the other two thirds within the three next succeeding years, unless the aforesaid general Assembly shall find it necessary to extend the time, whereof the participants shall be notified by posting of notices.
The ships returning from a voyage shall come to the place they sailed from; and if, by stress of wind and weather, the vessels which sailed out from one district shall arrive in another — as those from Amsterdam or the Noorder-quartier in Zealand or the Maze; or from Zealand in Holland; or those from Friesland, with Stadt ende Landen, in another district—each Chamber shall nevertheless retain the direction and management of the ships and goods it sent out and be allowed to send and transport the goods to the places whence the vessels sailed, either in the same or other vessels; provided that the directors of that Chamber shall be required to be present in person at the place where the vessels and goods shall have arrived and not to appoint factors to superintend the business; but in case it shall not be convenient for them to travel, they shall commit this business to the Chamber in whose district the vessels arrived.
If any Chamber shall have obtained any goods or returns from the places included within the limits of this charter with which another is not provided, it shall be required to send such goods on request to the Chamber which is unprovided, according to the situation of the case; and when they have sold out to send more. And in like manner, if the managers of the respective Chambers have need of any persons for crews or other purposes, from the cities where there are Chambers or directors, they shall request and employ [the aid of] the directors of this Company therefor and not make use of any factors.
And if any of the provinces think fit to appoint an agent to collect the money from their inhabitants, deposit the amount in bulk in any Chamber, and receive the payment of dividends, the Chamber shall be required to give such agent access, that he may obtain information of the state of the disbursements and receipts, and of the debts and assets; provided that the money brought in by such agent shall amount to fifty thousand guilders or upwards.
The directors shall have for commissions one per cent on the outfits and returns, and also on the prizes, and a half per cent on gold and silver; which commissions shall be divided — to the Chamber of Amsterdam, four ninths; the Chamber of Zealand, two ninths; the Maze, one ninth; the Noorder-quartier, one ninth; and Friesland with Stadt ende Landen, a like ninth.
Provided that they shall not receive commissions on the ordnance and value of the ships more than once. They shall, moreover, have no commission on the ships, ordnance and other things with which we shall strengthen the Company, nor on the money which they shall collect for the Company, nor on the profits they receive from the goods; nor shall they charge the Company with any salaries, expenses of traveling or board of those to whom they shall commit the fitting out and purchasing of goods necessary therefor.
The bookkeepers and cashiers shall have a salary paid them by the directors out of their commissions.
The directors shall not deliver or sell to the Company any ships, merchandise, or goods belonging to themselves in whole or in part, nor buy or cause to be bought of the said Company, directly or indirectly, any goods or merchandise, nor have any portion or part therein, on forfeiture by those who shall be found to have acted to the contrary of one year's commissions for the use of the poor and on pain of being deposed from their directorship.
The directors shall be obliged to give notice, by posting of bills, as often as they have a fresh importation of goods and merchandise, to the end that every one may have seasonable knowledge of it before they proceed to a final sale.
And if it should happen that in one Chamber or another any of the directors should get into such a situation that he could not make good what was intrusted to him for his administration and in consequence thereof any loss should occur, said loss shall be charged against the money which such directors have in the Company, which [investment] is also especially pledged for their administration; the same shall also be the case as to all the participants who, on account of goods purchased or otherwise, shall become debtors to the Company, and to all intents it shall be reckoned as if the money which they put in had from the beginning been counterbalanced and wiped out by what they owe the Company.
The directors of the respective Chambers shall be responsible for their cashiers and bookkeepers.
That all the goods of this Company which shall be disposed of by weight shall be sold by one standard of weight, to wit, that of the weight of Amsterdam; and that all such goods may be sold on board ship, or in store, without paying any excise, impost or weigh money; provided that, once being sold, they shall not be delivered in any other way than at the Weigh-house and that the impost and weigh money shall be paid as often as they are alienated in the same manner as other goods subject to weigh money.
That the persons or goods of the directors shall not be arrested, attached or encumbered in order to obtain from them an account of the administration of the Company nor for the payment of the salaries or wages of those whom they have employed in the service of the Company; but those who wish to make any such demands upon them must bring the matter before the ordinary judges.
Whenever any ship shall return from a voyage, the admirals or commanders of the fleets, ship or ships shall be obliged to come and report to us the success of the voyage within ten days after their arrival and shall make out and deliver a report in writing, if the case requires it.
