The History of New York State
Book II, Chapter II
Part I

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



The Rise and Fall of Dutch Rule.

The government decided upon for the colony of New Netherland was modeled largely on the municipal government of the republic at home. It had at the head of it a chief executive or director-general, and he was to be advised by a council of five members, who were also invested with judiciary powers and empowered to sit as a court for the trial of offenses. The authority of the council in the meting out of punishment for offenses, however, did not go beyond the imposition of a fine, and all capital cases had to be transferred to the courts of the mother country. There was also to be a secretary of the council, who appears to have been, of all the officials on the council, the one to whom a legal education was necessary, for there was no requirement that any of the five members of the council should have any intimate acquaintance with the law. There was also attached to the government a schout, or schoutifiscaal, by which was meant a treasurer. In this the likeness to the Dutch municipal system was maintained. The Dutch city from an early date had as its leading executive a schout, whose office resembled that of what we would call a sheriff. The burgomasters and schepens constituted the legislative and judiciary branches; and the schepens were always of an uneven number., amounting to five, seven, nine, or more, according to the size of the town.

The two governors that antedated the permanent establishment of colonial government in New Netherland were directed to make, not the valley at the mouth of the Hudson, but the valley at the mouth of the Delaware, the seat of their headquarters. Captain May was succeeded after only one year of service by William Verhulst, whose term of governorship was one year also. An island in the Delaware called Verhulsten Island would seen to hark back to the period of his rule and would seem to indicate that he, too, had been directed to plant the seat of the government in the neighborhood of what is now Philadelphia. The reports which May and Verhulst carried back to the Netherlands seem to have made it clear that the time was opportune for the establishment of a regular government and that the welfare of the settlers and the promotion of commerce would be benefited thereby. When the seat of government was next chosen there seems to have been no hesitation in choosing Manhattan and the valley of the Hudson as the central locality in the administration of the province.

It is to be noted that New York, destined to become the commercial metropolis of the western half of the world, had its origin in the pursuit of commerce. None of the emigrants from the Netherlands had left that land primarily in the search for polotical freedom, for the country had been established as a republic and a great deal of the oppression that existed in other land had been eliminated. The republic had also been founded largely as a protest against religious as well as foreign persecution, and consistently with that protest it had become an asylum for those who had suffered for conscience sake in other lands. It has been said that adventure brought men to Virginia, politics and religion to New England, and philanthropy to Georgia; but that New York was founded for trade and for nothing else. The early trading voyages thus came naturally to be succeeded by a permanent colonization, which grew important enough to be organized into a governmental system. But the ruling motive of the West India Company was the motive of the merchant rather than that of the politician, to seek financial return from the settlement rather than to create a new province for the social and political advancement of new generations.

Minuit at Manhattan--the first director-general appointed by the West India Company was peter Minuit. He embarked on December 19, 1625, in the ship called the "Sea-Mew," but delayed by ice in the harbor of the Y, the vessel was not able to clear the Texel Channel till January 9. It arrived on May 4, 1626, at Manhattan island. On board the ship with him came the council--Peter Bylvelt, Jacob Elbertsen Wissinck, John Jansen Brouwer, Simon Dircksen Pos, and Reynert Harmensen. The secretary of the council first met with is Isaac de Rasieres, who, however, did not come with the "Sea-Mew," but arrived a couple of months after it. The schout-fiscaal was John Lampe. Peter Minuit's family appears to have been located at Wesel, a town in the Rhineland, near the borders of the Netherlands, at the time of his birth, and for that reason the family is supposed by some to be of German origin. However, the name of the family has a Dutch aspect, being old Hollandese for the word "minute." Wesel had been one of the places to which Hollanders found it easy to seek asylum during the troubles that prevailed in the Netherlands. Thus, in the year 1568, the date of the beginning of the Eighty Years' War, the republic had gained strength and freedom, it seems quite likely that many of the exited Dutchmen, becoming acclimatized, remained as residents of the town. The matter is, however, of small moment, since it is perfectly evident that the people of the Holland-German border must have been of kindred stock, the Dutch themselves being the ancient kindred of the Germans, and Dutch a German dialect which attained a classic vogue from the fact that the Netherlands became a separate kingdom.

It is well, therefore, to keep in mind that we are using merely conventional meanings, when we say that Peter Minuit may have been of Dutch parentage though born at Wesel in Rhenish Prussia. In the church composed of the descendants of the Dutch emigrants in that region we learn from the letter of the first pastor on Manhattan Island that Minuit was a deacon. How he came to be selected by the Dutch West India Company for their first director-general doe not appear. I t would appear that he had already shown competence in the service of the West India Company, which with the East India Company had become a training school for energetic young men with ability who were not afraid of responsibility and who were willing to encounter the perils of the time in order to get around and see something of the world. The stories of the navigators who were then beginning to cover the greater part of the earth's surface came as a revelation and an inspiration not merely to the people who lived on the seacoast, but in the river valleys of the interior of Europe. The vessel of that day did not displace much water. The ships that found their way to America and back were of a displacement that would easily permit them to navigate the Rhine and the larger rivers of Europe. We can imagine the excitement of the youth along the river banks when they saw the vessels coming up the river that were pointed out as the very boats that had made the incredible voyage across the dread Atlantic. Wesel was one of the towns on these banks and it was doubtless the first glimpse of such a vessel and the talk with its sailors that turned the thoughts of the young man to the continent of which he was to be one of the first heads of government.

