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Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the Dutch Defense of Guyana

Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the Dutch Defense of Guyana


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The Dutch have had a long presence in the Caribbean and Latin America and a form of Dutch is still spoken in parts of the region. The European nation has left many architectural and archaeological remains in the area, one of which is the remains of Fort Kyk-Over-Al, in the South American country of Guyana.

The Early History of Fort Kyk-Over-Al

The Spanish were the first Europeans to visit the area now known as Guyana. However, it was the Dutch that colonized the area first during their long war with Spain. They established a colony at Essequibo.

The Zeeland Fort, Dutch ruins on the island of Essequibo (homocosmicos/ Adobe Stock )

The Dutch selected the area because of its strategic significance and established Fort Kyk-Over-Al at the meeting point of three great rivers, the Essequibo, Cuyuni and Mazaruni. This allowed the Europeans to dominate the region as well as the trade routes. They constructed the fort to protect their colonists from attacks by Amerindians, pirates, and rival European armies . The fort, initially a defensive outpost, developed into a major trading and administrative center.

The Endless Battles for Fort Kyk-Over-Al

This area was a battleground for much of the 17 th and 18 th century. European armies and navies fought for control of the region because of its vast economic wealth and resources. During the First- Anglo Dutch War , the fort was attacked by a British force led by the Governor of Barbados. He overran the Dutch settlements and quickly occupied the fort, but his communications were stretched, and the Dutch soon recovered the fort.

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Map showing where the three rivers meet (KMusser / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

By the 1670s they had established plantations in the area and were trading successfully with the local Amerindian tribes . The region was infested with pirates for many decades and French pirates attacked the Dutch settlements on a regular basis. These were either beaten back or the colonists paid the buccaneers protection money. Fort Kyk-Over-Al was attacked by French pirates in 1708 and was briefly captured, but the Dutch were able to take it back once again. There was another attack on the fort in 1712 and this too was repulsed.

In 1748 the outpost ceased to be the administrative center of Guyana since the Dutch had developed a series of plantations in the coastal area. By the late 18 th century the site had been abandoned.

Later History of Fort Kyk-Over-Al

After the fort was abandoned much of its materials were re-used in the construction of neighboring plantations. In 1817, Guyana was transferred to the control of the British. In the late 19 th century the fort was excavated and surveyed, not for archaeological purposes but as part of a border dispute between Venezuela and Britain. The British commissioned the survey to prove that the Dutch had been long-established in the area. This led an International Commission to declare that this area of Guyana was British territory because the Dutch had legally transferred their sovereignty to London.

It is reported that as part of the survey some stones were taken from Fort Kyk-Over-Al to Great Britain and later returned. The Guyanese government made the ruins of the fort a national monument in the 1980s.

The Vistas at Fort Kyk-Over-Al?

The name of the fort in Dutch means ‘see-over-all’ because of the views it offers of the local rivers and landscape. A single brick arch with a flight of steps is all that remains of Fort Kyk-Over-Al. It is approximately 30 feet high (10 m). The other ruins in the area, including foundations and the remains of walls are hidden beneath the dense vegetation.

Getting to Fort Kyk-Over-Al

The fort is approximately 50 miles south of the capital of Guyana. Accommodation is available in the nearest town, Bartica. Packaged tours enable tourist to visit the fort, along with a number of other sites and Amerindian villages .

The scenery is amazing, and the environment unspoiled. The Guyanese government expects all tourists to observe guidelines that promote sustainability.


Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the Dutch Defense of Guyana - History

Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America, but English has been the official language for less than half the time Europeans occupied the country. The Dutch language was the main medium of communication for 232 years, from the time a group of Dutchmen sailed up the Pomeroon River and settled there, to 1812 when English replaced Dutch as the language used in the Court of Policy (Parliament). To this day, hundreds of villages have retained their original Dutch names like Uitvlugt, Vergenoegen and Zeeburg. Some present-day Guyanese have names like Westmaas, Amsterdam and Meertens. No Guyanese citizen or visitor can escape visible and other reminders of our Dutch predecessors.

The ruins of a brick fort can still be seen on a little island where the Essequibo, Mazaruni and Cuyuni rivers meet. The original fort was a wooden structure built around 1600 by some Dutch traders who called it Kyk-over-al or "See-over-all" because it provided a commanding view of the three rivers. From 1627 the fort was controlled by the Dutch West India Company, a Holland-based organization which was vested with the power to establish colonies and which monopolized Dutch trade in the New World. The Company appointed Adrianetz Groenewegel as its first Commander to administer Kyk-over-al. The wooden fort was replaced in the 1630s by a brick structure which also served as an administrative centre.

Guyanese farmers and consumers should know that it was Commander Groenewegel, along with his counterpart Cornelis Goliat of Fort Nova Zeelandia in the Pomeroon River, who introduced orange, lemon and lime trees to the country from Southern Europe. They also brought in sugar-cane plants and plantain suckers which the Company's sister-organization, the Dutch East India Company, had initially obtained from the East Indies.

Another notable landmark which continues to attract tourists to Guyana is the Dutch fort Zeelandia on Fort Island in the Essequibo River. This brick fort, which still retains its main features, was built in 1743. The man responsible for its construction was Laurens Storm van Gravesande. As it turned out, Gravesande played a major role in Guyana's early development. He arrived first at Fort Kyk-over-al in 1738 to serve as Secretary to the Commander, Hermanus Gelskerke. Together, they decided to move the capital of Essequibo downriver to Fort Island in order to have ready access to more fertile land. Gravesande was appointed Commander (Governor) of Essequibo in 1743, following the death of Gelskerke.

