New Netherland Colony



At the Hague, the finest city of the Netherlands, and the residence of the Counts of Holland for four hundred years, may be seen a pile of buildings upon an artificial island irregular and quaint in appearance. They were erected at different periods, and inclose a vast quadrangle paved with small yellow bricks. There was the palace of those Counts. Its great hall, wherein hung trophies of Dutch valor and conquest, is now used as a repository of the archives of Holland. In a superbly-decorated room in the Binnenhof or inner court, the States-General held their meetings. To that sumptuous apartment went the deputies of the Amsterdam Company and gave, in a brief narrative of Block's discoveries, their reasons for asking for the special privilege. They were received by "twelve high and mighty lords" of the great council, who were sitting around an oval table. Among them was the incorruptible patriot John Van Olden Barneveldt, the grand-pensionary or chief magistrate of Holland, who, five years later, was beheaded in that court as a traitor, the victim of his jealous, malicious and unscrupulous prince. Block was probably one of the deputies. The map spoken of was spread upon the table; the countries were described, and their value as parts of the territories of the Dutch were fully set forth. The States-General gladly complied with the wishes of the Company, and on the 11th of October, 1614, a charter was given them, duly signed and sealed, by which the petitioners were granted the usual privileges of the ordinance. The territory included in the charter, and which was defined as lying between Virginia and New France--between the parallels of 40 deg and 45 deg--was called NEW NETHERLAND.

At the expiration of the charter at the beginning of 1618, the Amsterdam Company applied for its renewal. The privilege was denied, because the States-General contemplated the issuing of a more comprehensive and lasting patent to a West India Company. Meanwhile, the Onrust, which Block had left in charge of Cornelius Hendricksen, had entered and explored Delaware Bay and River, probably as far up as the Falls, near Trenton; and on the site of Philadelphia her commander had ransomed three Dutch traders, who had fallen into the hands of the Indians. Efforts were made to obtain a four years trading charter for that region also, but the States-General, considering the domain as a part of the province of Virginia, would not grant one. The directors of New Netherland then prosecuted their trading enterprise upon the borders of the Hudson with increased vigor. They had already built a fort on an island just below the site of Albany. They now enlarged their storehouse at Manhattan, and made the little hamlet a social village. The traders went over the pine-barrens into the Mohawk Valley and became acquainted with the powerful Iroquois league of Five Confederated Nations. They built a new fort on the main at the mouth of the Tawasentha, now Norman's Kill, a little below Albany, where a treaty of friendship was made with the Five Nations, and which was kept inviolate until New Netherland passed into the possession of the English, and long afterwards. It was a wise measure, for that confederacy was strong enough to have swept from the face of the earth all European intruders. Their power was felt, as we have observed, from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico

"The fierce Adirondac had fled from their wrath, The Hurons been swept from their merciless path, Around, the Ottawas, like leaves had been strown, And the Lake of the Eries struck silent and lone.

"The Lenapes, once lords of the valley and hill, Made women, bend low at their conqueror's will; By the far Mississippi the Illini shrank, When the trail of the Tortoise was seen on the bank.

"On the hills of New England the Pequod turned pale, When the howl of the Wolf swelled at night on the gale; And the Cherokee shook, in his green smiling bowers, When the foot of the Bear stampt his carpet of flowers."

Street's "Frontenac."

