New York

The New Netherlands colony, New Amsterdam.

The Dutch influence on the exploration and development of North America.

the Netherlands





The Low Countries
The Netherlands' contacts with the New World dated back to the first half of the sixteenth century. The Low Countries, one of the most densely populated regions in Europe, were not a unitary state but an agglomeration of seventeen separate small provinces under the Spanish Crown.

As subjects of the king of Spain, Dutch merchants had access to other parts of the Spanish Empire, including the Americas.

Henry Hudson
After several failed expeditions, the small seventy-ton Halve Maen set sail in April 1609 with a ship's company of sixteen commanded by the English navigator Henry Hudson. He first set course for the northeast, but before reaching Novaya Zemlya was forced by the Arctic ice to put about. Hudson at length reached the North Atlantic coast of the New World. 
Hudson rounded Cape Cod and entered Long Island Sound in search of a northwest passage to the Pacific. On September 12 he sighted 'as fine a river as can be found, wide and deep, with good anchoring on both sides', Ninety miles upstream he was forced to conclude that it was not the north-west passage. Disappointed, Hudson had to end his quest, unaware of the fact that in exploring this waterway he had sailed into history.

Pleasant and fertile
The voyage having failed in its principal aim, the directors of the Dutch East India Company, showed little interest in Hudson's discoveries. But others were more alert. Johannes de Laet, author of The New World or a Description of the West Indies, described this new land as 'pleasant and fertile', well suited to habitation, with a mild climate and abundant crops which grew virtually by themselves. This was music to the ears of Dutch merchants, who lost no time in fitting out ships for the voyage to 'Hudson's river'.
Those who set off after reading these tales of De Laet were unpleasantly surprised when they encountered the severe winters of North America. Nevertheless, for some merchants these voyages were profitable enough to warrant their continuation.

In Amsterdam, the merchants were becoming worried for competition, lowered the profits and heightened the risks. But as it happened, they had more to fear from one another than from the Indians. In the autumn of 1613 the Fortuyn [fortune], the Nachtegael [nightingale] and the Tijger [tiger] lay at anchor in the mouth of the Hudson. The three captains were locked in fierce competition for the pelts brought by the Indians, each outbidding the other and driving up the price day after day. When the winter arrivedt, they were still there, and their holds were still empty. A disastrous fire which destroyed the Tijger down to the waterline (parts of the wreck were recovered in 1916 on the present-day site of the WTC') caused the final eruption.

New Netherland
he merchants in Amsterdam decided that something must be done to prevent this sort of thing happening again. In 1615 a group of them obtained from the States General a monopoly of the Hudson trade. Their charter was the first document in which the name New Netherland appeared.

A number of trading posts were established, and ships departed regularly both to trade and to chart the coastal waters. The eastern seaboard from Connecticut to the Carolinas was charted in this way by cartographers in the service of the Company.

In May, 1624 thirty Walloon families, refugees from the part of the Netherlands still under Spanish rule, set out for America. They were put ashore in small groups at the mouth of the Delaware, the Hudson and the Connecticut rivers, marking the extent of the territory claimed by the Dutch. The most northerly outpost was established on the upper reaches of the Hudson, just south of present-day Albany. Its wooden blockhouse was named Fort Orange after William of Orange, who had led the Netherlands to independence and whose family were the hereditary stadholders, the heads of state of the Republic.


A year after the arrival of the first thirty families, a convoy of six ships left Amsterdam for New Netherland, carrying food supplies, weapons, agricultural tools, seeds, livestock and several hundred new settlers. Dispersing the settlers over different locations proved to have been a mistake. 

It was difficult to supply the settlers on the coast, and the fortresses at the river mouths could not be defended against attack from the hinterland. The Indian tribes around Fort Orange were at war with one another, bringing the fur trade to a virtual standstill.

Pieter Minuit
And finally, they were threatening to attack the white intruders who had usurped their land. In the spring of 1626 Governor Pieter Minuit decided to relocate all the colonists on the centrally situated island of Manhattan, which was easier to defend. Conditions were primitive at first: the families lived in dug-out huts or shared the stalls with their livestock. The building of a fort [New Amsterdam] and houses got under way after the island was purchased from the Indians for 60 guilders, a bargain even for those times.
Notwithstanding the narrow economic base, the population of the colony steadily increased, though its growth rate was in no way comparable to that of neighboring New England, where streams of immigrants were arriving. In 1643 the population numbered between 400 and 500; by 1654 it had increased a good five-fold to 2600, and ten years later had more than tripled again to 9000.

