A Brief History of a Dutch Island - Manhattan

A Brief History of a Dutch Island - Manhattan

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Today, Manhattan is one of the iconic locations of the United States of America. However, the origins of Manhattan are often forgotten these days. Modern Manhattan's history is related to people who conquered many colonies – the Dutch.

Nowadays, the island has a population of 1,626 million people (2013). It is the heart of New York City, and a symbol of the USA. Its name comes from the Algonquian language, which was spoken by the earliest inhabitants of the area. The name means ''hilly island'' or ''place of intoxication''.

The Land of Lenape

The area of Manhattan first belonged to the Native American tribe Lenape. This tribe is known also as the Delaware Indians, and they created the First Nations band government. Their territory included the area of New Jersey, the Lower Hudson Valley, the Delaware River, and western Long Island. Europeans pushed them out of their land during the 18th century.

Lapowinsa, Chief of the Lenape, Lappawinsoe painted by Gustavus Hesselius in 1735.

Map showing the territory of the Native American tribe Lenape. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The first European who landed on the island of Manhattan was the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano. He was sailing in the service of the king of France and arrived to the current location of New York in 1524. He came on his ship La Dauphine and named the land around the modern Upper New York Harbor ''New Angouleme''.

This was a way to honor the King Francis I, because the name referred to his family name. Verrazano also named the Upper New York Bay as Marguerite de Navarre – the name of the elder sister of the king. A few months later, a Portuguese explorer, Estevan Gomez (who also “discovered” the Hudson River) arrived to the same place.

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Verrazzano’s voyage in 1524. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

A Dutch Englishman

In 1609, an Englishman who worked for the Dutch East India Company, Henry Hudson, reached Manhattan Island. Before his feet touched this area, he traveled through many lands and oceans. He wanted to find a prospective North-West Passage to Cathay, in modern China, and traveled to the Arctic Circle.

This speculative portrait from Cyclopedia of Universal History is one of several used to represent Henry Hudson.

Hudson found the area of modern New York while looking for a western route to Asia. He was hired by a company, which was a chartered company that existed from 1602 to 1799 and is considered as the first multinational corporation of the world. They possessed quasi-governmental powers like the ability to wage war, negotiate treaties, establish colonies, imprison and execute people, and strike their own coins. The power of the company grew on the decision of the Dutch government, which granted it a 21-year monopoly on the spice trade. The Dutch East India Company was looking for new routes to make travel time shorter and their business more effective. The first Dutch settlements were just small camps, based on very primitive buildings.

Henry Hudson explored the Hudson River, which was named after him. He started the great history of the Dutch colony in New York. When he died, perhaps in 1611, he was already considered a hero by many people. He was a founder of the Dutch colonization of the region, but he also researched the Northwest Passage. He disappeared with his crew during while exploring.

Map of Hudson's voyages to North America. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

When the Dutch Bought Manhattan

Manhattan became a part of the land known as the New Netherlands - a colonial province located on the East Coast of North America which covered the territory from the Delmarca Peninsula to Cape Cod, and included the territory of modern New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, parts of Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

In 1625, the Dutch began construction on the citadel of Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, which was called New Amsterdam at the time. During this period a mysterious story appeared. According to a letter signed by Pieter Janszoon Schagen, the Dutch colonists acquired Manhattan officially on May 24, 1626. They bought it from the Native American Lenape tribe for trade goods worth 60 guilders, said to be worth 24 dollars. In 2014, that was about 1,050 USD. In the 1630s, a Dutch expedition went from New Amsterdam up the Connecticut River. That started a conflict between the Dutch and the English, who were already in Connecticut Valley.

The Castello Plan showing the Dutch colonial city of New Amsterdam in 1660 – then confined to the southern tip of Manhattan Island.

Dutch rule was in place until 1664, when the last Dutch Director General of the colony, Peter Stuyvesant lost the final battle with the English. Before it happened, on February 2, 1653, he incorporated New Amsterdam as a city. The Dutch republic tried to get their former land back in 1673, but finally permanently ceded to the English in November 1674.

The city was renamed New York County in honor of the Duke of York. It became the original county of New York State, created in 1683. As time passed, the area became more important for trade, so the city grew very fast. Decade after decade, the footsteps of the Dutch in Manhattan became less visible.

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The Heritage of Manhattan

Nowadays, the history of the first people in Manhattan is covered by monumental buildings. Nobody there speaks in the native language of the Lenape and relatively few in Dutch. In July 2010, a group of construction workers who worked on the site of the World Trade Center discovered one of the oldest and the most precious artifacts connected with the early history of the island.

It was a ship, which was probably built in 1773, that was buried 6.7 meters (22 feet) below street level. This find suggests that the artifacts connected with the Dutch history of Manhattan may lie even deeper. The boat’s wooden hull may have been made from the same kind of white oak trees as the ones used to build parts of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of USA were signed.

View of Lower Manhattan at sunset, from Jersey City, New Jersey. One World Trade Center, at center, is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. (November 2014) (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Manhattan is one of the national treasures of the USA, and since 2001 a symbol of American patriotism as well. It connects the history of the Native Americans, Dutch, and English, but currently is a home for people who have their origins in many different nations.

Featured image: Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan in 1873. The Brooklyn Bridge was under construction from 1870 until 1883. Source:

A Brief History of New Amsterdam

Jacques Cortelyou / Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana / Wikimedia Commons / ​Public Domain

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    Between 1626 and 1664, the main town of the Dutch colony of New Netherland was New Amsterdam, now called Manhattan. The Dutch established colonies and trading outposts around the world in the early 17th century. In 1609, Henry Hudson was hired by the Dutch for a voyage of exploration. He came to North America and sailed up the soon-to-be-named Hudson River. Within a year, they had begun trading for furs with the Indigenous peoples along this and the Connecticut and Delaware River Valleys. They established Fort Orange at present-day Albany to take advantage of the lucrative fur trade with the Iroquois tribe. Beginning with the "purchase" of Manhattan, the town of New Amsterdam was founded as a way to help protect trading areas further upriver while providing a great port of entry.

    History of the Dutch Settlement of New York City

    When we think of New York City, what comes to mind is a huge, metropolitan city with millions of citizens. It is also the capital of the financial world with Wall Street, the stock markets, and the corporate headquarters of some of the largest companies in the world. For many people, they consider New York City to be one of the most important cities in the world. While New York is a large, bustling city today, it had very modest starts.

    The story of New York City goes back to 1524 when Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered New York harbor for the first time. Verrazzano was on an exploration journey of the coast of the new world when he came upon the harbor. During the logs of his trip it was noted that he found a great stream of water, which later was known as the Hudson River. He said the great stream was among hills. While the discovery did not lead to his ultimate mission of finding a route to China, it was a momentous find.

    In 1609, the first settlements in North America by the Dutch were established. These settlements were in the area north of what is now known as New York City. The settlement was called New Netherland and was a settlement and fur trading center in the new world. In 1621, the West India Trading Company was formed by the Dutch government and given the task of expanding the presence in the area. The company expanded north to create Fort Orange / Beverwijck, which is now known as Albany and south to establish New Amsterdam, which is now known as New York City.

    The two new settlements proved to become very busy trade areas. The north was an important fur trading area, and the south with its location on the water became an important port for trade. New Amsterdam started to become an important port and started doing business with many trade partners. This led to a growth in population and the settlement flourished. Eventually, the Dutch settlement made an arrangement to legally acquire what we now know as Manhattan Island, which increased the value of the holdings in the new world.

    However, due to it being a popular location, it was also the target of other countries. The British, Spanish, and French were among the countries that would have liked to have the ideal location for a port. While the Dutch were pleased with the settlement, and New Amsterdam was thriving by the time the mid-1600’s arrived, in 1664, the British claimed the territory as their own. New Amsterdam, soon to become New York City, and New Netherlands soon to become New York State, became one of the thirteen colonies under British control.

    The story behind the settlement of New York City is interesting and gives people a look at how one of the most vital cities in the world came into existence. To learn more, please take a look at some of the websites that talk about the history of the city!

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    What counts as a "sale"?

    Historians have dissected the various accounts of land sales across 17th-century New Amsterdam and have concluded that broad cultural differences in the understanding of property rights and ownership would have muddied what it really meant to "sell" land.

