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Colony of Demerara

Kolonie Demerary
Flag of the Dutch West India Company.svg
Monogram WIC.jpg
Coat of arms
Map of Demerara, 1759.jpg
The Demerara colony in 1759
(Note this map has East at its top.)
See here for its exact location (6° 48' N 58° 10' W).
StatusColony of the Dutch West India Company (1616-1796)
Occupied Territory of Great Britain (1796-1802)
Colony of Batavian Republic (1802-1803)
Capital Fort Zeelandia (1745–1755)
Borsselen (1755–1782)
Stabroek (1782–1815)
Common languages Dutch
 Ceded to the United Kingdom
November 20 1803
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of the Dutch West India Company.svg Essequibo (colony)
British Guiana Flag of British Guiana (1919-1955).svg
2 Joes (or 44 Dutch Guilders), Colonies of Demerary and Essequebo (1830s), second issue. BR-GUI-B2-Demerary & Essequebo-Two Joes (22 Guilders each)(1830s).jpg
2 Joes (or 44 Dutch Guilders), Colonies of Demerary and Essequebo (1830s), second issue.

Demerara (Dutch : Demerary)[ needs Dutch IPA ] is a historical region in the Guianas on the north coast of South America which is now part of the country of Guyana. It was a Dutch colony until 1815 and a county of British Guiana from 1838 to 1966. It was located about the lower courses of the Demerara River, and its main town was Georgetown.


The name "Demerara" comes from a variant of the Arawak word "Immenary" or "Dumaruni" which means "river of the letter wood" (wood of Brosimum guianense tree). [1] Demerara sugar is so named because originally it came from sugar cane fields in the colony of Demerara.


Demerara was first mentioned in 1691 as a trading post. [2] On 18 October 1745, Demerara was created as a separate colony, even though it was located on an unoccupied part of Essequibo, because the people from the province of Holland wanted to settle there and Essequibo was part of Zeeland. [3] In the founding documents, it was mentioned that the colonists should live in peace with the Amerindian population and respect their territories, because they fought with the colony of Essequibo against the French privateers and helped to chase them off. The Amerindian were considered free people, and they were not allowed to enslave them. [4]

The first planter was Andries Pieterse who already owned a plantation in Essequibo. Half a year later, there were 18 large sugar plantations and 50 smaller plantations. [5] The colony was initially governed from Fort Zeelandia by Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande, the governor of Essequibo. In 1750 he appointed his son Jonathan as Commander of Demerara. [6]

Demerara grew rapidly, [7] and attracted many English planters. [8] The Dutch West India Company, who had a monopoly on the slave trade, was unable to supply them, leading to illegal smuggling from English colonies. [9]

In 1755, Gedney Clarke, a Barbados merchant and plantation owner, [10] requested political representation, [11] therefore the administration was moved to the island of Borsselen, [8] 20 miles (32 km) upriver near plantation Soesdyke which was owned by the commander of Demerara. [12] The decision was criticised because the island was hard to defend, [13] and the planters had started to build houses around the guard post near the mouth of the river. That settlement later became known as Stabroek, [8] and in 1782 the capital of the colony. [14] The town was renamed Georgetown in 1812. [15]

In 1763, a slave uprising took place in neighbouring Berbice. Governor van 's Gravesande formed an alliance with the Amerindian Arawak, Kalina, Warao and Akawaio [16] tribes, [17] and prevented the uprising from spreading to Demerara and Essequibo. [8] 50 soldiers from Demarara were sent to Berbice as assistance. [18] The slave uprisings were source of concern: in a 1767 letter to Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia, which aimed to promote the colony for German planters, a request was added for 100 soldiers. [19]

In 1780, there were almost 200 plantations in Demerara compared to 129 in Essequibo. [20] Demerara had become more successful than Essequibo. [18] [8] The rivalry between the colonies resulted in the creation of a combined Court of Policy in Fort Zeelandia. [21] The majority of the white population of the colony were English [8] and Scottish [22] [23] planters.

