The Colony of Curaçao and Dependencies (Kolonie Curaçao en onderhorigheden) was a Dutch colony from 1815 until 1828 and from 1845 until 1936. Between 1936 and 1948, the area was officially known as the Territory of Curaçao (Gebiedsdeel Curaçao), and after 1948 as the Netherlands Antilles (Nederlandse Antillen). With the proclamation of the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands on December 15, 1954, the Netherlands Antilles attained equal status with the Netherlands proper and Suriname in the overarching Kingdom of the Netherlands. The area consisted of the islands Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius (now part of the Netherlands as postal area “Caribbean Netherlands”) as well as Sint Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba (which each are currently separate postal areas).
The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak peoples. Their ancestors had migrated to the island from the mainland of South America, likely hundreds of years before Europeans arrived. They were believed to have migrated from the Amazon Basin.
Spanish-sponsored explorers discovered both the windward (Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius — by Christopher Columbus in 1493) and leeward (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao — by Alonso de Ojeda in 1499) island groups. However, the Spanish Crown only founded settlements in the leeward islands. The Spaniards enslaved most of the Arawak as their labor force. They sometimes forcibly relocated the survivors to other colonies where workers were needed.
In the seventeenth century, the islands were conquered by the Dutch West India Company and colonized by Dutch settlers. From the last quarter of the seventeenth century, the group consisted of six undisputedly Dutch islands: Curaçao (settled in 1634), Aruba (settled in 1636), Bonaire (settled in 1636), Sint Eustatius (settled in 1636), Saba (settled in 1640) and Sint Maarten (settled in 1648). In the past, Anguilla (1631–1650), the present-day British Virgin Islands (1612–1672), St. Croix and Tobago had also been Dutch.
The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet called the ‘Schottegat.’ Curaçao had been ignored by colonists, because it lacked gold deposits. The natural harbor of Willemstad proved to be an ideal spot for trade. Commerce and shipping — and piracy — became Curaçao’s most important economic activities. In addition, in 1662 the Dutch West India Company made Curaçao a center for the Atlantic slave trade, often bringing slaves here for sale elsewhere in the Caribbean and on the mainland of South America.
Sephardic Jews with ancestors from the Iberian Peninsula settled here with the Dutch and in then-Dutch Brazil; they have had a significant influence on the culture and economy of the island. Some Jewish merchants were part of the Dutch colonial slave trade, as were a wide variety of people involved in trade and shipping.
In the Franco-Dutch War, Count Jean II d’Estrées planned to attack Curaçao. His fleet — 12 men of war, three fireships, two transports, a hospital ship, and 12 privateers — met with disaster, losing seven men-of-war and two other ships when they struck reefs off the Las Aves archipelago. They had made a serious navigational error, hitting the reefs on May 11, 1678, a week after setting sail from Saint Kitts. Curaçao marked the events by a day of thanksgiving, celebrated for decades into the 18th century, to commemorate the island’s escape from being invaded by the French.
In the second half of the eighteenth century Sint Eustatius became the commercial hub of the north-eastern Caribbean, earning the nickname “the Golden Rock”. This aroused the envy of the French and English, who from 1795 made sure the island lost that position by occupying the island and ruining it — the French through their taxes and the English by closing the island off and diverting all trade to their own islands.
Under the terms of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, the Netherlands regained control over its West Indies colonies, with the exception of Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice. In the newly established United Kingdom of the Netherlands, these colonies were organized into three colonies — Curaçao and Dependencies (Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire) with its capital at Willemstad; Sint Eustatius and Dependencies (Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Saba) with the capital at Oranjestad; and Suriname, the capital of which was Paramaribo.
As a cost-reducing measure, the three colonies were merged into a single West Indies colony ruled from Paramaribo, Suriname, in 1828. This proved to be an unhappy arrangement, causing it to be partially reverted in 1845. Sint Eustatius did not regain its status as a separate colony, however, and came to be ruled from Willemstad, Curaçao. Curaçao and Dependencies then comprised Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, and Saba.
