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The New York TimesAn expansive guidebook inspired by the Henry Hudson quadricentennial and accompanied by informative essays.— The New York Times
— Sam Roberts
— Sam Roberts
A Short History of New Netherland
Dutch involvement in North America started with Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage on his ship, the Half Moon (Halve Maen). Employed by the Dutch East India Company, the English navigator set out in April of that year from Texel in the Dutch Republic to look for a passage to Asia north of Russia. He soon decided to try the northwestern route instead. Having reached the North American shore, he explored several inlets along the coast and entered the Upper New York Bay on September 11. After sailing what is now the Hudson River up to modern-day Albany, he returned to Europe, where word of his findings quickly spread. Dutch merchant companies, keen to take advantage of a profitable fur trade with the native inhabitants, soon sent ships to explore new waters and new economic opportunities along the American coast.
At first, the trade of these private merchant companies, including the newly established New Netherland Company, was of a seasonal nature. After a small fort (Fort Nassau) was built on the upper reaches of the Hudson River close to present-day Albany, trade continued on a more secure footing. Using the lower Hudson as a base, Dutch skippers like Adriaen Block, Cornelis Hendricksz, and Jacob Eelkens charted parts of the North American coast from the Delaware River to Cape Cod. The early trade patterns were initially continued when the Dutch West India Company (WIC) was founded in 1621. The WIC combined separate merchant companies into a single joint stock company, which obtained a monopoly over all Dutch trade and shipping across the Atlantic Ocean. The main aim was to finance the continuing war with Spain and Portugal through profits from trade. This "grand design" emphasized privateering against enemy shipping in the Caribbean Sea and attacks on Spanish and Portuguese colonies, such as Brazil. New Netherland was a minor concern for the WIC. Yet, within a few years, an important change occurred. English protests against the Dutch incursions on the American northeast coast, along with the wish to take over the commercial activities there from private merchants, prompted the WIC to send colonists in order to boost their territorial claims with settlements.
The exact chronology of events leading up to the founding of New Netherland is murky, as few relevant documents have survived. The first groups of colonists–mostly Walloons (French-speaking Protestants originating from the southern part of the Low Countries, now Belgium)–probably arrived in 1624. They were dispersed around four trading posts, each with a fort: Fort Orange (later Albany) on the upper Hudson River; Burlington Island on the Delaware River; an undetermined location (probably Saybrook Point) on the mouth of the Connecticut River; and Governors Island (Nooten Eylandt). The colony was governed by a director, who represented the WIC as well as the highest governing body in the Dutch Republic, the States General (Staten Generaal). The director was assisted by a council of advisors, appointed by the Amsterdam chamber of the WIC. (The WIC was governed by five offices, called chambers, located in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hoorn, Middelburg, and Groningen). The WIC directors initially considered making Burlington Island the headquarters of their operations, but subsequently changed their minds and allowed local officials to choose a suitable location, suggesting the southern tip of Manhattan.
By September 1626 the Dutch had started building a fort on the southern tip of Manhattan–or Manna Hatta, the "hilly island," as the Native Americans called it–which had earlier been used as a pasture for livestock. The entire island was bought from the Native Americans for 60 guilders in merchandise while Pieter Minuit was director of New Netherland. On the whole, however, available information does not satisfy the modern desire to designate a specific year as the founding date of New York City.
After 1640 New Netherland gradually began to transform from a chain of trading posts into a settlement colony. In comparison with New England and Virginia, however, population growth was slow. This was partly due to the WIC's retention of its monopoly on the fur trade until 1640. After the company gave up its monopoly, immigration increased considerably, especially in the 1650s. Yet the development of New Netherland was always hampered by the prosperity of the Dutch Republic itself. Amsterdam in particular attracted fortune seekers from around Europe, few of whom were tempted to go overseas. The Dutch were even less likely to settle abroad and, if they did, the East Indies or Brazil offered better opportunities for getting rich quickly. As a result, half of New Netherland's settlers originated from European countries other than the Dutch Republic.
As the population increased, so did the administrative apparatus. When a sufficient number of colonists had settled in an area, the director and council often granted them a limited form of autonomy, including their own court of justice. The WIC also tried to stimulate growth of the settler population through the creation of patroonships, which granted governmental powers over large tracts of land to absentee landowners who would set up tenant farms at their own expense. By 1664 New Netherland was a settlement colony of 7,000–8,000 inhabitants, composed of New Amsterdam, 16 villages, and 2 patroonships. Most of the villages were concentrated on Long Island; others were located along the banks of the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. Areas further inland, such as in New Jersey, were mostly settled after 1664 when the English took over New Netherland.