Shortly after Fort Island became the capital, many Dutch planters relocated to the lower banks of the Essequibo River. They continued to cultivate cotton, annatto (a red dye which fetched a high price in Europe), citrus, coffee, ground provisions and sugar-cane. Gravesande encouraged planters of all nationalities to take up land under his jurisdiction with tax-free concessions and other generous benefits. Englishmen rushed in from the West Indian islands and, together with Dutch newcomers, were granted parcels of fertile land along the East Bank of the Essequibo River, the West Coast of Demerara and then along both banks of the Demerara River. It didn't take long for estates to cover the Demerara landscape.

In 1750 Gravesande and his son Jonathan travelled to Holland and were received warmly by the directors of the Dutch West India Company. Jonathan was appointed the first Commander (Governor) of Demerara while the older Gravesande became Director-General of Demerara and Essequibo. Jonathan chose Borsselen Island in the Demerara River as his capital but died early, in 1761. Laurens Storm van Gravesande resigned as Director-General in 1772. He died three years later. The early Dutch planters laid the foundation for Guyana's sugar industry. They started cultivating sugar-cane on a small scale around 1636 near Kyk-over-al. With the passage of time sugar became the most important and profitable crop. The sugar industry has endured to this day as one of Guyana's main foreign-currency earners.

In the 1740s, when Dutch sugar planters moved their estates from Kyk-over-al to other locations towards the coastal belt, they had to spend large sums of money and organize an army of manpower on sea defence, drainage and irrigation. The Guyana coastland is six feet below high-tide level and is vulnerable to flood-water from the sea. In addition, the planters had to combat water draining down from the highlands behind their estates and were threatened with flooding every rainy season. Faced with this dual agony, the Dutch planters devised a system of water control that is used up to this day.

They built a sea-dam at the front of their estates and a backdam behind the estates. To keep out water from the surrounding undrained lands they built side-line dams. They dug canals alongside the side-line dams to collect excess water from the estates through a network of smaller trenches. These side-line canals flowed towards the sea-dam where kokers or sluices were erected to control the outflow. Today, kokers stand like sentinels at strategic points along Guyana's low-lying coastal plain, offering round-the-clock protection to people, animals and property. The original sea-dams were later reinforced with concrete sea-walls. While the Dutch were masters at digging canals, they also built Guyana's main roads. Each planter was legally bound to build a public road in front of his plantation. Planters were also responsible for maintaining the roads. Failure to carry out road repairs could result in the forfeiture of a planter's entire estate.

Did the Dutch planters create Guyana's infrastructure and early market economy by themselves? Without the labour of African slaves sugar-cane and other large-scale crops could not be planted and harvested, canals could not be dug, sea-walls and roads could not be built. The first batch of African slaves arrived at Fort Nova Zeelandia on the Pomeroon River from Angola in 1658. By the time the Dutch were finally forced to relinquish Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice in 1803, Africans accounted for the majority of the population. There were 110,000 Africans in Guyana, according to a census taken in 1817, i.e., seventeen years before the abolition of slavery and the introduction of Chinese, Portuguese and East Indians. While the system of slavery should never be condoned, it is useful to remember that the Dutch handed down a remarkable legacy in the form of wonderful human beings who now call themselves Afro-Guyanese.

More than 195 years after the Dutch surrendered to the English, one can still see groups of adventurous and enterprising Guyanese retrieving and selling never-ending quantities of Dutch bottles. The Dutch planters used to drink wine and beer freely at breakfast, lunch, dinner and late into the night. As many plantations stood on the banks of rivers, empty beer and wine bottles were simply thrown into the rivers. In other estates these bottles were discarded any which way. Dutch bottles are in great demand among tourists in Guyana, and brave youths continue to dive in the Essequibo, Demerara, Berbice, Canje and other rivers to search for these precious souvenirs.

Present-day Guyanese are more educated and enlightened than their nineteenth-century forefathers. East Indians, Portuguese and Chinese never laboured for Dutch plantation owners. Despite that, among the superstitious of all races, a Dutchman jumbie (ghost) is still believed to haunt many villages. And, according to folklore, Dutch jumbies are far more terrifying than other varieties of ghosts. Some people will avoid passing near old Dutch cemeteries at mid-day or midnight, fearing that "Dutchman go hold" them.

In life and in death, in the past and the present, those Dutch pioneers who made a whole country out of bush and swamp have left an indelible impression on us all.


Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the Dutch Defense of Guyana - History

Providing You with Reliable Geographic Information About Guyana

Cuyuni-Mazaruni

The Cuyuni/Mazaruni Region is bordered on the East by Venezuela and by the Essequibo River on the Western side. The region has an area of 18,400 square miles (47,650 square kilometers). It comprises of a vast amount of Forested Hinterland and a small amount of Hilly Sand and Clay region.

Place names

  • Pakaraima Mountain Range
  • Kamarang (Amerindian village)
  • Bartica (town)
  • Mount Ayanganna
  • Mount Roraima

Economic Activities

Location: The intersection of the Essequibo, Cuyuni and Mazaruni Rivers.

History: Fort Kyk-Over-Al was a Dutch Fort in the colony of Essequibo.. It was constructed in the year 1616 at the intersection of the Essequibo, Cuyuni and Mazaruni Rivers. It once served as the centre for the Dutch Administration of the County, but now only ruins are left .


History This Week

The accidental discovery of the West Indies by Christopher Columbus set in stage a remarkable number of events allowing for European powers to establish their first overseas empires to reap the wealth first through the mining of gold and later through the establishment of plantation economies. With increased wealth came increased rivalry among the various powers and in an effort to protect and consolidate the sources of their wealth the use of force became a critical component of their imperial tactics. Guyana was no exception to this rivalry, as forts were built, garrisons were stationed and lives were lost in the quest to protect the colony. Today these tangible reminders of the colonial era testify to the military heritage of the country. We often pass these monuments without taking time to appreciate and understand their importance and significance to the heritage of our native land.

