“Attracting all Indians under the Pretext of Religion”: Dutch-Indigenous Relations and the Moravian Mission in Berbice (1738-1763)


  • Marie Keulen Leiden University




In the middle decades of the eighteenth century, the Dutch colony Berbice on the northern coast of South America formed the stage of the short but successful mission of the Moravian Church among the Indigenous people of the region. Whereas from the perspective of the Moravians this religious mission was part of their numerous missionary activities in the Atlantic world from the 1730s onwards, for the governor, council, planters, and various Amerindian groups living in Berbice the arrival of the missionaries was something new. This article brings together the historiographical fields of Moravian missions in the Atlantic world on the one hand and Dutch-Indigenous relations on the other hand. Examining the reaction of the local and metropolitan colonial authorities to the Moravian community and the missionaries’ interaction with different Indigenous population groups inhabiting the region, this article argues that the history of the Moravian community in Berbice opens a window through which Dutch-Indigenous relations can be investigated. From the perspective of the Dutch colonial authorities, the alliances with the Amerindian peoples were of vital importance for oppressing the majority enslaved population, and the interactions between their much needed-allies and the Moravian missionaries were seen as a threat. Using colonial archival material on the conflicts and confrontations between missionaries and authorities, this article shows that their relationship was primarily defined by the (desired) interactions of both parties with the Amerindian populations. It shows the colonial perspective on the interactions between European missionaries and Indigenous groups while revealing the metropolitan and local authority’s priorities, limits, and fears.

Author Biography

Marie Keulen, Leiden University

Graduate student enrolled in the Research Master Colonial and Global History at Leiden University