New Amsterdam

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This article is about the settlement in present-day New York City. For alternate usages, see New Amsterdam (disambiguation)
Dutch Revival buildings from the early 20th century on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan recall the Dutch origins of the city. The original 17th century architecture of New Amsterdam has completely vanished, leaving only archaeological remnants
Dutch Revival buildings from the early 20th century on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan recall the Dutch origins of the city. The original 17th century architecture of New Amsterdam has completely vanished, leaving only archaeological remnants

New Amsterdam (Dutch: Nieuw Amsterdam) was the name of the 17th century fortified settlement in the New Netherland Province, established in 1624, that would eventually become New York City. Founded in 1625 by the Dutch West India Company, the city was located on the strategic, fortifiable southern tip of the island of Manhattan and intended to defend river access to the company's fur trade operations in the Hudson Valley. New Amsterdam developed into the largest Dutch colonial settlement in the New Netherland province, now the New York Tri-State region, and remained a Dutch possession until 1664, when it fell provisionally in the hands of the English. The Dutch regained it in August 1673, renaming the city "New Orange", then ceded New Netherland permanently to the English in November 1674. The 1625 date of the foundation of the city is now commemorated in the Official Seal of the City of New York (formerly, the year on the seal was 1664, the year of English incorporation).

See: Dutch colonization of the Americas, History of New York City



Early Settlement (1609–1625)

The first recorded exploration by the Dutch of the area around what is now called New York Bay was in 1609 with the voyage of Henry Hudson, who was attempting to find the Northwest Passage for the Dutch East India Company. Instead, he brought back news about the possibility of exploitation of beaver pelts in the area, leading to private commercial interest by the Dutch who sent commercial, private missions to the area the following years. At the time, beaver pelts were highly prized in Europe, because the fur could be "felted" to make waterproof hats. A by-product of the trade in beaver pelts was castoreum — the secretion of the animals' anal glands — which was used for its supposed medicinal properties. The expeditions by Adriaen Block and Hendrick Christiansz in the years 1611, 1612, 1613 and 1614 resulted in the surveying and charting of the region from the 38th parallel to the 45th parallel. On their 1614 map, which gave them a four year trade monopoly under a patent of the States General, they named the newly discovered and mapped territory New Netherland for the first time. It also showed the first year-round, top-of-the-Hudson River, island-based trading presence in New Netherland, Fort Nassau, which 10 years later, in 1624, would be replaced by Fort Orange on the main land which grew into the town of Beverwyck, now Albany.

In 1613 Hendrick Christiansz established a fur trading post at lower Manhattan aproximately in the place where World Trade Center was thus marking the beginning of the history of New York City as a populated place by Europeans. Also it must be noted that among the settlers was Jan Rodrigues the first African American living in New York.

One year later the New Netherlands Company settled in upstate New York in current Albany a fort called Fort Nassau. Also as early as 1616 there was also a little fur trading post in what is today Kingston. So having as a basis these Dutch fur trading posts the commercial character of New York was born.

The territory of New Netherland, comprising the Northeast's largest rivers with access to the beaver trade, was provisionally a private, profit-making commercial enterprise focusing on cementing alliances and conducting trade with the diverse Indian tribes. They enabled the serendipitous surveying and exploration of the region as a prelude to anticipated official settlement by the Dutch Republic which occurred in 1624. Immediately after the armistice period between the Dutch Republic and Spain (1609–1621) the founding of the Dutch West India Company took place in 1621. That year, as well as in 1622 and 1623, orders were given to the private, commercial traders to vacate the territory thus opening up the territory to the transplantation of Dutch culture onto the North American continent whereon the laws and ordinances of the states of Holland would now apply rather than the law of the ship during the prior private, commercial period. The mouth of the Hudson River was selected as the most perfect place for initial settlement as it had easy access to the ocean while securing an ice free lifeline to the beaver-rich, unexploited forests farther north where the company's traders could be in close contact with the American Indian hunters who supplied them with pelts in exchange for European-made trade goods for barter and wampum, which was soon being "minted" under Dutch auspices on Long Island.

Thus in 1624 when the first group of families arrived on Governors Island to be followed by the second group of settlers to the island in 1625, in order to take possession of the New Netherland territory and to operate various trading posts, they were spread out to Verhulsten Island High Island in the South River Delaware River, to Kievitshoek and Zeebroek at the mouth of the Verse Rivier Connecticut River and at the top of the Mauritius or North River Hudson River.

Fortification (1625)

The potential threat of attack from other interloping European colonial powers prompted the Directors of the Dutch West India Company to formulate a plan to protect the entrance to the Hudson River, and to consolidate the trading operations and the bulk of the settlers into the vicinity of a new fort. In 1625, most of the cattle and some settlers were moved from Noten Eylant Governors Island to Manhattan Island where Fort Amsterdam was being laid out by Kryn Frederickz van Lobbrecht at the direction of Willem Verhulst who had been empowered to make that decision in his and his council's best judgment.

