The First Settlers of New Harlem Part I

 
 

NEW HARLEM was founded by the Dutch two hundred and forty-five years ago, on a site which is now almost the geographical heart of New York City.

Patterning after similar villages in France and England, this little settlement of about twenty families received power to own, buy, sell, or distribute property, elect officers, assess members, build churches, hold court, and govern itself in the exercise of an authority common to corporate towns of the day.

Roughly speaking, between three and four thousand acres, every foot of which is now extremely valuable, was granted to
the Corporation, the "Town of New Harlem," whose first settlers broke ground near the foot of 125th Street and the Harlem
River on the fourteenth of August, 1658.

Previous attempts to settle the district, which includes all of the northern end of Manhattan Island, had proved futile.

The pioneer settler in New Harlem was Dr. Johannes de la Montague, whose personal history was not unlike that of many
another pioneer of the same stock who joined in the daring and momentous enterprises by which the Dutch colonies in America
were established. Holland, which had protected the Huguenots of France as it had sheltered the Puritans of England, received
the parents of Montagne, and the son afterward appears as a medical student under the learned Dr. Hcurnius, at Leyden
University.

"Montagne," one of his Dutch comrades at the University is said to have asked the twenty-four-year-old student, "your
surname bespeaks rank. Are you any relative of the Montagues who were so noted in the past century?"

The young refugee from Saintonge did not choose to exploit the matter of his ancestry, and it does not appear that his associates were able to do more than suspect a distinguished lineage. His demeanor was quiet, his habits energetic. His talents and character won him honors at college, an excellent practice at the " Sign of the Queen of Bohemia," and a good wife.

Although successful in his profession, Montagne was not at ease. It may be suspected that his early training and experiences
had inculcated a love of religious liberty and a longing for original enterprise, the exercise of which impulses, even in
free Holland, was not sufficiently unhampered to gratify radical ambitions. The exiled Puritans had taken up a second journey
to the New World. The Huguenot refugees followed their example.

Moreover, Dutch maritime adventure had resulted in the discovery of the Hudson and the planting of a colony in Manhattan
Island. There was a clear-shining star in the west for those Sons of Holland and those beneficiaries of her freedom
who hungered for new fields. The news and the literature of the time were full of enticement. The vivid descriptions by De
Rasieres and De Laet were read with avidity.

To De Rasieres we are indebted for the first account of Manhattan Island by an eyewitness. He writes: "It is full
of trees, and, in the middle, rocky, but the north end has good land in two places, where two farmers, each with four horses,
would at first have enough to do without much clearing." What De Rasieres' account lacked in detail, De Laet supplied with
extracts from Hudson's and other explorers' journals.

De Laet's "The New World ; or a Description of the West Indies," first published in 1625, after speaking in glowing terms of the new country, extolling its "beautiful rivers and bubbling
fountains," the excellence of its soil, and the abundance of its timber, fruits, game and fish, urged its readers to leave the fast decaying systems of the Old for the invigorating spirit of the New World, and had this to say of Manhattan, "bordering the Great River of the Mountains :

The land is excellent and beautiful to the eye, full of noble forest trees and grape-vines ; and wanting nothing but the industry and labor of man to render it one of the finest and most fruitful regions in that part of the world.

The trees are of wonderful size, fit for buildings and vessels of the largest class. Wild grape-vines and walnut trees are
abundant. Maize, or Indian corn, when cultivated, yields a prolific return ; and so with several kinds of pulse, as beans of
various colors, pumpkins, the finest possible melons and similar fruits. The soil is also found well adapted to wheat and several kinds of grain, as also flax, hemp and other European seeds. Herbaceous plants grow in great variety, bearing splendid flowers, or valuable for their medicinal properties.

The forests abound in wild animals, especially the deer kind ; with other quadrupeds indigenous to this part of the
country. Quantities of birds, large and small, frequent the rivers, lakes and forests, with plumage of great elegance and
variety of colors. Superior turkey-cocks are taken in winter, very fat, and the flesh of a fine quality. Salmon, sturgeon and
many other kinds of excellent fish are caught in the rivers.

The climate differs little in temperature from our own, though the country lies nearer the equator than the Netherlands.
In winter the cold is intense, and snow falls frequent and deep, covering the ground for a long time. In summer it is subject

Scarcely any part of America is better adapted for colonists from this quarter ; nothing is wanting necessary to sustain life, except cattle, which can be easily taken there, and as easily kept, on account of the abundance of fodder growing naturally and luxuriantly.

The Indians are indolent, and some, crafty and wicked, having slain several of our people. The Manhattans, a fierce nation,
occupy the eastern bank of the river near its mouth. Though hostile to our people, they have sold them the island or point of land which is separated from the Main by Hellegat, and where they have laid the foundations of a city called New Amsterdam (New York).

The barbarians are divided into many nations and languages, but differ little in manners. They dress in the skins of
animals. Their food is maize, crushed fine and baked in cakes ;with fish, birds and wild game. Their weapons are bows and arrows ;their boats are made from the trunks of trees, hollowed out by fire.

Some lead a wandering life, others live in bark houses, their furniture mainly mats and wooden dishes, stone hatchets, and
stone pipes for smoking tobacco. They worship a being called Manetto, are governed by chiefs called Sagamos, are suspicious,
timid, revengeful and fickle ; but hospitable when well treated, ready to serve the white man for little compensation, and susceptible of being imbued with religion and good manners, especially if colonies of well ordered people should be planted among them, who would make use of their services without rudeness or abuse, and by degrees teach them the worship of the true God and the habits of civilized life.

It was with visions evoked by these and similar accounts that Dr. Montagne finally determined to hazard the dangers of
the New World. Disposing of his practice, bidding farewell to his beloved Dutch friends, he sailed in the year 1636 for the
America of his dreams.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The First Settlers of New Harlem Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY:  New Harlem Past and Present by Carl Horton Pierce, New Harlem Publishing Company 1903
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