Beginning in the 16th century, French, Spanish and English explorers visited the area. A century later, Dutch and English settlers established plantation colonies along the many rivers in the fertile Guiana plains. The earliest documented colony in Guiana was an English settlement named Marshall's Creek along the Suriname River. After that there was another short-lived English colony called Willoughbyland that lasted from 1650 to 1674.
Disputes arose between the Dutch and the English for control of this territory. In 1667, during negotiations leading to the Treaty of Breda after the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch decided to keep the nascent plantation colony of Suriname they had gained from the English. In return the English kept New Amsterdam, the main city of the former colony of New Netherland in North America on the mid-Atlantic coast. The British renamed it after the Duke of York: New York City.
In 1683, the Society of Suriname was founded by the city of Amsterdam, the Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck family, and the Dutch West India Company. The society was chartered to manage and defend the colony. The planters of the colony relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate, harvest and process the commodity crops of coffee, cocoa, sugar cane and cotton plantations along the rivers. Planters' treatment of the slaves was notoriously brutal even by the standards of the time historian C. R. Boxer wrote that "man's inhumanity to man just about reached its limits in Surinam" and many slaves escaped the plantations. In November 1795, the Society was nationalized by the Batavian Republic and from then on, the Batavian Republic and its legal successors (the Kingdom of Holland and the Kingdom of the Netherlands) governed the territory as a national colony, barring a period of British occupation between 1799 and 1802, and between 1804 and 1816.
With the help of the native South Americans living in the adjoining rain forests, these runaway slaves established a new and unique culture in the interior that was highly successful in its own right. They were known collectively in English as Maroons, in French as Neg'Marrons (literally meaning "brown negroes", that is "pale-skinned negroes"), and in Dutch as Marrons. The Maroons gradually developed several independent tribes through a process of ethnogenesis, as they were made up of slaves from different African ethnicities. These tribes include the Saramaka, Paramaka, Ndyuka or Aukan, Kwinti, Aluku or Boni, and Matawai. Language used in Suriname is Dutch.