Reformers in the Land of the Holy Cross

The Calvinist Mission in Dutch Brazil and the Portuguese Uprising of 1645

in Journal of Early American History
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The directors of the Dutch West India Company gambled their reputations and capital in a decades-long scheme to conquer and pacify Brazil, and in the end, they lost. This essay explores the various religious elements of that scheme or “mission,” as it was also called: establishing the Dutch Reformed Church as the colony’s public church, spreading the message of the “true religion,” attacking sin and reforming sinners. Coupled with a general, widespread sense of anti-Catholicism and anti-clericalism among the Dutch in Europe and America, these reform efforts exacerbated differences between the conquerors and conquered and contributed to Portuguese discontent in the years before the 1645 revolt.

Reformers in the Land of the Holy Cross

The Calvinist Mission in Dutch Brazil and the Portuguese Uprising of 1645

in Journal of Early American History



W.J. van Hoboken“The Dutch West India Company, the Political Background of its Rise and Decline,” in Britain and the Netherlands: Papers Delivered to the Oxford-Netherlands Historical Conference (1959) eds. J.S. Bromley and E.H. Kossmann (London U.K.: Chatto and Windus 1960) 41–61; J.G. van Dillen “De West-Indische Compagnie het Calvinisme en de politiek” Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 74 (1961): 145–171; Van Hoboken “Een wederwoord inzake de West-Indische Compagnie” Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis 75 (1962): 49–53; and Van Dillen’s reply in the same issue 53–56. See also Pieter Emmer “The West India Company 1621–1791: Dutch or Atlantic?” in The Dutch in the Atlantic Economy (Brookfield vt: Ashgate 1998) 65–90; and D.L. Noorlander “‘For the Maintenance of the True Religion’: Calvinism and the Directors of the Dutch West India Company” The Sixteenth Century Journal 44 no. 1 (Spring 2013): 73–95. For those who lean toward the Calvinist view see Goslinga Dutch in the Caribbean 89–115; Boxer Dutch in Brazil 11; Jaap Jacobs The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America (London U.K.: Cornell University Press 2009) 144; Janny Venema Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier 1652–1664 (Albany ny: State University of New York Press 2003) 133.


Benjamin Schmidt“Exotic Allies: The Dutch-Chilean Encounter and the (Failed) Conquest of America,” Renaissance Quarterly 52 no. 2 (Summer 1999): 445 449 (fn. 19) 450. See also his book Innocence Abroad: The Dutch Imagination and the New World 1570–1670 (Cambridge U.K.: Cambridge University Press 2001). In the same vein Mark Meuwese argues in Brothers in Arms Partners in Trade: Dutch-Indigenous Alliances in the Atlantic World 1595–1674 (Leiden Neth.: Brill 2011) that the attachments between the Dutch and their indigenous allies were genuine and impactful. Other recent social and religious histories (more about New Netherland or the Dutch in general than Brazil) include Willem Frijhoff Wegen van Evert Willemsz.: Een Hollands weeskind op zoek naar zichzelf 1607–1647 (Nijmegen Neth.: sun 1995); L.J. Joosse ’scoone Dingen Sijn Swaere Dingen’: Een onderzoek naar de motieven en activiteiten in de Nederlanden tot verbreiding van de gereformeerde religie gedurende de eerste helft van de zeventiende eeuw (Leiden Neth.: J.S. Groen en Zoon 1992); L.J. Joosse Geloof in de Nieuwe Wereld: ontmoeting met Afrikanen en Indianen 1600–1700 (Kampen Neth.: Kok 2008); Venema Beverwijck; Jacobs The Colony; Evan Haefeli New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty (Philadelphia pa: University of Pennsylvania Press 2012); and Deborah Hamer “Creating an Orderly Society: The Regulation of Marriage and Sex in the Dutch Atlantic World 1621–1674” (Ph.D. Diss. Columbia University 2014). Finally Stephen Staggs’s dissertation probably belongs here too: “‘Gentiles by Nature’: Indian-Dutch Relations in New Netherland/New York 1524–1750” (Ph.D. Diss. Western Michigan University 2014).


Frans SchalkwijkIgreja e Estado no Brasil Holandês 1630–1654 (Recife, Bras.: fundarpe1986). The book was translated and published in English (and used for this essay) as The Reformed Church in Dutch Brazil 1630–1654 (Zoetermeer Neth.: Boekencentrum 1998). Among general histories of the colony De Mello’s is probably better than Boxer’s on religious topics. But neither of them can touch Schalkwijk for depth.


SchalkwijkReformed Church274. For these conditions eventually extending to other provinces see the report in na owic 53:22. However if the Portuguese neglected to mention religion during surrender negotiations (in Marañhao for instance) the matter might remain unresolved: see Johan Cornelisz Lichthart et al. to Johan Maurits 12 Dec. 1641 Nationaal Archief Archief van de Staten-Generaal (hereafter na asg) Deel ii 5756 d. 204–213.


A. Th. van DeursenBavianen en slijkgeuzen: Kerk en kerkvolk ten tijde van Maurits en Oldenbarnevelt (3rd ed. Franeker, Neth.: Van Wijnen1994) 5–7; Leon van den Broeke Een geschiedenis van de classis (Kampen Neth.: Kok 2005).


BoxerDutch in Brazil67. The wic’s armies were quite diverse consisting of English French Germans etc. The suggestion regarding Johan Maurits’s ability to connect with Germans is actually a seventeenth-century suggestion. See Caspar van Baerle The History of Brazil Under the Governorship of Count Johan Maurits of Nassau 1636–1644 tr. Blanche T. van Berckel-Ebeling Koning (Gainsville fl: University Press of Florida 2011) 31–33. For more on Johan Maurits see E. van den Boogaart ed. Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen 1604–1679: A Humanist Prince in Europe and Brazil (The Hague Neth.: The Johan Maurits van Nassau Stichting 1979).


B.N. Teensma tr. and ed.Vincent Joachim Soler’s Seventeen Letters 1636–1643 (Rio de Janeiro, Bras.: Editora Index1999) 11–12 17–18 39–40 51–53.


SchalkwijkReformed Church152–167.


Meuwese“‘For the Peace and Well-being of the Country,’ Intercultural Mediators and Dutch-Indian Relations in New Netherland and Dutch Brazil, 1600–1664” (Ph.D. Diss., Notre Dame, 2003), esp. chaps. 1–2; Meuwese, “Dutch Calvinism and Native Americans: A Comparative Study of the Motivations for Protestant Conversion among the Tupis in Northeastern Brazil (1630–1654) and the Mohawks in Central New York (1690–1710),” The Spiritual Conversion of the Americased. James Muldoon (Gainesville fl: University Press of Florida 2004) 118–141. See also De Mello Nederlanders chap. 4.


Lodewijk Hulsman“Brazilian Indians in the Dutch Republic: The Remonstrances of Antonio Paraupaba to the States General in 1654 and 1656,” Itinerario 29:1 (2005): 51–78; Meuwese Brothers chap. 3.


na owic 68–70 (7 Dec. 163917 Oct. 1642 30 June 1645).


Ibid. 2 July 16371 Sep 1640; na owic 56:283.


Van BaerleHistory47 285.


SchalkwijkReformed Church275.


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