Under the Dutch period of occupation, 1580-1803 several forts and small stations were constructed at specific points in the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara and Berbice. In his writings Cornelius Goslinga described many of the early settlements as wooden shanties, manned by two or three Dutchmen to undertake trade with the indigenous peoples. Most of these settlements were built close to the villages of the Caribs and Arawaks and to date none of them have survived as they were built of perishable materials. As the Dutch Amerindian trade increased there was need for a more permanent structure to be constructed.

Shortly after the establishment of the Dutch West India Company in 1621 a number of colonists from the province of Zeeland established a settlement on a small island, approximately 1.5 acres in size, at the confluence of the Essequibo, Mazaruni and Cuyuni rivers where a small fort, perhaps the smallest Dutch fortification ever built in their overseas empire, armed with a few guns, was erected. This fortification came to be known by the descriptive name, ‘Kijkoveral’ (see over all), based on its location. According to one report in 1672, Fort Kyk Over Al was described as a two-storeyed brick structure approximately 20m x 20m, complete with a powder magazine inside the wall.

As the Dutch continued to establish plantations down the Essequibo River, it was evident that there was need to relocate the centre of Dutch administration of the colony of Essequibo to a location closer to the river mouth. The fort became a beehive of activity and soon became too small for the increasing number of civil servants and others employed by the company.

In 1716, owing to the crowded state of the island, the Dutchmen relocated to ‘Huis Nabij’ (Nearby House) which was built at Cartabo Point at the junction of the Mazaruni and Cuyuni Rivers. In 1748 most of the buildings at Kyk Over Al were demolished and according to Hartsinck, some of the bricks were used for the erection of a sugar mill at Plantation Duynenburg.

During the territorial dispute between British Guiana and Venezuela in 1897, some doubts were expressed as to the original builders of the fort. In the circumstance excavations were undertaken to collect samples of the bricks from the ruins and the lowest courses together with the keystone of the archway over the door.

Archaeologist JM Baart noted after reviewing the pictures and the samples of the bricks taken that, “the wall depicted on your photo is definitely not Spanish masonry. The Spanish brick used in the 17th century is flatter. In view of the colour of the brick and its measurements it relates to masonry from the Dutch period 1650-1750.”

The commandeurs of Fort Kyk Over Al had from the beginning of the 18th century insisted that the centre of Dutch administration should have been relocated closer to the mouth of the Essequibo River to protect against enemy invasion.

In the circumstances an engineer, Leslorant, was sent from the Netherlands in 1726 to “construct horn work with wooden redoubt and a strong palisade on the northern point of Vlaggeneiland, later Fort Island.” To relocate the seat of government from Cartabo Point necessitated more than just a fort. Accommodation for the commandeur and his staff, suitable lodging for soldiers and other infrastructure were needed.

In August 1738 the newly appointed secretary of the DWIC, Laurens Storm Van’s Gravesande, reported that the wooden fort which had been built was in a state of disrepair and could never be effectively used for protecting the Dutch interests in Essequibo.

Gravesande proposed that a new fort be built of brick, which he offered to make in the colony over a period of two years. This proposal was favourably accepted, and in 1740 the construction of the fort commenced in earnest under his watchful eyes.

Bricks were made on the spot, and trass and mortar, though available in Essequibo, were imported from Barbados. Enslaved Africans were supplied by plantation owners, and a substantial portion of the fort was completed in 1743. The administrators of the DWIC were notified by Gravesande in April 1744 that the new fort was now completely finished except for the crown work. The new fort was christened Zeelandia in honour of the settlers of Zeeland.

The fort is believed to have been designed in accordance with the lozenge-shaped forts which were constructed along the coast of West Africa during the 18th century. According to one description, the fort was a square building, provided with 18 or 19 guns, with four ramparts, inside of which were three covered mason redoubts, having flat roofs with embrasures, serving for barracks for soldiers and a powder magazine.

In the end Fort Zeelandia never witnessed any major warfare as was envisioned by the Dutchmen. It was captured by Captain Day of Admiral Rodney’s forces on March 6, 1781 without opposition, and later in 1782 by the French who remained until 1784 when the Dutch resumed control. In 1796 the fort was all but abandoned and left in a state of ruin, as focus shifted to the expansion of plantations along the fertile banks of the Demerara River.

This fort was erected some time after Berbice was settled by a private merchant, Abraham Van Pere, in 1627. Very little is known about the fort itself or the activities at the settlement, other than the fact that it successfully repelled an English attack in 1665. However, an account by Adrian Van Berkel in 1670 indicates that the colonists dwelt on their own plantations rather than at the centralised settlement. There seems to have been very little there other than a fort with a commandeur’s house and its accompanying citrus groves.

According to Hartsinck the fort was rebuilt under the direction of Commandeur Lucas Coudrie in 1684. Its outer perimeter comprising bullet-wood palisades measured 200 feet square, and it was protected by twelve small cannon to the side of the river and two on the northern side. Inside was a brick building 100 ft x 50 ft, accommodating the council chamber and the church, while the lower floor served as a guardhouse and storeroom. To the south of this edifice were a mess-kitchen, stables, cooperage and two smithies.

This fort and its settlements appear to have had a precarious existence as it was reported that French privateers plundered and held it to ransom in 1689 and again in 1712.

After a group of Dutch merchants redeemed the colony from the French, a new fort seems to have been constructed, possibly some time in the early 1720s. Reports in the 1730s noted that the fort was dilapidated and in want of repair. Some repairs were undertaken, but the fort was completely destroyed by the Dutch who set it on fire before they fled down river during the 1763 slave uprising.

After the suppression of the rebellion a fortified zone called the New Retrenchment was created around the Lutheran Church, which was a little way upriver from the original fort. In the 1770s proposals again surfaced for the construction of a perma
nent fort, and some brickwork was laid, but with declining fortunes and the invasions by the English and later the French in the years 1781-1784 nothing was accomplished. In 1785 the decision was taken to abandon the Fort Nassau area, and the residents of the settlement subsequently were relocated to the present town of New Amsterdam. Models of Fort Nassau and Fort Zeelandia are currently exhibited at the National Museum, allowing for visitors to have an idea of the grandeur of these historic sites.