Conquest and reconquest

In 1781, the American revolution induced the Dutch Republic to join with the Bourbon side against the British, a large fleet under Admiral Lord Rodney's command was sent to the West Indies, and after having made some seizures in the Caribbean Islands, a squadron was detached to take possession of the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara, which was accomplished [24] without even a fight. [25] [26] The previous year, the colony produced 10,000 hogsheads of sugar, 5,000,000 pounds coffee and 800,000 pounds cotton. [26]

In 1782 the French took possession of the whole of the Dutch settlements, compelling Gov. Robert Kingston to surrender. [27] The opinion of the Dutch newspapers varied. The Leeuwarder Courant called it the loss of our Demerary, [28] while the Hollandsche historische courant described it as a pleasant reconquest. [29] The peace of Paris, which occurred in 1783, restored these territories to the Dutch. [30]

The British recaptured Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice in 1796. [23] A deal was struck with the colony: all laws and customs could remain, and the citizens were equal to British subjects. Any government official who swore loyalty to the British crown could remain in function. [23] They returned the colony to the Dutch in 1802 under the terms of the Peace of Amiens, [31] but re-took control of it a year later. [31]

On 28 April 1812, [32] the British combined the colonies of Demerara and Essequibo into the colony of Demerara-Essequibo. [31] They were ceded to Britain on 13 August 1814. On 20 November 1815, the Netherlands ratified the agreement. [33]

Slave rebellion

Large slave rebellions broke out in West Demerara in 1795 and on the East Coast of Demerara in 1823. [34] Although these rebellions were easily and bloodily crushed, according to Winston McGowan, they may have had a long-term impact in ending slavery:

The 1823 revolt had a special significance not matched by the earlier Berbice uprising. It attracted attention in Britain inside and outside Parliament to the terrible evil slavery and the need to abolish it. This played a part, along with other humanitarian, political and economic factors, in causing the British parliament ten years later in 1833 to take the momentous decision to abolish slavery in British Guiana and elsewhere in the British Empire with effect from 1 August 1834. After serving four years of a modified form of slavery euphemistically called apprenticeship, the slaves were finally freed on 1 August 1838.



On 21 July 1831, Demerara-Essequibo united with Berbice as British Guiana, now Guyana. [36] In 1838, Demerara was made one of the three counties of Guiana, the other two being Berbice and Essequibo. [37] In 1958, the county was abolished when Guiana was subdivided into districts. Historical Demerara was divided in 1958 [38] and are a part of Guyanese administrative regions of Demerara-Mahaica, Essequibo Islands-West Demerara, and Upper Demerara-Berbice. [37]

Notable Demerarans

Commanders of Demerara

Governors of Demerara


Lieutenant governors

Leaders of rebellions

See also

Related Research Articles

The history of Guyana begins about 35,000 years ago with the arrival of humans coming from Eurasia. These migrants became the Carib and Arawak tribes, who met Alonso de Ojeda's first expedition from Spain in 1499 at the Essequibo River. In the ensuing colonial era, Guyana's government was defined by the successive policies of Spanish, French, Dutch, and British settlers.

British Guiana British possession in the Guianas region between 1814–1966

British Guiana was a British colony, part of the mainland British West Indies, which resides on the northern coast of South America. Since 1966 it has been known as the independent nation of Guyana.

Dutch colonisation of the Guianas

Dutch colonisation of the Guianas—the coastal region between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers in South America—began in the late 16th century. The Dutch originally claimed all of Guiana but—following attempts to sell it first to Bavaria and then to Hanau and the loss of sections to Portugal, Britain, and France—the section actually settled and controlled by the Netherlands became known as Dutch Guiana.

Coffy (person)

Cuffy, also spelled as Kofi or Koffi, was an Akan man who was captured in his native West Africa and stolen for slavery to work on the plantations of the Dutch colony of Berbice in present-day Guyana. He became famous because in 1763 he led a revolt of more than 2,500 slaves against the colony regime. Today, he is a national hero in Guyana.

The Guianas

The Guianas, sometimes called by the Spanish loan-word Guayanas, is a region in north-eastern South America which includes the following three territories:


Berbice is a region along the Berbice River in Guyana, which was between 1627 and 1815 a colony of the Dutch Republic. After having been ceded to the Kingdom of Great Britain in the latter year, it was merged with Essequibo and Demerara to form the colony of British Guiana in 1831. In 1966, British Guiana gained independence as Guyana.

Essequibo (colony)

Essequibo was a Dutch colony on the Essequibo River in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America from 1616 to 1814. The colony formed a part of the colonies that are known under the collective name of Dutch Guiana.

Afro-Guyanese people are generally descended from the enslaved people brought to Guyana from the coast of West Africa to work on sugar plantations during the era of the Atlantic slave trade. Coming from a wide array of backgrounds and enduring conditions that severely constrained their ability to preserve their respective cultural traditions contributed to the adoption of Christianity and the values of British colonists.

