Jan, Johan or Johannes van Walbeeck (1602, Amsterdam – after 1649) was a Dutch navigator and cartographer during a 1620s circumnavigation of the earth, an admiral of the Dutch West India Company, and the first governor of the Netherlands Antilles.
In 1633, Van Walbeeck and the governor of Dutch Brazil, Dierick van Waerdenburgh, left for the Dutch Republic to meet with the WIC council (“de heren XIX”). The WIC had lost its base in the Antilles when a Spanish fleet had destroyed its settlement on Sint Maarten in the summer of that year. The council now planned a base in the Leeward Antilles, both for the salt pans on Curaçao and Bonaire (large quantities of salt were needed to preserve fish), and as a strategic location off the South American mainland. The natural harbor of St Anna Bay on Curaçao was the perfect location for this. On April 6, 1634 they assigned Van Walbeeck to the task of taking it from the Spanish, who had colonized the island since the 1520s. On 4 May 1634, he departed from Holland with four ships, carrying 180 sailors and 250 soldiers, led by the French Huguenot mercenary Pierre Le Grand who had previously served the Dutch in Brazil. The small fleet arrived at Curaçao on July 6, but through adverse currents and winds could not enter the bay. On July 29, after being joined by a fifth ship and approaching from the north west, the fleet could enter the bay and captured the island from Spain with little resistance and without loss of life on either site. Van Walbeeck wrote in his diary, as transcribed by Johannes de Laet before it was lost, that the 32 Spanish and under 500 remaining (or reintroduced) local inhabitants just withdrew to the West end of the island after poisoning their wells and burning their villages. On August 21 the Spanish commander, Lope Lopez de Morla, signed the surrender. The Dutch deported the Spaniards and most West Indians to the Venezuealan port of Coro, keeping about seventy-five of the latter as laborers. Thus, Van Walbeeck became the first director/governor of the Netherlands Antilles. The first task was to build a fortification at the natural harbor, renamed “Schottegat” by the Dutch, which pentagonal structure (“Fort Amsterdam”) was finished in 1635, following standard Dutch military engineering practice. During his three years as governor, the beginnings of the town of Willemstad were built next to the fort..
In 1638, he and Le Grand were sent to Brazil, while Jacob Pietersz Tolck took over his position as governor although van Walbeeck remained political director of Curaçao for the next several years.He stayed in Brazil as a member of the Hoge Raad until 1642, after which he returned to Holland again to give advice on the forthcoming expedition under Hendrick Brouwer to establish a trading base in Chile. He went back to Brazil, being mentioned as elder of the Reformed Church there. In 1647 he left Brazil. May be he died in the Netherlands, as he lived in Amsterdam when his wife was buried there on 29 April 1649.
Like Peter Stuyvesant, Van Walbeeck was one of the limited number of WIC employees with a university education. The company appears to have valued him at least as highly as Stuyvesant and it has been suggested that he missed being appointed director-general of the New Netherlands merely by not being in the Netherlands at the right time.
©2012 Olivier Douvry/GlobeDivers