This article is about the island country. Curaçao and five sex korsou islands, see Curaçao and Dependencies. In the 16th and 17th centuries, sailors on long voyages would get scurvy from lack of vitamin C.
According to some accounts, Portuguese sailors who were ill were left at the island now known as Curaçao. When their ship returned, they had recovered, likely cured from scurvy, probably after eating fruit with vitamin C. Another explanation is that Curaçao was the name by which the indigenous peoples of the island identified themselves, their autonym. Early Spanish accounts support this theory, as they refer to the indigenous peoples as Indios Curaçaos, or “healing Indians”. From 1525, the island was featured on Spanish maps as Curaçote, Curasaote, and Curasaore. By the 17th century, it appeared on most maps in Portuguese as Curaçao or Curazao. The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak people.
Their ancestors had migrated to the island from the mainland of South America, likely hundreds of years before Europeans arrived. They were believed to have migrated from the Amazon Basin. The first Europeans recorded as seeing the island were members of a Spanish expedition under the leadership of Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The Spaniards enslaved most of the Arawak as their labour force.
They sometimes forcibly relocated the survivors to other colonies where workers were needed. The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet called the Schottegat. Curaçao had been ignored by colonists, because it lacked gold deposits. The natural harbour of Willemstad proved to be an ideal spot for trade.
In the Franco-Dutch War, Count Jean II d’Estrées planned to attack Curaçao. His fleet — 12 men of war, three fireships, two transports, a hospital ship, and 12 privateers — met with disaster, losing seven men-of-war and two other ships when they struck reefs off the Las Aves archipelago. Although a few plantations were established on the island by the Dutch, the first profitable industry established on Curaçao was salt mining. The mineral was a lucrative export at the time and was a major factor for the island being part of international commerce. Many Dutch colonists grew affluent from the slave trade, and the city built impressive colonial buildings. Curaçao architecture blends Dutch and Spanish colonial styles. The wide range of historic buildings in and around Willemstad has resulted in the capital being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1795, a major slave revolt took place under the leaders Tula Rigaud, Louis Mercier, Bastian Karpata, and Pedro Wakao. Up to 4000 slaves on the northwest section of the island revolted. More than 1,000 slaves took part in extended gunfights. After a month, the slave owners suppressed the revolt.