The manufacture of gunpowder, which resulted in the production of cannons as an integral weapon in times of war can be traced back to the eleventh century, when the Chinese perfected the art. Within a few short years it became a symbol of power, a symbol of destruction and creation. Like guns, cannons soon made their way to the West Indies to terrify the people into subjugation and a new way of life. For the Europeans, cannons were the tools of survival: for the peoples of the colonies they were symbols of oppression. Mounted in the forecourt of many public and civic buildings in the country, these cannons serve as a further reminder of the various phases of European occupation. To date, it is estimated that there are approximately thirty cannons scattered across the country, with origins from Sevastopol to England.

The forecourt of Parliament Buildings, home to the National Assembly of Guyana, is adorned with a pair of 18 pound, 7 inch Russian cannons each with a ‘Systeme Venglov’ carriage, impressively mounted on a base of boulder and stone work. Designed by a Scot and cast at the Alexandrovski Factory during 1825 – 1827, these cannons were imported from Sevastopol in 1855 and presented to the colony of British Guiana on 10 May 1859, during a simple civil ceremony in recognition of over $20,000.00 to the Patriotic Fund for the relief of Widows and Orphans of soldiers killed in the Crimean War. The entrance of this structure is flanked by a pair of eight inch German Trench Mortars, which were taken as trophies of the First World War 1914-1918.

Mounted on the lawns of the Great House of Plantation Skeldon, Berbice is an eighteen pounder or twenty four pounder cannon of French or Dutch origin. It is believed that this cannon which may have been used in the Napoleanic Wars was cast in the late 18th century.

Standing guard at Fort Zeelandia, a national monument, once the seat of government for the colony of Essequibo are three cannons, classified as a nine pounder which were most likely cast in the late 17th century or early 18th century. One other example of an 18th century manufactured cannons include that mounted at State House.

Gracing the entrance of the Police Officer’s Mess is a pair of 4.7 inch MKII cannons that were manufactured in Britain circa 1890. According to one report these cannons were issued to British Guiana in 1916 to be used for coastal defence during the First World War.

Standing guard at the entrance of the headquarters of the Guyana Police Force is a pair of 9 pounders Blomfield cannons which were cast by Carron and issued to British Guiana with carriages in 1818. Also issued in that same year are the three cannons mounted on simple clay brick bases at Camp Ayangana.

These cannons were also cast by Carron. The military museum has an interesting collection of cannons, artillery and cannonballs mounted. Visitors should take the opportunity whenever they can to visit this establishment. There are many other cannons scattered throughout the country many of them waiting to be discovered. One example include the partially buried cannon on the parapet in front of Christ Church in Waterloo Street as well as those which fell into the Essequibo River when the ramparts of Fort Zeelandia collapsed many years ago.

In its entirety, Kingston, one of the oldest wards in the city of Georgetown has a rich military history which is still, for the most part intact today. According to one report Cornelius Leary applied for and was granted a tract of land to cultivate cotton and coffee near the mouth of the Demerara River in 1759. When he died this estate was inherited by his wife Eve Leary. In 1796 when the colony was captured by the British the garrison officers established a village on the Eve Leary estate. Built by the officers at the garrison, Kingston with its small cottages set amidst gardens resembled a little English village.

Some claim that Kingston was named in honour of Lieutenant Robert Kingston who constructed Fort St. George, whilst others claimed that it was named after King George. The name of streets such as Parade Street, Fort Street, and Duke Street (was named in honour of one of the Royal Dukes, son of George 11) are a reminder of the military heritage of this ward of the city of Georgetown.

Noteworthy examples include the Police Officer’s Mess, the Barracks, which were so vividly described by Sir Robert Schomburgk as well as the Light House and the submerged ruins of Fort William Frederick on the bank of the Demerara River behind the Transport & Harbours Department. Of special importance is the British Military Cemetery, which is located at Rabbit Walk, adjacent to the headquarters of the Guyana Police Force.

Cemeteries are repositories of precious historical, cultural and genealogical information. This cemetery houses a number of graves of those brave men who served in World Wars 1 and 2 under the naval, army and air forces of the British Commonwealth as well as those of the Merchant Army.

This cemetery was originally located close to the Cheddi Jagan Timehri International Airport, adjacent to Camp Stephenson. For many years this site was neglected and soon became over grown with weeds. In 1987 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Defence Attache in Georgetown, commenced negotiations with the government to maintain the site. In the circumstance Rabbit Walk was selected for the relocation of the graves of those distinguished servicemen.

In August 1993 the exhumation and the re internment of the casualties commenced under the supervision of a representative of the Commission. On Friday 9 August 2002, at a ceremony attended by the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Rudy Insanally, the Security of Tenure of Rabbit Walk was handed over to the Commonwealth War Commission. Examples of a few of the servicemen rested there include Biphat, Private R 16888, British West India Regiment, July 30, 1919 Scipio, Lance Corporal, H A, 11646, 8th Bn, British West India Regiment, December 20, 1920 and Doyle, Able Seaman, Thomas, SS Arabian Prince (London) Merchant Navy, July 25 1944 among others.


History of Georgetown

In 1753 when Demerara became a colony, separate from Essequibo, its administrative headquarters were set up on Borsselen Island, the middle of three little islands some twenty miles up the Demerara River near Timehri. A brandwaght or signal station had earlier been erected at the mouth of the Demerara River in 1748 and plantations were established. The Dutch also reserved land extending in an easterly direction from the brandwaght for public purposes. In 1759, owing to the large number of plantations it was agreed that Borsselen Island was unsuitable as the capital as the area was overcrowded. The new site for the capital was not agreed upon and whatever plans the Dutch had in thought were halted when the British gained control of Demerara.

