Curaçao was settled by Arawak people from the South American mainland. It was first visited by Europeans in 1499 and was settled by the Spanish and, later, by the Dutch, who established it as a major centre of trade for the Dutch West India Company.
The Spanish deported the entire indigenous population as slaves to Hispaniola in 1515.
Curaçao is the home of the oldest continuously inhabited Jewish community in the Western Hemisphere, originally formed by Sephardic Jews who emigrated from Portugal in the 1500s.
The island provided one special advantage for the Dutch—one of the finest natural harbours in the West Indies. At the southeastern end of the island, a channel, Sint Anna Bay, passes through reefs to a large, deep, virtually enclosed bay called Schottegat, the site of the capital town, Willemstad.
The need for salt to preserve herring initially drove the Dutch to the Caribbean. During the period 1660 to 1700, the Dutch West India Company flourished; the slave trade boomed, and the port was opened to all countries both to receive the incoming food supplies and to dispose of products from the plantations of South America.
The island was subjected to frequent invasions from competing privateers and suffered during the wars between the English and Dutch. It has remained continuously in Dutch hands since 1816.
In 1845 Curaçao was one of the six Dutch dependencies in the West Indies that were brought under collective administration. Those dependencies were reorganised as the Netherlands Antilles in 1954 and granted autonomy in internal affairs.
In 2006 the people of Curaçao, along with those of the other islands and the Dutch government, agreed to dissolve the Netherlands Antilles. On October 10, 2010, Curaçao and Sint Maarten became—like Aruba, which had separated from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986—countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.