When Venezuela belonged to a family

Not only Spain and Portugal colonized America. The Germanic Empire also tried. It was between 1528 and 1546. Today we will talk about a little known event in history: when Venezuela belonged to a German family. It was a family of German bankers and merchants: the powerful Welser of Augsburg. The Spanish King Charles I owed them money, and offered them land in the New World. So they could exploit it for their own benefit.

There was a time when Venezuela belonged to a German family.
There was a time when Venezuela belonged to a German family.

Trouble in the colony

The king ceded to the German banker the Province of Venezuela. It was renamed Klein-Venedig (Little Venice, in German). It was of special interest to this family. They were convinced that the mythical city of El Dorado, made of gold, was located there. The area that remained in the hands of the Germans stretched some 900 kilometers. They would found two cities and build three fortresses. From there they would organize expeditions into the jungle to search for gold.

In return, they could rule as they pleased. They brought up to 4,000 slaves from Africa. It was agreed that the monarch would keep a tenth of the gold found. They appointed the German explorer Ambrose von Alfinger as governor. They also sent 400 German miners to their colony.

The German conqueror did not find El Dorado, nor did he succeed in finding the riches that the Welser’s longed for. But in 1529 he founded Maracaibo, today one of the most important cities of the Caribbean country.

Alfinger died in 1533. His replacement was Georg von Speyer. After years of unsuccessful expeditions, von Speyer resigned because of health problems. By then, many of the colonists had lost their lives. Disease and fighting decimated them.

This portrait shows the governors imposed by the Welser family.
This portrait shows the governors imposed by the Welser family.

The end of the German colony

King Charles grew tired of the many problems that having a German colony on his territory had generated. So he claimed the right to appoint an interim governor. He sent Juan de Carvajal to the capital of the province, Santa Ana de Coro. In 1546, Carvajal captured and executed the German explorers.

The Spanish monarch terminated the agreement with the Welser for breach of contract. Thus ended the main German colonizing experience in America. But the memory remained of when Venezuela belonged to a Germanic family… for a few years.

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