Manhattan Island and Dutch Occupation

In 1614, seven ships were sent to America by a joint-stock company of merchants residing in Amsterdam, under the command of Adrian Block and Hendrick  Christianse; and a rude fort was erected at the lower extremity of the island. The next year a fort was established at the head of navigation on the Hudson, near to the present site of the city of Albany.

In these early enterprises of the merchants of Amsterdam, trade rather than colonization seems to have been the governing purpose. For several years no colony was attempted, and the trade of the whole region was an individual enterprise of those who chose to engage in it. But, in 1621, the Dutch West India Company was incorporated, with a monopoly of the trade of all the Dutch foreign possessions on both shores of the Atlantic Ocean, and having authority to govern any unoccupied territories that they might choose to appropriate. The immense regions thus given up to this new corporation were distributed among branches of the company located in the principal cities of Holland, and the country on the Hudson became the portion of the branch located at Amsterdam. Presently rude cottages began to cluster about the block-house on Manhattan Island, and the incipient metropolis assumed the title of New- Amsterdam, while the whole territory of Hudson's River was called New-Netherland. A government was soon afterward established, and for nine years from 1624 Peter Minuets filled the important post of director of the infant colony. It was during this period that the whole island of Manhattan was purchased from the Indians, for a sum about equal to twenty-four dollars.

" These," says an eloquent historian of our colonial affairs, "'were the rude beginnings of New-York. Its first age was the age of hunters and Indian traders; of traffic in the skins of otters and beavers; when the native tribes were employed in the pursuit of game, and the yacht of the Dutch, in quest of furs, penetrated every bay, and bosom, and inlet, from Narraganset to the Delaware. It was the day of straw roofs, wooden chimneys, and wind-mills."

Amsterdam 1630-1664 (The Patroons)

The first twenty years after their discovery, the Dutch possessions on the Hudson had much more the character of a trading-post than that of a colony. Holland was at that time becoming a nation of merchants, and such was the growth of trade at New- Amsterdam that in 1632 the exports amounted to the very considerable sum of fifty-seven thousand dollars. In 1629 a grand scheme for colonizing the Dutch territories in America was formed in Holland. Liberty was given to the members of the Dutch West India Company to plant colonies in New-Netherland on certain easy conditions. It was decreed, that whoever should, within four years after giving notice of his purpose to do so, form a settlement of not less than fifty persons of fifteen years old and over, should be entitled to occupy and possess a tract of land sixteen miles in extent, along the sea-shore, or the bank of any navigable river, (or eight miles when both banks were occupied,) with an indefinite extent inland. The persons who formed colonies under this provision were called patroons, and were intrusted with large powers within their several manors, both as proprietors and as civil magistrates.

The patroons, in order to secure the lands they had appropriated, made great efforts to obtain the requisite number of colonists. Some were obtained by emigrations from Holland, and some from the English colonies. To forward this purpose, liberal conditions were offered by the patroons; and, following the example of the home-government, the colonial authorities granted a full toleration to all Christian sects.

Wouter Van Twitter, Governor.

In the year 1633 the little colony of New Netherland received a governor from the fatherland in the person of Wouter (or Walter) Van Twiller, and the scattered settlements and trading-posts on the Hudson were erected into a province of the United Netherlands. The new governor brought over with him a company of a hundred and four soldiers, a school-master, and a minister. But as the trade with the Indians was the all-engrossing matter of interest, but little was done toward introducing permanent settlers into the province. The governor, however, applied himself vigorously to his public duties, and several improvements were undertaken. The fort was rebuilt, with barracks for the soldiers; a church and parsonage were erected, and also a house for the governor; and mills and other buildings necessary for the welfare of the settlement. The island of Manhattan was divided into farms, called " boweries," and on the one nearest to the fort, (that is, from Wall-street to the Park,) the governor had a dwelling, barn, brewery, and boat-house built. Buildings were also erected on some of the other " boweries " of the company.

During the whole term of Van Twiller's administration the little colony was in a state of disquiet or alarm. On the east the English were steadily encroaching on the territory of the company, and on the Delaware the Indians were carrying on a destructive war against the feeble settlements on that river. Nor were the internal affairs of the government less troublesome. Between the government and the patroons continual disputes were kept up, as to their respective rights, and especially as to the privilege of trading with the Indians, of which both parties claimed a monopoly. At the same time the governor was not altogether forgetful of his private interests. In company with several others he purchased of the Indians a fertile tract of land on Nassau or Long Island, (at Flatlands,) upon which the new proprietors proceeded to establish farms. He also purchased for his own use the little island just south of the fort, originally called Nutten Island, from the great number of nut-trees found on it; but, from its being the property of Governor Van Twiller, it has since been known as Governor's Island. But the discontents that prevailed in the colony at length came to the notice of the company, and, from the character of the complaints, it was deemed best to recall the governor, which accordingly was done, after an administration of four years.

The new governor, William Kieft, did not arrive in the colony till March, 1638. He then found the company's affairs much neglected, and the public property in a ruinous condition,—the building going to decay, the boweries or farms untenanted and stripped of their stock, and the purchase of furs, which constituted the principal object of interest in the colony, engrossed by private traders, and conducted in a most profligate1 manner. The new governor endeavored by orders and proclamations to remedy these evils, but with only partial success. A few additional settlers were also brought into the province about this time, and some further purchases of land from the Indians were made; but the growth of the settlements was as yet inconsiderable.

About this time Peter Minuets, formerly director of New-Amsterdam, with a company of Swedes, under the patronage of Queen Christina, daughter of the great Gustavus Adolphus, entered the Delaware, and purchased of the Indians a tract of land on the western side of the bay, and built Fort Christina. Kieft was greatly dissatisfied with this intrusion upon territory claimed by the Dutch West India Company, and, by repeated and violent protests, to which Minuets paid no attention, forbade the intended settlement. But the Dutch governor deemed it unsafe to attempt to dislodge the intruders by force, and the power of Sweden in the affairs of Europe was such as to forbid the home-government interfering in the matter. So the little Swedish colony was left to pursue its course in peace.

New inducements to settlers.

The little progress made by the colony, at length induced the directors of the West India Company to mitigate some of the rigors of their policy. The monopoly of the trade to the colony w^s so far modified as to permit any who might choose to do so to engage in it; though only the company's ships could be used for transportation. A free passage was given to all who wished to remove from Holland to the colony; and emigrants were offered lands, houses, cattle, and farming tools, at an annual rent, and clothes and provisions on credit. The authority of the patroons was defined and somewhat diminished. To every person who should bring six persons into the colony, two hundred acres of land were to be given; and the towns and villages were to have magistrates of their own. Other provisions of a similar character were made, regulating the trade with the Indians, and also providing for the religious and educational wants of the people.

Population increases.

Under the new arrangements a number of emigrants were drawn from Holland, some of them men of considerable property. Some English indented servants, who had served out their time in Virginia, settled also in New-Netherlands; and some Anabaptists and others, who had been driven out of New- England by religious intolerance, sought here a place of safety. The settlements were now rapidly extended in every direction around New-Amsterdam'. On Long Island, in addition to the settlements at Walla- bout and Flatlands, another was commenced (1639) at Breukelen [Brooklyn]. Staten Island, and the region to the west of Newark Bay were both granted to patroons, and settlements commenced upon them. New-Amsterdam shared only indirectly in these improvements, but its progress, was slow, though steadily onward. " A fine stone tavern," says an old chronicler, was built, and the " mean old barn" that had served ' for a church, was replaced by a new stone building, erected within the inclosure of the fort, and paid for partly by the company, and partly by subscription.

Further troubles by other colonies.

The foreign relations of New Netherlands became by degrees more and more complicated and embarrassing. The encroachments from the New-England colonies were becoming truly alarming; and, on the south, the Swedes were firmly seated in their position, and threatened to exclude the Dutch entirely from their possessions on the Delaware. The growing importance of the colony of Rensselaerwick, at the north, which began to assume a kind of independence, became a further cause of uneasiness. These difficulties, however, though sufficiently embarrassing, were not the worst that the governor had to oppose. A more terrible calamity than any of these presently threatened the colony, from a nearer and much more implacable enemy.

Troubles with the Indians.