Despite the population growth, colonists in New Netherland were thinly spread over a vast territory, and the colony was underpopulated in comparison with its neighbors. Pressure from the surrounding English colonists continued and eventually, in 1664, London sent a military force under Colonel Richard Nicolls to New Amsterdam to demand its surrender. Director General Petrus Stuyvesant was able to offer only a token defense, and New Netherland was quickly brought under English control. As the English takeover occurred in peacetime, it contributed to the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667). During subsequent negotiations leading to the Treaty of Breda in 1667, it was agreed that each country should keep the territories conquered during that war. This meant that the English retained control of former New Netherland, and the Dutch Republic remained in control of Surinam, which had been taken from the English in 1667.
In 1673, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674), New York was briefly recaptured by the Dutch and renamed New Orange. It was returned to the English under the terms of the Treaty of Westminster a year later. Half a century of Dutch rule on the North American continent had finally come to an end.
MAP 1 Manhattan/New Amsterdam
By late 1626 the Dutch had firmly settled on the island of Manhattan. With Fort Amsterdam as its center, they established a small trading post on the southern tip of the island. The village that surrounded Fort Amsterdam gradually developed into a small town that became the staple port and capital of New Netherland, replacing the earliest outposts on the Delaware, Hudson, and Connecticut Rivers. From only a couple of hundred settlers in the 1620s, the Dutch colony had reached a total population of 7,000–8,000 spread out over a wide area by the time of the English takeover in 1664. The city of "Amsterdam in New Netherland," as it was commonly called, then housed between 1,750 and 2,000 inhabitants, including 10-17 percent partly enslaved, partly freed African Americans. Among the colonists of European origin, about half had been born in the Dutch Republic. Many others originated in France, the German states, Scandinavia, and other European countries and had spent a number of years in Amsterdam or elsewhere in the Dutch Republic before emigrating to the New World. These included Huguenots and Walloons, French-speaking Protestants from France and Wallonia who had moved to the Dutch Republic. The majority of the elite, on the other hand, originated from the province of Holland. The public culture of the New Amsterdam elite was Dutch, with a few adaptations to the conditions of the New World.
Arriving colonists would sail past Coney Island (Conijne Eylant), through the Narrows between Staten Island (Staten Eylant) and Long Island ('t Lange Eylant), until the smaller islands in New York Bay came into sight: Liberty Island (Bedloe's Eylant), Ellis Island (Oester Eylant), and Governors Island (Nooten Eylant). The Hudson River was then commonly called North River (Noordrivier), a name for its southernmost part still in use by sailors. The ship would anchor on the East River (Oostrivier), within sight of the ferry to Brooklyn (Breuckelen), and sloops would transfer the new colonists and their cargo to the pier on Pearl Street (Paerl Straet). Along Pearl Street they would see the tavern-turned-city hall on the right and, on the left, the WIC warehouse, where all imported merchandise had to be cleared. Many of the older New Amsterdam houses were built of wood and resembled Dutch houses in the Waterland region north of Amsterdam.
Above the houses, the new arrivals would see Fort Amsterdam and, in the direction of the fort along Pearl Street, Petrus Stuyvesant's house on a little cape protruding into the East River. Turning right into the Market field (the Marckvelt), now Whitehall Street, the mill on the heights next to the fort would come into full view. The gate of the fort was on the north side. Standing at the gate, new arrivals would see Broadway (the Breede Weg) running past the defense wall (Wall Street) all the way to the north end of Manhattan, following a Native-American trail. A Latin School and a Deacons' House for the Poor completed this small Dutch city in the New World.
The fort and the city hall housed two authorities with overlapping jurisdictions. Fort Amsterdam was the headquarters of the director (after 1647: director general) and council, the highest authority in New Netherland, which in turn was subordinate to the WIC chamber in Amsterdam (one of the five chambers that controlled the company). The director and his Amsterdam-appointed councilors were in charge of the overall government of the colony. They also acted as a criminal court and as the court of appeals for civil cases.
Replacing the previous advisory council, the city government of New Amsterdam was instituted in 1653, after a number of years of conflict between the colonists and local WIC officials. After purging the advisory council of colonists hostile towards the WIC, Director General Petrus Stuyvesant (ca. 1612–1672) and his councilors felt it was safe to propose the creation of a city government to their superiors.
The WIC directors in Amsterdam quickly agreed. Although occasionally minor conflicts arose, the city government and the colonial government generally collaborated amicably. The New Amsterdam city government could regulate its own matters, such as economic affairs (the supervision of weights and measures), public works (the construction of bridges and roads, the appointment of a rattle watch), and education. In 1653 the very first mayors (burgemeesters) of New Amsterdam, Arent van Hattem and Martin Cregier, were appointed to govern the town, together with the aldermen (schepenen). The mayors took care of administrative matters, while the five aldermen focused on court cases, with a sheriff (schout) acting as prosecutor.
