The History of New York State
Book I, Chapter III
Part IV

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


It was as if this conflict had been ordained that this epochal movement which was to decide the fate of a continent should begin the very heart of New York, and center therein until New France was no more and the British were supreme in North America. Not without effect on the Old ?World, either. Parkman says that the failure of the old (feudal) France in America helped "to precipitate the incoming of the new (republican) France in Europe,' just as the passing of the French from America enabled Americans to center their thoughts upon the building of the great American republic whose beneficent government is having such marked effect upon the whole world. Great, therefore, were the movements that centered in New York in 1609.

True, Hudson's efforts were not for ht English; but for 50 years the Dutch interposed themselves between the two great rivers; with such good effect, too, that the Dutch impress can never be eradicated from American institutions. Nevertheless, the struggle was between the French and the English. It seemed merely a normal natural course of events that the Dutch possession .should pass to the English in 1604--this great change being made almost without a struggle, because Dutch thought and effort had been more to the East Indies then westward.

Had the Dutch not seen a brighter destiny in the East, their hold upon the West might have been more tenacious, for they had proved themselves to be a most determined courageous and capable people. Although Charles V of Spain, during his reign--which ended in 1558--drew such fabulous wealth from Mexico and Peru, it is said that from his little Northern European possession--the 17 provinces of the Netherlands--#33 he drew two-fifths of his revenue. #34 It was the wealthiest possession of the Spanish ruler, notwithstanding that the very land of this prosperous subject-people had been literally wrested from the sea, redeemed foot by foot from the swamp and morass, from the sea itself, and, by dikes and seawalls, made to yield an agricultural return which, with an equally persistent trading endeavor, gave the ceaselessly-working Dutch people the prosperity that could bear such enormous taxation. What better-fitted people could one hope to find with which to meet and surmount the pioneering difficulties of the New World? Since the time of Charles V, they had fought themselves out of dependence. Seven of the provinces, by two generations of dogged resistance to the might of Spain had won place together as an independent nation, self-sustaining and astonishing potential. This little republic, seated on the fringes of the sea, seemed to be most at home on it. Maritime dangers were their heritage. Their paths were, as their earliest coinage predicted, "in many waters." The few fisherman's huts at the mouth of the Amstel soon became the "Venice of the North." Eventually, the Dutch forged their way to commercial leadership of the world. "In every branch of human industry," says Motley, "these republicans took the lead . . . . .But the foundation of the national wealth, the source of the apparently fabulous power by which the republic had at last overthrown her gigantic antagonist, was the ocean. #35 According to Motley, the United Netherlands at that time had nearly 100,000 sailors in her service, and possessed 3,000 ships in her commercial and war fleets. She robbed Spain of her India trade. Dutch ships came into the seas almost in swarms. For some years after the United Netherlands declared their independence, a thousand new vessel were annually built in Holland. Her only progressive rival, indeed, was England, whose maritime growth was contemporaneous with that of the Dutch, and almost as vigorous, though England's effort was centered more on fighting ships then mercantile.

England, in her commercial enterprises, was jealously watched and zealously emulated by the Low Countries. In 1581, Thomas Buts, an English navigator who had made several voyages to the Spanish West Indies for the English, offered to lead a Dutch expedition westward, "Provided their High Mightinesses would place four ships-of-war at his disposal." Instead of venturing into these troubled waters, the Dutch elected to follow the English into the White Sea, to follow the route of the English trading company, the Muscovy Company, in trading with the Russians from Archangel. An enormous business was done b y the Dutch in the Baltic; also, "out on the Vlie alone sailed nearly 600 ships, in one year (1587), to bring corn from the Baltic." #36

At this time the Dutch were operating mostly from the Azores to the White Sea, but in 1591 another attempt was made to draw the Netherlands into the West India trade. William Usselinex, a native of Antwerp, who had spend many years in Spain and the Azores, endeavored to interest their High Mightinesses, the States General of the United Netherlands, in the formation of a West India trading company. No positive action was at once taken, but the suggestion was too promising to be forever dismissed.

Still, for some years, the Dutch Government had been following, with closer thought, the several endeavors of the English to find a northerly passage to India. English navigators had failed on both hemispheres, but Linschoten, a leading Dutch geographer of that period, agreed with Peter Plancius, the great cosmographer, that a passage, northeastward, probably lay around the northern end of Novaya Zemlya. The Dutch had been trading with Kola and Archangel for almost two decades, but found the Sea of Kola difficult to penetrate. So the Amsterdam merchants were all the more eager to adopt the suggestion of Plancius. William Barentz, an Amsterdam pilot, was despatched, at that and municipal expense, to find such a passage in 1594. He failed as did two more expeditions of immediately succeeding years. Barentz discovered Spitzbergen in 1596, but had to winter in the Arctic; and to its rigors he succumbed #37

in June, 1597. His companions, however, finally reached home, after much hardship and suffering.