And if it should happen (which we by no means expect) that any one ventured to injure or hinder in any way the navigation, commerce, trade or traffic of this Company, contrary to the common law or to the contents of the aforesaid treaties, leagues and covenants, they shall have the right to protect themselves against such actions and shall govern themselves according to the instructions to be issued by us concerning them.
We have, moreover, promised, and do promise, that we will maintain and defend this Company against every person in [their rights of] free navigation and trade, and to that end will assist them with a sum of ten hundred thousand guilders, to be paid in five years, whereof the first two hundred thousand guilders shall be paid them when the first payment shall be made by the participants; provided, that we, with half the aforesaid ten hundred thousand guilders, shall receive and bear profit and risk in the same manner as the other participants of this Company.
And if by a powerful and continued obstruction of the aforesaid navigation and trade, the affairs within the limits of this Company should be brought to a state of open war, we will, if the situation of this country will in any wise admit of it, give them for their assistance sixteen ships of war, the smallest one of one hundred and fifty lasts burden, with four good, well-sailing yachts, the smallest of forty lasts burden, which shall be properly mounted and provided in all respects, both with brass and other cannon, and a proper quantity of ammunition, together with double suits of running and standing rigging, sails, cables, anchors and other things thereto belonging, such as are proper to be provided and used in all great expeditions; upon condition that they shall be manned, victualed and supported at the expense of the Company and that the Company shall be obliged to add thereto sixteen like ships of war and four yachts, mounted and provided as above, to be used in like manner for the defense of trade and all exploits of war; provided that all the ships of war and merchantmen (which likewise shall be provided and manned as is fitting) shall be under an admiral appointed by us after previous advice of the aforesaid general Assembly and shall obey our commands, together with the resolutions of the Company, and if need be, shall be used together for purposes of war, in such manner, however, that the merchantmen shall not unnecessarily hazard their lading.
And if it should happen that the country should be greatly eased of its burdens and that this Company should be put to the heavy charges of war, we have further promised, and do promise, to increase the aforesaid subsidy in such manner as the situation of this country will permit and the affairs of the Company shall require.
We have moreover ordained that in case of war all the prizes which may be taken from enemies and pirates within the aforesaid limits by the Company or those who have been sent to its assistance; also the goods which shall be seized by virtue of our proclamations — after deducting all necessary expenses and the damage which the Company may have suffered in taking each prize, together with the dues of His Excellency as admiral in chief agreeable to our resolution to that effect adopted on the first of April, sixteen hundred and two, and the tenth part for the officers, sailors and soldiers who have taken the prize — shall remain at the disposal of the directors of the aforesaid Company; provided that the account of them shall be kept separate and distinct from the account of trade and commerce, that the net proceeds of the said prizes shall be employed in fitting out ships, paying the troops, fortifications, garrisons and like matters of war and defense, by sea and land, and that there shall be no distribution unless the said proceeds shall amount to so much that a notable share may be distributed without weakening the said defense and after paying the expenses of the war, which distribution shall be made separately and apart from that on account of trade; and the distribution shall be made, one tenth part for the use of the United Netherlands and the remainder for the participants of this Company, in exact proportion to their invested capital.
Provided, however, that all the prizes and goods taken by virtue of our proclamations shall be brought and tried before the council of the admiralty of the district to which they are brought, that it may take cognizance of them and determine the legality or illegality of the said prizes, the administration of the goods brought in remaining, nevertheless, with the Company, pending the process, and that under a proper inventory, and saving to those who might be injured by the sentence of the admiralty the right of appeal, agreeable to the instructions given the admiralty; provided that the vendue masters and other officers of the admiralty shall neither receive nor claim any fees from prizes which shall be sold for the benefit of this Company and in [connection with] which they are not employed.
The directors of this Company shall solemnly promise and swear that they will act well and faithfully in their administration and render good and just accounts of their transactions; that they will in all things consult the greatest profit of the Company and, as much as possible, prevent its meeting with losses; that they will not give the greatest participant any greater advantage in the payments or distribution of money than the least; that, in collecting and receiving outstanding debts, they will not excuse one more than another; that they, for their own account, will invest, and during the continuance of their administration will continue the investment of all such sums of money as by this charter are stipulated; and moreover, that they will, as far as concerns them, to the utmost of their power, observe and keep all and every the particulars and articles herein contained.