Early mail service in the islands of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Caribbean consisted of carriage by casual ship, and a number of letters are recorded from this period. A British post office operated during the occupation of 1807 to 1815. In 1825, the Dutch government established a post office at Willemstad; from then until 1834 a packet operated between there and Hellevoetsluis. From 1842-54 mail was sent by feeder services into the British packet system. From 1854 to 1885 the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company operated a regular postal service: mails, bagged between Willemstad and Breda (1854) or Moerdijk (after 1855) in Holland, were routed via Southampton. Handstamps were issued in Willemstad and elsewhere.
Slavery was abolished in 1863, and in 1865 a government regulation for Curaçao was enacted that allowed for some very limited autonomy for the colony. Although this regulation was replaced by a constitution (Staatsregeling) in 1936, the changes to the government structure remained superficial and Curaçao continued to be ruled as a colony.
The island of Curaçao was hit hard by the abolition of slavery in 1863. Its prosperity (and that of neighboring Aruba) was restored in the early twentieth century with the construction of oil refineries to service the newly discovered Venezuelan oil fields.
The first postage stamps of Curaçao (the name was used for the six islands collectively when the areas was named Curaçao and Dependencies and then Territory of Curaçao) were issued May 23, 1873. These depicted William III in profile and were inscribed CURAÇAO, as were all issues for the next seventy-seven years. The six original values (2½ cents, 3 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, and 50 cents: Scott #1-6) were joined by a 2.50 gulden value in 1879 (Scott #7), a 12½ cent in 1886 (Scott #8), and four more values (15 cents, 30 cents, 60 cents, and 1.50 guilden: Scott #9-12) in 1889. All of these were issued without gum (due to the heat and humidity) until 1890.
In 1889, a longstanding tradition began with the issuance of low-value (1 cent, 2 cents, 2½ cents, 3 cents, and 5 cents: Scott #13-17) stamps showing only a large numeral. In 1891, the 30 cent value was surcharged 25 cents (Scott #18). Meanwhile, the passing of William left his daughter Wilhelmina to be among the youngest persons depicted on a stamp to that date, with five values appearing between 1892 and 1896 (Scott #19-23). Only the vignette actually changed.
Additional surcharges were needed periodically; 2½ cents in 1895 (Scott #25-26), and in 1902 they were applied to stamps of the Netherlands (Scott #27-29). A new definitive series came out in 1904, with numeral in a horizontal layout for low values (Scott #30-34), and Wilhelmina in a circular frame for the higher values (Scott #36-42). Additional values were added in 1906 (Scott #43-44) and 1908 (Scott #35 and #39).
In 1915, a new series reused designs from the Netherlands Indies stamps of a few years previously. The low-value numbers were changed to have a white instead of a hatched background, for readability, while medium values showed the Queen and a ship at sea, with the highest values showing the Queen flanked by palm trees. These stamps continued as the standard for many years, with some values getting color changes; for instance, the 5c was originally rose, then changed to green in 1922, then to lilac in 1926 (Scott #45-72).
The first commemorative stamps, in 1923, celebrated Wilhelmina’s 25th anniversary, depicting her with a finely-engraved portrait (Scott #75-81). The portrait was reused in the definitive series of 1928, which added a steamship to the bottom of the design (Scott #95-105).
In 1934, a series of 17 types marked the 300th anniversary of the colony; designs included portraits of figures significant in history, plus a view of Van Walbeecks’ ship (Scott #110-126).
A new definitive series was released in 1936, with the usual lower values as numerals, now vertical in an oval frame (Scott #127-131), while from 6 cents on up was a profile of Wilhelmina wearing a sort of shawl or veil drawn back (Scott #132-143); a depiction of the Queen not seen any other stamps of the Dutch area. The 40th anniversary issue in 1938 (Scott #144-146) and the definitives of 1941-1942 and 1947 reverted to the use of the same profiles of Wilhelmina as the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indies (Scott #147-163 and Scott #174-187).
A set of 15 airmail stamps in October 1942 were bicolored designs showing airplanes, maps, and scenery in various combinations (Scott #C18-C32); they were soon followed by set of six regular issues in 1943 that were also bicolored, each with a scenic view of a different island (Scott #164-169). A last set of airmail stamps appeared in 1947, the lower values a stylized plane and posthorn design, and the higher showing a DC-4 skimming the waves (Scott #C32A-C50).