    Some historians have noted that land trading and ideas of private landownership were not uncommon features in the economies of native people. But as well as that, land was more commonly understood as a space to be shared among different groups or, in some cases, leased between them. Less common was the idea that land might be sold and permanently relinquished to another group &mdash which was the driving principle behind European ideas of property and ownership.

    "The Dutch came with a certain idea about property that was not the idea of the Indigenous people," Sanderson said. "And yet those agreements that were struck in those early years in the 17th century are still the agreements that underlie all the titles in New York City today."

    To the Native Americans who signed title deeds, it's likely that the documents represented an agreement that the Dutch could share the land or lease it for a limited period &mdash which might also explain why the modest payment doesn't match the magnitude of what was seemingly being acquired by the Dutch. The trade may also have represented a guarantee of safe passage for the Dutch through the area. What's less likely is that Indigenous Manhattanites knowingly engaged in the irrevocable sale of their ancestral home.

    In this light, the real question becomes not so much whether the 1626 sale happened but rather what it signified &mdash and for that matter, the significance of any sale that took place in 17th-century New York. "I don't think the exchange itself is in question. I think the meaning of that exchange is in question," Gorelick said. This raises the question of whether the purported "sale" of New York would even be legal, in today's terms.

    Historic accounts also suggest that the effects of land sales in New Amsterdam rarely resulted in the direct, short-term removal of Native Americans from the land, who, in many instances, occupied the land alongside the Dutch for a while. But these sales likely did create an ideological shift in colonists' minds over who was really in control. That served the Dutch for 40 years until 1664, when they were finally edged out of New Amsterdam by the English, who moved in and named it New York. Battles over landownership grew more complex and intensified across the landscape, and over the following decades, many Native Americans were gradually displaced.

    The forgotten Indonesian island that was swapped for Manhattan

    Once upon a time the Dutch and the English fought for 60 years over a tiny speck in the middle of the Banda Sea.

    Run, a tiny island in Indonesia, is about three kilometres long and one kilometre wide. Credit: Jefri Tarigan

    Not many will have heard of the object of their feud – Run – a coconut-fringed island about three kilometres long and one kilometre wide. But everyone knows the island for which Run was eventually swapped.

    On July 31, 1667 the Dutch and the English signed the Treaty of Breda. As part of the agreement, the swampy island of Manhattan in New Amsterdam – which the Dutch had "bought" from the Native Americans – was exchanged for the island of Run.

    Run Island, famed for its nutmeg, was once exchanged for Manhattan Credit: Jefri Tarigan

    Ian Burnet, the author of East Indies, describes it as "the real estate deal of the millennium".

    At the time the Dutch were adamant they were the victors.

    "Few would have believed a small trading village on the island of Manhattan was destined to become the modern metropolis of New York," writes Burnet.

    Historian John Keay believes Run is to British imperial history what Runnymede, where King John signed the Magna Carta, is to British constitutional history.

    Today Run has a population of about 2050 and is desperate for infrastructre. Credit: Jefri Tarigan

    "Every overseas empire had to begin somewhere," he wrote in The Honourable Company. "There might, for instance, be a case for locating the genesis of the British Empire in the West Indies, Virginia or New England. But there is a less obvious and much stronger candidate. The seed from which grew the most extensive empire the world has ever seen was sown on Pulo [island] Run in the Banda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago."

    In 2017, Run is almost as inaccessible and isolated as it was 350 years ago. The trip is still epic.

    A farmer harvests nutmeg on the tiny island of Run. Credit: Jefri Tarigan

    Theoretically a Cessna Grand Caravan flies twice a week from Ambon to Banda Neira, an island near Run. But a plane part is missing that has to be sourced from Jakarta, or Papua, or the United States.

    When Fairfax Media photographer Jefri Tarigan finally catches the ferry, an expected 12-hour voyage blows out to 17 hours in the monsoonal swell. Run is another two-hour boat trip from Banda Neira.

    Dried nutmeg in Run. Most islanders still farm nutmeg and cloves as well as fish for tuna. Credit: Jefri Tarigan

    The fragrant reason for Run's fame – the tropical tree Myristica fragrans – is still ubiquitous on the island. Its seed is the source of nutmeg its aril, or seed covering, the source of mace.

    The islanders sprinkle nutmeg in their coffee and make candied sweets, soup and a treacly jam from the fruit. They export the flower, used to make cosmetics for Europeans and to preserve corpses.

    "What we need the most is electricity and health practitioners," says Burhan Lohor. Credit: Jefri Tarigan

    But the golden era, when nutmeg was worth more than gold, is long over. Up until the 19th century, the Banda (or Spice) Islands were the only place in the world that Myristica fragrans flourished. The coveted Run – one of the 11 small volcanic islands – must have seemed like heaven.

    "Obviously Maɺm, it didn't look like heaven, it was heaven," says Burhan Lohor, the secretary of the island's one village, also called Run.

    There is little the salt-and-pepper-haired civil servant doesn't know about the history of Run, so named, he says, because the English ran here from Banda Neira to escape the Dutch.

    "There was nothing in New Amsterdam, nothing to be proud about, it was an uninhabited island. Banda was famous among European nations."

    The first Britons to visit Run, in 1603, would "willingly have sailed around the world several times" for nutmeg, writes Keay in The Honourable Company.

    It could be bought for a pittance in the Banda Islands but when sold in Europe its value went up about 32,000 per cent.

    English East India Company officer Nathaniel Courthope took possession of the island in 1616 when the islanders signed a contract accepting King James I of England as their sovereign.

    "Not without pride would James I come to be styled 'King of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Puloway (Pulo Ai) and Puloroon (Pulo Run). The last named, thought one of its visitors, could be as valuable to His Majesty as Scotland," writes Keay.

    The Breda Treaty ended the Second Anglo-Dutch war. The British relinquishment of Run gave the Dutch control over the Banda Islands and a global spice monopoly.

    "It is important to know this event in history because it demonstrates how colonialism was carried out by Western nations in the New World," says Indonesian historian Bonnie Triyana. "England, the Netherlands, the Portuguese and Spain were in competition to find new colonies driven by their desire for wealth. They arbitrarily treated what they found as mere commodities. These processes in history shape our situation today."

    Over the next 70-odd years the Dutch East India Company would become the most powerful trading company the world had ever seen.

    But East Indies author Burnet says over time the prices fetched for spices – once the ultimate prestige item in Europe – began to decline. "The advent of tobacco, tea, coffee and other stimulants reduced the social status of spices," he says.

    When the British recaptured the Banda Islands during the Napoleonic wars they transplanted nutmeg seedlings to places such as Bengkulu in Sumatra and Penang. The price of nutmeg in Run plummeted and the Banda Islands ceased to be of much value to the Dutch.

    And as for Manhattan? Well the rest, as they say, is history.

    Today Run has a population of about 2050. Most islanders still farm nutmeg and cloves as well as fish for tuna. After the colonial era nutmeg farms were owned by the government. In 1982 the locals took over a state-owned enterprise called Praja Karya and distributed nutmeg trees equally among all the families on the island.

    But the island is desperate for infrastructure: "What we need the most is electricity and health practitioners," Burhan says.

    Run has one medical clinic with no doctor and insufficient medicine: "People complain that every time they are sick and go to the clinic they are always given three pills – the yellow one, the blue one and the white one."

    A doctor is an often treacherous 2½-hour boat trip away in Banda Neira – too far for an emergency caesarean or heart attack.

    Burhan says islanders turn to traditional medicine, using leaves, roots from their garden and herbs. Toothache is treated with the sap from a tree known locally as Akar Olaola. "God willing, the pain will be gone."

    Electricity is only available between 6pm and 11.30pm, none of it provided by the government. Three years ago a Run native – now a successful Jakartan businessman – provided a diesel generator to supply the homes for five hours every night.

    "After that you sleep in the dark all night long on Run Island," Burhan says. "So if you come from Manhattan to Run you'll see a huge difference."

    Some tourists do come to Run despite the isolation – mostly westerners and journalists. One famous visitor was Indonesian artistic director Jay Subyakto, who was making the documentary Banda, The Dark Forgotten Trail, which is partially filmed on Run.

