History of Guyana

TRANSITION TO BRITISH RULE

Eager to attract more settlers, in 1746 the Dutch authorities opened the area near the Demerara River to British immigrants. British plantation owners in the Lesser Antilles had been plagued by poor soil and erosion, and many were lured to the Dutch colonies by richer soils and the promise of landownership. The influx of British citizens was so great that by 1760 the English constituted a majority of the population of Demerara. By 1786 the internal affairs of this Dutch colony were effectively under British control.

As economic growth accelerated in Demerara and Essequibo, strains began to appear in the relations between the planters and the Dutch West India Company. Administrative reforms during the early 1770s had greatly increased the cost of government. The company periodically sought to raise taxes to cover these expenditures and thereby provoked the resistance of the planters. In 1781 a war broke out between the Netherlands and Britain, which resulted in the British occupation of Berbice, Essequibo, and Demerara. Some months later, France, allied with the Netherlands, seized control of the colonies. The French governed for two years, during which they constructed a new town, Longchamps, at the mouth of the Demerara River. When the Dutch regained power in 1784, they moved their colonial capital to Longchamps, which they renamed Stabroeck. The capital eventually would become known as Georgetown.

The return of Dutch rule reignited the conflict between the planters of Essequibo and Demerara and the Dutch West India Company. Disturbed by plans for an increase in the slave tax and a reduction in their representation on the colony's judicial and policy councils, the colonists petitioned the Dutch government to consider their grievances. In response, a special committee was appointed, which proceeded to draw up a report called the Concept Plan of Redress. This document called for far-reaching constitutional reforms and later became the basis of the British governmental structure. The plan proposed a decision-making body to be known as the Court of Policy. The judiciary was to consist of two courts of justice, one serving Demerara and the other Essequibo. The membership of the Court of Policy and of the courts of justice would consist of company officials and planters who owned more than twenty-five slaves. The Dutch commission that was assigned the responsibility of implementing this new system of government returned to the Netherlands with extremely unfavorable reports concerning the Dutch West India Company's administration. The company's charter therefore was allowed to expire in 1792 and the Concept Plan of Redress was put into effect in Demerara and Essequibo. Renamed the United Colony of Demerara and Essequibo, the area then came under the direct control of the Dutch government. Berbice maintained its status as a separate colony.

The catalyst for formal British takeover was the French Revolution and the resulting Napoleonic Wars. In 1795 the French occupied the Netherlands. The British declared war on France and in 1796 launched an expeditionary force from Barbados to occupy the Dutch colonies. The British takeover was bloodless, and local Dutch administration of the colony was left relatively uninterrupted under the constitution provided by the Concept Plan of Redress.

Both Berbice and the United Colony of Demerara and Essequibo were under British control from 1796 to 1802. By means of the Treaty of Amiens, both were returned to Dutch control. Peace was short-lived, however. War between Britain and France resumed in less than a year, and the United Colony and Berbice were seized once more by British troops. At the London Convention of 1814, both colonies were formally ceded to Britain. In 1831, Berbice and the United Colony of Demerara and Essequibo were unified as British Guiana. The colony would remain under British control until independence in 1966.

Guyana History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress