Founding of New Amsterdam Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Dutch West India Company built New Amsterdam, the capital of its American colony of New Netherland, and designed it to resemble Dutch cities back home. The population of the colony, however, was more ethnically and religiously diverse than was the Dutch homeland.

Summary of Event

In July, 1625, the Dutch West India Company Dutch West India Company decided to move its trading post on the lower Hudson River from Nut Island (now Governors Island) to the tip of Manhattan Island and to erect a fort there. The company had sent an expedition in 1624 to claim the entire area between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers as the colony of New Netherland New Netherland . When early leadership proved incompetent, the colonial council selected Peter Minuit Minuit, Peter as New Netherland’s first director-general in May, 1626. He decided to concentrate the sparse population of the colony around the fort as New Amsterdam, leaving only small garrisons and fur traders at Fort Orange (now Albany) and on the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers. To legitimize the move, Minuit arranged to purchase Manhattan Island from the resident Indians for sixty guilders worth of trade goods. Manhattan Island, Netherlands purchase of Treaties, Native Americans and Europeans Native Americans;treaties with Europeans [kw]Founding of New Amsterdam (July, 1625-Aug., 1664) [kw]Amsterdam, Founding of New (July, 1625-Aug., 1664) [kw]New Amsterdam, Founding of (July, 1625-Aug., 1664) Colonization;July, 1625-Aug., 1664: Founding of New Amsterdam[0990] Expansion and land acquisition;July, 1625-Aug., 1664: Founding of New Amsterdam[0990] Exploration and discovery;July, 1625-Aug., 1664: Founding of New Amsterdam[0990] American Colonies;July, 1625-Aug., 1664: Founding of New Amsterdam[0990] New Amsterdam Colonization;Netherlands of North America North America;Dutch colonization of

The most persistent myth about the history of New York City is that Minuit cheated the Manhattan Manhattans Indians by buying such valuable real estate for twenty-four dollars worth of beads and trinkets. The dollar figure is meaningless, since satisfactorily calculating the present value of seventeenth century guilders is close to impossible. Although specific records of what the Indians received have not survived, both sides had reason to be satisfied with the bargain. Comparable later land sales between European settlers were close to what Minuit paid. The Indians, who thought in terms of temporary, not permanent, rights to occupy land, did not settle for beads. Trade goods accepted by Indians in other land purchases included desirable European textiles and metal products—blankets, kettles, axes, hoes, and drilling awls usable to carve shells into wampum (accepted as money by both Indians and colonists).

When the company dismissed Minuit in 1632, New Amsterdam was a tiny settlement of some three hundred people, most of them living in small wooden houses with reed roofs, clustered close to the protection of the fort. A windmill used to saw lumber reminded the residents of the Dutch homeland. From the beginning, Manhattan had a very diverse ethnic and linguistic population. The first settlers sent by the company were thirty Walloon families, French-speaking Protestant refugees from the Catholic-controlled southern Netherlands who stubbornly refused to learn Dutch. They would soon be joined by German, English, Spanish, Scandinavian, and Portuguese colonists, rendering the colony extremely polyglot. Slaves imported by the company added Africans to the mixture; by the 1660’, three hundred slaves and seventy-five free blacks lived in the city. When the future Saint Isaac Jogues visited New Amsterdam in 1643, he was told that eighteen different languages were spoken there. Probably only a bare majority of the population during the life of the colony was Dutch; the Netherlands was at the peak of its prosperity in the seventeenth century, and few of its citizens chose to leave it for the New World.

The settlement came close to extinction in the 1640’s due to the mistaken, brutal Indian policy of director-general Willem Kieft Kieft, Willem . An attempt to collect taxes from nearby Indians led to stiff resistance and sporadic violence. Kieft’s War (1641)[Kiefts War (1641)] Fighting intensified after Kieft, over the vigorous objections of the colonists, organized a nighttime massacre of Indians, including women and children, in February, 1643. In response nearly all local tribes joined the war; farmsteads and settlements in upper Manhattan and the Hudson Valley were destroyed and the population of New Amsterdam had shrunk below three hundred when the war ended in August, 1645. Complaints by settlers led the West India Company to replace Kieft with Peter Stuyvesant Stuyvesant, Peter in May of 1647.