A 1948 set of eleven stamps, showing white-haired Wilhelmina in profile (Scott #188-198), quickly became dated as Queen Juliana was invested with the crown in September; she appeared on a pair of stamps commemorating the occasion in October (Scott #201-202).
Colonial rule ended after the conclusion of the Second World War. Queen Wilhelmina had promised in a 1942 speech to offer autonomy to the overseas territories of the Netherlands, and British and American occupation — with the consent of the Dutch government — of the islands during the war led to increasing demands for autonomy within the population as well.
In May 1948, a new constitution for the territory entered into force, allowing the largest amount of autonomy possible under the Dutch constitution of 1922. Among other things, universal suffrage was introduced. The territory was also renamed “Netherlands Antilles”.
The name of the colony officially changed in 1949. The last issue to be inscribed CURAÇAO was a set of three issued on July 26, 1949, marking the 450th anniversary of the island’s discovery by Alonso de Ojeda (Scott #203-205). The new name was first inscribed on two stamps issued on October 3 for the 74th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union (Scott #206-207). The name change also entailed new definitives, which began appearing in 1950, using the same design as issued for the Netherlands the previous year, but inscribed NED. ANTILLEN.
After the Dutch constitution was revised in 1948, a new interim Constitution of the Netherlands Antilles was enacted in February 1951. Shortly afterwards, on March 3, 1951, the Island Regulation of the Netherlands Antilles (Eilandenregeling Nederlandse Antillen or ERNA) was issued by royal decree, giving fairly wide autonomy to the various island territories in the Netherlands Antilles. A consolidated version of this regulation remained in force until the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010.
Stamps were once again inscribed CURAÇAO, when the island started issuing postal stamps after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010. The island forms one of the five postage regions in the Kingdom. The first stamp issued shows the map of the island. The value of the current stamps are denominated in Netherlands Antillean guilders.
Scott #245, pictured today, was released on February 1, 1943, in an engraved bicolor (deep blue and yellow green) unwatermarked stamp perforated 13×13½. It portrays the Dutch flag flying at Oranjestad, the regional capital of Sint Eustatius, known affectionately to the locals as Statia. The island lies in the northern Leeward Islands portion of the West Indies, southeast of the Virgin Islands. Sint Eustatius is immediately to the northwest of Saint Kitts, and to the southeast of Saba. The island has an area of 8.1 square miles (21 square kilometers ). The island was seen by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and claimed by many different nations. The name of the island, “Sint Eustatius”, is the Dutch name for Saint Eustace, a legendary Christian martyr, known in Spanish as San Eustaquio and in Portuguese as Santo Eustáquio or Santo Eustácio. From the first settlement, in the seventeenth century until the early nineteenth century, St. Eustatius changed hands twenty two times. The first post office was opened at Oranjestad on March 1, 1884. Today, travelers to the island by air arrive through F.D. Roosevelt Airport.
In 1636, the chamber of Zeeland of the Dutch West India Company took possession of Sint Eustatius that was then reported to be uninhabited. As of 1678, the islands of St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Saba fell under direct command of the Dutch West India Company, with a commander stationed on St. Eustatius to govern all three. At the time, the island was of some importance for cultivation of tobacco and sugar.
In the eighteenth century, St. Eustatius’ geographical placement in the middle of Danish (Virgin Islands), British (Jamaica, St. Kitts, Barbados, Antigua), French (St. Domingue, Ste. Lucie, Martinique, Guadeloupe) and Spanish (Cuba, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico) territories — its large harborage, neutrality and status from 1756 as a free port with no customs duties were all factors in it becoming a major point of transhipment of goods, and a locus for trade in contraband. Its economy developed by ignoring the monopolistic trade restrictions of the British, French and Spanish islands. St. Eustatius’s economy, under the Dutch, flourished. The island was known as The Golden Rock.
The island sold arms and ammunition to anyone willing to pay. It was one of the few places from which the young United States could obtain military stores. The good relationship between St. Eustatius and the United States resulted in the noted “First Salute”.
