The 1621 Charter of the Dutch West India Company

In 1621, the parliament of the Dutch Republic awarded a charter to the Dutch West India Company (a private joint stock corporation) granting it a 24-year monopoly on trade and colonization that included the American coast between Newfoundland and the Straits of Magellan. The charter authorized the Company to maintain a military force and granted it almost complete administrative and judicial power, including the power to “appoint and remove governors, officers of justice and other public officers, for the preservation of the places, keeping good order, police and justice in like manner for the promoting of trade” within the bounds of its monopoly. The Company began to settle New Netherland in 1625 and regulated the population through:

  • the Artikelbrief (rules of behavior governing the Company’s employees)
  • the Provisionele Ordere of March 1624 (a contract between the colonists and the Company outlining rights and duties)
  • two sets of Instructions issued by the Company to Provisional Director Willem Verhulst (one in January and the other in April of 1625)
  • Article 20 of the April Instructions that provided “In the administration of justice, in matters concerning marriages, the settlement of estates, and contracts, the ordinances and customs of Holland and Zeeland and the common written law qualifying them shall be observed and obeyed in the first place.”
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