Colony of Demerara
The Demerara colony in 1759
(Note this map has East at its top.)
See here for its exact location (6° 48' N 58° 10' W).
|Capital||Fort Zeelandia (1745-1755)|
o Ceded to the United Kingdom
|November 20 1815|
Demerara (Dutch: Demerary) is a historical region in the Guianas on the north coast of South America which is now part of the country of Guyana. It was a Dutch colony until 1815 and a county of British Guiana from 1838 to 1966. It was located about the lower courses of the Demerara River, and its main town was Georgetown.
The name "Demerara" comes from a variant of the Arawak word "Immenary" or "Dumaruni" which means "river of the letterwood (Brosimum aubletii)".Demerara sugar is so named because originally it came from sugar cane fields in the colony of Demerara.
Demerara was first mentioned in 1691 as a trading post. On 18 October 1745, Demerara was created as a separate colony, even though it was located on an unoccupied part of Essequibo, because the people from the province of Holland wanted to settle there and Essequibo was part of Zeeland. In the founding documents, it was mentioned that the colonists should live in peace with the Amerindian population and respect their territories, because they fought with the colony of Essequibo against the French privateers and helped to chase them off. The Amerindian were considered free people, and they were not allowed to enslave them.
The first planter was Andries Pieterse who already owned a plantation in Essequibo. Half a year later, there were 18 large sugar plantations and 50 smaller plantations. The colony was initially governed from Fort Zeelandia by Laurens Storm van 's Gravesande, the governor of Essequibo. In 1750 he appointed his son Jonathan as Commander of Demerara.
Demerara grew rapidly, and attracted many English planters. The Dutch West India Company, who had a monopoly on the slave trade, was unable to supply them, leading to illegal smuggling from English colonies.
In 1755, Gedney Clarke, a Barbados merchant and plantation owner, requested political representation, therefore the administration was moved to the island of Borsselen, 20 miles (32 km) upriver near plantation Soesdyke which was owned by the commander of Demerara. The decision was criticised because the island was hard to defend, and the planters had started to build houses around the guard post near the mouth of the river. That settlement later became known as Stabroek, and in 1782 the capital of the colony. The town was renamed Georgetown in 1812.
In 1763, a slave uprising took place in neighbouring Berbice. Governor van 's Gravesande formed an alliance with the Amerindian Arawak, Kalina, Warao and Akawaio tribes, and prevented the uprising from spreading to Demerara and Essequibo. 50 soldiers from Demarara were sent to Berbice as assistance. The slave uprisings were source of concern: in a 1767 letter to Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia, which aimed to promote the colony for German planters, a request was added for 100 soldiers.
In 1780, there were almost 200 plantations in Demerara compared to 129 in Essequibo. Demerara had become more successful than Essequibo. The rivalry between the colonies resulted in the creation of a combined Court of Policy in Fort Zeelandia. The majority of the white population of the colony were English and Scottish planters.
In 1781, the American revolution induced the Dutch Republic to join with the Bourbon side against the British, a large fleet under Admiral Lord Rodney's command was sent to the West Indies, and after having made some seizures in the Caribbean Islands, a squadron was detached to take possession of the colonies of Essequibo and Demerara, which was accomplished without even a fight. The previous year, the colony produced 10,000 hogsheads of sugar, 5,000,000 pounds coffee and 800,000 pounds cotton.
In 1782 the French took possession of the whole of the Dutch settlements, compelling Gov. Robert Kingston to surrender. The opinion of the Dutch newspapers varied. The Leeuwarder Courant called it the loss of our Demerary, while the Hollandsche historische courant described it as a pleasant reconquest. The peace of Paris, which occurred in 1783, restored these territories to the Dutch.
The British recaptured Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice in 1796. A deal was struck with the colony: all laws and customs could remain, and the citizens were equal to British subjects. Any government official who swore loyalty to the British crown could remain in function. They returned the colony to the Dutch in 1802 under the terms of the Peace of Amiens, but re-took control of it a year later.
On 28 April 1812, the British combined the colonies of Demerara and Essequibo into the colony of Demerara-Essequibo. They were ceded to Britain on 13 August 1814. On 20 November 1815, the Netherlands ratified the agreement.
Large slave rebellions broke out in West Demerara in 1795 and on the East Coast of Demerara in 1823. Although these rebellions were easily and bloodily crushed, according to Winston McGowan, they may have had a long-term impact in ending slavery:
The 1823 revolt had a special significance not matched by the earlier Berbice uprising. It attracted attention in Britain inside and outside Parliament to the terrible evil slavery and the need to abolish it. This played a part, along with other humanitarian, political and economic factors, in causing the British parliament ten years later in 1833 to take the momentous decision to abolish slavery in British Guiana and elsewhere in the British Empire with effect from 1 August 1834. After serving four years of a modified form of slavery euphemistically called apprenticeship, the slaves were finally freed on 1 August 1838.-- 
On 21 July 1831, Demerara-Essequibo united with Berbice as British Guiana, now Guyana. In 1838, Demerara was made one of the three counties of Guiana, the other two being Berbice and Essequibo. In 1958, the county was abolished when Guiana was subdivided into districts. Currently, historical Demerara is part of (and the name is used in) the Guyanese administrative regions of Demerara-Mahaica, Essequibo Islands-West Demerara, and Upper Demerara-Berbice.