In 1781, the Dutch surrendered Demerara to the English and lieutenant Colonel Robert Kingston, the British Lieutenant Governor, erected Fort St. George near the mouth of the river on the Company Path where the National Museum now stands. Kingston decided that the Brandwaght strip should provide the seat of the government and that same year an office was established there. On 31 January 1782, a squadron of French men – of – war, allies of the Dutch, appeared in the river, demolished Fort St. George and in a few days imposed terms of surrender on the English occupiers.

The French Commander issued a proclamation on 22 February, 1782 stating that it was ‘ considered to be necessary to establish a Capital, which would become a business centre: where religion would have a temple, justice a place, war its arsenals, commerce its counting houses and industries its factories: where also the inhabitants might enjoy the advantages of social intercourse.’

Enslaved Africans requisitioned from the planters dug two canals running eastwards from the site of the brandwaght: one called North Canal corresponding to the present Croal Street, and the other the South Canal, corresponding to Hadfield Street. These formed two lines of lots looking on to a middle dam almost three quarters of a mile. On 21 March 1782 the French Governor gave notice that he would receive visitors twice a week: on Sunday and on Thursday: from 9 a.m. till noon.

The colonies of Demerara and Essequibo were restored to the Dutch in 1784 and the Dutch West India Company, by a resolution dated 14 September 1784, named the town Stabroek after the President of the Company: Nicholas Van Gleevink Lord of Castricum, Buckum and Stabroek. The fort, which the French had constructed at Plantation Eve Leary was, renamed Frederick William after the Stadtholder. On 5 May 1812, when Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice passed finally to the English, Stabroek was renamed Georgetown in honour of King George IV.


Fort Zeelandia — Guyana’s Hidden Historical Gem

Guyana is becoming world-renowned for its natural treasures. But the rapidly emerging South American destination boasts some pretty cool historic sights, too. Like Fort Zeelandia on the Essequibo River .

The 17th-century citadel is located on Fort Island, where the modern history of Guyana began around 400 years ago (1616) when the Dutch established the Essequibo Colony, a small foothold at the top end of South America.

It was apparently a lively little colony, populated by soldiers, administrators and civilian settlers who grew cotton, cacao, indigo and other tropical crops in the rich alluvial soil. They also traded with the local indigenous people and another Dutch colony called Demerara that eventually evolved into Georgetown.

Seeking better defense against pirates, Amerindian raids and rival European empires, the Dutch West India Company funded the construction of Fort Zeelandia in the 1740s using slave labor. The bastion protected the remote colony for nearly 200 years — until it finally fell to Britain during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Armory (left) and Main Redoubt at Fort Zeelandia. Photo by Joe Yogerst.

Featuring a lozenge-shaped two story redoubt surrounded by earthen ramparts, the fort ruins overlook the Essequibo River on the north side of Fort Island town. A couple of antique Dutch canyons and an armory with an arched-barrel roof round out the military complex.

Villagers sell snacks along the island’s waterfront path. Photo by Joe Yogerst.

From Fort Zeelandia, a walkway runs the length of the village to the floating dock that brings visitors from the mainland in water taxis and private sightseeing boats. On weekends, many of the 70 or so people who still reside on Fort Island are out in force, selling tamarind balls, coconut water and other treats along the path.

The island’s other historic gem lies at the south end of the village — the Court of Policy building, which did triple duty as a courthouse, administrative building and Dutch Reform Church during colonial times. It’s also believed that slaves were sold there.

Old Dutch map of Fort Island in the Court of Policy Museum. Photo by Joe Yogerst.

Nowadays, the resurrected structure (restored in 2000 by the Guyana National Trust) houses a museum detailing the history of Fort Island and 300 years of Dutch colonization along the north shore of South America. Among the collection highlights are marvelous old maps of Guyana and old Dutch tombstones.

Restored Court of Policy. Photo by Joe Yogerst.

Georgetown-based tour operators like Evergreen Adventures run excursions to Fort Island. Day trips start with a drive across the Demerara Harbour Bridge — the world’s third longest floating bridge — and then along the north coast to Parika.

The big wooden stelling (dock) in Partika is the departure point for the large vehicle ferries and smaller tour boats that ply the Essequibo. Which, by the way, is the biggest river along the South American coast between the Amazon and the Orinoco.

Many of the day trips include lunch and a chance to swim at riverside resorts like Baganara Island, a stroll through colorful Bartica Market, and a slow-float past Mazaruni Prison.


Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the Dutch Defense of Guyana - History

During its early occupation by the Dutch, the island was known as Flag Island because of a large flag that was flown there as a guide for ships.
The mighty flag is no longer in existence today. According to the Guyana National Trust, during the 17th century Essequibo blossomed from a trading post to a colony and planters began to migrate to the mouth of the Essequibo River.
As such, a centre of government and defence was built to oversee effective governance and to protect the Dutch interest in the Essequibo.
Fort Zeelandia, built in 1744 and the Court of Policy built eight years after, now a Dutch Heritage Museum and the only of its kind in Guyana, still stand today.
And today, the sparsely populated island about three square miles in length and a mile in width, is far from the busy trading post it was in its early colonial days.
The island is better remembered for these two important historical sites. In the early days, the Court of Policy building served as a church, Court House and venture office.
The brick building is in good shape, due to extensive renovations 17 years ago, and is reputedly the oldest non-military structure in Guyana.
At its peak, the island was the seat of government for the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara, but as time went by, it was overgrown and a new capital was desired.
No longer the centre of government, the Court of Policy fell into disrepair and after years of neglect, the building in 2000 was restored by the Guyana National Trust.
Extensive works were done to the roof, windows, doors and other infrastructural works to enhance visitors’ experience.
The museum is frequented by locals on weekends and foreigners mostly during the August vacation period.