    "It is very ironic. Run Island does not exist on the map," Subyakto says. "People hardly know where it is and Run Island is now neglected."

    When Subyakto tells people about the first genocide in Banda Neira their eyes glaze over. But they boggle when he tells them Run was swapped for Manhattan.

    "Why do we always marvel about anything to do with the West? In the context of Run Island, they should be ashamed they don't know history."

    Subyakto says Indonesia has been blessed with natural resources such as nutmeg, cloves, oil, gold, coal and palm oil that is sought after by other countries. "But in the end we were colonised or cheated by trade contracts and politics. Until today, our people never enjoy the blessings of our rich natural resources. I think we never learn from history and therefore we made Banda, The Dark Forgotten Trail."

    The documentary will premiere on July 31, to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Breda.

    But the Run islanders who appear in the film won't be able to watch it on the island. There is no movie theatre in Run nor is there Wi-Fi. "Even our phone connection is bad, let alone internet connection," Burhan says.

    "Honestly, there is a feeling of pride that our island was chosen to be exchanged with another place. However, there is also regret that years after the exchange took place there is a huge difference between Run and New Amsterdam today. It's like heaven and earth … but now the situation is in reverse."

    Did the Dutch really trade Manhattan for nutmeg?

    The race was on during the 15th century's Age of Exploration. In the Middle Ages, Europeans imported spices and other valuables from the East via land trading routes that extended through the Middle East. However, in 1453, the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II launched a two-month siege that was successful in taking over the Byzantine capital city of Constantinople. He then blocked Europeans from accessing traditional trade routes. This drove European powers to find alternate outlets.

    In the subsequent scramble for sea routes, two watershed moments particularly stand out: when Christopher Columbus stumbled on America in 1492, and when Vasco Da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope to reach India in 1497. After da Gama returned with a ship teeming with spices, it helped solidify Portugal's dominant position as the unrivaled European trading power in the East throughout the 16th century.

    However, by the beginning of the 17th century, both the Dutch and the British broke into the Eastern trade business and emerged as forces to be reckoned with. The Dutch were the first major threat to the Portuguese with their Vereenigde Oost-indische Compagnie (VOC, Dutch East India Company). Their British rivals trailed at first, but their East India Company (EIC) slowly became more powerful.

    Meanwhile, both the Dutch and British had their eyes on the West as well -- there was money to be made off the valuable fur trade there. Although their exploits in the East and West seem to have little to do with each other, the two trading powers clashed in both places. As a result, land was swapped, fortunes reversed and fates changed in surprising ways.

    One of the most fascinating tales of this era has to do with the island of Manhattan, which changed hands rather flippantly. Interestingly, no one even lived there until the Dutch sought control of it. Ultimately, the fate of this future metropolis hinged on the spice we sprinkle atop our Christmas eggnog: nutmeg.

    After the English explorer Henry Hudson fruitlessly sought a Northeast Passage to Asia via the Arctic Ocean, the Vereenigde Oost-indische Compagnie (VOC) contracted him to search for a Northwest Passage to Asia through North America in 1609. Hudson didn't find a Northwest Passage, but he did find Long Island, Manhattan and a river that would later bear his name.

    Hudson claimed the land for the VOC, which revved up fur trading in the area in the ensuing decades. The States-General of Netherlands then formed the Dutch West India Company in 1621 to colonize the land, by this time known as New Netherland.

    Peter Minuit, the VOC's director-general, came to New Netherland in 1626 to broker a deal with the American Indians, who occasionally used the land to hunt and fish. In exchange for the island of Manhattan, Minuit offered the tribe a chest of beads and other trinkets worth 60 guilders. In the 19th century, this amount was famously estimated to be about $24 however, that number is disputed [source: Axelrod]. If we assume that the Dutch bought Manhattan for a few cents an acre, it would be a steal comparable to the United States' purchases of Alaska or the Louisiana Territory. On the other hand, it seems like a raw deal for the American Indians. But many historians point out that the Dutch are the ones who got conned. The American Indians didn't have the same sense of land ownership as the Dutch did. They didn't even live on the island, which they called "Manahachtanienk," meaning, "place where we all got drunk" [source: McVeigh]. When Dutch settlers brought liquor to the island, they offered it to the American Indians they found there. Because American Indians had no history of alcohol use, the liquor had a significant effect on them.

    In any case, the American Indians accepted payment for land they didn't consider theirs. And it should be noted that the Dutch offering payment at all was a sign of good faith to legitimize their claims, especially compared to the Spanish conquistadors who opted simply to take the land they wanted [source: Axelrod].

    Even if each party were guilty of treating the other unfairly, the Manhattan deal can still be considered a bargain -- for both sides. But the Dutch didn't keep Manhattan for long.

    The Saw-Kill and the Making of Dutch Manhattan

    Elizz Greatorex drew this sketch of Arch Brook (originally the Saw Kill) on the eastern side of Manhattan in 1869, approximately where E. 75th St. meets FDR Drive today. (source: Mannahatta, 2009).

    It is hard to imagine Manhattan Island without skyscrapers, traffic, and nearly two million people living upon it. It is equally as difficult to believe that this great metropolis was previously covered in forests, with vast streams crisscrossing the hilly granite terrain. Prior to the establishment of a permanent Dutch settlement on the homeland of the Lenni-Lenape, Manhattan was such a place. And just a little south of modern East 74th street, where Manhattan Island touches the East River, a creek named the Saw-kill once flowed.

    Surging into the East River between two rocky points, the Saw-kill was the island’s “largest hydrological network (by length),” a 13,710-meter long stream that began in the northern reaches of today’s Central Park (Sanderson and Brown 2007: 11 Koeppel 2000: 10). The land contained by the arms of the Saw-kill was “delightfully situated,” overlooking “a bay of considerable size” (132). In the coming years, the Dutch would utilize watercourses, like the Saw-kill, to access and process the forest’s major product: timber.

    Though the date of its assemblage is unknown, it is possible that the Dutch colony of New Netherland established one of Manhattan’s earliest sawmills upon the Saw-kill. The Manatus Map of 1639, the first landmark map of the island known to the Dutch as Manhates (being the most common translation, and thus the Dutch may have confused the two) references the Saw-kill, yet highlights the creek as the “the quarter of the blacks, the company’s slaves,” rather than the site of a mill. This evidence suggests that by 1639 logging efforts surrounding Saw-kill may have declined, while the name Saw-kill remained in use. Undoubtedly the Lenape called the creek by their own name. The mill at Saw-kill represented only a part of the network of mills established on Eastern and Southern Manhates in the late 17th century.

    Manhattan Ecology
    Indeed, the abundance of trees on Manhattan had caught the attention of many of Manhattan’s first European visitors. When the Dutch carrack the Halve Moon, captained by Henry Hudson, ventured into the Lower Bay on September 2, 1609, officer Robert Juet described the country, “as pleasant with grass and flowers and goodly trees as ever they had seene, and very sweet smells came from them” (Burrows and Wallace 1999: 14). Henry Hudson echoed Juet’s statements, remarking as he exited the Narrows, “the land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon and it also abounds in trees of every description” (1999: 14).

    According to Sanderson and Brown (2007). Hudson’s “trees of every description” most likely included American Chestnut, White Oak, Tulip Tree, Red Maple, American Beech and softwoods such as White Pine, Spruce and Fir. In their extensive analysis of pre-colonial Manhattan ecology, the authors account for the subtle differences in forest type and composition across the island, from the “the more xeric chestnut-oak forest type” of hill tops and sandy soils to the “mesic oak-tulip forest” of the hill side slopes and “deeper soils” (564). Along riparian habitats, “hemlock–northern hardwood forest” was probably a dominant feature with “red maple hardwood swamps” or “shrub swamps” occupying lower lying depressions (564). One can speculate that the forest lining the banks of the Saw-kill would have taken this character. Combined, these trees contributed to the mosaic “of the vast broadleaf deciduous forests that cloaked the Northeast” and have today largely disappeared from Manhattan1. At the time of the arrival of the Nieu Nederlandt in 1624, however, the expansive woods and waist-high meadows offered a “terrestrial Canaan,” a welcome respite for the weary traveler (Burrows and Wallace 1999: 3).