On November 16, 1776, Captain Isaiah Robinson of the 14-gun American brig Andrew Doria, sailed into the anchorage below St. Eustatius’ Fort Oranje. Robinson announced his arrival by firing a thirteen gun salute, one gun for each of the thirteen American colonies in rebellion against Britain. Governor Johannes de Graaff replied with an eleven gun salute from the cannons of Fort Oranje. International protocol required a two gun less acknowledgement of a sovereign flag. The Andrew Doria flew the Continental Colors of the fledgling United States. It was the first international acknowledgment of American independence.
The Andrew Doria had arrived to purchase munitions for the American Revolutionary forces. She was also carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence which was presented to Governor De Graaff. An earlier copy had been captured on the way to Holland by the British. It was wrapped in documents that the British believed to be a strange cipher. In reality the documents were written in Yiddish, to Jewish merchants in Holland.
U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to St. Eustatius in 1939 to recognize the importance of the 1776 “First Salute”. He presented a large brass plaque to St. Eustatius which is displayed today under a flagpole atop the walls of Fort Oranje. President Roosevelt visited the island for 2 hours on February 27, 1939, on the USS Houston. The plaque reads:
“In commemoration to the salute to the flag of the United States, Fired in this fort November 16. 1776, By order of Johannes de Graaff, Governor of Saint Eustatius, In reply to a National Gun-Salute, Fired by the United States Brig of War Andrew Doria, Under Captain Isaiah Robinson of the Continental Navy, Here the sovereignty of the United States of America was first formally acknowledged to a national vessel by a foreign official. Presented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States of America“
The British took the incident seriously. Britain protested bitterly against the continuous trade between the United Colonies and St. Eustatius. In 1778, Lord Stormont claimed in Parliament that, “if Sint Eustatius had sunk into the sea three years before, the United Kingdom would already have dealt with George Washington”. Nearly half of all American Revolutionary military supplies were obtained through St. Eustatius. Nearly all American communications to Europe first passed through the island. The trade between St. Eustatius and the United States was the main reason for the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, 1780-1784. The war was disastrous for the Dutch economy.
Britain declared war on the Netherlands on December 20, 1780. Even before officially declaring war, Britain had outfitted a massive battle fleet to take and destroy the weapons depot and vital commercial center that St. Eustatius had become. British Admiral George Brydges Rodney was appointed the commander of the battle fleet. On February 3, 1781, a massive fleet of 15 ships of the line and numerous smaller ships transporting over 3,000 soldiers appeared before St. Eustatius, prepared to invade. Governor De Graaff did not know about the declaration of war. Rodney offered De Graaff a bloodless surrender to his superior force. Rodney had over 1,000 cannons to De Graaff’s dozen cannons and a garrison of sixty men. De Graaff surrendered the island, but first he fired two rounds as a show of resistance for the honor of Dutch Admiral Lodewijk van Bylandt, who commanded a ship of the Dutch Navy which was in the harbor. Ten months later, the island was conquered by the French, allies of the Dutch in the war. The Dutch regained control over the devastated island in 1784.
At its peak, St. Eustatius may have had a largely transient population of about 10,000 people. Most were engaged in commercial and maritime interests. A census list of 1790 gives a total population (free and enslaved people combined) of 8,124. Commerce revived after the British left. Many of the merchants (including the Jews) returned to the island. However, French and British occupations from 1795 disrupted trade and also the North-Americans, now globally recognized as an independent nation, had meanwhile developed their own trading network and did not need St. Eustatius anymore. The island was eclipsed by other Dutch ports, such as those on the islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten. During the last years of the eighteenth century Statia developed trade in aging rum. The economy declined in the early nineteenth century.
St. Eustatius never recovered the durable robustness of the mid eighteenth century. The large merchant class, that was the life blood of St. Eustatius, did not fully return. The population declined and in 1950 the population stood at a mere 970.
Formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, Sint Eustatius became a special municipality within The Netherlands on October 10, 2010. Unlike the other member islands of the Netherlands Antilles, the people of St Eustatius did not vote to leave. In a referendum on April 8, 2005, 77% of voters voted to remain within the Netherlands Antilles, compared to 21% who voted for closer ties with the Netherlands. However, once the other islands decided to leave, meaning that the Netherlands Antilles would become defunct, the island council opted to become a special municipality of the Netherlands, like Saba and Bonaire. On January 1, 2011, the three islands switched to the US dollar rather than the euro that is used in the European Netherlands.