The failure of these three expeditions was as discouraging to the Dutch as was the failure of the many English attempts, northeast and northwest. Although the Dutch keenly south all possible commercial advantage over the English, no more exploring expeditions northeastward were organized for some time. Possibly, the lull in enterprise in northern seas is to some extent explained by the trade development in warmer seas. It appears that in 1594, Cornelius Houtman, the son of a brewer in gouda, brought from Lisbon "tempting accounts of the gorgeous products of the East, which he had seen crowing the quays of the Tagus." Forthwith, nine merchants of Amsterdam associated, #38 and equipped four armed ships. These sailed under the command of Houtman. He followed the Portuguese route, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and two years later returned to Amsterdam safely, with rich cargoes from the fabled East. Thus began Dutch connection with Indian commerce.

The prospective profits were enormous. Bruges, Antwerp, and Amsterdam had grown rich in the earlier decades of that century upon the comparatively lean profits that accrued from her commercial office as emporia for Northern Europe in the Asiatic products to Portugal and Spain. Now, she was able to go direct to the East, and take the Spanish profit for herself. She did more. She doubled and almost trebled the market prices for the spices that Houtman and others brought. In 1599, the Dutch, having, as they thought, "firmly established their trade in the East," demanded of London merchants six shillings, and eight shillings, a pound for pepper which had in early years been obtainable for three shillings per pound. This was an imposition that the London merchants would not tolerate; they had, during the sixteenth century, grown almost as substantial as the Amsterdam merchant princes; so an indignation meeting was held in London in September, 1599, to discuss the preposterous increase in cost of spices. It was then resolved that an English association be formed for the purpose of trading directly with India, and Queen Elizabeth supported the merchants by sending Sir John Mildenhall from turkey, to the Great Mughal, to apply for trading privileges for the English company she wished to see chartered. The other principal English trading company then were: the Muscovy Company, trading in northerly waters, and overland to Moscow; and the Levant Company, which was doing an enormous volume of business with Turkey, perhaps "tapping" the East from the Levant. The Levant Company lost its charter in 1606, King James deciding to put its profits into his own pocket, and levy duties himself on all future trade from that source. The English East Indian Company, which made 12 voyages in its first 12 years, realizing at least 100 per cent, profit on each voyage, grew wealthy and strong in fighting the Dutch in eastern waters. The trading company was virtually the sovereign British power in India for more than 250 years, and for the greater part of that time held the trade monopoly.

Long and desperate was the struggle between the Dutch and the English for trading supremacy in the East. Strong as England was, great as had become her naval prestige, through the daring deeds of Hawkins, Drake, Grenville, Howard, and others, she was for many years outmatched in the East by the Dutch. After the Dutch company was well organized, the English East India company had to fight grimly for even a small share of the trade of the East. It appears that as soon as the merchants of Amsterdam learned, in 1600, that an English company was to direct British effort in the East, they clamored for the organization of a Dutch company; and, as the British company was signally successful in its first voyages, the States General of the United Netherland needed little urging by the mechanist of the "Venice of the North," to be convinced that the potential future of the Dutch in the East cold be best protected #39 by the establishment of a company somewhat after the English plan. So, in 1602, the Dutch East India Company was chartered, with almost absolute powers of sovereignty and a monopoly of trade for a period of 21 years. #40

Possibly, the fact that she had been handling the aromatic merchants of the East for so long--as a vessel of Spain--is the explanation of the somewhat singular shunning of West Indian waters by Holland. English "sea-dogs" had been romping over Spain dominions in the New World for two or three generations before the Dutch came into American record. English mariners, with freebooting carelessness, had been overrunning the West Indies for so long, and had grown so happy in appropriating Spanish booty along the American mainland, in both Atlantic and pacific, that until King James withdrew privateering licenses, in 1603 or 1604, the English effort at sea was drawn more to the West than the East. This necessarily would weaken her opposition to the Dutch in the East Indies. As a matter of fact, it seems that the Dutch drifted to American only by chance growing out of her desire to find the northern way to the Indies. Of course, that was the basic motive of all exploration westward, but France and England were beginning to think more of colonization than of searching for another route to the East.