There is evidence that the Dutch West India Company was interested in building such a fort as early as 1620, based on a letter dated that year from the English architect Inigo Jones, who had probably been contacted by the company to design the fort. In the letter, Jones advises the company to avoid constructing a timber fort out of haste, but rather to build a moated fortification with stone and lime. Jones' accompanying drawing illustrates the traditional star-design that had become prevalent because of its ability to deflect cannon fire.

For the location of the masonry fort, company director Willem Verhulst and engineer Cryn Fredericks chose a site just above the southern tip of Manhattan. The new fortification was to be called Fort Amsterdam. By the end of the year 1625, the site had been staked out directly south of Bowling Green on the site of the present U.S. Custom House; west of the fort's site, later landfill has now created Battery Park.


New Amsterdam in 1664
New Amsterdam in 1664

Verhulst was an unpopular director, however, mainly because of his mismanagement of the colony's finances and his peremptory treatment of the settlers, whom he viewed simply as company employees. In early 1626, Verhulst was replaced by Peter Minuit.

To legally safeguard the settlers' investments, possessions and farms on Manhattan island, Minuit negotiated the "purchase" of Manhattan from the Manahatta Indians for 60 guilders worth of trade goods. The deed itself has not survived so the conditons causing the negotiation and validation of the deed are unknown. A textual reference to the deed became a foundation for the legend that Minuit had "purchased Manhattan from the Native Americans for 24 dollars worth of trinkets." Most historians agree that the Manahattas had no concept of permanent ownership of land since they moved encampments on a seasonal basis and lived off whatever land they inhabited. The Manahattas likely thought they were granting hunting and fishing rights to the Dutch, thinking they would eventually relinquish them when they desired to move on to other grounds.

While the originally designed large fort, meant to contain the population as in a fortified city, was being constructed, the MohawkMahican War at the top of the Hudson led the company to relocate the settlers from there to the vicinity of the new Fort Amsterdam. As the settlers were at peace with the Manahatta Indians, the fact that no large scale foreign powers were imminently trying to seize the territory, and that colonizing was a prohibitively expensive undertaking, only partly subsidized by the fur trade, led a scaling back of the original plans. By 1628, a smaller fort was constructed with walls containing a mixture of clay and sand, like in Holland. See also Wall Street.

Upon first settlement on Noten Eylant Governors Island in 1624, a fort and sawmill was built. The latter was constructed by Franchoys Fezard. The new settlement had a population of approximately 270 people, including infants. A watercolor discovered in the map collection of the Austrian National Library, Vienna, in 1991 (see link below) provides a unique view of Nieuw Amsterdam in 1648 as it appeared from Capske (small Cape) Rock, a rock in the water close to Manhattan between Manhattan and Governors islands, which signalled the start of the East River roadstead.

New Amsterdam was incorporated on February 2, 1653. On August 22, 1654, the first Ashkenazic Jews arrived with West India Company passports from Amsterdam to be followed in September by a group of Sephardic Jews, without passports, from Dutch Brazil. New Amsterdam granted freedom of religion to Jews; many Sephardic Jews arrived there fleeing from Portuguese reconquest of the Dutch possessions in Brazil. Nieuw Haarlem was formally recognized in 1658.

New Netherland was provisionally ceded by director-general Peter Stuyvesant to the English in a surprise attack on September 24, 1664 when the two European nations were at peace. This resulted in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, between England and the United Netherlands.

In 1667, the Dutch withdrew their claims on New Netherland in the Treaty of Breda, including an exhange with the tiny Island of Run in North Maluku, rich in nutmegs and the garantee for the rights to Suriname in return. The New Amsterdam city was subsequently renamed New York, after the Duke of York — brother of the English King Charles II — who had been granted the lands with the kingly stroke of an armchair pen.

However, in a subsequent war between the English and the Dutch, the Dutch recaptured New Netherland in August 1673 before handing it over for good after the third Anglo–Dutch war upon the signing of the Treaty of Westminster in November, 1674.

See also

External links


  • Hugh Morrison, Early American Architecture ISBN 0-486-25492-5 (Oxford University Press, 1952) [Dover Ed. 1987]
  • Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World, The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America ISBN 0-385-50349-0 (New York, Doubleday, 2004)

Former Dutch colonies
Aruba (current) | Berbice | Brazil (part) | Cape Colony | Ceylon | Demerara | Deshima | Dutch East Indies | Dutch Guiana | Essequibo | Dutch West Indies or Netherlands Antilles (current) | Netherlands New Guinea | New Netherland (New Amsterdam, New Sweden) | New Zealand (part) | Smeerenburg | Taiwan | Tobago | Travancore | Virgin Islands (part)
See also: Dutch colonisation of the Americas | Dutch East India Company | Dutch West India Company | New Holland
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