The Indian tribes of the regions about New-Amsterdam became incensed against the whites by a thousand petty provocations, arising from the avarice or folly or mere wantonness of the colonists, and, in return, committed such acts of revenge as seemed to demand chastisement from the government. The Raritans, a tribe residing on the west side of the Hudson, were the first- to feel the prowess of the white man. Both parties were sufferers in the conflict that took place, and the Indians gladly accepted the proffered terms of peace. Soon afterward a Dutchman was killed by an Indian belonging to a tribe located near Tappan Bay, and the murderer protected by his tribe, for which cause eighty men were sent to inflict due punishment upon them. Alarmed at the threatened invasion, the Indians promised to give up the murderer. The expedition thereupon returned to New-Amsterdam, but the promise was never fulfilled. A quarrel subsequently broke out between the colonists and the Hackensacs, and two white men were treacherously murdered^by the Indians. The chiefs offered wampum in atonement, which the governor refused, and demanded the murderers. Just before this time the Tappan Indians, fearing an attack from the powerful tribes of the Mohawks, removed down into the neighborhood of New-Amsterdam, and were mingled with the neighboring tribes, especially the Hackensacs. Soon after these united bands of savages came and encamped in two bodies at no great distance from the fort. Their design was evidently not hostile; but the occasion was seized by the enemies of the Indians at New-Amsterdam, and an order to attack them was obtained from the governor, while under the influence of wine at a holiday feast. The attack. was wholly unexpected by the Indians, and very little resistance was made. A terrible slaughter ensued. About eighty of the savages, including old men, women, and children, perished miserably in the conflict, or were afterward murdered in cold blood. . The noise of the battle, and the shrieks of the women and children, could be plainly heard at the fort. Next day the war party returned into the town, bringing with them thirty prisoners.

An Indian war—A treaty of peace.

These atrocities, with others of a like character that were soon after perpetrated, aroused the Indians to a high pitch of exasperation. Eleven petty tribes united to make war against the Dutch, whose unprotected boweries, reaching in every direction many miles from New-Amsterdam, offered an easy prey to the savages. Many houses were burned, the cattle were killed, the men slain, and several women and children made prisoners. The terrified and ruined colonists fled on all sides into New-Amsterdam, and, all who could, sailed for Holland. The expeditions sent against the Indians were only partially successful in subduing them, and, worst of all, discontents and mutual criminations distracted the councils of the governor.  The Indians at length, satiated with blood, offered terms of peace, which were gladly accepted by the whites, and a respite given from the bloody and ruinous conflict.

A Terrible Slaughter

But the peace was of short continuance. A new confederacy of seven tribes again spread consternation and ruin among the frontier boweries; the settlements beyond Newark Bay, and those on the west end of Long Island, were laid in ruins, and only three boweries were left on Manhattan Island. The colonists were clustered in straw huts about the fort, which was in a ruinous and hardly tenantable condition—themselves short of provisions, and their cattle in danger of starving. A palisade was erected to the north of the town, which remained for half a century, and is still commemorated in the name of the street (Wall-street) that finally took its place. The next year (1644) was occupied by an expensive and harassing Indian war. The Indians' villages on Staten Island were burned, their corn destroyed, but they themselves eluded their pursuers. An expedition against a small village in the vicinity of Stamford produced nearly the same results. Not so, however, with an expedition of nearly two hundred men under the command of Captain John Underhill, sent against a hostile band near Hemstede (Hempstead) on Long Island, by which more than a hundred Indians were killed, and a number made prisoners. But the greatest slaughter took place later in the season, when a second expedition, under the same commander, was made against the Indians in the neighborhood of Stamford. The villages were reduced to ashes, and a fearful destruction of life occurred, with all the accompanying horrors that distinguished the famous Pequod War.

Peace With The Indians

About this time a company of one hundred and thirty soldiers arrived in the colony from the West Indies, and were quartered in New-Amsterdam. The Indians had suffered greatly during the summer and autumn! and soon ceased active hostilities, and asked for peace. Treaties were made with the principal tribes during the ensuing year, by which the Indians agreed to remove to considerable distances from New- Amsterdam, and not to approach any of the settlements with their war parties; and so the colony was once more freed from the horrors of a savage warfare.

Distress in the colony—Kieft recalled.

