The Dutch West India Company (Dutch: West-Indische Compagnie or WIC) was a company of Dutch merchants. On June 3, 1621, it was granted a charter for a trade monopoly in the West by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The area where the company could operate consisted of West Africa (the area between the Tropic of Cancer and Cape of Good Hope) and the Americas, which included the Pacific Ocean and the eastern part of New Guinea. The intended purpose of the charter was to eliminate competition between the various trading posts established by the merchants. The company became instrumental in the Dutch colonization of the Americas.
The WIC was organised similar to the Dutch East India Company (VOC), which had a trade monopoly for Asia since 1602, except for the fact that the WIC was not allowed to conduct military operations without approval of the Dutch government. Like the VOC, the company had five offices, called chambers (kamers), in Amsterdam, Middelburg, Rotterdam, Hoorn and Groningen (city), of which the chambers in Amsterdam and Middelburg contributed most to the company. The board consisted of 19 members, known as the Heeren XIX.
The company was intially relatively successful; in the 1620s and 1630s, many trade posts or colonies were established. The New Netherland area, which included New Amsterdam, covered parts of present-day New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey. Other settlements were established on the Netherlands Antilles, several other Caribbean islands, Suriname and Guyana. In 1630, the colony of New Holland (capital Mauritsstad (Recife)) was formed, taking over Portuguese possessions in Brazil. In Africa, posts were established on the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and briefly in Angola. Another success for the WIC was the capture of a fleet carrying silver from the Spanish colonies to Europe by Piet Hein in 1628 - piracy was one of the objectives of the WIC.
In the Americas, fur (North America) and sugar (South America) were the most important trade goods, while African settlements traded slaves - mainly destined for the plantations on the Antilles and Suriname - gold and ivory.
However, the successes quickly ended. New Holland was lost to Portugal in 1654, after a long war, and many other trading posts were also destroyed or captured by rivaling European nations. The New Netherland colonisation effort did not spread further either, in part due to a fierce rivalry with the English, who conquered New Netherland in 1664, and in part due to the difficulty of attracting settlers under the company's initial policy of the Patroon system, which granted vast power over settlers to the men who brought them to the colony.
After years of debts, the original WIC folded in 1674, and a new, reorganised company was formed. Piracy was abandoned, and it concentrated primarily on the African slave trade and remaining possessions in Suriname and the Antilles.
After the English took control of Suriname for several years in the 1780s, the WIC appeared unable to recover from this, and in 1791, the stocks of the company were bought by the Dutch government, and the territories were placed under its control.