The Heeren XVII
As this period of Dutch history is known, owed much of its prosperity to the Republic's vast commercial empire that stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Hudson River. The Dutch East India Company (VOC), was founded in 1602 to trade with the Far East. Its governing body, the Heeren XVII, constantly seeking to reduce costs, made repeated attempts to find a northern passage to the Orient to replace the hazardous route round the Cape of Good Hope.

The Republic at that time was probably the most powerful state in Europe; it was certainly the most prosperous. It held a strong attraction for foreigners seeking a better life. Via the Republic many found their way to the Dutch colonies, where they hoped to make their fortunes. New Netherland was just one of the possible choices: they could equally well try their luck in the East Indies or Brazil, or sign on as a sailor aboard a VOC ship

Pieter Stuyvesant
In May 1647 the man arrived who was to be identified more than any other with New Amsterdam, and ultimately with its end. Pieter Stuyvesant, then 37, had won his spurs in the West Indies. Stuyvesant was a formal and authoritarian but a competent administrator who began by introducing strict measures to bring the situation under control. Although New Netherland never entirely lost the aura of a frontier society, Stuyvesant succeeded in firmly establishing his authority and restoring the colonists' confidence in the future.


The fate of New Netherland was finally decided by the rivalry between the two European maritime powers. In 1663 Charles II had generously presented his brother, the Duke of York, with all the land between the Delaware and the Connecticut, blithely disregarding the fact that it belonged to the Dutch. At that moment the two nations were not at war, so the duke could not very well claim his proprietary rights.

New York
The Second Anglo-Dutch War broke out in 1664, and soon afterwards four English frigates were dispatched to New Netherland. Knowing they were on their way, Stuyvesant appealed for help from his superiors in Amsterdam. It was not forthcoming. The directors insisted there was no need for alarm. The English flagship anchored in Gravesend Bay and her commander, Captain Richard Nicolls, informed Stuyvesant: 'In His Majestie's name I do demand the towne, situate upon the island commonly known by the name of Manhatoes with all the forts thereunto belonging'.

The colony passed into English hands without a shot being fired. Except for a brief interlude in 1673, when the town, since renamed New York.

After his acquittal Stuyvesant returned to the colony where he had lived for almost twenty years, and where his children had been born. Up to his death in 1672 he lived on his bouwerij (farm) in the district still called the Bowery.


After the loss of New Netherland, Dutch influence in North America was by no means at an end. Indeed, the reverse seemed to be true. For many years New York houses were still built in the Dutch style, with gables, window shutters and raised stoops, even though there was no danger of flooding as in Amsterdam. Not only did most of the original inhabitants remain, but they were joined by a fresh influx of immigrants from the Netherlands. The majority took British nationality in order to be able to continue their trading activities under the Navigation Act, which specified that only English ships could carry goods to and from English ports.
The old Dutch commercial families of New Amsterdam became part of the New York ruling classes. New immigrants usually trekked inland to establish farms far beyond the borders of the old colony. In 1683 a group of Mennonites and Quakers arrived in Pennsylvania, some of whom settled around Philadelphia. The majority were Dutch, but having come from an area near the German border, they were frequently mistaken for Germans, and their main settlement was later named Germantown.

United States
It was not only in the New World that the Dutch became involved in the American War of Independence. While no longer the great power of a century before, the Republic was still an important European state; more particularly, it was an extremely wealthy one.
The Continental Congress therefore sought support in Amsterdam for its struggle against Great Britain. In 1780 John Adams, one of the prime movers of the Revolution and a future president of the United States, was sent as an envoy to The Hague to enlist support for the American cause.

On April 19, 1782, the States General recognized the United States as a sovereign nation, making the Republic the second power to do so. In October of that year the two countries signed a treaty of amity and commerce, each according the other the status of most favored nation and providing for eternal peace and friendship between them.