    Manhates was not a landscape empty of people. Over 50 Native American habitation sites, camps, and towns have been documented to exist within what would become the five boroughs of New York City. The majority of the island’s inhabitants, roughly 15,000 people, belonged to the Lenni-Lenape, a collective of various bands speaking the Munsee dialect of the Delaware language. Their presence, alongside climactic processes, shaped the ecological world of Manhattan creating the island’s extensive forest cover and grasslands. Archaeological evidence and ecological modeling techniques have determined that these bountiful habitats were the result of a succession of fires initiated by native peoples of the area “to clear the underbrush to ease travel and to increase levels of game” (Sanderson and Brown 2007: 20).

    From the earliest days of the colony, the Dutch praised the dense groves of the island, unaware of their indebtedness to their Lenape neighbors, and speculated about the marketability of Manhates’ timber in the Netherlands. Yet, to the dismay of the Dutch, the ecology of Manhates proved to be an impediment both for enhancing settlement and establishing a timber trade on the island. Settlers such as the Revered Jonas Michaelus, in August 1628, declared his fervent belief that Manhates, not the Northern Dutch settlement of Fort Orange, should be established as the stronghold and center of New Netherland. He conceded, however, that realizing the island’s potential would be difficult due to the multitude of thick shrubs and trees, which made the clearing of land for settlement and cultivation exceedingly strenuous. But if Manhates was to become the center of Dutch New Netherland, it was imperative that the forests be cleared, allowing for the building of homes and other structures for the necessary growth of population and a competitive advantage for the Dutch timber trade.

    To accomplish this, the Dutch needed to establish a number of mills in areas both accessible to the thick forests and to the newly planned fort of New Amsterdam, established in 1626. Several early constructed mills noted on the Manatus Map, such as the Saw-kill, were located in the tree filled landscape of eastern Manhattan, which served as a primary base for initial logging efforts on Manhates.

    The Dutch, however, had to carefully consider the Native American inhabitants of Manhates before any permanent settlement could be established or felling of trees could occur. The Dutch mentality behind their relationship with the Native Americans of Manhates, according to historical accounts, appears to have revolved largely around trade. From the available historic records, it can be assumed that trade on Colonial Manhattan occurred in both directions, sometimes with the Native Americans inhabiting Manhates or surrounding lands initiating the exchange. Anonymous “Native Peoples” are recorded in December 1626 as giving the Dutch settlers permission to cut logs on the island. Remarkably, historical accounts document this agreement as occurring one month after Peter Minuit’s supposed purchase of Manhates from the alleged “wild men” on November 5, 1626. Thus, it appears that the Native Peoples of Manhates did exert influence within the Dutch colony in the 17th century. To supply large, sturdy masts for the Dutch Navy and merchant ships, such as the West India Company, as well as materials for building homes, the extensive Oak, Pine and nut grove forests of Manhates were steadily cleared by Dutch settlers and the slaves of the West India Company.

    Slave Quarters at Saw-kill and Slavery in Dutch Manhattan
    Slavery was a contested practice in 17th century Netherlands. While it is possible slavery always existed at some intensity on Manhates the first instance of slaves on the island is recorded as approximately 1625 or 1626 when the Company imported 11 men, “among them Paulo d’Angola, Simon Congo, Anthony Portuguese, and John Francisco” followed in 1628 by three women from Angola to Manhates (1999: 31). An overseer, named Jacob Stoffelsen, was officially hired in 1635 to care for the “negroes belonging to the Company” (1999: 32). Furthermore, the slave population would most certainly have included Native Americans, in addition to “captured Spanish or Portuguese sailors,” creating a diverse slave community that mirrored the hodgepodge of nationalities living as freemen alongside them (1999: 32). Slaves, while retaining the right to own property, marry, bear arms, attend religious services, observe holidays, and remaining subject to the same legal procedures and laws as other New Netherland colonists were nonetheless hardly treated equally (1999: 32). Men typically were employed for arduous tasks, most often performing repairs to New Amsterdam and cutting wood (1999: 32).

    The slaves of the West India Company were quartered as early as 1626 at the mouth of the Saw-kill, their lodgings bordered by the smaller northern creek and the Wiechquaesgecks Trail. Historians believe the slaves living at Saw-kill were the primary workers of the mill (Stokes 1998: vol. 6, 132). After cutting down trees in the forests, the slaves would use the mill to help saw logs, which would then be placed in the Saw-kill. These logs would float downstream and be transported by ship to the settlement of New Amsterdam or across the Atlantic to the Netherlands. As of 1639, however, the Manatus Map still referred to the Saw-kill as the “the quarter of the blacks, the company’s slaves.” It is undoubted that the labor of slaves at the Saw-kill and other locations across Manhates led to the development of New Amsterdam.

    In the late 17th century, the Saw-kill remained an important mill as evidenced by the construction of two roads connecting the mill both to New Amsterdam and New Harlem. Saw-kill’s prominence existed at this time in spite of the presence of two other mills on the Eastern portion of Manhates and the further construction of three expensive mills by the West India Company after the arrival of permanent settlers to Manhates in 1626. On the eastern portion of the island, the Dutch exploited the hydropower of existing creeks by constructing mills at Turtle Bay (between present day East 45th- 48th Streets) and Montagne’s Kill, later called Harlem Mill Creek (East 108th Street). The Saw-kill was situated between these two mills. The Dutch erected perhaps their first sawmill on Noten Island, their name for today’s Governor’s Island which during the Dutch Colonial Period was covered in nut trees. The mill upon Nut Island was later taken apart for iron in 1648. This network of saw mills, some powered by water, others by wind, were the foundation for the construction of New Amsterdam, the building of permanent homes for Dutch colonists, and the advancement of the Dutch Naval and commercial vessels during the 17th century. The Saw-kill, while quoted as, “the well known Saw-kill, which played an important part in the early days of Manhattan,” however, eventually became lost to time.

    The Saw-kill’s later life
    By 1677, that the property was referred to by a surveyor as, “ye run of water formerly called ye saw mill creeke,” indicating that the sawmill, from which the stream received its name, had long been out of operation (133). Subsequent owners of the land replaced the sawmill with a leather mill and, eventually, the Saw-kill wad redirected into a culvert, “arched over, and its trickling little stream was called Arch Brook” (133). Prior to this occurrence, however, the Saw-kill Bridge, built in was known popularly as “The Kissing Bridge,” first mentioned as such in 1806 (Stokes 1998, vol 4: 340). Its position four miles north of town, the surrounding picturesque landscape, and, above all, its seclusion, made the Saw-kill Bridge a favorite among Kissing Bridges in 18th century Manhattan. This distinction remained throughout the 19th century.

    Although even Arch Brook has since disappeared, the waters of the Saw-kill are still present in Central Park. At the time of Central Park’s development in the mid-19th century, planners utilized the Saw-kill’s source waters, located approximately underneath the American Museum of Natural History, to create the 22-acre Lake enjoyed by New Yorkers today (2006: 87). Until the early 20th century a portion of the Saw-kill continued to flow into Ladies Pond. This small ice skating pond, consisting of two bays connected by the Saw-kill, was reserved for women’s private use to allow women to avoid the gaze of their male counterparts while changing their shoes. As standards changed, Ladies Pond fell out of use and in 1930 the Pond was filled in to serve as a pedestrian path (2000: 60). Thus the last active watercourse of the Saw-kill disappeared.

    While it is no longer possible to witness Manhattan’s largest stream rush into the East River or meander through forested hills, the Saw-kill remains a prominent part of the Manhattan landscape. By remembering the Saw-kill and its place in the history of Manhattan this great stream can begin a new course through the island, bringing into relief the connectedness of past and present.

    Amy Johnson is a graduate of Columbia University (2009 B.A. Anthropology). She is currently on a Fulbright Scholarship in Nepal. Her research of the lumber industry on Manhattan island in the early Dutch period was conducted as part of an internship at Sawkill Lumber Co., a NYC based company that reclaims antique lumber from dismantled buildings.

    Works Cited
    Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace
    1999 Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. (New York: Oxford University Press).

    E.W. Sanderson and M. Brown
    2007 “Mannahatta: An Ecological First Look at the Manhattan Landscape Prior to Henry Hudson.” Northeastern Naturalist 14(4): 545-570.

