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Creolization and Contraband

CuraCao in the Early Modern Atlantic World

Linda M. Rupert

Publication Year: 2012

When Curaçao came under Dutch control in 1634, the small island off South America's northern coast was isolated and sleepy. The introduction of increased trade (both legal and illegal) led to a dramatic transformation, and Curaçao emerged as a major hub within Caribbean and wider Atlantic networks. It would also become the commercial and administrative seat of the Dutch West India Company in the Americas.

The island's main city, Willemstad, had a non-Dutch majority composed largely of free blacks, urban slaves, and Sephardic Jews, who communicated across ethnic divisions in a new creole language called Papiamentu. For Linda M. Rupert, the emergence of this creole language was one of the two defining phenomena that gave shape to early modern Curaçao. The other was smuggling. Both developments, she argues, were informal adaptations to life in a place that was at once polyglot and regimented. They were the sort of improvisations that occurred wherever expanding European empires thrust different peoples together.

Creolization and Contraband uses the history of Curaçao to develop the first book-length analysis of the relationship between illicit interimperial trade and processes of social, cultural, and linguistic exchange in the early modern world. Rupert argues that by breaking through multiple barriers, smuggling opened particularly rich opportunities for cross-cultural and interethnic interaction. Far from marginal, these extra-official exchanges were the very building blocks of colonial society.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Early American Places


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pp. c-c

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

Substantial funding for this project was provided by the American Association of University Women, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Coordinating Council for Women in History, the J. William Fulbright Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, and the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG). I also received assistance from the American Historical...

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pp. 1-14

A 1786 townscape shows the bustling port of Willemstad, located on the small island of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean.1 Several full-masted ocean-going ships stand in and just outside the harbor. A dozen Dutch flags fly from these vessels and from official buildings. In the center of the drawing, securely ensconced behind the walls and protected by an imposing row of cannon, is Fort Amsterdam, seat of the Dutch West...

PART I: Emergence of an Entrepôt

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1 Converging Currents

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pp. 17-42

In May 1565 the English privateer John Hawkins spent ten days on the small Caribbean island of Curaçao, then a minor outpost of the vast Spanish American empire. Hawkins sought to procure hides in exchange for cloth and ten slaves he had brought from Senegambia and Sierra Leone.1 Although his visit to Curaçao often has been portrayed as piracy, an extant receipt for the transaction and a letter to Hawkins...

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2 Atlantic Diasporas

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pp. 43-66

On a Friday evening in early September 1688 a small boat left Curaçao bound for Coro, carrying a Sephardic Jewish woman, four black women, and three Spanish-speaking sailors. But the vessel did not complete what should have been a short, easy voyage lasting only a few hours. Instead it was caught in an off-season storm and dashed to bits along the southeastern desert shore of the Paraguaná Peninsula. Only one of the sailors,...

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3 “Cruising to the Most Advantageous Places”

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pp. 67-100

In 1638, just four years after the Dutch seized Curaçao from the Spanish and ten years before the Treaty of Westphalia formally recognized the Dutch Republic and its colonies, the West India Company issued detailed instructions to its director on the island, Jacob Pietersz Tolck, regarding the management of island affairs and company interests. “Especially he shall not allow that the ships and yachts . . . waste their time unprofitably...

PART II: Sociocultural Interactions in a Maritime Trade Economy

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4 A Caribbean Port City

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pp. 103-162

On 1 September 1753, Captain Mosseh Henriques Cotino freed a male slave named Primero, one of forty-two manumissions that were recorded in Willemstad that year. But this was no routine emancipation. A note at the bottom of the document indicated that the freedom paper was “granted pro forma to sail.”1 It would be revoked when Primero returned to port. Henriques Cotino was a prominent member...

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5 Curaçao and Tierra Firme

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pp. 163-211

In 1729 an enslaved woman named Juana Isabel Curazao fled the island in a small vessel and made her way to the northern shores of Tierra Firme. After ostensibly converting to Catholicism, she obtained her freedom and acquired a small plot of land in Curiepe, a town of free blacks on the coast east of Caracas. On her small plot Juana Isabel planted cacao trees. Defying Spanish law, locals sold sacks of cacao beans from thousands...

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6 Language and Creolization

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pp. 212-244

In 1775 a young man named Abraham de David de Costa Andrade Jr. poured out his heart to a member of his synagogue, Sarah de Isaac Pardo y Vaz Farro: My diamanty no laga dy skirbimy tudu kico my ta puntrabo—awe nuchy mi ta warda rospondy (“My diamond, do not fail to write me everything I am asking you—tonight I await an answer”). Apparently Abraham shared more than his feelings with Sarah. She...

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pp. 245-252

By the time slave rebellions broke out in Curaçao and Tierra Firme in the summer of 1795 new political currents were coursing through the Caribbean and the Americas, currents that would have a major impact on regional politics, economics, and cultures.1 In January of that same year the French army had invaded the Netherlands, overthrown the Dutch Republic, and installed a puppet government, the Batavian Republic. The...


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pp. 253-310


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pp. 311-338


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pp. 339-348

Further Reading

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pp. 349-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343686
E-ISBN-10: 0820343684
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820343051
Print-ISBN-10: 0820343056

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos, 5 maps
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Early American Places
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OCLC Number: 795128531
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Creolization and Contraband

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Curaçao -- History -- 17th century.
  • Curaçao -- History -- 18th century.
  • Curaçao -- Commerce -- History.
  • Curaçao -- Social conditions.
  • Creoles -- Curaçao -- History.
  • Slaves -- Curaçao -- History.
  • Sephardim -- Curaçao -- History.
  • Intercultural communication -- Curaçao -- History.
  • Papiamentu -- Curaçao -- History.
  • Smuggling -- Curaçao -- History.
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