07 October 2008

Expansion & Invasion: New Amsterdam

By Christine Koehler

If you never read (or heard of ) The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America by Russell Shorto, you should. It's a wonderful story about the founding of New York. Granted, he's a little long-winded in the middle, but it's a well-researched book and a fascinating piece of our history.

New Amsterdam developed outside of Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island in the New Netherland territory (1614–1674). Because the Dutch believed their territory was what they could 'own' and use, it was situated between 38 and 42 degrees. Yup, it's now New York City.

The harbor and river was discovered, explored, and charted by an expedition of the Dutch East India Company captained by Henry Hudson in 1609. From 1611 through 1614, the territory was surveyed and charted by various private commercial companies on behalf of the States General of the Dutch Republic and operated for the interests of private commercial entities prior to official possession as a North American extension of the Dutch Republic as a provincial entity in 1624.

To secure the settlers' property and its surroundings according to Dutch law, Pieter Minuit, created a deed with the Manhattan Indians in 1626 which signified legal possession of Manhattan. Minuit negotiated the "purchase" of Manhattan from the Manahatta band of Lenape for 60 guilders worth of trade goods. No, they didn't by it for $20-some odd dollars. It was an extremely complicated agreement involving alliances against neighboring tribes, trade, and the general well being of each side.

Because the Dutch themselves believed in equality among all, everyone was welcomed in the colony regardless of race, sex, creed, or origin. This law superseded any individual’s intolerance or individual bigotry.

The city, situated on the strategic, fortifiable southern tip of the island of Manhattan maintained New Netherland's provincial integrity by defending river access to the company's fur trade operations in the North River (Hudson River) and to safeguard exclusive access to the Delaware River and the Connecticut River.

On August 27, 1664, while England and the Dutch Republic were at peace, four English frigates sailed into New Amsterdam’s harbor. They demanded New Netherland's surrender. Director-general Peter Stuyvesant provisionally ceded the city to the English. This resulted in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, between England and the Dutch Republic.

In 1667, the Dutch didn't press nor relinquish their claims on New Netherland in the Treaty of Breda, in return for an exchange with the tiny Island of Run in North Maluku and the guarantee for the factual possession of Suriname. The New Amsterdam city was subsequently renamed New York, after the Duke of York (later King James II) who was granted the lands by his brother, King Charles II with the simple stroke of his pen.

The English had a very different view of colonization. They believed they owned all the land they saw on their maps. Didn't matter if they could use it or had enough people to colonize it. That land was theirs.

However, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch recaptured New Netherland in August 1673 and installed Anthony Colve as New Netherland's first Governor. The city was renamed New Orange. After the signing of the Treaty of Westminster in November 1674 the city was relinquished to English rule and the name reverted to New York. In return, Suriname became an official Dutch possession.


The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America by Russell Shorto