    Jennifer C. Spiegler and Paul M. Gaykowski
    2006 The Bridges of Central Park. (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing).

    I.N.P. Stokes
    1998 [1967] The iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909 : compiled from original
    sources and illustrated by photo-intaglio reproductions of important maps, plans, views, and documents in public and private collections
    , 6 v. (Union, N.J.: Martino Fine Books).

    Approximately 77% of Manhattan was covered in forest at the time of Hudson’s arrival (Sanderson and Brown 2007: 11 [↩]

    A Brief Outline of Dutch History and the Province of New Netherland

    Although most Americans are familiar with the basic outline of the British colonization of America, and even know some information on the Spanish and French settlements, their is less familiarity with the history and geography of another new word settler, namely the Dutch. Not only did they settle the colony of New Netherland but coins from both the United Provinces of the Netherlands and the Flemish area held by Spain, which we now call Belgium, circulated in America. The following summaries are presented to clarify statements in the various sections of this site that mention events concerning the Dutch below are capsule histories (a) on the formation of the states of Belgium and the Netherlands and (b) the development of the province of New Netherland in America.

    The Division of Belgium and the Netherlands

    For the most part the cities and provinces in the area known as the Low Countries developed independently from the Ninth through the mid Fourteenth centuries. From 1363-1472 the area was gradually assimilated by four generations of the Dukes of Burgundy from Philip the Bold to Charles the Bold. Eventually the lands passed by marriage to the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Upon Charles's abdication in 1556 the lands reverted to his son Philip II of Spain. Philip then sent his sister Margaret of Parma to rule the area. The Calvinist Dutch in the northern provinces especially disliked the Spanish Catholics. They feared the Inquisition would be brought to the Netherlands, and that personal and economic as well as religious freedom would be lost, so they revolted. Philip then sent Ferdinand Alverez, the Duke of Alba to bring order to the area. On August 8, 1567 the Spanish Duke of Alba entered Brussels as military dictator with some 10,000 troops. Thousands of people from both the northern and the souththern provinces fled the Low Countries, including the prominent noble William of Orange, Count of Nassau. Alba suppressed anyone who opposed him including William of Orange, whose lands he confiscated.

    The Calvinist northern provinces began allying themselves with Alba's enemies, namely William of Orange. On April 1, 1572 the Dutch struck back, a navel force under Captain van der Marck took the city of Brill. The revolt quickly spread throughout the north. On July 15, 1572 the northern provinces of Holland and Zeeland acknowledged William of Orange as their Stadtholder and a government was established in Delft. This was the beginning of a bloody civil war against the Spanish which continued until 1579.

    On January 5, 1579 the southern regions of Atrois, Hainaut and the town of Douay joined together for mutual protection under the Spanish king in the League of Arras (Artois). Soon thereafter, on January 29, 1579 the northern provinces united in the Union of Utrecht. In 1582 the large provinces of Brabant and Flanders joined the southern alliance. This southern area, what is now know as Belgium, was predominantly Catholic, and included the provinces of Flanders, Antwerp, Hainault, Brabant, Namur, Liege, Limburg, and Luxembourg (Limburg is now part of the Netherlands and Luxembourg is an independent state). The northern provinces, on the other hand, were collectively known as the United Provinces of the Netherlands or the Dutch Republic, and were often referred to by the name of their principle province, that is, Holland. This northern Calvinist area consisted of the seven provinces of Frisia, Groningen, Overijssel, Holland, Gelderland, Utrecht and Zeeland. From the formation of the Union of Utrecht these provinces were able to remain a separate republic but it was not until the Treaty of Westphalia, at the conclusion of the Thirty Years War in 1648, that the independence of the Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands was finally recognized.

    The southern provinces, which are now known as Belgium, continued under Spanish Hapsburg rule until the death of Charles II in 1700. The lands then reverted to the new Bourbon king of Spain, Philip Duke of Anjou. In 1701 the French king Louis XIV compelled Philip, who was his grandson, to turn the southern provinces over to France. However by the Treaty of Utrecht at the conclusion of the War of Spanish Succession the lands were given to the Austrian Hapsburg line which held the area until they were overthrown by the French Republic in 1794.

    Coin from both of the northern and southern regions circulated in the American colonies, including the Cross Dollar of Brabant and the Lion Dollars of the various provinces of the United Netherlands.

    The New Netherland Colony

    The Early Years, 1609-1621

    In 1602 the States General of the United Provinces, known as the Netherlands, chartered the United East India Company (the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, called the VOC) with the mission of exploring for a passage to the Indies and claiming any unchartered territories for the United Provinces. On September 3, 1609 the English explorer Henry Hudson, on behalf of the United East India Company, entered the area now known as New York in an attempt to find a northwest passage to the Indies. He searched every costal inlet and on the 12th took his ship, the Halve Maen (Half Moon), up the river which now bears his name, as far as Albany and claimed the land for his employer. Although no passage was discovered the area turned out to be one of the best fur trading regions in North America.

    As early as 1611 the Dutch merchant Arnout Vogels set sail in the ship St. Pieter for what was probably the first Dutch trading expedition to the Hudson Bay. This secretive mission was so successful in 1612 Vogels chartered the ship Fortuyn which made two, back to back trips to the area. The initial trip of the Fortuyn was under the command of Captain Adriaen Block. Two months before the Fortuyn returned on her second trip, Adriaen Block landed in Hudson Bay in a different ship. Block did not try to keep his activities a secret, he traded liquor, cloth, firearms and trinkets for beaver and otter pelts however, before he could leave the Hudson for an early spring crossing to Amsterdam he saw the arrival of another Dutch ship, the Jonge Tobias, under the command of Thijs Volckertsz Mossel. Competition to exploit the newly discovered land was underway.

    On October 11, 1614 merchants from the cities of Amsterdam and Hoorn formed The New Netherland Company receiving a three year monopoly for fur trading in the newly discovered region from the States General of the United Provinces. In 1615 the company erected Fort Orange on Castle Island near Albany and began trading with the Indians for furs. Although merchants came to New Netherland for business purposes, the area was not colonized and at the end of the three year period the company's monopoly was not renewed. At that point the land was opened to all Dutch traders. Eventually the States General decided to grant an monopoly to a company that would colonized the area. There was a need to have a permanent political presence in their colonies in New Netherland, Brazil and Africa against the possibility of an English, French or Spanish challenge.

    The Dutch West India Company and Colonization

    In 1621 the newly incorporated Dutch West India Company (the Westindische Compagnie or WIC) obtained a twenty four year trading monopoly in America and Africa and sought to have the New Netherland area formally recognized as a province. Once provincial status was granted in June of 1623 the company began organizing the first permanent Dutch settlement in New Netherland. On March 29, 1624 the ship, Nieu Nederlandt (New Netherland) departed with the first wave of settlers, consisting not of Dutch but rather of thirty Flemish Walloon families. The families were spread out over the entire territory claimed by the company. To the north a few families were left at the mouth of the Connecticut River, while to the south some families were settled at Burlington Island on the Delaware River. Others were left on Nut Island, now called Governor's Island, at the mouth of the Hudson) River, while the remaining families were taken up the Hudson to Fort Orange (Albany). Later in 1624 and through 1625 six additional ships sailed for New Netherland with colonists, livestock and supplies.

    It soon became clear the northern and southern outposts were untenable and so had to be abandoned. Also, due to a war between the Mohawk and Mahican tribes in 1625, the women and children at Fort Orange were forced to move to safety. At this point, in the spring of 1626, the Director General of the company, Peter Minuit, came to the province. Possibly motivated to erect a safe haven for the families forced to leave Fort Orange, at some point between May 4 and June 26, 1626 Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan from the Indians for some 60 guilders worth of trinkets. He immediately started the construction of Fort New Amsterdam under the direction of the company engineer Cryn Fredericksz.

    Because of the dangers and hardships of life in a new land some colonists decided to return to the homeland in 1628. By 1630 the total population of New Netherland was about 300, many being French speaking Walloons. It is estimated about 270 lived in the area surrounding Fort Amsterdam, primarily working as farmers, while about 30 were at Fort Orange, the center of the Hudson valley fur trade with the Mohawks.