The latter purpose, however, was not as strong in the Dutch in 1597, when we come to the first trace of them in the West India trade, though after a few years of fluctuating experiences on the Cape of good Hope route, the Dutch were again yearning for a less war-infested route to the East. She thought little of the West. Two Dutch captains sailed westward in 1598, it is true, but only to reach the East. The two ships went to the Moluccas, the other, under Oliver van Noord, circumnavigated the globe. In the same year that van Noord sailed westward, eight fighting ships were sent by Holland, by way of the Cape of good Hope, into the Indian Ocean. The eyes of the Dutch were ever turned eastward, or if temporarily in any other direction, then only in the hope of being able to turn again more easily to the profitable East. The Dutch Republic was fast approaching its Golden Age; the merchants of the Low Countries were rapidly becoming the bankers of Europe; and to these hard-headed men of trade and finance it must have seemed that Spain had already worn the New World threadbare. So when, in 1597, two Dutch merchants, Gerrit Bikker of Amsterdam, and Jan Cornelissen Leyen, of Enckhuyzen, each separately petitioned the authorities for permission to form a company for purposes of trade with the West Indies, the granting of the privilege probably did not cause much excitement. Seemingly, these two merchants thought it better to share the risks and profits of the enterprise. Their interests were consolidated in one company, and the City of Amsterdam granted them a plot of ground on the Ryzenhoofd, on which to build a warehouse. This was done, and some voyages were undertaken during the years 1597 and 1598 to the West Indies, and also to South America.

This West Indian trading company, however, was not drawn to North America; it was another Dutch trading company that happened, by chance it seems, into New York waters in 1598. O'Callaghan, after referring to the initial voyages of Bikker and Leyen to the West Indies, writes:

Several vessels were again sent to the West Indies from. . . . . . . Amsterdam in 1598, in the course of which year, it is said, some Dutchmen in the employ of a Greenland company resorted to New Netherland, without any design however to make a settlement there, but with a view of having a place of shelter during the winter months; for which purpose, it is added, they built two small forts, one on the North, and one on the South river, to protect them against the attacks of the Indians. #41

There are several confirming evidences, regarding the Greenland Company's use of New York waters. In 1644, when political trouble threatened to end the life of the Dutch West India Company, which possessed and governed New Netherland, a committee of the trading company began a report #42 as follows:

New Netherland, situated in America, between English Virginia and New England, extending from the South (Delaware) river, lying in 34-1/2 degrees to Cape Malabar, in the latitude of 41-1/2 degrees, was first frequented by the inhabitants of this country in the year 1598, and especially by those of the Greenland Company, but without making any fixed settlements, only as a shelter in the winter. For which they built on the North (Hudson) and the South (Delaware) rivers there tow forts against the attacks of the Indians.

The Greenland Company, by the way, was possibly that which had been formed to exploit Spitzbergen, which they called, "Greenland." #43

An independent (English) corroboration is contained in the statement of Governor Bradford, of the Plymouth colony. He challenged the right of the Ditch to possess themselves of any part of the American mainland between the two "Virginia" colonies; nevertheless, Governor Bradford had to admit #44 that the Dutch :have used trading there (on the Hudson river) this six- or seven-and-twenty years (to 1627), but have begun to plant of later time, and now have reduced their trade to some order. #45 This is convincing testimony, and, as Bradford, was living in Holland in 1608, with abundant opportunities for knowing everything relating to Dutch enterprise, there is not much reason to doubt that he knew then where the Greenland company wintered. Another proof is on an English map #46 of the voyage of Linschoten, 1598; it shows a dotted trail from the latitude of the Hudson, 40° N. to the St. Lawrence, apparently marking a known and travelled route at that time. #47 Further confirmation is in the writing #48 of Father Isaac Jogues, who was in New Amsterdam (New York) in 1646. Writing on August 3 of that year, he says that the Dutch were here "about fifty years" before, but that they only began to settle permanently about "twenty years" since. In a "Vertoogh," describing the occupation of the disputed colony of the Dutch, is the following: "East of the North river beginning at Cape Cod, named in 1600 by our own people new Holland (whereof also possession was by the erection of their High Mightinesses' arms) down to within six leagues of the North River." #49 De Costa #50 quotes the narrative of Linschoten, which clearly shows that this geographer was perfectly posted on the main divisions of the Atlantic Coast from Cape Race to Florida, fixing the fact "beyond question that the Hudson was perfectly well known," in 1598. De Costa refers also to an English map, drawn "not later then 1608," of he region from Canada to Cape Fear. New York Island is shown as "Manhattan," and Jersey as "Manahata." He thinks it "not likely that Hudson had with him a copy of the map for his guidance on the voyage of the 'Half Moon.'" #51