BOTTLES
Inside the museum, old Dutch and English bottles and jars of varying sizes and shapes can be found, as well as early maps of Guyana.
Bottles were reportedly a part of everyday life in the colony of Essequibo. In 1782, Dutch ship, ‘Pieter Elias,’ on its way to the shores of Berbice was seized by British soldiers.
Records indicate that among the loot plundered included 8,141 bottles of red and white wines 773 bottles of gin and brandy 76 caskets of beer 432 jugs of oil and vinegar 21 jugs of fruits and 21 chests of prepared medicines.

When the bottles were discarded, they became oddments of the early Dutch and British era in Guyana, and according to one pamphlet, the old bottles in Guyana are mainly from Britain, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Also in the museum is a broken African jar believed to be over 300 years old and the tomes of Commander and Court member Johames Backer Laurens Backer, merely a year old and Michael Roth, a doctor for the British West India Company, who died in the Essequibo River.
They were all members of the early Dutch colony.
At the gate of Fort Island, a glance north and Fort Zeelandia appears.
According to a document at the Court of Policy, the existence of the fort can be traced as early as 1679, when Dutch commander Albert Beekman articulated the need for one on the island.
Construction work started on a timber fort and was slated to be completed in September 1681, but it was never finished to serve its purpose.
In 1710, Commander Peter Van der Heyden Rusen started a petition for a brick fort to replace the unfinished one made of timber, but the petition caused some amount of conflict between the commander and the planters on the island.
As a result, the plan for the new fort was stalled. However, in August 1738, Laurens Storms van Gravesande, the Secretary to Commander Hermanus Gleskerk, inspected the wooden fort and reported that the timber structure was falling to pieces.

DUTCH INTEREST
He recommended to the Directors of the Netherlands that a new fort of brick be built to defend the interest of the Dutch West India Company against European rivals, who prowl the eastern coast of South America.

The fort was also intended to serve as a stronghold against internal forces such as rebellious slaves.
Gravesande’s recommendation was accepted and he later went on to enjoy a distinguished life in public service.
Born in the City of Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, and becoming a trained military officer at 17, Gravesande was appointed commander of Essequibo in 1742, serving longer than any other who held that post in the colonies.
After serving for more than 30 years as director-general for the counties of Essequibo and Demerara, he retired. In preserved writings, he is described as a “born leader.”
The construction of Fort Zeelandia, named after the County of Zeelandia in the Netherlands from which many of the inhabitants of the island originate, can be considered one of his first achievements as commander.
The fort similar to those built in West Africa, consisted of a redoubt of 50 square feet, with walls thick enough to endure the heaviest ordnance.

It was a two-storey building. The lower flat served as a warehouse for provisions and a safe powder house, while the upper floor housed the soldiers with a room for the non-commissioned officers.
Twenty gun ports, each holding a two or three-pounder gun were on each storey.
In 1775, Flag Island (Vlaggen Eyland in Dutch) was renamed Fort Island and on March 6, 1781, the island was captured by Capitan Day of Admiral Rodney’s British Navy Force.
But the British takeover was short-lived, as the French captured the island the following year. The Dutch regained control of the fort two years after and by 1796, the fort went into a long period of decline, as attention shifted to the colony of Demerara.


Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the Dutch Defense of Guyana - History

The area of the three Guianas (British, Dutch and French), bounded by the rivers of the Orinoco, Amazon and Rio Negro, and the Atlantic Ocean, is believed to have been settled before 900 AD by Warrau Indians, and later by the Arawak and Carib tribes. However, there is no evidence from these times of an advanced civilisation such as those found elsewhere in the Americas.

THE FIRST EUROPEANS
In 1489, Christopher Columbus sailed off the coast and in 1595 Sir Walter Raleigh's voyage to the New World led to subsequent accounts of El Dorado, the city of gold, which was believed to be in, or around, what is now Guyana. The Dutch, who began trading with Amerindians along the coast of Guyana, established two trading posts on the mainland, one in the Pomeroon and the other on the Abary Creek, around 1580.

EUROPEAN COLONISATION - 17th TO 19th CENTURY
The Dutch trading post in the Pomeroon was relocated around 1616 to another area in Essequibo, at the junction of the Essequibo, Mazaruni and Cuyuni Rivers, where they built Fort Kyk-Over-Al (Kijk-Over-Al), the first major Dutch settlement in what is now Guyana. In 1621, the Dutch West India Company was formed and took over control of Essequibo. In 1627, a second Dutch settlement was established in Berbice, east of Essequibo.
The cultivation of sugar cane began in 1658 along the Pomeroon River in Essequibo. Sugar has been and continues to be one of the major exports of Guyana. There followed a series of conflicts between the Dutch and English.
A third settlement, Demerara, situated between Essequibo and Berbice was established by the Dutch in 1741 and the three settlements were granted the status of Colony by 1773. The Dutch imported African slaves to work on their plantations during the early years of the colonies. The Berbice revolt, 1763-64, began at Plantation Magalenenburg in the Colony of Berbice. The rebellion which was in protest of the harsh treatment of the slaves. For a brief period in 1781, the English gained control of the colonies Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara, but in 1782 the French and Dutch collaborated to seize control of the colonies. In 1784, the Dutch were in control of the colonies.

BRITISH RULE ESTABLISHED
The British gained control of the colonies in 1796 and they continued as part of the British Empire until 1966, except for a short period during 1802 and 1803 when the Dutch were given control of the colonies under the Treaty of Amiens.

The capital, Stabroek, was renamed George Town in honour of the British Monarch, George IV. The British became the sole possessors of the United Colony and the Colony of Berbice in 1815 under the terms of the Treaty of Vienna. In 1831 the colonies were merged to form British Guiana.

