Goos’ Chart of the Eastern Caribbean
Fine example of Pieter Goos's sea chart of the islands of the Eastern Caribbean.
The west-oriented chart shows the Windward and Leeward Islands arrayed like a necklace, with Puerto Rico to the north and a strip of South America to the south. Clustered near the mainland is Trinidad and Tobago.
The chart is made for navigation and is elegantly assembled with intersecting rhumb lines, a central compass rose, and a decorative title cartouche. It appeared in Goos’ influential De Zee-Atlas ofte Water-Wereld, first published in 1666.
During the mid-seventeenth century, when this chart was made, the Caribbean was exploited by European overseas empires eager to make fortunes on plantation agriculture worked by enslaved peoples. Many of the islands seen here housed massive sugar plantations, especially Guadeloupe.
The islands frequently changed hands. For example, Trinidad and Tobago were overtaken by the British, Dutch, French, and Courlanders at least 31 times prior to 1814. The various Virgin Islands were controlled at one time or another by the Spanish, Dutch, Danish, French, British, Prussians, and even the Knights Hospitallers of Malta, in the case of St. Croix. Later, the United States claimed several of the islands. The first Europeans to spend substantial time on St. Lucia were pirates, followed by shipwreck survivors, but they were chased off by the Carib peoples who already lived there. When this chart was made, the island was disputed by the French and the English.
The largest island on the chart is Puerto Rico. Originally settled by the Igneri and Arcaico peoples, the Taíno migrated there around the seventh century CE. When Columbus sighted the island, there were approximately 50,000 Taíno on Boriken, as they called it.
The aforementioned Columbus arrived as part of his second voyage on November 19, 1493. The navigator renamed the island San Juan Bautista. Juan Ponce de León, Columbus’ lieutenant, founded the first European settlement, Caparra, on August 8, 1508. As the first Spanish governor, Ponce de León saw the island’s name change again; San Juan came to refer to the main port, while the entire island was increasingly called Puerto Rico.
Early in the Spanish occupation, the Taíno people were pushed into the encomienda system of forced labor. A 1520 decree emancipated them, but by that time the population had been decimated. African peoples were also imported to work as slaves.
While Puerto Rico saw the development of some plantation agriculture, the island, and especially San Juan, was particularly valuable as a fortress. It was a port-of-call for the Spanish treasure galleons on their way back across the Atlantic. The island was one of the most fortified in the Caribbean, but this did not mean it was left in peace. Among others, Francis Drake assaulted San Juan and the Dutch attacked in 1625.
By the eighteenth century, Puerto Rico had become an important trade hub. It’s plantation agriculture also grew in prominence, with coffee and sugar plantations demanding more enslaved peoples than in previous centuries. Other empires coveted the island and attacks, like Sir Ralph Abercromby’s in 1797, continued.
Although other colonial holdings of Spain rebelled in the early-nineteenth century, Puerto Rico had a large population of loyalist creoles, many of whom were recently arrived from other colonies. They ensured that the island stayed under Crown’s control. In return, Spain recognized Puerto Rico as a province in 1809. However, not everyone was pleased with this arrangement. Revolts, especially that of Marcos Xiorro in 1821, bristled against the system of slave labor. Slavery was finally abolished in 1873.
A concerted independence movement developed over the course of the nineteenth century. These actions peaked at the end of the nineteenth century, when the island was granted limited self-government in 1897 and assembled its first government in 1898. However, the Spanish-American War saw Puerto Rico fall into American hands, making the island a United States territory.
Pieter Goos (ca. 1616-1675) was a Dutch map and chart maker, whose father, Abraham Goos (approx. 1590-1643), had already published numerous globes, land and sea maps together with Jodocus Hondius and Johannes Janssonius in Antwerp. Pieter gained recognition due to the publication of sea charts. He bought the copperplates of the famous guide book for sailors, De Lichtende Columne ofte Zeespiegel (Amsterdam 1644, 1649, 1650), from Anthonie Jacobsz. Goos published his own editions of this work in various languages, while adding his own maps. In 1666, he published his De Zee-Atlas ofte Water-Wereld, which is considered one of the best sea atlases of its time. Goos' sea charts came to dominate the Dutch market until the 1670s, when the Van Keulen family came to prominence.