These Hollanders were so remote from the Jamestown settlement, and all New England being a wilderness untrodden by any European resident, that they were not disturbed. The Plymouth Company complained that they were intruders on their domain; and King James growled; and a word of warning was given by Captain Dermer of an English ship which, one fine morning in June, 1619, while on its way to Virginia, sailed through Long Island Sound, and lost an anchor in its encounter with the eddies of Hell Gate. That commander thought he was the first discoverer of that "most dangerous cataract" and the flowery islands between which he sailed, but when he was fairly out upon the Bay of New York, he saw the smoke of cottages on Manhattan, and was saluted by Hollanders. He did not stop then to talk to the intruders, but on his return he felt it to be his duty to go in and warn the traffickers to leave his majesty's domain as quickly as possible. "We found no Englishmen here, and hope we have not offended," replied the good-natured Dutchmen, and went on smoking their pipes, planting their gardens, and catching beavers and otters, as if they had never heard the voice of Captain Dermer, the "loving subject" of the king of England. The sounds of royal bluster that came occasionally from Great Britain did not deter the States-General from helping their "loyal subjects" in New Netherland, and they proceeded to charter the "Dutch West India Company," making it a great commercial monopoly by giving it almost regal powers to colonize, govern, and defend, not only that little domain on the Hudson, but the whole unoccupied coasts of America from Newfoundland to Cape Horn, and the western coasts of Africa from the Cape of Good Hope far northward.

That charter contained all the guarantees of freedom in social, political, and religious life necessary to the founding of a free state. Republicanism was recognized as the true system of government, and home, in its broadest and purest sense, as the prime element of political strength. No stranger was to be questioned concerning his nativity or his creed as matters which concerned the state. "Do you wish to build, to plant, and to become a citizen?" was the sum of their catechism when a new comer appeared. If the answer should be satisfactory, he was to be welcomed. That charter was granted on the 3d of June, 1621, at the time when the stricken Pilgrims at Plymouth, on the coast of Massachusetts, were cultivating their first fruitgardens and cornfields.

The government of the West India Company was vested in five separate chambers of managers, composed of members in different parts of Holland. General executive powers were entrusted to a board of nineteen delegates, of whom about one-half were to reside in Amsterdam, and one was to represent the States-General. The government agreed to furnish the Company, in case of war, with sixteen armed ships, of three hundred tons burden each, to assist in maintaining their rights,--these, with an equal number of the Company's ships-of-war to be under the command of an admiral appointed by the States-General. Whilst the Company might make conquests of territories and treaties with native chiefs at their own risk, they were required to submit the instructions to their governors to the approval of the home government; and their officers were all required to take the oath of allegiance to the States-General.

It was two years after obtaining this charter before the Company was organized. It was an armed commercial monopoly, the chief object of which was traffic and the humbling of Spain and Portugal, and not colonization. Meanwhile, the Plymouth Company had obtained the coveted new charter already mentioned. By it their king conferred upon them almost regal powers. Without the consent of the Plymouth Company, no ships might enter any harbor on the American coast between Newfoundland and the latitude of Philadelphia; not a fish might be caught within three miles of the American coast; not a skin trafficked for in the forests, nor an emigrant live upon the soil. That extraordinary charter had been signed by the king a week before the arrival of the Mayflower off Cape Cod, with the Pilgrims; and that little colony who had braved the terrors of the Atlantic for the sake of freedom, were subjected, prospectively, to an almost irresponsible despotism. The House of Commons, alarmed because of this delegation of despotic power to a grasping company of traders, presented the patent as the first of "the public grievances of the kingdom." The French ambassador in London protested against it because Canada was included within the limits of the Plymouth Company's charter; and a little later the captain of a French vessel, anchored in the mouth of the Hudson River, attempted to set up the arms of France there, and take possession of the country in the name of his king. The Dutch, too, were concerned in the matter, for if the powers granted to the Plymouth Company might be exercised without hindrance, New Netherland would be useless to them.

In defiance of the House of Commons, King James upheld the monopoly. He scolded the representatives of the people, paid no attention to the Frenchman's protest, and reminded the States-General of Holland that Dutchmen were unlawfully seated upon the domain of a chartered English Company. The Hollanders at the Hague were as little moved by the covert threats of the British monarch as were those at Manhattan by Captain Dermer's warning. The complaint, however, had a useful result. It induced the West India Company, before its final organization, to take measures for securing the rights of eminent domain in New Netherland, in accordance with the principles of English policy which declared that first occupation gave those rights. So it was that the attention of that powerful Company was called from traffic to the founding of a permanent agricultural colony in America.