SLAVERY AND AFTER
Discontent amongst the slaves festered as the 19th century progressed there were disturbances, particularly in 1823 and troops were required to put down a rebellion.
Slavery was abolished in British Guiana under the Emancipation Act in 1833 and replaced by a period of Apprenticeship during which persons registered as slaves, six years old and upwards, were required to serve their former masters. In return, the plantation owners were supposed to pay wages for their work. The plantation owners continued their ill treatment of the apprentices even though they were free people in the eyes of the law. The apprentices protested during August 1834 at their poor treatment, but the situation was brought under control. In 1838, full freedom was granted. Following the abolition of slavery, the British brought indentured labourers from Germany, Portugal, India and China to work on the plantations. The former slaves purchased land and founded villages on the coastal strip.
| More on Slavery |

MODERN GUYANA is slightly larger in size, at 214,969 km², than the island of Great Britain - 209,331 km²
- but its population is just some 777,859 (2017).
Population data from the World Bank, other data from Wikipedia, 15th February 2019.

Wakefield Metropolitan District in West Yorkshire, which includes Charles Waterton's home village of Walton,
covers some 338 square kilometres and is home to a population of 325,837 (2011 census, as shown on the official Wakefield M.D.C. website, accessed 16th February 2019.).

Guyana has ten administrative regions:

1. Barima-Waini gets its name from its two main rivers. The region is predominantly forested highland, bordered on the north by a narrow strip of low coastal plain. It has a sparse population, mainly in Amerindian villages. Logging is the region's main economic activity, with the timber being conveyed to Demerara to be processed into plywood. The tropical rainforest contains many valuable species of hardwood. Mining for gold and diamond is also carried out in the forest. The coast is renowned for its beaches, particularly Shell Beach (see map above), the only beach in the world to host four species of sea turtles during their nesting period. The Scarlet Ibis is also a common sight on these beaches.

2. Pomeroon-Supenaam is largely composed of forested highland and low coastal plain, but also includes a small area of the hilly sand and clay region. The people of this region live in Amerindian villages and more established villages concentrated along the coast. The town of Anna Regina, on the west bank of the Essequibo River, grew out of a government land development scheme and is made up of former plantations such as Henrietta, Lima, La Belle Alliance. Walton Hall, once the plantation owned by Squire Waterton's father, Thomas, is situated on the Essequibo coast. Rice fields dominate the region and the region is sometimes referred to as 'the rice land'.

3. Essequibo Islands-West Demerara is composed of the islands in the Essequibo River such as Leguan and Wakenaam, and the Western portion of mainland Demerara. It is made up of low coastland, hilly sand and clay, and a small number of forested highland areas. There are many villages along the coast. It contains villages such as Parika, Meten-Meer-Zorg and Uitvlugt. The Administrative centre is Vreed-en-Hoop. Rice farming is predominant, with small amounts of sugar and coconut cultivation. Read more about this region at Wikipedia, Essequibo Islands-West Demerara. [accessed 8th Jan 2017]

4. Demerara-Mahaica extends East of the Demerara River to the Western bank of the Mahaica River, and is predominantly low coastal plain, with a small area of hilly sand and clay region further inland. The population is concentrated along the coastland, particularly in Georgetown. There are many sugar estates, such as Diamond, Enmore and La Bonne Intention, owned and controlled by the Guyana Sugar Corporation. There are also some coconut estates.

5. Mahaica-Berbice extends east of the Mahaica River to the west bank of the Berbice River. A large part of the region is low coastal plain. Rice farming is the main economic activity, followed by sugar and coconut farming, and beef and dairy cattle ranching. Large dams were built across the headwaters of the Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary Creeks to prevent the flooding of the farmlands in front of them during the wet seasons. During the dry seasons, the dams are opened to allow the land to be irrigated.

6. East Berbice-Corentyne is the only region to include parts of all four natural geographical regions: coastal plain, intermediate savannah, hilly and sandy clay area and forested highland. It is also the only Region with three towns: New Amsterdam, Rose Hall and Corriverton. It is an important rice-producing, cattle-rearing and sugarcane producing area.

7. Cuyuni-Mazaruni contains two of the four natural regions: forested highlands and a small portion of the hilly sand and clay region. It contains Pakaraima mountain range with Mount Roraima (2,810 metres high, standing at the point where Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela meet) and Mount Ayanganna. Most of the population are involved in mining for gold and diamonds.

8. Potaro-Siparuni is named after the Potaro and Siparuni Rivers, which are tributaries of the Essequibo River. Predominantly forested highland with a small portion of hilly sand and clay, this region is home to the famous Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls. The Kaieteur is one of the highest single-drop waterfalls in the world, and it is one of the beautiful sights in the Guyana. The waterfalls of this region are great tourist attractions. Sparsely populated, this region has gold and diamond mining and forestry. Many of the mining companies are destroying the rivers they work in, particularly the Essequibo and Konawaruk Rivers.

9. Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo contains the Kanuku and Kamoa highlands and the vast Rupununi savannahs. The forested Kanuku Mountains divide this Region in two. The north savannahs are about 2,000 square miles in area, and the south savannahs are 2,500 square miles. The population lives in scattered Amerindian villages and land settlement schemes. The Rupununi is considered to be 'cattle country'. Most of the cattle are farmed to produce beef, although a few are kept for milk. There are large ranches here with much of the beef produced here being sold in neighbouring Brazil, because transportation is easier than to other parts of Guyana. The people of this region also mine semiprecious stones among the foothills of the Kamoa Mountains and among the Marundi Mountains. This is the land of the Giant River Otter, the Arapaima (the largest freshwater fish in the world - Arapaima gigas) and the Black Cayman.


Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the Dutch Defense of Guyana - History

Providing You with Reliable Geographic Information About Guyana

Mahaica-Berbice

The Mahaica/Berbice Region extends from the East bank of the Mahaica River to the West bank of the Berbice River. The region has an area of 1472.47 square miles (3813.67 square kilometers). It comprises of the Low Coastal Plain, the Hilly Sand and Clay Region and the Hinterland Forested Regions.