In this chapter we provide the reader with two tours. The first comprises a walk in downtown Manhattan to explore the traces of former New Amsterdam. We suggest starting at Wall Street and walking roughly south towards Battery Park.
In the days of New Netherland, long before the street grid of Manhattan was put in place, Broadway formed the virtual spine of the island; a tour of Lower Manhattan should be followed by one that continues north on Broadway. However, to explore the Dutch heritage of the island today, you must follow a zig-zig route that will take you to the present-day Lower East Side before continuing north. A longer tour of Manhattan is possible by bicycle, public transit, or car.
Not a single building from the 17th century survived the city fires of 1776 and 1835 and the subsequent development of New York's Financial District into its present forest of high-rise buildings. However, the original street plan of New Amsterdam is still evident. When comparing a modern map of the southern tip of Manhattan with old maps of New Amsterdam, the development that first catches the eye is the extent of landfill that widened Manhattan over four centuries on both its east and west sides. In 1609 the shoreline along the Hudson River was at today's Greenwich Street; today's Battery Park was under water. At that time, the southern tip of New Amsterdam was a small cape just west of modern Whitehall Street. On the bank of the East River, the shoreline ran along the south side of Pearl Street—now indicated with blue lines on the pavement—up to Wall Street, the northern edge of the settlement. New Amsterdam was a small town—everyone lived within a few minutes walking distance of each other.
Today your imagination has to reconstruct the old town with the help of several commemorative plaques. While some of these plaques date from the 19th century, others were placed in connection with the tricentennial of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage in 1909, which inspired the Dutch Republic to establish its North American colony. The 2009 celebrations led to new historical markers at several sites. They commemorate buildings as well as New Amsterdam inhabitants, such as poet Jacob Steendam, Director General Petrus Stuyvesant, Jewish merchant Asser Levy, and tavernkeeper Andries Rees.
Some of the streets in the Financial District still bear names that indicate their Dutch background, albeit in translated form: Broadway (Breede Weg), Pearl Street (Paerl Straet), Wall Street (Langs de Wal), New Street (Nieuwe Straet), Beaver Street (Bever Straet), Market field Street (Marckvelt Straet), and Bridge Street (Brug Straet). But other streets have been renamed beyond recognition: Broad Street does not reflect the old canal of the Heeren Gracht, Whitehall Street bears no relation to New Amsterdam's Beurs Straet, Stone Street does not even sound like Brouwers Straet. In many ways, the story of the street names illustrates the extent to which the remnants of New Amsterdam have been Americanized.
Wall Street (Langs de Wal)
Just across from Trinity Church, on the south side of the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, a small plaque commemorates the defensive works that gave Wall Street its name. In 1653, during the First Anglo-Dutch War, the director general and council, in close collaboration with the new city government, decided to protect the northern edge of New Amsterdam with a palisade, breastwork, and ditch. Symbolically, the palisade has been partly re-created in the Wall Street pavement with rectangular wooden blocks that delineate the possible original site. While the palisade (actually a row of posts with 12-foot-high stakes and horizontal planks) was constructed by New Amsterdam carpenters, all citizens of New Amsterdam were required to assist in digging the ditch. By the end of the 17th century, New York began to expand beyond the city's original northern edge, and whatever remained of the defensive works was removed. Today, of course, Wall Street's fame is based on finance rather than fortifications.
Wall Street at Broadway MAP 1 E1
Another plaque is affixed to the building of the New York Stock Exchange. It commemorates Alexander Carolus Curtius, once master of New Amsterdam's Latin School. Curtius' two-year sojourn in New Amsterdam—he left to teach at the University of Leiden—was reason for a Lithuanian Committee to honor the man. Broad Street has special paving denoting the canal (Heeren Gracht) that once ran down that street.
Plaque on New York Stock Exchange 18 Broad Street MAP 1 F1
Muddy Lane (Slijcksteeg)
From Wall Street you can easily walk down to South William Street, formerly known as Muddy Lane (Slijcksteeg) and subsequently Mill Street because of the mill that once stood there and that hosted both early Protestant and Jewish religious meetings in a large room on the first floor. Later, the first Jewish Synagogue (long gone) was built on this street. Some of the millstones of the windmill, dug up in the 19th century, may now be seen in the synagogue of the Congregation Shearith Israel and in the West End Collegiate Church. Neo-Renaissance facades on this street are good examples of the late-19th-century Dutch Colonial Revival style in architecture.
Excerpted from Exploring Historic Dutch New York by Gajus Scheltema, Heleen Westerhuijs. Copyright © 2011 Museum of the City of New York. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted March 19, 2014