At that time there were thousands of refugees from persecution in the Netherlands. Among these were many of French extraction, who spoke the French language, called Walloons. They had inhabited the southern Belgic provinces of Hainault, Namur, Luxemburg, Limburg, and a part of the bishopric of Liege. When the northern provinces of the Netherlands formed their union more than forty years before, these southern provinces, whose inhabitants were mostly Roman Catholics, declined to join the confederation. There were many Protestants in those provinces, and they were made to feel, in all its rigor, the lash of persecution in the hands of the Spaniards. Thousands of them fled to Holland, where strangers of every race and creed were welcomed. There were the Walloons, a hardy, industrious, and skillful race of men and women, who introduced many useful arts into their adopted country. There they established their peculiar mode of public worship, and were soon ranked among the most thrifty, honest, and religious inhabitants. They were numerous in Amsterdam and Leyden, and were on friendly terms with the Puritan refugees from England. Like those Puritans they heard, from time to time, the enticing stories about the beauty and fertility of Virginia, and some of them desired to emigrate to America. They applied to the British ambassador at the Hague for permission and encouragement. He referred them to his king, and James submitted the matter to the London Company. The latter were not liberal enough in their proffered conditions to induce the Walloons to go. The States-General hearing of the movement commended them and their project to the West India Company. The latter perceived the great advantage which such emigrants would be to them in founding a permanent industrial colony in New Netherland, and took measures immediately to secure them. An agreement was made with several families, and in the spring of 1623, the emigrants were ready for departure for their new home.

The Company, anxious to commence their settlement with a sufficient number of willing hands, fitted out the New Netherland, a ship of two hundred and sixty tons burden, in which thirty families, consisting of one hundred and ten men, women and children, embarked. They were provided with agricultural implements, cows, horses, sheep and swine, and a sufficient quantity of household furniture to make them comfortable. The command of the ship was given to Cornelius Jacobsen May, of Hoorn, who was to remain in New Netherland as first director or governor. His lieutenant was Adrien Joris. The vessel sailed from the Texel early in March, and taking the long and tedious southern route by way of the Canaries and the West Indies, to avoid the storms of the northern Atlantic, they did not reach their destined haven until the beginning of May, where they found the French vessel above mentioned lying at anchor. The yacht Mackerel had just come down the Hudson. With two pieces of cannon taken from the fort at Manhattan, she compelled the Frenchman to desist, and convoyed his vessel out to sea. He went round to the Delaware on the same errand, and received similar treatment from the Dutch traders who were seated on its banks, when he sailed for France. With this ridiculous feat ended attempts of the French to assert jurisdiction below the forty-fifth parallel.

On a beautiful morning in May the Walloons landed from the New Netherland, in small boats, upon the rocky shore where Castle Garden now is. They made a picturesque appearance as they ascended the bank in their quaint costume, every man carrying some article of domestic use, and many women each carrying a babe or small child in her arms. They were cordially welcomed by the resident traders and friendly Indians, and were feasted under a tent made of sails stretched between several trees. Under that tent a Christian teacher, who accompanied the settlers, offered up fervent thanksgivings to Almighty God for his preserving care during the long voyage, and implored His blessing upon the great undertaking before them. May then read his commission, which made him first director of New Netherland, and formally assumed the governorship of the colony and country.

Traditions have told us that these emigrants were immediately scattered to different points to form settlements, and so to secure a wide domain for the West India Company. Some, it is said, settled on Long Island and founded the City of Brooklyn; others went up the Connecticut River to a point near the site of Hartford, and built Fort Good Hope; others planted themselves in the present Ulster County in New York, and others founded Albany, where the Dutch had erected a military work and named it Fort Orange. Others, it is said, went to the Delaware and began a settlement at the mouth of Timber Creek, on the east side of the river, a few miles below the site of Philadelphia, and built a small fortification which they named Fort Nassau. The settlers engaged in this enterprise, it is said, were four young couples who were married on ship-board, and eight seamen who managed a little yacht that conveyed them to the South River, as the Delaware was called. This was to distinguish it from the North River, as the Hudson was then called, and which yet retains that name.