Place Names

Economic Activities

  • Rice and sugar Production
  • Coconuts
  • Dairy Cattle Raring
  • Vegetables, ground provisions and fruits
  • Fort NassauHistoric illustration of Fort Nassau, Capital of the Colony of Berbice, 1770. All that remains of a structure in the Centuries-old Fort (L. Hernandez)

Location: Right Bank Berbice River

History: Once the Capital of the Dutch Colony of Berbice, Fort Nassau is now a 17th Century ruin of a seat of Government, which is now also known as the base from which the famous 1763 Rebellion had its origins.

Built by Abraham Van Pere, a Dutch Merchant, in 1697

There are also grave plots and a church. Some suggest that there is also the “Talking Tree” of Fort Nassau, which is purported to have been used to send messages during the 1763 Rebellion.

The French burned the original Fort in the year 1712, but the Dutch rebuilt it. It
was destroyed by order of Governor Van Hoogenheim in the year 1763 to prevent its capture by the Rebelling Slaves. The Fort was eventually abandoned by the year 1785, and the new settlement, named Fort St. Andries, was created downstream. This new settlement eventually became the town of New Amsterdam, as it is known today.


Guyanese Online

This site contains an index to an on-going database of 18th and 19th century residents of the colonies of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequebo (with some connected relatives).

Others who have an interest in their ancestry, may claim earlier European roots in these colonies. In some cases these claims could date back to around 1580 with the earliest Portugese and Dutch settlers at Fort Kyk-over-al.

There are also those with ancestors associated with the Dutch West India Company or connected to the 1739 invitation to all nations that led many settlers, from Barbados, Antigua and other West Indian islands, to establish themselves in these colonies, then under Dutch control.

This wave of colonisation led to improved communication and therefore more data became available following the capture of the three colonies, Berbice Essequibo, and Demerara by the British in 1781.

Taken by the French in 1782 the colonies were restored to Holland the following year. In 1796, the British again claimed the three colonies, only to cede them to Holland in the Peace of Amiens in 1802. The following year, Britain captured the colonies again and gained formal control over them in 1815. In 1831, the three colonies were consolidated as British Guiana, now Guyana. [Read more]

— Guyanese Online Post #2190

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An excellent piece of historical data. A great source for those interested in their English Ancestry. I noticed that the compiler mentioned my granddad’s name John Edwin Hewick, Chief Justice of Guyana and my uncle’ name. Kudos to the compiler.

You seem to be thrilled about this, but did you stop to think what those people, including your grand pappy, did to the non white population?

So odd that there are no names under V. The Veecock name was well known in British Guyana. I wonder how that name was completely omitted!

The list now has many Veecock listed.

So this is a list of slave owners and those who were prominently involved in enslaving and indenturing human beings?

In all fairness, it is just a list of colonists. Nothing more, nothing less. Those who are related to them, however tenuously, can find it interesting. Apart from the Indigenous Peoples, all came to serve the interests of Capital.

Those who were responsible for securing Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo as one Country through Warfare with the French, Dutch, British and others were also responsible for its development and so they enslaved and indentured the human race to do so. Today we are supposedly Free at Last and what are we doing about developing the 83,000 square miles of terrority that our Masters fought for and entrusted it to us. We do not have a blueprint for development of Land either for Agriculture or for Industry. WE are impoverished for ideas and action plans and all our present day MP’s do in the Nation’s Parliament is to wrangle over power and its personal benefits! Who will demand Land Distribution among the current population and then Land Development for Agriculture. Fresh Black water of the Amazon is the fresh water that is needed to cultivate the said land mass and to transform the country into the Food basin of the Region! The Food Scarcity that is being talked about has the very potential to destroy the world through Food Riots everywhere! This land mass must not be allowed to sit idle for too long!

Since the colonists we are researching are four or five generations removed, it serves no purpose to judge them for being part of a worldwide society that still embraced slavery, wrong as we might find that. Keeping records away from descendents of colonists also keeps ancestral records away from those who may have also been descendents of the enslaved. I cannot trace my great grandmother because she was of mixed race and no records are available of her birth and no records of her birth mother are available.

If you wish to know the making of a Slave read what Joseph did for Pharaoh in Egypt, and understand, now ‘ mostly in the developed world we are all slaves. And ask where are the descendants of the 143 million that were taken into Slavery in the Arab World.

Did portuguese really settle in Fort-Kyk-Over-Al?

Many many years ago I was on THD ship that stopped at Kyk Over Al, met a young lady (beautiful) during our conversation, she mentioned her name was …
Mittelholzer remember asking if she as named after EDGAR MITTE…. she mentioned were related and her family “always” lived at Kyk Over Al, maybe they did settle there.

Very interesting. I would like to find some information on my great grandfather, Charles Brandt. However, he died in the 1960’s in Georgetown Guyana. His children were Walter and Lucille Brandt.

Brandt sounds like a name from London or Holland.

Where ever he may be, he is in a grave which has more gold and marble than the shacks of us, the colonized, living in shacks of Sophia, Ruimveldt and Lodge.

My great grand parents came from India in 1886 as casual 56 & 57. What is the significance of the casual #? Trying to trace the ship they came on and if they came with any siblings

My grandmother was born in British Guyana in 1881 and I am trying to find a record of her birth. She was Mary Catherine Fogarty. Her father was William Fogarty who founded Fogartys Store.

I’m certain that you have the money to buy an upgraded ancestry family tree research kit at those DNA sites.

Good site but not for non whites. This indicates the extent of discrimination shown towards the non whites.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the colonialists’ offspring start stealing land from Guyanese.

I would like to find out something about my ancestry but am stumped since my maternal grandmother of mixed race was born in Barbados and my paternal grandmother of African descent was born somewhere in British Guiana.
Will we, non-whites, ever be able to trace our ancestry or are we doomed to guessing at our original?

You can try to get the records from Barbados which has a great data base of people there.

advice alert for detow….contact Dmitri Allicock he knew more of my ancestry than…


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