New Netherland

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NEW NETHERLAND. Founded by maritime entrepreneurs, New Netherland's beginnings lay with sea captains, traders, and investors principally from the Dutch provinces of Holland, North Holland, and Zeeland. In 1609 Henry Hudson explored the entrance to the North River (Hudson River) and navigated as far north as present-day Albany. Following his exploits, the United Provinces issued contracts for short-term voyages of discovery in the area north of Virginia and south of "nova Francia," lands claimed by France. In 1614 the New Netherland Company won a charter permitting it to send out four voyages and trade with native peoples, especially those living near the entrances to three rivers: the South River (Delaware River), the North River or River Mauritius (Hudson River), and the Fresh River (Connecticut River).

In 1621 the United Provinces awarded a charter to the West India Company (WIC). It received a monopoly to trade between thirty-nine and forty-one degrees north latitude. This was not a land patent. Indigenous peoples were presumed to hold rightful title to lands in New Netherland. Any properties acquired would be by purchase or contractual agreement.

In 1624 the WIC began its search for a proper base of operations in New Netherland. Jan Cornelisse May led several ships to locations already described and occupied by the earlier navigators and traders. May was particularly looking for an offshore island to serve as a middelpunt, a central location for the company's enterprises. Prince's Island in the Delaware River seemed a possibility, as did each of the two islands set at the entrance to the North River and separated by a narrow channel, the "island of the Manahates" (Manhattan Island) and Nut Island (Governor's Island.)

Willem Verhulst succeeded May, arriving on the southern shores of New Netherland in 1625. He came as "Provisional Director" with "Instructions" to decide on a permanent central site for the company's employees and possibly forty-three colonists. Once settled, he and the engineer Crijn Fredericksz were to oversee the building of a fort, one of the shore forts found at home and in the East Indies. Settlement on the island of the Manahates looked promising. But it was not until 1626 and after Verhulst's dismissal and replacement by Peter Minuit as first director-general that the island was purchased and occupancy legitimated.

Manhattan Island was not intended to be an agricultural colony. The company pursued its commercial monopoly by making bilateral agreements with coastal and inland peoples. But it had no intention of acquiring extensive native lands. And its directors were, like those of the East India Company, divided over the value of encouraging colonists. Overseas they meant to be the opposite of the Spanish: kooplieden not conquistadors, merchants not conquerors.

In 1629 Kiliaen van Rensselaer and other influential merchants forced the company to accept the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions. This required it to assist those who would put themselves forward as patroons, men prepared to plant colonies. Van Rensselaer established his patroonship, Rensselaerswijck, on land 180 miles up the Hudson from Manhattan Island. There the company had earlier built Fort Orange and after 1652 promoted a successful fur-trading town, Beverwijck (later Albany). No other patroonship eventuated.

Population on Manhattan Island grew slowly. During the late 1630s, however, some Dutch colonists were moving farther away from the center of the settlement, Fort Amsterdam. They were creating persistent disputes with Algonquian-speaking natives who were farming nearby and fishing for shells that were highly valued by inland people and soon served as currency (wampum) in New Netherland.

At the same time the Dutch and natives were experiencing a shortage of maize (corn). The policy of Willem Kieft, the director general who had replaced Wouter van

Twiller (1631–1637), was to extort the maize (and wampum and furs) from native villages. Clans such as the Raritans learned that unless they paid "fire money" —the same brandschatting that armies or brigands extracted from isolated farming villages in the Low Countries—the Dutch could not protect them from enemies or their own depredations. Kieft's War, as it has been called, resulted in the deaths of possibly a thousand natives.

Kieft denied responsibility. However, leading burghers, constituting themselves as the Twelve Men in 1641 and then the Eight Men in 1643, charged him with bringing the company's enterprise into peril and bearing the guilt for massacring innocent natives in September 1643. They made certain that the States General and the company directors knew of these affairs. The natives remembered them into the 1650s.

Kieft's War was not a turning point in Dutch-native relations. But the fragile peace that had existed from 1624 to the late 1630s never returned. Petrus Stuyvesant assumed the administration of New Netherland in 1647. He was authoritarian but also competent, intelligent, and, in many respects, far-sighted. He saw to the foundation of Beverwijck. He agreed (reluctantly) that New Amsterdam (New York City) deserved the status of a chartered city in1653. He concluded the Treaty of Hartford in 1650, which established boundaries between New Netherland and Connecticut.

During Stuyvesant's administration and especially after the mid-1650s, immigration to New Netherland grew steadily. Transatlantic commerce was regularized, as were partnerships with Amsterdam's merchant houses. Ordinary burghers of New Amsterdam and Beverwijck (women among them) traveled to the patria seeing to business affairs. Well-developed legal and notarial systems gave protection to ordinary townspeople caught up in daily matters as well as to merchants engaged in international trade. In 1660 one of Stuyvesant's councillors profiled New Netherland for the company directors, listing two cities, thirteen villages, two forts, and three colonies. In 1664 New Amsterdam's burgomasters praised the city for its fine houses, surpassing nearly every other place in North America. The province's population was 10,000 people. Among them were small numbers of Africans. After their first arrival in 1626, some of these men and women remained as slaves on Manhattan Island. Others lived as free persons or were given considerable freedom and manumitted. Beyond the colony, the New Netherlanders played a major role in the African slave trade, with the first cargo of slaves probably arriving in New Amsterdam in 1655 for transshipment to the southern colonies and the West Indies.

But Stuyvesant inherited Kieft's legacy. In 1655 hostilities ignited, largely around Manhattan Island. In 1660 settlers in Esopus (Kingston) began a year of hostilities with the Esopus people. Stuyvesant and his council debated whether they could retaliate on the grounds of a "just war." They decided they could not. They urged the natives to relocate and sued for Mohawk mediation and peace. But it failed to hold. In 1664 Esopus was attacked and fighting resumed.

In August 1664 and in the absence of a declared war, an English fleet forced Stuyvesant's surrender of New Netherland. The province became the property of James, duke of York.


Klooster, Wim. The Dutch in the Americas, 1600–1800. Providence, R.I.: The John Carter Brown Library, 1997.

Merwick, Donna. Death of a Notary: Conquest and Change in Colonial New York. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Rink, Oliver A. Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986.

Stokes, I. N. P., ed. The Iconography of Manhattan Island: 1498– 1909. 6 vols. New York: Robert H. Dodd, 1915–1928.


See alsoDutch West India Company ; Explorations and Expeditions: Dutch ; New York Colony .

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New Netherland