The settlements about New-Amsterdam were almost ruined by these protracted wars, and at their close could number scarcely one hundred men. Of thirty flourishing boweries, but five or six remained, and everything bore like marks of ruin and disorder. Complaints were freely uttered against the administration of the governor, which at length induced the directors to recall him. He accordingly sailed for Holland in a vessel laden with furs valued at nearly a hundred thousand dollars, which was wrecked on the coast of Wales, and about eighty persons, including Governor Kieft, miserably perished.

Peter Stuyvesant made governor. The successor of Kieft was Peter Stuyvesant, late governor of the Dutch West Indies—a soldier by profession, and a man of good parts and much energy of character. The beginning of his administration was distinguished by several considerable concessions of popular privileges. The monopoly of transportation, hitherto enjoyed by the company, was relinquished, and trade thrown open to free competition—though New-Amsterdam continued to be the only port of entry.

Condition of the province.

The population of the entire province of New-Netherlands at this time (1647) could not have been more than about two thousand souls—nearly half of whom were within the patroonship of Van Rensselaer. New- Amsterdam was a village of wooden huts, with roofs of straw, and chimneys of mud and sticks, abounding in grogshops, and places for the sale of tobacco and beer. At the west end of Long Island were six plantations, governed by a local magistracy, in part self- elected; but New-Amsterdam was still governed by the sole authority of the governor and his fiscal. Breukelen about this time first received a village charter.

The colonists obtain larger liberties.

In 1652 the inhabitants of New-Amsterdam, by petitioning the authorities at home, obtained enlarged municipal privileges. A board of magistrates, or city court, was created, composed of two burgomasters and five schepens, annually selected by the governor from twice those numbers nominated by the magistrates of the preceding year. A movement was also made toward a still more popular form of government, by calling a convention of two delegates from each village, to provide against a threatened war with New- England. But the governor dissolved the convention as irregular, and sneeringly characterized it as a New- England invention, with which he would have nothing to do.

Settlers arrived from various quarters; among them a number of Jews, exiles from various parts of Europe, and also fugitives from New- England, driven out by religious intolerance. Already New-Amsterdam contained a population made up from almost every country in Europe, and of nearly every religious creed.

Slaves brought from Africa.

The Dutch West India Company was largely concerned in the slave-trade, and special permission was given to particular merchants to send two or three ships to the coast of Africa to purchase slaves, and to promote the settlement of the country by importing them into New Netherlands. Most of the slaves thus introduced remained the property of the company, and the more trusty and industrious of them, after a certain period of labor, were allowed little farms, paying in return a certain amount of produce. Thus early was the African race introduced among the population of the colony, and the system of negro slavery incorporated among its institutions, to remain a scourge and reproach for nearly two hundred years.

The town and province seized by the English.

Unquestionable as was the right of the Dutch to the country they occupied on the Hudson, that right had never been acknowledged by Great Britain; but, on the contrary, the whole region was claimed as a portion of the possessions, of that kingdom. Several faint attempts to assert that claim had been made at different times, but without success. Soon after the restoration of Charles II., this whole territory was granted to his brother, the Duke of York, who proceeded immediately to take measures to seize upon the colony. The Dutch knew nothing of these transactions before the ships bearing the duke's forces had actually sailed. Rumors of the intended invasion had reached New-Amsterdam before the arrival of the hostile fleet, but no adequate provisions were made for the public defense. Stuyvesant would have given battle to the invaders, or suffered the rigors of a siege; but his feelings were not those of the colonists generally. The Dutch cared little whether they were under a Dutch or an English yoke; and the English, who constituted nearly half of the entire population, rather favored than opposed the claims of their own countrymen. Accordingly, after several days spent in negotiations, the entire colony was surrendered to the English, (Sept. 8, 1664,) on terms quite satisfactory to the inhabitants.

New masters and a new name.

With a change of masters, came also a change of name to the conquered colony; and from that time both the province and the chief town were called New- York, in compliment to the duke, who now became their proprietor and ruler. Though greatly improved under the administration of Stuyvesant, this embryo mercantile metropolis of the western world consisted as yet but of a few narrow streets, near the southern extremity of Manhattan Island. There were a few handsome buildings, covered with tiles brought from Holland; but most of the houses were, thatched cottages.

Website: The History
Article Name: Manhattan Island and Dutch Occupation
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Historical Sketch of the Rise and Progress Of
the Metropolitan City of America by a New Yorker, Published by Carlton & Phillips-New York: 1853
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