St. Eustatius History and Archaeology

The Slave Fort (also known as the Water Fort and Fort Amsterdam) is located on Oranje Bay and was the main trans-shipment point for Enslaved Africans.





What happened on Statia from 1636 until 1700? Statia was initially colonised in 1636 by about 40-50 people, who were Zealanders, Walloons, and Flemings, led by Pieter Van Corselles for the Dutch First West Indies Company. Tobacco was grown on Statia for the European market, with the first delivery arriving in Flushing in 1638. Cotton and Indigo were also grown on Statia during the 17th century. By 1665 the population had grown to 330 Europeans (including English, Irish, Scots, French and Germans), and 840 Africans and native Caribbean peoples. The island exchanged hands between the English and Dutch on numerous occasions during 1660's-70's, until the Dutch gained control in 1679. At this point the Dutch realised the importance of Statia's port within the slave trade and as a storage depot providing supplies for colonies throughout the Americas.

How many people lived on Statia at the height of her prosperity? The population on Statia is estimated to have been as high as 20,000 during the 1770-1780's - now the population is a mere 3300! It is hard to imagine such dense human habitation on this tiny island. However, if we consider all of the merchants that lived in Oranjestad, the planters that lived out in the country, the enslaved Africans who worked on the plantations and in the warehouses, and the transient population of sailors and traders who arrived on ships at stopped off in Statia's roadstead the numbers add up. Around 1778 records state that as many as 3182 ships came to Statia in one year (Goslinga 1985), making St. Eustatius one of the busiest ports in the world! The crew on each of these ships would have a considerable impact upon the islands cosmopolitan population - in many ways!

Why did Statia's economy decline? Statia's economy was based upon the slave trade and the (legal and illegal) trade of sugar, raw materials and finished products. As early as 1724 2-3,000 slaves were transported to Statia from Africa each year, during this year a house was built behind the 'slave fort' (pictured above) to accomodate 400-450 slaves (Attema 1976). The trade in enslaved Africans peaked in the 1770's. However, this trade began to decline by the 1790's and in 1821 the slave trade was abolished by the Dutch, which contributed to the decay of Statia's economy. Merchants on St. Eustatius also made huge profits during the 18th century importing crude sugar from the French and English islands, refining it on Statia, and then selling it as refined sugar or rum from the 'sugar islands'. With the decline of sugar production in the Caribbean and its replacement by sugar beet grown in Europe Statia could not longer partake in this profitable exchange. In addition to trade in sugar and slaves Statia was also an important supplier of munitions, particularly for the British colonies in North America leading up to and during the War of Independance (1775-1783). Members of the British parliament became very annoyed at this illegal trade and encouraged the Dutch West Indies Company to control the export of munitions from St. Eustatius. In 1774 the company completely banned Statia from selling munitions to the American colonies, however this was ignored. After the War of Independance the munitions were no longer required and the suppliers of raw materials and finished products moved to other ports, so Statia disappeared off the map as a major trade centre and storage depot by the early 1800's. In addition to the re-location of trading centres Statia was taken by the French and the English between 1801-1816. The heavy taxes and regulations enforced by these countries meant that Statia would never again rise to prosperity. The island has remained in Dutch hands from 1816 to the present day.

What kind of archaeology is found on Statia? There are prehistoric sites on Statia that have been explored by archaeologists from the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands. In January 2006 Corinne Hofman and Menno Hoogland, from Leiden, conducted a fieldwalking survey of the Corre Corre Bay area (on the south-east coast of the island). They were trying to locate Archaic pre-Columbian sites, which date to around 800-900BC. Archaic lifeways on Statia are defined by fisher collectors, and their tool kits included flint, stone and shell tools. Archaeological remains dating to the colonial period include plantation sites, merchant town houses, warehouses, fortifications, slave villages and religious sites, and underwater archaeology (shipwrecks). Archaeologists with the St. Eustatius Center for Archaeological Research have excavated at the Pleasures Plantation complex (in 2000-2001), the Duinkerk House privy (2001), the Lazaretto Leper Colony (2004), the Honen Dalim Mikveh (2005) and two warehouses on Oranje Bay (2005-2006). Please visit if you are interested in doing archaeology on St. Eustatius.

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