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Willem Usselincx (1567–1647) was a Flemish merchant, investor and diplomat who was instrumental in drawing both Dutch and Swedish attention to the importance of the New World. Usselincx was one of the founding fathers of the Dutch West India Company (Dutch: Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie).


Usselincx was born in Antwerpmarker, today a city and municipality in Belgiummarker and the capital of the Antwerp province in Flanders, one of the three official regions of the Kingdom of Belgiummarker. Usselincx was born in Antwerp at a time of major upheaval and change. His life span covered the period of the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) which was a revolt against Spainmarker resulting in the secession of seven provinces that came to form the Dutch Republic. At the time of his birth, Antwerp was the most prominent harbor of Western Europe. The Port of Antwerpmarker is located on the right bank of the river Scheldtmarker, which is linked to the North Sea by the estuary Westerscheldemarker. The 16th century has gone down in history as Antwerp’s Golden Age. Over the first half of the 16th century Antwerp grew to become the second largest European city north of the Alps by 1560.

The religious revolution of the Reformation erupted in Antwerp with violent riots in August 1566. The Eighty Years' War followed shortly. The Spanish Crown succeeded in recapturing the important provinces of Flanders and Brabant, including the major port city of Antwerp. This reclaimed area became known as the Spanish Netherlands. In 1585, Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, had captured Antwerp after a long siege and sent its Protestant citizens into exile. The recognition of the independence of the United Provinces stipulated that the Scheldtmarker should be closed to navigation, which destroyed Antwerp's trading activities.

Dutch West India Company

Usselincx had spent some time in Spainmarker, Portugalmarker and on the Azores. There he saw the wealth that was produced by the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Some time after the seize of Antwerpmarker by the Spanish in 1585, Usselincx moved to The Netherlandsmarker, first to Middelburgmarker and later to Amsterdammarker. He was persuaded that the Netherlands would win independence and should capture colonies from Spain and Portugal.

His book Naerder Bedenckingen, Over de zee-vaert/ Coophandel ende Neeringhe alsmede de versekeringhe vanden Staet deser vereenichde Landen/ inde teghenvoordighe Vrede-handelinghe met den Coninck van Spangnien ende de Aerts-hertoghen was first printed in 1608. This work translated into English as "Further reflections on the Navigation, Commerce and Trade, as also the assurance of the Government of those United Lands in the present Treaty of Peace with the King of Spain and the Archdukes, by a lover of real and constant peace", presented Usselincx's arguments for a West India trading company and made frequent reference to the Spanish power and source of wealth in the West Indiesmarker.

In 1621, Usselincx was one of the founding fathers of the Dutch West India Company, an enterprise he had planned for many years. His intentions were not entirely commercial. He hoped to create a new and better society. He expected that thousands of Protestants would migrate to America. He did not wish so much to exploit the country, but rather to let arise a New Netherlands. In this secondary goal, he was insufficiently supported by the States-General of the Netherlands.

New Sweden

Usselincx, drew the attention of Peter Minuit to Swedishmarker efforts to found the colony which would later become New Sweden (Swedish: Nya Sverige). Like his friend Usselincx, Peter Minuit had also been disappointed by the Dutch West India Company and was replaced as governor of New Amsterdam.

As early as 1626 , Usselinx had described the advantages to Swedenmarker of contributing in an over seas venture. He referred to the wealth acquired by Spain and The Netherlands in similar enterprises and extolled Sweden's resources for success in the marketplace. Usselinx received royal privileges from king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden for a trading company. The king commissioned Usselinx to solicit subscriptions for the Swedish South Company in Sweden and its territories.

Usselincx relocated from The Netherlands for Sweden but was unable to profit from his plans, despite the initial support of Axel Oxenstierna, Swedish Lord High Chancellor. Wars and financial hard times stopped the company before it launched any ships. In 1637, Minuit made arrangements with the Swedish government to create the first Swedish colony in the New World. But by that time, Usselincx was largely financially ruined due to bad investments and unable to profit from his vision. The Swedish East India Company (Swedish: Svenska Ostindiska Companiet or SOIC) would not be founded until 1731 for the purpose of conducting trade with the far east.


  1. How Flanders Helped Shape Freedom in America (by Paul Belien. The Brussels Journal, July 11, 2005)
  2. Focus on the Port: Port History
  3. History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania (by Henry Graham Ashmead. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co. 1884)
  4. The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: Religion, the Reformation and Social Change ( by Hugh Trevor-Roper, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001)
  5. The Dutch Republic, its rise, greatness and fall. 1477-1806 (by J. Israel, Oxford: 1998).
  6. Story of the City’s Early Days (Chapter II, The Dutch West India Company. by Thomas A. Janvier, The New York Times. Published: May 31, 1903)
  7. Account of Willem Usselincx and the South, Ship, and West India Companies of Sweden (translated by Gregory B. Keen and C. T. Odhner. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 7, No. 3 pp. 268-270. 1883)
  8. The History of the Colony of New Sweden (Carl K. S. Sprinchorn's "Kolonien Nya Sveriges Historia", English translation by Gregory B. Keen in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vols. vii. and viii. 1878),M1

Other sources

  • Fiske, John The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1902)
  • Jameson, J. Franklin Willem Usselinx: Founder of the Dutch and Swedish West India Companies (G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1887)
  • Mickley, Joseph J. Some Account of William Usselinx and Peter Minuit: Two individuals who were instrumental in establishing the first permanent colony in Delaware (The Historical Society of Delaware. 1881)
  • Johnson, Amandus The Swedes on the Delaware, 1638-1664 (Philadelphia, PA: The Swedish Colonial Society. 1915)

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