Early American Places


UGA PressUGA Press

Creolization and Contraband:

Curaçao in the Early Modern Atlantic World

by Linda M. Rupert

Language, commerce, and cultural exchange in an Atlantic world hot spot

Page count: 296 pp.
10 b&w photos, 5 maps
Trim size: 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-8203-4305-1 (h), 978-0-8203-4306-8 (p), 978-0-8203-4368-6 (e)


Rupert’s rich analysis of multiethnic Curaçao is an original and substantial contribution to Atlantic and Caribbean history.
— Wim Klooster, author of Revolutions in the Atlantic World

When Curaçao came under Dutch control in 1634, the small island off South America’s northern coast was isolated and sleepy. The introduction of increased trade (both legal and illegal) led to a dramatic transformation, and Curaçao emerged as a major hub within Caribbean and wider Atlantic networks. It would also become the commercial and administrative seat of the Dutch West India Company in the Americas.

The island’s main city, Willemstad, had a non-Dutch majority composed largely of free blacks, urban slaves, and Sephardic Jews, who communicated across ethnic divisions in a new creole language called Papiamentu. For Linda M. Rupert, the emergence of this creole language was one of the two defining phenomena that gave shape to early modern Curaçao. The other was smuggling. Both developments, she argues, were informal adaptations to life in a place that was at once polyglot and regimented. They were the sort of improvisations that occurred wherever expanding European empires thrust different peoples together.

Creolization and Contraband uses the history of Curaçao to develop the first book-length analysis of the relationship between illicit interimperial trade and processes of social, cultural, and linguistic exchange in the early modern world. Rupert argues that by breaking through multiple barriers, smuggling opened particularly rich opportunities for cross-cultural and interethnic interaction. Far from marginal, these extra-official exchanges were the very building blocks of colonial society.

“This exploration of localized sociocultural mixing and extensive, illicit commerce on a Dutch Caribbean island makes for a fascinating study of colonial agency. The Antilles was the most dynamic site of creolization and contraband in the early modern world. Anyone interested in Atlantic history will want to read this excellent book.
— Philip D. Morgan, author of Slave Counterpoint

About the Author


Linda M. Rupert is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

With considerable research, Rupert . . . is able to connect the dots between culture formation and smuggling and to trace its development over the course of several centuries to the economic decline of Curaeao in the early 19th century. Important reading for Caribbeanists while testing the assumptions of students of broader cultural processes.
— R.M. Delson, CHOICE
In [Creolization and Contraband], Linda M. Rupert offers the most complete history to date of the Dutch colony of Curaçao in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. . . . Her tying together of creolization and contraband within which Curaçaoans lived mean that this book’s theme resonate beyond the small island at its center.
— Christian Koot, American Historical Review
The volume is a rich and complex presentation, well-researched and dense with information. . . . Brief summary sentences along with occasional overviews skillfully convey its core points.
— Alan F. Benjamin, The Americas
[Creolization and Contraband] is a fascinating book that makes a valuable contribution to the study of colonial history in Latin American and the Caribbean.
— Latin American Review of Books
[Rupert’s] engaging description of how Willemstad grew from Fort William to a larger conglomeration of neighborhoods mirrors her skill in describing the historical development of Curaçao’s Creole language. . . . [Creolization and Contraband] will be most widely read by students and specialists in Atlantic and Caribbean history, but the author nonetheless writes in a clear enough register to make this book appropriate to assign for upper-division undergraduate courses and to make sure that it will be appreciated by lay and local history aficionados alike.
— Kristen Block, History: Reviews of New Books
[Creolization and Contraband] must be welcomed not only as a useful historical account from “the early modern Atlantic world,” but also as an important addition to the literature on an often neglected group of Caribbean islands.
— Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Journal of Anthropological Research