    New Netherland was a company owned and operated business, run on a for profit basis by the directors of the West India Company. The intent of the firm was to make a profit for the investors who had purchased shares in the company. WIC paid skilled individuals, as doctors and craftsmen, to move to New Netherland and also sent over over and paid soldiers for military protection of the settlements the company also built forts and continually sent over provisions for the settlers. All the New Netherland positions one would usually consider government or public service jobs, were in fact, company jobs held by WIC employees. Laws were made by the company appointed Director General in the province with the consent of the company directors in Amsterdam even the New Netherland provincial treasury was actually the company treasury. All taxes, fines and trading profits went to the company and the company paid the bills. Basically the company profit was whatever was left after expenses had been paid (it should be noted expenses included ample salaries for the Amsterdam directors). WIC soon discovered the expenses associated with establishing and expanding a new colony were considerable. In order to increase their profit margin the company sought to find what might be thought of as subcontractors. The first attempt at partnerships was the Patroonship plan.

    The Patroonship plan was first conceived in 1628 as a way to attract more settlers without increasing company expenses. Under the plan a Patroon would be granted a large tract of land and given the rights to the land as well as legal rights to settle all non capital cases, quite similar to a manorial lord. In return the Patroon would agree to bring over settlers and colonize the land at their own expense. No one accepted a patroonship under these conditions because the lucrative fur and fishing trades were left as a monopoly of the company. One of the most prominent Amsterdam merchants and a principle shareholder in the Dutch West India Company, Kiliaen van Rensselear, had the plan modified. In the revised plan issued on June 7, 1629, the terms were much more favorable: colonization requirements were less stringent, the allocation of land to the patroon was larger and there were broad jurisdictional rights over the colonists. Additionally patroons were allowed to trade with New England and Virginia and, most importantly, they were allowed to engage in both the fur trade, subject to a company tax of one guilder per pelt, and could participate in the fish trade. Under this arrangement Kiliaen van Rensselear became Patroon to the largest and most lucrative fur trading area in New Netherland, that is, the area along the Hudson River out to Fort Orange, which he named the colony of Rensselaerswyck.

    Under the Patroonship arrangement New Netherland continued to expand with more colonists and settlements taking hold. The nerve center of New Netherland was along the Hudson River from New Amsterdam (New York City) northwest to Fort Orange (Albany). The colony of Rensselaerswyck, encompassing Fort Orange, was the center of the fur trade while New Amsterdam was the shipping hub for Dutch traders. The northern border was not well defined but was taken to be the Connecticut River, which they called the Fresh River. Based on this border the Dutch felt they had a claim to New Haven and southern Connecticut this was clarified at a convention in Hartford in September of 1650 limiting the Dutch to the territory west of Greenwich Bay (similar to the present day border NY-CT border). To the south, New Netherland took all of New Jersey establishing Fort Nassau in 1626 near the southern end of New Jersey (at Gloucester, New Jersey) along the Delaware River, which they called the South River. They also established a whaling village on the southern shore of Delaware Bay called Swanendael (Valley of the Swans) near what is now Lewes, Delaware although the village was soon destroyed in an Indian raid. The Dutch also constructed Fort Beversrede in 1648 on the Schuylkill River (at Philadelphia) and Fort Casimir in 1651 (at Newcastle, DE) to defend their territory against the Swedes and Finns of the Swedish West India Company in Delaware. In 1655 New Netherland defeated New Sweden and occupied the Swedish stronghold, Fort Christiana (Wilmington).


    In another attempt to increase revenue from the settlement, in 1638 the West India Company abandoned its trading monopoly. Again the company felt they could share the expenses and risks associated with trade by opening up the area to other merchants and collecting fees from them. With the passage of the Articles and Conditions in 1638 and the Freedoms and Exemptions in 1640 the company allowed merchants of all friendly nations trade in the area, subject to a 10% import duty, a 15% export duty and the restriction that all merchants had to hire West India Company ships to carry their merchandise. Of course the West India Company continued in the fur trade. Some of the first merchants to take advantage of this situation were WIC employees who left the company to act as agents for Dutch merchant firms and also trade on their own, such as Govert Loockermans and Augustine Heermans. Lookermans was a WIC employee from 1633-1639, when he left the company to become the local agent for both the powerful Verbrugge family and for himself. He was suspected of smuggling on several occassions and incurred several fines as well as the disapproval of the Verbrugge firm. Heermans first came to New Netherlands in 1633 as a company surveyor in the Delaware region. In 1643 he moved to New Amsterdam where he acted as an agent for the Dutch firm of Gabry and Company and also worked for himself in the fur and tobacco trade. Others WIC employees as Oloff Stevenson van Cortlandt, who had come over in 1637 as a WIC soldier, rose within the company. He was awarded the job of Commissary, supervising the arrival and storage of provisions. In this position he made numerous business contacts and joined in various trading ventures. He was able to acquire various properites within the city of New Amsterdam and by 1648 owned and operated a brewry. Another of these early independent merchants was Arnoldus van Hardenburg, from an Amsterdam merchant family, who came over to make his fortune. Some English colonists also took advantage of the new trading privileges. Isaac Allerton, an original Plymouth settler, who became a founder of Marblehead, Massachusetts went to New Amsterdam as did Thomas Willet of Plymouth. Allerton was knows as an uncrupulous individual who overcharged customers and manipulated his account books. Willet sometimes worked with Allerton and was of the same demeanor, he was once accused of bribing an an inspecion official to look the other way while he imported contraband items. Another Englishman, Thomas Hall, had independently moved into the Delaware valley where the Dutch discovered him in 1635 and took him to New Amsterdam as a prisoner. Hall he seems to have soon been released and in 1639 went in partnership with another Englishman, George Holmes, in the acquisition of a tobacco plantation, leading to a career as a tobacco grower and wholesaler (see, Maika, pp. 40-59).

    As these smaller scale merchants and traders became successful both for themselves and for their employeers some of the more prominent Amsterdam merchant establishments decided to follow the lead of the Rensselear family, hoping to increase their profits by expanding into the new market. The most important and earliest participants were Gillis and Seth Verbrugge who traded from the 1640's-mid 1650's and even attempted to establish a potash factory in New Amsterdam (used in the production of soap). In the 1650's and 1660's they were followed by two other major merchant firms who entered the fur trade, namely the Dirck and Abel de Wolff Company and the firm of Gillis van Hoonbeeck. From the mid 1640's through the mid 1660's these three firms along with the Rensselear family accounted for more than 50% of the New Netherland trade.

    Up to 1651 Dutch merchants could also trade with New England and Virginia as well as New Netherland. However once the British instituted the Navigation Act of 1651, non English ships were no longer allowed to transport goods from English ports. This forced the Verbrugge family to abandon their lucrative Virginia tobacco trade and eventually took them out of the new world market. The De Wolff family was more diversified that the Verbrugge, trading in Baltic grain, French wine and West African slaves as well as New Netherland furs. Also, rather than invest in ships this firm rented space on other ships and so remained competitive. Van Hoonbeeck entered the New Nwtherland market late, but was able to take advantage of the Verbrugge's Company fall.

    The result of this situation was that a few powerful Amsterdam merchants along with the West India Company controlled New Netherland trade. Oliver A. Rink has succinctly explained the situation as follows:


    Another important element in the New Netherland province that differed from the British colonies was demographics. It has been estimated that probably one half of the population was not Dutch. The size of the province has been estimated at between 2,000 to 3,500 in 1655 growing to a total of about 9,000 by 1664. A significant number of the inhabitants were Germans, Swedes and Finns that emigrated in the period after 1639. This number was increased by 300 to 500 with the capture of New Sweden on September 24, 1655. The impact of these German and Scandinavian Lutheran immigrants is brought out in a controversy that arose because the Lutherans in Middleburg, Long Island were holding church services without an approved preacher. The New Amsterdam pastors brought this situation to the attention of the Director General, Pieter Stuyvesant at the end of 1655, requesting the services be halted. The dispute dragged on for years until a resolution was formulated by the West India Company directors in Amsterdam. It was decided to permit the Lutherans the right to worship by slightly adjusting the catechism. In order not to offend the Lutherans, the Company bluntly stated the complaining New Amsterdam Calvinist pastors would be replaced by younger ministers who were more liberal, unless the dispute was put aside.

