The Dutch colony of Berbice, in full period color

Jan Daniel Knapp, Naaukeurige Platte Grond vanden Staaten den Loop van Rio de Berbice Met derzelver Plantagien in de Geoctroyeerde Colonie de Berbice gelgen. Amsterdam: Hendrik de Leth in de Visscher, [ca. 1741.]
Engraving on 2 sheets joined, 22 ¾”h x 33 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, period outline and wash color.

An attractive and informative map of Berbice, an important Dutch colony in the New World.

Berbice was one of several valuable Dutch colonies on the northern coast of South America, along with Surinam, Essequibo, and Demerara.

“The Society of Berbice was founded on 24 October 1720 by the owners of the colony of Berbice. These owners, brothers Nicolaas and Hendrik van Hoorn, Arnold Dix, Pieter Schuurmans, and Cornelis van Peere, had acquired the colony from the French on 24 October 1714, who in turn had occupied the colony which was previously a hereditary fief in the possession of the Van Peere family.


“In 1720, the five owners of the colony founded a Society of Berbice in a similar fashion to the Society of Suriname, which governed the neighbouring colony, in order to raise more capital for the colony. In the years following, Berbice became the second most flourishing Dutch colony in the Guianas after Suriname….” (Wikipedia)

Based on the evidence of this map, the plantation economy concentrated on the production of coffee, sugar and cacao for export, with the labor performed by African slaves. Berbice was ceded to Great Britain in 1814. In 1831 it was merged with Essequibo and Demerara to create the colony of British Guiana, which finally achieved independence in 1966.

This large and striking map is oriented with north at the right and depicts the colony extending inland along the Berbice and Canje Rivers. The Berbice is lined with 105 plantations, twelve owned by the Society of Berbice and the remainder privately held, with an additional 20 plantations along the Canje. The one town of any significant size is Fort Nassau, which served as colonial capital until 1790. The lack of information about the vast outlying regions is obscured by liberal use of archaic “molehills” to represent mountains and tiny trees to indicate jungles. Three tablets along the top of the map display the arms of the Berbice Society’s Directors, while a table at lower left lists the names of plantation owners. These include several figures almost certainly of Jewish extraction, as well as one Theophilus Cazenove. This may have been the father of the Dutch financier of the same name (1740-1811) who emigrated to America in 1792 and as Agent for the Holland Land Company oversaw its enormous land dealings in New York State and Pennsylvania.

The map was commissioned and funded by the Directors of the Society of Berbice and compiled by engineer Jan Daniel Knapp, who seems to have been sent to the colony in or around 1735. It was advertised in the Amsterdamsche Courant for December 28, 1741.

“H. de Leth, in de Visser, op de Beursslys t’Amst., geeft uyt met permissie en approbatie van de Ed. Heeren Directeurs van de Colonie de Berbice, een naeuwkeurige Kaert van dezelve Colonie, met de gemeeten Plantagien, en de Naemlyst van alle de Eygenaers des zelve, gemeeten en geteekent door last en op kosten der E.E. Heeren Directeuren, door den Ingenieur Jan Dan. Knapp, de prys is 36 st[uivers].” (cited in Ashley-Baynton Williams, Catalogue 2: Maps of the rest of the World, item 2-377)

The map is scarce on the market, and even more so in full original color as here. Prior to this impression, the most recent one offered for sale seems to have been a fine, uncolored example for £4000 in Shapero’s Pilots of the Caribbean.

Phillips, Atlases, vol. III p. 222. Not in Phillips, Maps of America. Some background from Netscher, History of the Colonies Essequebo, Demerary and Berbice (Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1888).


Gently toned, some mended edge tears and restoration to upper-left and lower-right blank margins. Margins trimmed but ample for framing. About very good overall.