New Netherland and New York
Fur Trade. When in 1609 Henry Hudson sailed his eighty-ton, three-masted carrack, The Half Moon, into New York Bay and up the river that would bear his name, he and the other eighteen or twenty men with him were looking for the Northwest Passage, a mythical water route through North America to the East Indies. Instead he and his men found a navigable river on whose banks lived native peoples “who had an abundance of provisions, skins, and furs, of martens and foxes.” Thus the fur trade began early. Until 1621 when the Dutch West India Company was incorporated, the fur trade allowed individuals such as the West Indian mulatto Juan Rodrigues to come to the area and work for one firm, leave it and stay with the Indians, and sign on with another company that would pay him better once the winter ended and ships again sailed from the Netherlands. Early settlements both up the river at Fort Orange (Albany) and on “the Manhates,” or Manhattan, were glorified trading posts with soldiers and farmers. Because beavers, the most important fur-bearing animals, were fewer around Manhattan, Albany became the center of the Dutch fur trade. Each year when the fur-trading season opened, merchants from New York awaited the coming of the Indians with their pelts. Albany boomed, and even ordinary people tried to buy and sell furs before the season ended and the town was again left to the few who lived there all year around. The fur trade would outlast the Dutch, who surrendered New Netherland in 1664, but in time the fur-bearing animals close by were killed off, and Indians either had to trap farther away or buy from more distant tribes whose lands still supplied plenty of beavers. Albany merchants engaged in an illegal fur trade with the French in Montreal by 1700. The Hudson River valley turned its attention to growing wheat, and the fur trade, so crucial in the earliest years, became increasingly less important to the economy of the colony.
Dutch West India Company. The States General of the Netherlands chartered the Dutch West India Company in 1621 as a private trading monopoly and as a countermeasure against the Spanish, with whom a treaty had just ended. Initially its mission was seen as harassing the Spanish and Portuguese, not overseeing New World settlement. It looked for wealth on the African coast and in the West Indies rather than areas north of Virginia. The company’s operation in New Netherland, roughly between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers, was incidental and received few resources since it could produce only furs. The director general and a few other officers were appointed by the company to oversee the fur trade and whatever else was necessary. They acted as the government, rented out company lands to farmers, chartered towns to those who wanted to settle, traded with the Indians, and tried to keep the peace among the Europeans. Their authority was somewhat compromised since settlers could appeal directly to the company. By 1629 it was clear that the company monopoly did not work in keeping the colony solvent, and private investors were allowed large landholdings called “patroonships.” The fur trade was thrown open to other merchants in 1639, and by the 1660s the colony occupied little company time or interest.
Settlement Patterns. The first settlements, as opposed to seasonal trading posts, were undertaken by the Dutch West India Company, who paid thirty Walloon families to come to the New World in 1624. They were
scattered on farms among Manhattan Island, Fort Orange, and the Connecticut River valley, where the company also had a fort. Two years later, after the company purchased Manhattan Island, they were brought back to stay there. New Amsterdam, as the settlement was named, was the center of Dutch control of New Netherland; by 1664 nineteen hundred people lived there. Fort Orange was a struggling post manned by fewer than twenty men until the 1630s when the company granted to Kiliaen van Rensselaer, one of its directors, the right to bring over settlers. Rensselaerswyck, which surrounded Albany and included vast acres on both sides of the Hudson River, was the only patroonship to have any success. Rensselaer recruited some tenants, and one hundred persons lived on his property by 1646. Schenectady, located just west of Albany, was the last Dutch village founded in 1661. Down the Hudson stood the village of Esopus (Kingston). On Long Island both Dutch and some English settlers applied for and received town charters, thereby forming farming villages in the 1640s and 1650s. Slightly to the south in what is now Jersey City, New Jersey, was the town of Pavonia. Finally, the Dutch nominally controlled the Swedish settlements on the Delaware River near what is now New Castle, Delaware.
Diversity. In 1646 the French Jesuit priest and missionary Father Isaac Jogues found himself temporarily in New Amsterdam. “On the island of Manhate, and in its environs, there may well be four or five hundred men of different sects and nations: the Director General told me that there were men of eighteen different languages.... No religion is publicly exercised but the Calvinist, and orders are to admit none but Calvinists, but this is not observed: for besides the Calvinists there are in the colony Catholics, English Puritans, Lutherans, Anabaptists, here called [Mennonites].” Part of what Father Jogues saw was the result of the difficulty that the Dutch West India Company and various patroons had in enticing Dutchmen to leave the Netherlands. Half of those in New Netherland later called Dutch were in fact German, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, French, English, or even as exotic as Abraham Stevenson, alias Crabaat/Crowaet, the Croatian. During the 1640s and 1650s New England dissenters, sometimes expelled from more-orthodox towns, petitioned the Dutch authorities for town grants and settled as families on Long Island at Gravesend, Newtown, Jamaica, Oyster Bay, and Hempstead. Some of these were the Anabaptists, those who believed in adult rather than infant baptism, and English Puritans noted by Father Jogues. In 1654 Jews arrived, and even though Director General Peter Stuyvesant would have expelled them, they appealed to coreligionists who as major investors in the Dutch West India Company successfully pressured the company’s directors to override Stuyvesant’s prejudices and allow them to stay. The 1655 conquest of New Sweden on the Delaware brought in even more Swedes and Finns. Africans also entered New Netherland.
Enslaved. The Dutch West India Company imported Africans to work on their farms, storehouses, and ships. Women performed domestic duties as well as gardening and light farmwork. Almost all of the Dutch settlements had at least a few slaves taken from various parts of Africa. In 1664 some 300 slaves and 75 free blacks lived in New Amsterdam. A census of 1698 lists 2,170 blacks, mostly slaves, in the whole colony.
The English. The conquest of New Netherland in 1664 as part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War meant that the scattered settlements were now under English control. King Charles II gave the territory to his brother James, Duke of York, hence the name New York. James, like other proprietors, understood that his colony would succeed only if it had a population growing crops and buying goods. The surrender of New Netherland guaranteed that those living there, of whatever nationality or religion, were protected even if they did not all have equal rights. New York continued to attract different groups; Quakers found religious tolerance after some early persecution and Huguenots arrived before 1700. German Palatines were offered sanctuary, even if in the end they left for the greater security of Pennsylvania. On the eve of the Revolution, Scotsmen with their families poured into upper and western New York, lured by speculators who wanted to sell them farmland. African slaves continued to make up a substantial percentage of the population, being as much as one-fifth in the seventeenth century. They came from all regions of Africa including the island of Madagascar. Many had first lived in the West Indies, and some were born there. A census of 1771 lists 148,000 whites and almost 20,000 blacks, most of them slaves.
Bernard Bailyn, Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1986);
Thomas E. Burke Jr., Mohawk Frontier: The Dutch Community of Schenectady, New York, 1661–1710 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991);
David G. Hackett, The Rude Hand of Innovation: Religion and Social Order in Albany, New York 1652–1836 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991);
Michael Kämmen, Colonial New York: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975);
Thomas Elliot Norton, The Fur Trade in Colonial New York 1686–1776 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974).