    There were also about 2,000 English inhabitants in the area of New Netherland, primarily from New England, living on Long Island or in communities along the Connecticut border. The English obtained the Eastern portion of Long Island, (as far as the western end of Oyster Bay) in the border agreement reached at the Hartford Convention of 1650. In fact, five of the ten villages in the vicinity of New Amsterdam were English (namely, Newtown, Gravesend, Hemptead, Flushing and Jamaica while Brooklyn, Flatlands, Flatbush, New Utrecht and Bushwick were Dutch). There were also a number of "half free" African slaves, who were required to make a fixed yearly payment to the company for their freedom. In September of 1654 a group of 23 Jews were brought to New Amsterdam from the colony in Brazil (which was called New Holland), where the Portuguese had just defeated the Dutch West India Company following an eight year rebellion. In 1655, the same year charges were made against the Lutherans, the New Amsterdam preachers requested the province get rid of the Jews. This matter was brough to the company directors in Amsterdam who recommended the Jews be segregated and allowed to practice their religion, but not be permitted to build a synagogue. In this case toleration was granted because some of the Dutch West India Company stockholders were Jewish merchants. In fact, in 1658 when one of these New Netherland Jews, named David de Ferrera, was given a overly harsh punishment for a minor offence, it took the intervention of an important Jewish stockholder in the company, Joseph d'Acosta, to have the punishment reduced.

    A French Jesuit priest named Father Isaac Jogues visited New Netherland in 1643-1644. After returning to Canada Father Jogues wrote a brief description of New Netherland, completed on August 3, 1646. In his work the ethnic diversity of the island of Manhattan was described as follows:

    British Claims and Conquest

    As New Netherland prospered the British set their sights on the province, stating they had a claim to the land as part of John Cabot's discoveries. In May of 1498 the Genoese born Cabot, working for Britain, had explored the coast of the new world from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New England down to Delaware. As this trip predated Hudson's voyage by over a century the British felt they had prior claim to the land.

    In the mid Seventeenth century the British and Dutch saw each other as a direct competitor, consequently several times during this period they were at war. During the first Anglo-Dutch war of 1652-1654 Oliver Cromwell planed to attack New Netherland with the help of the New England colonists but the plan was never carried out. Following that conflict the two nations continued to be trading rivals and were suspicious of each other. With the restoration of Charles II to the British throne in 1660 the United Netherlands feared an English attack, so in 1662 they made an alliance with the French against the English. In response to this alliance in March of 1664, Charles II formally annexed New Netherland as a British province and granted it to his brother James, Duke of York and Albany (later James II), as Lord Proprietor. The Duke sent a fleet under the command of Sir Richard Nicolls to seize the colony. On September 8, 1664, the Director General Pieter Stuyvesant surrendered Fort Amsterdam and on September 24, 1664, Fort Orange capitulated. Both the city of New Amsterdam and the entire colony were renamed New York, while Fort Amsterdam was renamed Fort James and Fort Orange became Fort Albany.

    The loss of the New Netherland province led to a second Anglo-Dutch war during 1665-1667. This conflict ended with the Treaty of Breda in August of 1667 in which the Dutch gave up their claim to New Amsterdam in exchange for Surinam (just north of Brazil). Amazingly, within six months, on January 23, 1668, the Dutch made an alliance with Britain and Sweden against the French king Louis XIV, who was trying to capture the Spanish held areas in the Netherlands. However, in May of 1670 Louis XIV made a secret alliance with Charles II (the Treaty of Dover) and in 1672 he made another separate treaty with Sweden. Then on March 17, 1673 Louis and Charles joined together in a war on the United Netherlands. During this war, on August 7, 1673, a force of 600 Dutch soldiers under Captain Anthony Colve entered the Hudson River. The next day they attacked Fort James and took the fort on the 9th, As the British governor, Francis Lovelace was absent, the surrender was made by Captain John Manning. When Lovelace returned on Saturday August 12th, he was siezed and put in jail. With the fall of the fort the Dutch had retaken New York, they then took control of Albany and New Jersey, changing the name of the area to New Orange in honor of William of Orange.

    However these gains were temporary, as the lands were restored to the British at the end of the conflict by the Treaty of Westminster on February 9, 1674. The British governor, Major Edmund Andros, arrived in Manhattan on November 1st and gave the Dutch a week to leave. On November 10, the transfer was completed and Governor Colve and his soldiers marched out of the province. From that point the British controlled both the city and province of New York. Indeed, New York City remained the premier British military stronghold in America during the Revolutionary War and was not liberated until the British evacuation in 1783.


    Oliver A. Rink, Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York, Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1986 Dennis J. Maika, Commerce and Community: Manhattan Merchants in the Seventeenth Century, Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 1995 John Franklin Jameson, Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664, New York: Scribner, 1909.

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    The True Story of the Sale of the Island of Manhattan

    Manhattan is considered the cultural, financial, entertainment, and media capital of the world. The borough hosts the United Nations Headquarters as well as Wall Street. Many multinational media conglomerates reside in Manhattan, and it’s been the setting for many books, films, and tv shows. The value of the island of Manhattan, including all of its real estate, exceeds over three trillion dollars. Median residential property sales prices in Manhattan equals to $ 1,600 per square foot in 2018. Fifth Avenue, which also resides in Manhattan, commands the highest retail rents in the world, commanding a whopping $ 3,000 per square foot.

    An often-repeated story throughout History is that the Dutch bought the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans. The price paid was $24 worth of beads, trinkets, a jar of Mayonnaise, two pair of wooden clogs, a loaf of wonder bread and a carton of Quaker oats. It is considered one of the biggest business mistakes in History. Here’s the thing did it really go down the way we were taught? Let us explore, shall we?

    On May 4, 1626, Peter Minuit arrived in New Amsterdam (modern-day NYC) as the new director of the Dutch West India Company (DWIC). The Dutch West India Company was a charted company of Dutch Merchants. Its goal was to expand the Dutch trade reach globally. It dabbled in trading many goods, including participating in the Atlantic slave trade. Minuit had been sent to diversify the trade coming out of New Netherland (Modern-day New York), they traded in mostly animal pelts then. Minuit was authorized by the DWIC to settle any disputes with any local Native American tribes over trading and land rights. Soon after Minuit’s arrival, he agreed with a local tribe for the land rights to Manhattan. There is no proof of an original title deed. The only evidence we have is a DWIC internal communication from 1626. The communication states:

    “Yesterday the ship the Arms of Amsterdam arrived here. It Sailed from New Netherland out of the River Mauritius on September 23. They report that our people are in good spirit and live in peace. The women also have borne some children here. They have purchased the Island of Manhattes from the savages for the value of 60 Guilders. It is 11,000 Morgens in size.”

    A historian in 1846 calculated that 60 guilders were equivalent to $24 for that time. This $24 figure has been frozen in time and is where this part of the story originates. Modern historians have calculated that 60 guilders were equivalent to $951.08 in that time frame. Now $951 is much better than 24, but it’s still too low of a price for the whole island of Manhattan.

    One thing the correspondence doesn’t cover is what Native American tribe or on whose behalf was a deal with Minuit made. Historian Nathaniel Benchley found that Minuit was dealing with the Canarsees, a Lenape tribe primarily located in south Brooklyn. For those of you who are familiar with New York Geography, south Brooklyn is not Manhattan far from it actually. Benchley claims that the Weckquaesgeeks, a closely related Wappinger tribe, actually occupied most of mid and Northern Manhattan. That’s great except Minuit made a deal with the Canarsees.

    That explains the low price! Manhattan was never the Canarsees to sell away. They were traveling through Manhattan and was approached with an offer they couldn’t refuse. They were happy to agree to anything the Dutch proposed hell it wasn’t their land. The Canarsees happily took the goods which were more than just trinkets and beads and went back to Brooklyn.

    To further emphasize this point, there was a series of bloody battles between the Wappinger tribes and the Dutch settlers during the early 1640s. It seems someone didn’t respect the “deed” that was signed in 1626. Before these battles and the Dutch encroachment, the Wappingers lived peacefully on Manhattan.

