Dutch Colonization

The Netherlands were a leading economic power by the early seventeenth century, and Dutch colonization efforts in America emphasized commerce over extensive settlement. In 1609, Englishman Henry Hudson, employed by the Dutch, sailed his ship the Half Moon up the river to be named for him. Within a year, the Dutch began trading trinkets, guns, and alcohol with the native peoples along the Hudson River for furs. In 1614, the Dutch established Fort Nassau (Albany) on the river. Prominent Dutch traders tried to control the early fur trade in the region.

In 1621, the Dutch government granted a charter to the West India Company allowing the company to monopolize trade and shipping in the Dutch regions of the Americas and West Africa and to establish military and civil bodies to oversee its holdings. The company sought to populate its North American territory to counter English and French claims to the region. In 1624, it brought thirty French-speaking Walloons from southern Belgium to the Hudson River Valley and founded the colony of New Netherland. Because the Dutch economy was prosperous at this time, few Dutch settlers wanted to go to America. Thus, New Netherland contained an ethnically diverse population from its inception, a primary feature of the colony throughout the period of Dutch control. Cornelis Jacobsz May became the first director-general of New Netherland in 1624. The company re-established Fort Nassau as Fort Orange and ordered the construction of Fort New Amsterdam (later New York City) at the mouth of the Hudson on Manhattan Island. By 1625, New Amsterdam contained about 270 colonists, Fort Orange 30. Most of the early settlers were Walloons, but others were Dutch, German, Scandinavian, and African.

The company granted extensive power to the director-general and allowed very little political participation by the colonists. Willem Verhulst succeeded May as director-general in 1625, and Peter Minuit succeeded Verhulst a year later. In 1626, Minuit purchased Manhattan from the Manhate Indians (also known as the Rechgawawank) for trinkets valued at 60 guilders (about 24 dollars or the equivalent of several thousand dollars today). The Mohawk Indians supplied the Dutch with beaver pelts for trade, and this became a leading commodity of New Netherland. Although the Dutch government granted the company a monopoly on trade, colonists almost immediately began trading illegally with the Native Americans.

The Dutch government remained concerned at New Netherland’s small population and, in 1628, adopted the first patroonship plan. It granted patroons wealthy men willing to sponsor colonial settlement large tracts of land along the Hudson River if they brought sixty immigrants to New Netherland within three years. The 1629 Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions increased the incentives offered to patroons by allowing them access to the fur trade. Several men took advantage of this plan, but, by 1636, only Kiliaen van Rensselaer retained his patroonship. The others became discouraged and returned their lands to the company. Rensselaer established Rensselaerswyck near Fort Orange. Most of the settlers in New Netherland during this early period were single men, as Rensselaer offered skilled workers and professionals wages that were higher than those in Holland.

The West India Company brought eleven African slaves to the colony in 1626. Slave importations, most from the Dutch colony of Cura§ao, became a key part of the region’s economy, as New Netherland relied on slave labor more than any other North American colony in the first half of the seventeenth century. By 1640, New Amsterdam contained roughly 100 Africans a third of its total population. The company allowed slaves to live on their own and required payment for work performed. These relatively independent slaves learned the Dutch language, purchased property, and established families in New Netherland. In some cases, the company freed its slaves, particularly less productive, aging slaves, and a free black population developed. Black residents could sue in Dutch courts, marry, baptize their children into the Dutch Reformed Church, and fight in defense of the colony. As the company’s control over the colony weakened, individual settlers began importing slaves directly from Africa in 1655. These slaves had fewer liberties than the company slaves and encountered greater barriers to gaining their freedom. Although Dutch slave traders resold many slaves to Virginia and Maryland colonists, many remained in New Netherland. By the English takeover in 1664, one fifth of New Amsterdam’s population was African. Of the city’s 375 black residents, 75 were free.

The company recalled Minuit in 1631. Jansen Kroll replaced him but remained only a year; he was succeeded as director-general by Wouter van Twiller in 1633. Van Twiller’s drunken behavior and poor accounting practices convinced the company to replace him with Willem Kieft in 1638. Kieft was the most dictatorial of these men but saw dramatic population growth during his tenure because the Dutch government issued the Freedoms and Exemptions Act of 1640, promising 200 acres to each colonist who brought five Europeans to New Netherland. The colony’s European population doubled between 1638 and 1643.

Relations between local natives and the Dutch soured under Kieft, and war broke out in the early 1640s. Kieft angered the Algonquin people in 1639 by imposing a tax on them, and he overreacted to a few native raids in the summer of 1641 by attacking Algonquin villages. In 1643, Kieft and his men massacred more than 100 friendly natives. In response, the Algonquin attacked outlying farms. By its end in 1645, the war had claimed the lives of 200 colonists and approximately 1,000 Native Americans, including women, children, and the elderly. Many surviving colonists moved to fortified New

Dutch Colonization Photo Gallery



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