Picture of Skull


Bahia was the capital of that part of Brasil that was in Portuguese hands at the time (not forgetting that Portugal and Spain were then united under the rule of Philip II). The Dutch Republic was trying to gain control of the West Indies by attacking Spanish and Portuguese ships and Colonies. The Spaniards were continually at war with the Netherlands at that time. They were never quite able to conquer it entirely though they tried many times.

Picture of BahiaBahia, as San Salvador was known in the 17th century, was attacked and taken from the Spaniards in 1624. The admiral of the Dutch fleet that left on 23 December 1623 and took it was Jacob Willekens. Willekens was active in the East Indies Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) prior to this. The Vice Admiral was Piet Heyn. The leader of the Infantry was nobleman Johan van Dorth.

The capture of Bahia was the first big success of the Dutch West Indies Company (WIC). The privateering business is one of the three areas in which the WIC was mainly active.
The Spanish government had been informed of this Dutch enterprise in advance by their spies. When the dutch squardons left for Brasil the Spanish Governor-General of Bahia, Diogo de Medonça Furtado, was notified. The warning was not heeded, however, and when the Dutch fleet arrived in the area on May 8th of 1624 the people of Bahia got a rather nasty surprise.

The fleet began their attack on the 9th of May after having sailed closer to the port. The city of Bahia was surrounded by a wall and defended by three castles and a fortress. The city was heavily bombarded the entire day. The bombardment was not very effective though, because not much damage was done. After having captured the ships in the port and storming the walls Bahia was taken. Not much resistance was met, however, because most of the people had already left the city. Only the Governor-General and a few men and slaves were still there. After the capture of Bahia by the Dutchmen, a part of the people of Bahia returned, but the larger part were able to organize a very effective guerilla-war under the Bishop against the Dutchmen. They were so effective that the Dutchmen were forced to remain in the city.

Three weeks after its capture a ship, called the Vos (= fox) was sent to the Dutch Republic to announce the success. On July 28th 1624 the Admiral, Jacob Willekens, left with a large part of the fleet. They carried a cargoe of Textile, Tobacco, and 3900 chests of sugar. The Vice-Admiral Piet Hein left on the 5th of August 1624 with seven ships for Loando in Angola (on the West-coast of Africa).

Bahia did not stay long in the possession of the Dutch Republic. Because the ship the Vos had left as late as it did, the Spaniards were aware of the capture of Bahia a whole month earlier than the Dutchmen. A relief force was put together and sent as quickly as possible. The WIC was well aware of the Spanish relieve force, but due to bad weather a Dutch fleet could not be sent there to aid Bahia. It was also believed that the Dutchmen would be able to hold out until help could be sent. They were wrong. The Armada, a fleet of 52 ships under the command of Don Fadrique de Toledo, arrived on March 30th of 1625 in the area of Bahia. After a siege of a whole month the Dutchmen were forced to surrender the city on the 30th of April. The Dutch occupation force and their ships were allowed to leave Bahia.

Piet Heyn arrived in that same year, after a rather unsuccesful attack on a Portuguese city in Angola, Africa, only to discover that Bahia was recaptured. He decided that the odds were against his retaking the city and sailed for home. Eventually a Dutch fleet of 34 ships under the command of Boudewijn Hendriksz. was sent to help Bahia. The fleet left the Dutch Republic in March of 1625. At that time the Dutchmen were still under the impression that Bahia was in Dutch hands. The fleet arrived at the city only a few weeks after Piet Heyn. Boudewijn Hendriksz. decided also that the odds were against him retaking Bahia. He sent part of his fleet to West Africa and took 18 ships with him on privateering in the Caribbean. The ship the Vos (Fox) was sent home to inform the Republic of the loss of Bahia (the ship managed to take three enemy ships on the way home though).

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For this text I drew heavily on:
Prud'Homme van Reine, R.B. + EWvdO
Kapers op de kust : Nederlandse kaapvaart en piraterij 1500 - 1800 / R.B. Prud'Homme van Reine, E.W. van der Oest. - Vlissingen : ADZ Vlissingen, 1991
Roos, Doeke
Zeeuwen en de WestIndische Compagnie (1621-1674) / door Doeke Roos Hulst : Van Geyt productions, 1992
Reacties en commentaar naar: M.Bruyneel@ubvu.vu.nl