    If you were wondering how Manhattan eventually became part of the U.S. A.. The English conquered New Netherland and renamed it New York in 1664. After being regained buy the Dutch it was ceded back to England in the Westminster Treaty of 1674. The U.S.A won it from the English with the win in the revolutionary war.

    Mistakes Were Made

    Often throughout History, we are taught inaccurate stories. Especially when the story makes Europeans look Smarter, more intelligent, and wiser than whatever minority or “savage” culture they were dealing with. This story turns that line of thinking on its head and shows it as a false construct.

    The Dutch were the ones who made a mistake in this story. They never did their research or homework on who had the right claim to Manhattan. They probably just stopped the first Native Americans they saw and proposed a deal to them. The problem was those Native Americans were the Canarsees, and they didn’t have a claim to Manhattan. Sure the Dutch paid a low monetary price, but they paid a much higher price in bloodshed with the battles they had to fight with the Wappinger tribes over the actual ownership of Manhattan.

    The native Americans were not as dumb or naïve as they are portrayed, and the Europeans are not as intelligent as they are portrayed the truth is somewhere in the middle. This tale is one of many stories from the past, that has been whitewashed, and the real story is finally coming too light.

    By Peter A. Douglas

    If you know anything about the Dutch acquisition of Manhattan in 1626 you're sure to be familiar with the tenacious myth that Peter Minuit paid the Indians with beads and baubles. One of the reasons for the longevity of this fable is surely the number of descriptions of this event over the last century and a half. In addition to the accounts in history books and fictional works, there are numerous artistic depictions of the celebrated meeting. These contain various bogus elements, the main one being a chest brimming with cheap trinkets that the Dutchmen are displaying to the natives as payment for their land.

    By necessity (for all we know of the Manhattan transaction is contained in a few words of second-hand reporting) these paintings and sketches are fanciful, and artists have let their imaginations run wild within the context of the universal myths that befog the event. It's hard to forgive professional historians and other authors who have swallowed and then enabled the fantasy, but those who illustrated this event can perhaps be forgiven for using a little artistic license, especially when they are falling into the same trap as most people regarding how it went down. It would be fair to say that the myth is responsible for what the illustrations depict, and also that the illustrations immortalize the myth. The illustrations are thus both victims and perpetrators. While misleading and overly romanticized, the artistic renderings of the "purchase" nevertheless offer quite an entertaining vision of this occasion, despite the need to take them with a pinch of salt.

    Sometimes the Dutch are shown as slim and youthful sometimes they are the more traditional burghers with the generous waistline. At times they appear earnest, sincere, and importunate at other times they look rather formal, haughty, and grand, bearing flags, muskets, and swords as they overawe the Indians, urging them to accept the chests of trinkets. The natives too show a mixture of reactions to the outsiders, appearing naïve, deadpan, mystified, curious, dubious, noble, and in one sketch they are like children or jabbering caricatures of Indians as they cluster, awestruck by a length of striped cloth, around the stolid Dutch party. No illustration gives any clear sign of fear or enmity from either party. The impression conveyed is that of probably just what it was—a rather uncomfortable gathering of mutually uncomprehending strangers from hugely different backgrounds feeling their way towards areas of shared understanding. If it weren't for the cliché of chests full of trinkets, and perhaps some of the contrived settings, these illustrations would probably be acceptably accurate, at least in terms of simple human interaction.

    It's clear that many of the artists were clueless about the Indians and did little research in order to get it right. Notable is the Indians' wildly differing appearance. Some illustrations show them almost naked or bare-chested, and with a couple of feathers in their hair, while others are elaborately dressed in leggings and ornate tasseled tunics. Some Indians have spiky feathers sticking up, while many others are more familiar to us because they are wearing richly eagle-feathered headdresses and thus look very much like Midwestern Plains Indians of the nineteenth century. It's as if Minuit were trading with the Sioux or the Cheyenne. Clearly many of the illustrators had very little idea of what northern American tribes looked like, nor did they take the trouble to find out about the observable differences among native peoples in terms of costume and ornament. What seems to emerge from these illustrations, therefore, is a rather careless and patronizing attitude towards the Indians along with the easy assumption of their innocent fascination with the white man's cheap and sparkling goods.

    An example of these illustrations that contains a lot of detail is Alfred Fredericks' (d. 1926) painting Purchase of Manhattan Island by Peter Minuit, 1626. This shows a beach scene where there is a gathering of native inhabitants of Manhattan beneath a tree. Some are wearing out-of-place many-feathered war bonnets and richly decorated and fringed garments. They are being shown strings of beads, various jars, bowls, a small casket, and a candlestick. Many of these riches spill decoratively out of a chest at the feet of a bearded and mustachioed Dutchman holding a document, presumably Peter Minuit, and presumably the deed for the sale of Manhattan. He is gesturing towards the lavish and glittering display, some of which has been removed from the chest and is set out on a cloth on the sand. His kneeling companion is proffering an embroidered tasseled cloth to the impassive Indians, who seem as yet unconvinced by these strangers in funny hats. Seated in the foreground, two natives, one clutching a pipe, discuss the curious visitors. In the background we see a large ship from which a small boat has beached, its crew hauling up another heavy chest.

    In all the illustrations there invariably appears one or more chests in which the Dutch have brought their trade goods. Sometimes, as in this case, another chest is being heaved to the site by some of Minuit's group. The chest's lid is always open and trinkets are draped over the edge, down its sides, and spilled on to the ground to display the contents, both to the Indians and to us.

    A 1939 oil painting in the collection of the New York Historical Society by an unidentified artist depicts the scene in a very similar way. Here again we see Indians, this time bare-chested and simply clad, also in a shady spot under a tree next to a beach. (It's worth noting that although the "purchase" took place in May, more than a few of the illustrations show trees in full summer foliage. This error is doubtless just more artistic license, something that none of these depictions lack.) Wearing little more than loincloths, these Indians are more suitably dressed for their eastern tribe than those in Fredericks' drawing one carries a bow and two nubile women are also present. (Women occasionally feature in the illustrations, often showing great interest in necklaces and bolts of cloth and such traditionally more feminine concerns.) The pokerfaced Indian spokesman is standing with his arms folded, apparently not entirely persuaded yet by the display before him. Two Dutchman are near an open chest the one who seems to be the leader wears a red suit with a tall hat and a sword, and he is gesturing at the chest's contents. The Dutchmen have open, eager faces, and are trying to convince the stern sachem to accept their offer. One is kneeling and holding up a length of red cloth. Again there is a ship in the distance, and two of its crew are carrying another chest up the beach. In this painting three axes are leaning against the chest, suggesting that the artist was aware at least that some useful goods must have been part of the deal too. In fact, although various trinkets and lengths of cloth predominate as trading items in these illustrations, if ever there are any useful items visible it is axes.

    In a drawing in Charles B. Todd's A Brief History of the City of New York, published in 1899, we see a very different setting, for here the meeting is taking place inside a building. Minuit is lounging in a chair, wearing a hat and a sword, and holding a pipe. It is interesting to note the treatment of the subject by different artists. Minuit's demeanor here is very different from the Minuit in the 1939 painting, where he looks sincere and unsure of success. Here in Todd's book he is captured at a later point in the transaction where he looks relaxed and satisfied because the deal has been concluded. This is clear because Minuit is regarding a 4 very scrawny un-chieftain-like native who is hunched over a table with a quill in his hand, putting his mark on a document. At Minuit's elbow is a big chest from which the usual baubles are dangling. In the background another Dutchman is offering an Indian a beaded necklace. The veracity of the illustration can be gauged by Todd's reference to the Indians as "unkempt long-haired savages" who are "only too glad to give their island in exchange for the glittering baubles."

    Another of the many improbable illustrations of the purchase event includes a large crowd of Dutch settlers in a fiesta-like atmosphere, including women, children, soldiers, and a priest. Another, a postcard from 1909, shows five bare-chested Indians seated at Minuit's feet in front of a longhouse. Each has a headdress consisting of a few vertical feathers one smokes a long pipe while three companions hold up and examine strings of beads that the Dutchmen have pulled from a chest, along with some red cloth. A soldier with a musket stands in the rear.

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