When May's lieutenant, Joris, returned to Amsterdam with a ship laden with furs worth over ten thousand dollars, and reported that the settlers were "getting bravely along," the Company were delighted, and sent out ships with cattle, horses, sheep, swine, farming implements and seeds for their use, and more emigrants. Political affairs in Europe were now favorable to the enterprise. King James of England, angered because of the failure of his son Charles to win the hand of a Spanish princess, had leagued with the Dutch against Spain. At his death, his son became King Charles the First, and he renewed the league with the States-General in a still stronger bond. This alliance with the British sovereign promising non-interference, on his part, in the growth of a permanent colony in New Netherland, the West India Company proceeded to lay the political foundations of a state. They commissioned Peter Minuit director-general or governor of the colony, with a council of seven men, a secretary of state, who was also keeper of the Company's accounts, and a schout or sheriff, who was also public prosecutor or manager of the revenue. The council was invested with all local legislative, judicial and executive powers, subject to the jurisdiction of the Amsterdam College or Chamber of Nineteen. The Council were empowered to administer justice in all criminal cases to the extent of imprisonment, but each capital offender "must be sent, with his sentence, to Holland."

Governor Minuit arrived at Manhattan in the ship Sea-Mew, at the beginning of May, 1626. So soon as he was installed in office, he opened negotiations with the Indians for the purchase of the island, so as to procure a more valid title to its possession than that of discovery and occupation. It was estimated that it contained about twenty-two thousand acres of land, and it was purchased for the West India Company for the sum of about twenty-four dollars. A fort was immediately staked out by the engineer Frederick, at the lower point of the island, where the "Battery" and its stately trees now are, the plan of which called for a work faced with stone and having four angles, by which the bay in front, and the East and Hudson Rivers on its flanks, might be commanded by cannon. Before the work was finished, it was named Fort Amsterdam, and afterward the city that grew up there was called New Amsterdam. It retained that name until the province was surrendered to the English, when it received the title of New York. The States-General constituted the province a county of Holland with an armorial distinction of a count. Its great seal bore the device of a shield, with an escutcheon enclosed in a chain, emblematic of union, and bearing the figure of a beaver. The crest was the coronet of a count.

While Fort Amsterdam was a-building an event occurred, the sad effects of which were felt long afterwards. Two adult Indians and a small boy, of a tribe in Westchester county, went from their homes to the Dutch settlement with beaver-skins to barter with the Hollanders at the fort. They followed the beaten trail along the East River to Kip's Bay (foot of Thirty-fourth street), where it diverged westward to the pond and marsh formerly known as The Collect, on the borders of which, on Centre street, New York, the Halls of Justice or the "Tombs" now stand. Near that pond, three farm-servants in the employ of Governor Minuit, robbed the Indians of their property and then murdered the men. The boy escaped. He vowed vengeance; and in after years, when he was a stalwart brave, he fearfully executed his vow. The murder was unknown to the Dutch authorities for a long time, and the guilty men probably escaped punishment.

When the stock of the Dutch West India Company was secured, and the several boards of direction were chosen, the College of XIX gave to the Amsterdam Chamber the exclusive management of the affairs of the province of New Netherland. Brodhead enumerates among the prominent members of that Chamber, Jonas Witsen, Hendrick Hamel, Samuel Godyn, John de Laet, the historian; Killian Van Rensselair, Michael Pauw, and Peter Evertsen Hulft. The names of these men were identified with the first European possession of the States of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. The Company took measures immediately to secure their title to the domain by more extended actual occupation. They had taken possession of the country before their final organization, by virtue of their charter, because they knew how jealous were the English; and to give a show of actual occupation, they had sent trading vessels which bore instructions to the officers at Manhattan and on the North River, and, as we have seen, proceeded to build fortifications.







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