Stuyvesant began a vigorous policy of improvements that, during the 1650’, transformed the bedraggled settlement into a small, distinctly Dutch city containing three hundred buildings and fifteen hundred residents. What had been wandering paths were surveyed and organized into regular streets. A small creek running through the city was widened, its sides were straightened, and it was turned into a canal (later Broad Street) crossed by three stone bridges. The canal, two windmills, and newly built, gable-ended brick residences, roofed with imported Dutch tiles, reminded residents of Holland. A Sunday market held on the banks of the canal permitted farmers from Brooklyn to bring their produce into the center of the settlement. A city pier on the East River led to a busy two-block commercial district of warehouses, workshops, and taverns. In 1653, Stuyvesant established an almshouse for the aged poor, in 1654, an orphan asylum was constructed, and in 1658, a hospital followed. Fearing attack from New England during the first Anglo-Dutch War, Stuyvesant built a high stockade fence (later Wall Street) along the northern border of the city in 1653.

Governor Peter Minuit purchasing the island of Manhattan from Algonquian Indians.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

A 1660 map of New Amsterdam located nineteen licensed taverns and three breweries. Merchants met to socialize and conduct business at the stone City Tavern, which became City Hall after the municipal government organized. The rectangular fort enclosed a stone barracks, a guard house, a church, and the governor’s residence. A wide street, later named Broadway, ran north from the fort to the Land Gate in the wall. As the city grew, it clustered around the fort and the East River dockside; much of the land directly south of the wall was planted with vegetable gardens and orchards.

While doing his best to turn New Amsterdam into a neat, orderly Dutch town, Stuyvesant refused to accept the policy of religious toleration that made the Netherlands unique in Europe. Zealously protective of the privileges of the Dutch Reformed Church Dutch Reformed Church , the only denomination permitted to erect church buildings in the city, Stuyvesant angrily prohibited Lutheran attempts to worship openly. When twenty-three Jewish refugees reached the city in 1653, only a direct order from the company prevented Stuyvesant from driving them out of his colony. Persecution, religious;New Amsterdam Quaker preachers suffered the worst from his bigotry, being physically harassed and punished before being forced into exile.

Stuyvesant’s dictatorial governing style infuriated many colonists, who accused him of arbitrary rule and political favoritism and complained that he placed the profits of the Dutch West India Company ahead of the colony’s welfare. Led by Adriaen van der Donck Donck, Adriaen van der , the only New Netherland resident who had studied law in Holland, the colonists appealed to the Dutch Estates-General to recall Stuyvesant, abolish the company, and grant New Amsterdam a municipal charter. The Estates-General refused the first two requests but in 1653 ordered Stuyvesant to establish a local government resembling those in Dutch cities and giving New Amsterdam burghers control of their own affairs. The structure of New Amsterdam’s new city government provided for a slate of elected officials bearing familiar Dutch titles while recognizing an emerging class structure. Great burghers—a few dozen merchants with close ties to leading Amsterdam families—dominated overseas trade and exercised political privileges; small burghers—artisans and shopkeepers—actively participated in local affairs.

When an English fleet appeared in the harbor in August, 1664, Stuyvesant wanted to fight, but the leading burghers refused to support him, and he reluctantly capitulated. In negotiating the terms of surrender, the citizens induced the English to maintain the existing city structure and to guarantee the continuance of all the rights and freedoms they enjoyed.

Significance

Stuyvesant successfully guided the transformation of a struggling settlement into a solidly established European society, imitating its Dutch model. By 1664, New Amsterdam had become a small but vibrant commercial city with the most diverse population in North America. Successful merchants, although still junior partners of the great Dutch magnates, were involved in all aspects of Atlantic commerce. Immigration had increased and the demographic makeup of the immigrants was markedly different: In the colony’s first decades, the colonists were overwhelmingly rootless males. Now, young couples, many with children, chose to join the colony. Citizens became accustomed to managing the affairs of their city. Migration;Dutch into New York

Dutch New Amsterdam became British New York, but the original city would transmit a heritage of freedom and self-sufficiency to its new incarnation. Parts of its political structure would endure into the nineteenth century. More important, the city would demonstrate that people of different ethnic, linguistic, and religious traditions could live together, for the most part peacefully. As a conspicuous example of successful diversity, New Amsterdam prefigured the future of New York City and the United States.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burns, Ric, and James Saunders. New York: An Illustrated History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. Lavishly illustrated chapter on New Amsterdam helps visualize life in the colony.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Five chapters provide a succinct history of New Amsterdam.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cantwell, Anne-Marie, and Diana diZerega Wall. Unearthing Gotham: The Archaeology of New York City. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Archaeological digs in lower Manhattan reveal details about daily life in New Amsterdam.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rink, Oliver A. Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986. Rink carefully analyzes immigration patterns to New Netherland and stresses the importance of private merchants’ activities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shorto, Russell. The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Shorto argues that the social and political practices of New Amsterdam’s inhabitants powerfully influenced the development of American democracy.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Saint Isaac Jogues; Peter Minuit; Peter Stuyvesant. New Amsterdam Colonization;Netherlands of North America North America;Dutch colonization of

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