Whether Hudson did or did not have this cartographic advance information, it seems reasonably clear that other Europeans came within sight of the Hudson River prior to the year 1609, when Hudson ascended it in the "Half Moon." De Costa writes: "English enterprise and adventure on the Virginia coast, extending from Raleigh's expedition, 1584, to Gosnold's fatal quest, 1603, must have brought Englishmen into the Bay of New York, unless miracle was balanced against curiosity and chance." Mariners of many nationalities knew of the harbor, and perhaps ascended the river, between 1524, when Verrazzano came, and 1609, when Hudson explored it. And it was not because of any greater strength of purpose, or forcefulness, or perseverance, or any stronger quality in Hudson's character that progress of the white race in this region begins with his exploration of the river now known by his name. One must study the political and economic history of Europe for the real reason. All colonial activity, in fact, was, and continued to be, merely a reflection of the home situation. Governmental exigency or strength dictated foreign policy.

The United Provinces of the Netherlands had been compelled to "table" the proposition submitted by William Usselinex, in 1591, for the formation of a West India Company; and no action was taken by the States General in 1600, when, from the same source, another proposal; came. #52 Yet, it hardly seems that the Dutch merchants would permit the North American trade to be enjoyed solely by the English and French, merely because no Ditch West India Company had been formed. Inasmuch as the Greenland Company has been so prompt in exploiting the barren frozen land--Spitzbergen--discovered by Barentz, is it no feasible to suppose that the chance discovery of the more temperate New York region by a Greenland company captain in 1598 would be quickly followed by trading efforts, either under Greenland Company or by independent traders? Until 1606, however, there is no positive trace of them. In that year, it seems, Dutch traders were active along the Atlantic coast. In Parkman's Acadian work is the statement that in 1606, "the Dutch had found their way to the St. Lawrence, and carried away a rich harvest of furs, while other interloping traders had plied a busy traffic along the coasts. #53 "Along the coasts" perhaps would embrace New (portion missing)

In 1604, two years after the founding of the Dutch East India Company, William Usselinex was requested to draft a circular, urging the formation of a Dutch West India Company, or "to ascertain whether sufficient voluntary subscriptions could be obtained from merchants to start a company with a good capital." The circular distributed by him pleased the merchants, though it is doubtful whether they were much impressed with North American possibilities. Usselinex seems to have had especially in mind the potentialities of the West Indian and South American trade, though he did "call attention to the recent discovery of several fertile and temperate countries and islands inhabited by friendly people." #54 This allusion perhaps was to English and French expeditions north of Florida, maybe also to the Activities of the Greenland company along the Atlantic coast; but there is not much doubt that his business arguments featured mainly Central and South American peoples. Usselinex points out that "the inhabitants of these countries were not naked savages, but well-favored, well-clad people; apt to learn, and among them it would be advantageous to send colonists to teach them agriculture, as the land was found well adapted for the raising of sugar, ginger, oil, wine, indigo, cotton, hops, dye-woods, and other products." #55 In addition, there was always the possibility of finding gold, silver, and other mineral deposits, "which are the sinews of war." There was in the proposition the additional attraction of "humbling their arrogant enemy on the very seas from which Philip was endeavoring to shut out the commerce of the Republic." #56

To take further action in the company promotion the States of Zeeland sent delegations to consult with deputies from Amsterdam, Dortrecht, Delft, Rotterdam, Harlem, Leyden, Gouda, Schiendam, Hoorn, Enkhuysen, Alkmaar, Edam, and Monnikendam. Finally, this group of merchants agreed upon a draft of a charter, and proposals were ready for submission to the States General, calling "for the incorporation of a Dutch West India company, to trade exclusively, for and during thirty-six years, to the coast of Africa, from the tropic of Cancer to the Cape of Good Hope, and to America, from the Straits of Magellan to Terra Nova, the island there about included." Before governmental action on these proposals could be taken by their High Mightinesses, the States General became engrossed in secret overtures for peace made by Spain. These resulted in an armistice in May, 1607. Two years later, a truce for 12 years, between the Dutch Republic and Spain, was signed at Antwerp. So it happened that the West India Company charter was lost in the political shuffle; at least until the truce ended. Hudson happened to sail northward, from Amsterdam, just five days before the conclusion of the truce, otherwise, maybe, that movement also would have been affected by the truce.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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