Little is known about the early years of one of the United Provinces’ most famous and celebrated admiral. He was born in the year 1561, though which month is not clear, and was born in Utrecht. The earliest records of van Bohr came when he was recorded as a sailor on board a Dutch ship at the age of 16. Most of his life was spent on the seas, either as a privateer or a sailor within the Dutch navy.
In 1588, he commanded one of the Dutch ships during the engagement with the Spanish Armada. During the battle, Bohr earned the reputation as a reckless leader, willing to throw himself into the line of fire to obtain victory. Unlike many Dutch, Bohr had little interest in business. He lacked the patience to gradually earn wealth, and preferred the gloriesof conquest over the subtleties of trade.
By 1602, Bohr rose to the rank of Admiral, commanding 18 ships, led a raid on Aviliz, on
the Spanish mainland. For twelve days, his sailors and marines occupied the Spanish port. Bohr resupplied his fleet courtesy of the Spanish, and pillaged anything of worth not nailed down. Bohr’s biggest acclaim to fame was as Conqueror of Brazil. In 1604, he landed eighteen hundred men in the Brazilian port of Salvador. No resistance to speak of was offered, and the only combat within the town came from a lone colonist mistaking patrolling Dutch for game. After assembling his force in Salvador, Bohr threw off his admiral’s hat and took up the mantle of general. He lead his small army towards Recife, to battle the Portuguese garrison stationed there.
The Battle of Recife, future capital of Brazil, occurred on May 8, 1604. Bohr now lead only
one thousand men. Five hundred were left to hold Salvador, while nearly three hundred already succumbed to tropical disease. Portugal mustered only a few hundred colonial militia to combat a
vastly larger invasion fort. Bohr’s five cannon helped decide the outcome before the battle even began. Militia charged into a volley of fire, falling before they could come into range of sword.
Bohr wasted no time in fortifying his new conquests. Months passed before word of the fall of Recife reached the Iberian Peninsula. A small armada of thirty-one ships and three thousand men were assembled in Seville, with the explicit goal of eliminating Ernst van Bohr. In early 1605, the Spanish and Portuguese set sail for Brazil, meeting the Dutch fleet off the coast of Natal. Unlike the much larger battle with the Spanish Armada, the Battle of Natal ended far more decisively. Twenty-seven Dutch ships encountered thirty-one ships early in the morning of March 15, 1605. After a two day battle, the Dutch all but destroyed the combined fleet. Bohr proved once again a master admiral, while the Spanish and Portuguese failed to achieve any cohesion. Using one of the oldest strategies in the book, Bohr managed to divide the enemy fleet, and destroy it a few ships at a time. In the end, the only reason any Spanish ships escaped was due to exhaustion of ammunition and powder on the Dutch side.
Following the Conquest of Brazil and Netherlander independence, the Staaten-General bestowed on van Bohr the title of Count of Natal, with estates to go with it. After decades in war, van Bohr finally retired from the navy to his plantation and duties as count. He took control of his county in 1612. It was as the Count of Natal that van Bohr earned a dark blight on his reputation. He requisitioned land from the dispossessed Portuguese colonists, and other property; chiefly slaves. His ownership of nearly a thousand slaves to work his sugar plantation has brought him under much criticism as of late. He lived twelve more years as count, before dying in 1623. His title and lands were inherited by his eldest son, Maarten.