All of which privileges, freedoms and exemptions, together with the assistance above mentioned, in all their points and articles, we have granted, allowed, promised and pledged to the aforesaid Company, and do hereby grant, allow and pledge with full knowledge of the matter, promising to allow them to enjoy the same quietly and peaceably. We likewise order that the same shall be kept and observed by all magistrates, officers arid subjects of these United Netherlands and that they shall not do anything contrary to the same directly or indirectly, either within or without the said United Netherlands, upon pain of being punished therefor both in person and property as disturbers of the common welfare of this country and transgressors of our ordinance. We further promise that we will maintain and uphold the Company in the contents of this our charter, by all treaties of peace, alliances and covenants with the neighboring princes, kingdoms and countries, without suffering anything to be done or transacted that might tend to diminish its value. Wherefore we expressly charge and command all governors, justiciaries, officers, magistrates and inhabitants of these United Netherlands to permit and suffer the Company and its directors to enjoy quietly and peaceably all the benefits of this charter, license and privilege, ceasing all opposition and obstruction to it. And in order that none may pretend ignorance of this, we have ordered a summary of the contents of this charter to be publicly proelaimed and placarded wherever necessary, for we have found this to be for the best interests of the country. Given under our great seal, paraph and the signature of our secretary, at the Hague, on the third day of the month of June, in the year sixteen hundred and twenty-one.
- Was paraphed by I. Magnus
- By order of the aforesaid Honorable Lords the States General.
- C. Aersscn
- (Having a seal pendent of red wax, on a cord of white silk.)
These notes are taken verbatim from the source of this document, which is a translation of the original charter. See source listed below.
- Strait of Anjan; corresponding to Bering Straight, "Strictly speaking, the Strait of An Jan is not laid down on the old maps at the same point as our Bering Strait; but that is only because the northern Pacific was unknown. As it was the strait supposed to divide America from Asia, it exactly coincides with Bering Strait as a limit." Report of U. S. Commission an Boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana, 1:100.
- The translation of art. 2 of this charter, in the Report of the U. S. Commission on Boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana, 1:100, has at this point, in brackets, the word provide with the following footnote: "This important verb is omitted in the charter as printed in the Groat Plaeaet-Boek, in Aitzema, and in Tjassens — and so, perhaps, in the original document; but it is supplied, in the new charter of 1674, as aenstellen." As a matter of fact, no such omission occurs, for the word stellen which appears further down in connection with the words deporterm ende af stellen, refers back to governors, troops and officers of justice.
- Convoyen; import and export duties levied in 1572 by the province of Holland and after 1577 by the States General for the support of the navy and which entitled merchantmen sailing in company to protection by war vessels.
- Licenten; fees paid for license to trade to the enemy's country, first established in 1573 by the province of Zealand and after 1577 paid to the States General for the support of the navy. Both taxes, the Convoyen and Licenten, remained in force after the treaty of Munster, 1648, but had by that time assumed the character of ordinary import and export duties. See Groat Placact Boeck, 1:2264-2555; Jhr J. C. de Jonge, Geschiedenis van het Nederlandsche Zeewesen, 1:184-88; Robert Fruin, Geschiedenis der Staatsinstellingen in Nederland, p. 189.
- Noorderkwartier; the former name of that part of the present province of North Holland situated north of the IJ and the Wijker-meer; it included the seven cities: Alkmaar, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Edam, Monnikendam, Medemblik and Purmerende.
- Stad en Lande, or Stad en Ommelanden; former name of the province of Groningen, referring to the city of Groningen with its surrounding territory and the three country districts Hunsingo, Fivelgo and Westerkwartier.
- A fifth chamber, to have one ninth of the capital, was reluctantly conceded to Friesland and Gronigen upon their signing an agreement dot se hen daar in nict moogen pretendeeren; en deesen in het regnard van de Oostindische Compagnie by continuatie, of verleemen van nieute Octroy voor deselve trekken in consequentie, maar de equipatie en Kamera daar van laaten, soo en ter plaatse deselve jeegenwoordig syn — that they will rest satisfied herewith and make no further claims; and that they will not make this a precedent in case of extension or renewal of the charter of the East India Company, but leave the organization and the chamber thereof as and at the place where they are at present. Resolutions of Holland and West Friesland, Sept. 19, 1620. See also J. F. Jameson, Willem Usselinx (Papers of the American Historical Association, 1886-87, 2:217-18).
- The Deputy States; an executive committee appointed by the Provincial States fro the transaction of daily business.
- Metalen; literally, metal, as distinguished from iron cannon. See De Jonge, Geschiedenis van het Nederlandsche Zeewesen, ed. 2, p. 281; de Laet, Historie ofte Iaerlijck Verhael, spx. p. 3-9.