Dutch Settlement Of New York
Author: Valentine, David T.
Dutch Settlement Of New York
Greater fame ordinarily attaches to the discovery of some vast region of
the earth than to the finding or exploring of a limited coast, district, or
river-course. There are, however, some instances in which geographical
conditions or historical developments magnify the seemingly lesser
achievements. This had been the case with Henry Hudson's timely exploration
of the river called after him.
The enterprising Dutch people, under whose auspices he accomplished this
brilliant feat, had just emerged from their long contest with Spain. The
return of peace to the Netherlands found many active spirits in readiness for
fresh adventures, and Hudson's work opened for them a new and inviting field.
Increasing celebrity gathered about the name of Hudson from the very
first settlements in the remarkable region which he made known to the world,
and which was destined to become the seat of the world's second - perhaps of
its greatest - metropolis, and the home of an imperial commonwealth. The
simple beginnings of this mighty growth are as simply but quite adequately
told in the following pages from the historian of New York city.
Having explored the river which bears his name, Hudson put to sea on
October 4th, making directly for Europe, with news of his discovery of this
fine river and its adjacent country, which he described as offering every
inducement for settlers or traders that could be desired.
Besides the fertility or the soil, which was satisfactorily shown by the
great abundance of grain and vegetables found in the possession of the
Indians, a still more enticing prospect was held out to the view of the
merchants, in the abundance of valuable furs observed in the country, which
were to be had at a very little cost.
Hudson had, therefore, scarcely made publicly known the character of the
country visited by him when several merchants of Amsterdam fitted out
trading-vessels and despatched them to this river. Their returns were highly
satisfactory, and arrangements were immediately made to establish a settled
agency here to superintend the collection of the furs and the trade with the
Indians while the ships should be on their long journey between the two
hemispheres. The agents thus employed pitched their cabins on the south point
of Manhattan Island, the head man being Hendrick Corstiaensen, who was still
the chief of the settlement in 1614, at which period an English ship sailing
along the coast from Virginia entered the harbor on a visit of observation.
Finding Corstiaensen here, with his company of traders, the English captain
summoned him to acknowledge the jurisdiction of Virginia over the country or
else to depart. The former alternative was chosen by the trader, and he
agreed to pay a small tribute to the Governor of Virginia in token of his
right of dominion. The Dutch were thereupon left to prosecute their trade
without further molestation.
The government of Holland did not, however, recognize the claims of
England to jurisdiction over the whole American coast, and took measures to
encourage the discovery and appropriation of additional territory, by a decree
giving to discoverers of new countries the exclusive privilege of trading
thither for four successive voyages, to the exclusion of all other persons.
This enactment induced several merchants to fit out five small ships for
coasting along the American shores in this vicinity. One of these vessels,
commanded by Captain Block, soon after its arrival on the coast, was
accidentally destroyed by fire. Block immediately began the construction of
another, of thirty-eight-feet keel, forty-four and a half feet on deck, and
eleven and a half feet beam, which was the first vessel launched in the waters
of New York. She was called the Unrest, or Restless, and ploughed her keel
through the waters of Hell Gate and the Sound, the pioneer of all other
vessels except the bark canoes of the aboriginal inhabitants.
The several ships despatched on this exploring expedition having returned
to Holland, from their journals and surveys a map of a large extent of country
was made, over which the Dutch claimed jurisdiction, and to which they gave
the name of "New Netherlands." The owners of these vessels, as the reward of
their enterprise, were granted the promised monopoly of trade hither for four
voyages, to be completed within three years, commencing on January 1, 1615.
These merchants seemed to have been composed in part of those who had
established the first trading-post here, but having increased their number and
capital, and enlarged their former designs of trade, formed themselves into a
company under the name of the "United New Netherlands Company." Corstiaensen
was continued the principal agent here, and they likewise established a post
at the head of the river, on an island opposite the present site of Albany.
Forts, of a rude description - being merely enclosures of high palisades -
were erected at both places.
The privileges granted to the United New Netherlands Company being,
however, limited in respect to time, their establishment on this island can
hardly be considered as a permanent settlement; the cabins of the settlers
were nearly of equal rudeness with those of their Indian neighbors; and but
few of the luxuries of civilization found their way into their habitations.
The great object of the settlement was, however, successfully carried on, and
stores of furs were in readiness to freight the ships on their periodical
visits from the fatherland. No interruption of the friendly intercourse
carried on with the Indians took place, but, on the contrary, the whites were
abundantly supplied by the natives with food and most other necessaries of
life, without personal labor and at trifling cost.
