- Realm between Empires: The Second Dutch Atlantic, 1680–1815 by Wim Klooster and Gert Oostindie
As Wim Klooster and Gert Oostindie rightly point out in the introduction to their Realm between Empires, the Dutch role in the Atlantic after the loss of Dutch Brazil (1654) and New Netherland (1664) has often been neglected. After these became humiliations, the Dutch never again developed a centrally organized empire in the Atlantic. Moreover, whereas the eighteenth-century Iberian, British, and French Atlantic empires increasingly became territorially based, Dutch holdings in the Atlantic after 1674 consisted of a few small Caribbean islands, several riverine colonies in the Guianas, and a number of coastal forts in West Africa. Because of the perceived limitations of their geopolitical influence and their lack of significant territorial possessions, scholars have usually interpreted the Dutch as insignificant in the Atlantic during the long eighteenth century.
Realm between Empires seeks to revise this dismissive view. The authors are well equipped to take on this task. Klooster recently published The Dutch Moment: War, Trade, and Settlement in the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic World, an impressive analysis of the First Dutch Atlantic from the 1590s to the 1670s, and Oostindie is a well-known historian of the Dutch Caribbean.1 The main objective of Realm between Empires is to provide a critical and revisionist overview of the Second Dutch Atlantic from 1680 until 1815. Because of this goal, the book is admittedly a synthesis of the scholarship of the past few decades, and as most of these works have highlighted trade and commerce, these topics prominently feature in Klooster and Oostindie's analysis.
According to the authors, the Second Dutch Atlantic should be envisioned as a decentralized realm that existed in a precarious state alongside the Iberian, French, and British Empires. Whereas the First Dutch Atlantic was shaped by the ambitious centralized attempts of the West India Company (WIC) to create an empire, the Second Dutch Atlantic was a loose collection of colonies that were as strongly connected to other empires through illicit and interregional trade as they were to a relatively weak metropolitan center. A larger point made by the authors is that by circumventing the mercantilist regimes of other European empires, Dutch merchants and planters operating from the Caribbean and the Guianas "contributed significantly to the commercial integration of the New World" (13). By highlighting the commercial [End Page 816] prowess and success of the Second Dutch Atlantic, Klooster and Oostindie force scholars to rethink the role of the Dutch in the Atlantic world during the long eighteenth century.
The book is organized thematically as well as regionally. The first chapter discusses in great detail the economic entanglement of the Dutch merchants and planters with the British, French, and Spanish Empires. The authors distinguish three periods of interimperial interconnectedness. The first lasted from the reestablishment of the WIC in 1674 until the end of Dutch involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. During this era, Dutch colonies forged close economic connections with colonists in Spanish Venezuela, the French Caribbean, and English Barbados. This period ended disastrously for many Dutch merchants and planters when a French privateering campaign attacked and extracted huge ransom payments from Dutch possessions in the Caribbean and Surinam. During the second period, from 1713 to 1750, the Dutch greatly benefited from the relative international peace in the Atlantic. The New England colonies maintained an especially brisk trade in horses and foodstuffs with Surinamese sugar planters during this era. The third period, from the mid-1750s to the early 1780s, was marked by the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution. Although Dutch merchants initially prospered, the American Revolution eventually devastated the Dutch position in the Atlantic, for the British, after declaring war against the Dutch Republic, crippled its Atlantic trade and occupied most of its colonies. As Klooster and Oostindie suggest, the Dutch lack of territorial holdings and reliance on commerce made them vulnerable to military attacks, but they nonetheless were essential...