Stabroek, Guyana Ward in Georgetown, Guyana

Stabroek was the old name of Georgetown, Guyana, between 1784 and 1812, and was the capital of Demerara. Stabroek is currently a ward in the centre of Georgetown.


The colony of Demerara-Essequibo was created on 28 April 1812, when the British combined the colonies of Demerara and Essequibo into the colony of Demerara-Essequibo. They were officially ceded to Britain on 13 August 1814. On 20 November 1815 the agreement was ratified by the Netherlands.

Berbice slave uprising

The Berbice slave uprising was a slave revolt in Guyana that began on 23 February 1763 and lasted to December, with leaders including Coffy. It is seen as a major event in Guyana's anti-colonial struggles, and when Guyana became a republic in 1970 the state declared 23 February as a day to commemorate the start of the Berbice slave revolt.

Fort Zeelandia (Guyana)

Fort Zeelandia is located on Fort Island, a fluvial island of the Essequibo River delta in the Essequibo Islands-West Demerara region of Guyana. Not to be confused with Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo, Suriname, the current brick fort was built in 1743 for the Essequibo colony, replacing an earlier wooden fort built in 1726, and is among the oldest structures in Guyana. The fort replaced Fort Kyk-Over-Al as the capital of Essequibo in 1739.

Demerara rebellion of 1823 An uprising involving more than 10,000 enslaved that took place in the colony of Demerara-Essequibo (Guyana)

The Demerara rebellion of 1823 was an uprising involving more than 10,000 enslaved that took place in the colony of Demerara-Essequibo (Guyana). The rebellion, which began on August 18, 1823, and lasted for two days, was led by slaves with the highest status. In part they were reacting to poor treatment and a desire for freedom; in addition, there was a widespread, mistaken belief that Parliament had passed a law for emancipation, but it was being withheld by the colonial rulers. Instigated chiefly by Jack Gladstone, a slave at "Success" plantation, the rebellion also involved his father, Quamina, and other senior members of their church group. Its English pastor, John Smith, was implicated.

The Society of Berbice was founded on 24 October 1720 by the owners of the colony of Berbice currently in Guyana. These owners had acquired the colony from the French on 24 October 1714, who in turn had occupied the colony which was previously a hereditary fief in the possession of the Van Peere family.

Pomeroon (colony)

Pomeroon is the name of a former Dutch plantation colony on the Pomeroon River in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America. After early colonization attempts in the late 16th century were attacked by Spaniards and local Indians, the original inhabitants fled the interior of Guiana, founding the colony of Essequibo around Fort Kyk-Over-Al shortly after. A second, and more serious attempt at colonization started in 1650, but was ultimately unsuccessful, as French privateers destroyed the colony in 1689. In the late 18th century, a third attempt of colonization was started, this time under the jurisdiction of the Essequibo colony.

Surinam (Dutch colony)

Surinam was a Dutch plantation colony in the Guianas, neighboured by the equally Dutch colony of Berbice to the west, and the French colony of Cayenne to the east. Surinam was a Dutch colony from 26 February 1667, when Dutch forces captured Francis Willoughby's English colony during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, until 15 December 1954, when Surinam became a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The status quo of Dutch sovereignty over Surinam, and English sovereignty over New Netherland, which it had conquered in 1664, was kept in the Treaty of Breda of 31 July 1667, and again confirmed in the Treaty of Westminster of 1674.

College of Kiezers

The College of Kiezers was an electoral college in the Dutch colonies of Essequibo and Demerara and their successor, British Guiana.

Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande was a Dutch governor of the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara from 1743 to 1772. He turned Demerara in a successful plantation colony, and the borders of Guyana are mainly based on his expeditions into the interior. He is also noted for his treatment of the Amerindians.

Borsselen former capital and island in Essequibo Islands-West Demerara, Guyana

Borsselen is an island in the Demerara River of Guyana, and was the capital of Demerara between 1755 and 1782.

Wolfert Simon van Hoogenheim was a Dutch governor of the colony of Berbice. During his rule, the Berbice Slave Uprising took place.


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  14. Netscher 1888, p. 149.
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Further reading

Coordinates: 6°48′44″N58°10′12″W / 6.8121°N 58.1701°W / 6.8121; -58.1701