The Indian tribes in the neighborhood of this trading-post were the
Manhattans, occupying this island; the Pachamies, the Tankiteks, and the
Wickqueskeeks, occupying the country on the east side of Hudson River south of
the Highlands; the Hackingsacks and the Raritans on the west side of the river
and the Jersey shore; the Canarsees, the Rockways, the Merrikokes, the
Marsapeagues, the Mattinecocks, the Nissaquages, the Corchaugs, the Secataugs,
and the Shinecocks on Long Island.
The trade of this colony of settlers was sufficiently profitable to
render its permanency desirable to the United New Netherlands Company, as it
is found that at the termination of their grant, in the year 1618, they
endeavored to procure from the government in Holland an extension of their
term, but did not succeed in obtaining more than a special license, expiring
yearly, which they held for two or three subsequent years.
In the mean time a more extensive association had been formed among the
merchants and capitalists in Holland, which in the year 1621, having matured
its plans and projects, received a charter under the title of the West India
Company. Their charter gave them the exclusive privilege of trade on the
whole American coast, both of the northern and southern continents, so far as
the jurisdiction of Holland extended.
This great company was invested with most of the functions of a distinct
and separate government. It was allowed to appoint governors and other
officers; to settle the forms of administering justice; to make Indian
treaties and to enact laws.
Having completed arrangements for the organization of its government in
New Netherlands, the West India Company despatched its pioneer vessel hither
in the year 1623. This was the ship New Netherlands, a stanch vessel, which
continued her voyages to this port as a regular packet for more than thirty
years subsequently. On board the New Netherlands were thirty families to
begin the colony. This colony being designed for a settlement at the head of
the river, the vessel landed her passengers and freight near the present site
of Albany, where a settlement was established. The return cargo of the New
Netherlands was five hundred otter-skins, one thousand five hundred beavers,
and other freight valued at about twelve thousand dollars.
It having been determined that the head-quarters of the company's
establishment in New Netherlands should be fixed on Manhattan Island,
preparations for a more extensive colony to be planted here were made, and in
1625 two ships cleared from Holland for this place. On board of these vessels
were shipped one hundred three head of cattle, together with stallions, mares,
hogs, and sheep in a proportionate number. Accompanying these were a
considerable number of settlers, with their families, supplied with
agricultural implements and seed for planting, household furniture, and the
other necessaries for establishing the colony. Other ships followed with
similar freight, and the number of emigrants amounted to about two hundred
On the arrival of the ships in the harbor the cattle were landed in the
first instance on the island now called Governor's Island, where they were
left on pasturage until convenient arrangements could be made on the mainland
to prevent their straying in the woods. The want of water, however, compelled
their speedy transfer to Manhattan Island, where, being put on the fresh
grass, they generally throve well, although about twenty died, in the course
of the season, from eating some poisonous vegetable.
The settlers commenced their town by staking out a fort on the south
point of the island, under the direction of one Kryn Frederick, an engineer
sent along with them for that purpose; and a horse-mill having been erected,
the second story of that building was so constructed as to afford
accommodations for the congregation for religious purposes. The habitations
of the settlers were of the simplest construction, little better, indeed, than
those of their predecessors. A director-general had been sent to superintend
the interests of the company in this country, in the person of Peter Minuit,
who, in the year 1626, purchased Manhattan Island from the Indian proprietors
for the sum of sixty guilders, or twenty-four dollars, by which the title to
the whole island, containing about twenty-two thousand acres, became vested in
the West India Company.
The success of the company proved itself, for a short period, by the rise
in the value of its stock, which soon stood at a high premium in Holland.
Various interests, however, were at work in the company to turn its advantages
to individual account, and in 1628 an act was passed under the title of
"Freedoms and Exemptions granted to all such as shall plant Colonies in New
Netherlands." This edict gave, to such persons as should send over a colony of
fifty souls above fifteen years old, the title of "patroons," and the
privileges of selecting any land, except on the island of Manhattan, for a
distance of eight miles on each side of any river, and so far inland as should
be thought convenient; the company stipulating, however, that all the products
of the plantations thus established should be first brought to the Manhattans,
before being sent elsewhere, for trade. They also reserved to themselves the
sole trade with the Indians for peltries in all places where they had an
With respect to such private persons as should emigrate at their own
expense, they were allowed as much land as they could properly improve, upon
satisfying the Indians therefor.
These privileges gave an impetus to emigration, and assisted, in a great
degree, in permanently establishing the settlement of the country. But from
this era commenced the decay of the profits of the company, as with all its
vigilance it could not restrain the inhabitants from surreptitiously engaging
in the Indian trade, and drawing thence a profit which would otherwise have
gone into the public treasury.