Purchase of Manhattan Island--AS there were no proper dwellings on Manhattan Island to accommodate the director-general, the members of the council and the subordinate officers, they remained for a time on the "Sea-Mew," while she remained anchored at the shore line. One of the first acts of the new officials was to purchase the land from the aborigines willing to part with it. The fact is that an extent of territory which Minuit and his officers estimated at 11,000 morgens, or more then 22,000 acres, was definitely transferred from the possession of the ancient inhabitants who dwelt upon it, to the possession of the newcomers from Europe, being so ceded in due form, at least in the view of the purchasers, the native owners probably looking at the affair differently, for they were unfamiliar with the European idea of private ownership of land. Sixty guilders, of a value of $24, was the sum paid the Indians for the island of Manhattan. The price was not paid in silver and gold, which the red men could have no means of appreciating. Glittering beads and baubles, brightly colored cloths, glittering trinkets of small value brought from the ship nearby in chests, and opened on the shore before the eager eyes of the aborigines, were what worked the miracle. The Dutch archives still contain memoranda bearing on the transaction.

On July 27, 1626, a vessel named "The Arms of Amsterdam," arrived at Manhattan Island. She bore as passengers Isaac de Rasieres, the secretary of the colonial government, and had for her captain Adriaen Joris, who in 1623 accompanied Captain May, and was left in charge of the colony of Fort Orange, the present site of Albany. On September 23 the vessel was ready to sail again for the home country with a valuable cargo of furs and logs of timber, soon to be tested in Holland for its shipbuilding qualities. But more than that she carried the official announcement of the purchase of Manhattan Island, addressed tot he "Assembly of the XIX," of the West India Company, in session at Amsterdam, for the first six years of the charter were not yet passed. The nineteenth member, representing the States-General at this session, was Peter Jans Schaghen, councilor and magistrate of the city of Alkmaar, in north Holland, and deputy in the States-General from the States of Holland and West Friesland. While in duty bound to report the proceedings of the Assembly of XIX to the national body that had delegated him,, it seems scarcely likely that after adjournment he would render an account of its affairs in person at a regular session of the States-General, but on November 4, 1626, so interesting an event occurred that he did not wait to report it in person. "The Arms of Amsterdam," had arrived from New Netherland, and the announcement of the purchase had been presented in the Assembly. Thereupon, on the next day, Schagen addressed to the States-General in session at The Hague, the following letter:


Here arrived yesterday the ship[ "The Arms of Amsterdam," which sailed from New Netherland out of the Mauritius River on September 23; they report that our people there are of good courage and live peaceably. Their women, also, have borne children there, and they have bought the island Manhattan from the wild men for the value of sixty guilders, is 11,000 morgens in extent. They sowed all their grain in the middle of May, and harvested it in the middle of August. Thereof being samples of summer grain, such as wheat, rye, barley, buckwheat, canary seed, small beans, and flax. The cargo of the aforesaid ship is: 7,246 beaver skins, 178-1/2 otter skins, 48 mind skins, 36 wild-car (lynx ) skins, 33 minks, 34 rat skins. Many logs of oak and nut-wood. Herewith be ye High Mighty Sirs, commended to the Almighty's grace, In Amsterdam, November 5, AO, 1626.

Your High Might.'s Obedient,

P. Schaghen

The letter was addressed to "Messieurs the States-General, in the Hague,' and the original copy is preserved among the documents of the kingdom of the Netherlands. From the letter and the circumstances surrounding it, it would appear that the colonists who accompanied the director lost no time in doing what they could to cultivate the land which had come into their possession. The vessel arrived at Manhattan on May 4, and in the middle of the same month grain of different kinds was already in the ground. It is to be presumed that the early settlers had already tried their hand at tentative farming and that the knowledge that the land was good and would repay labor had already come tot he settlers. A military engineer, Kryn Fredericke by name, accompanied the expedition, and under his direction labor was at once begun on the foundations of a regular fort. A site was selected which would command the entrance of both the Mauritius, or North and the East rivers. The shore line of Manhattan later included the park of the Battery; but in those days before the construction of any kind had been imposed on the water's edge the tides of the harbor beat on the western wall along the line of State Street. the walls of the fort were constructed at first of earth and faced with sods; in the year 1628 it was still in process of construction, and at that date the walls were fortified with masonry work of good quarry stone, as a letter by the Rev. Jonas Michaelius informs us. In the later history of the fort the space within, which was large, was built upon by several edifices, which included a church, and while it was in the course of erection a number of structures were put up outside the lines of the fort. Among these structures was a stone warehouse for the storing of the company's goods and there was also a mill to which the motive power was supplied by a horse. The upper story of the mill was used for purposes of worship, and was supplied with rude benches and a pulpit or desk. As time went on small houses grew up along side the wall o the fort, built in the main of boards or logs, and covered on the roof and sides with bark or thatch. These lined the bank of the North River, a family to a cabin. The roofs of thatch and bark, dried and heated by the summer sun, came almost as tinder, and there were numerous fires. Before 1628 the settlement suffered from a general conflagration, and the settlers were condemned to see their small homes go up in smoke, doing what they could to save papers and effects of value.

An episode of this time was a mission sent from Manhattan Island, or Fort Amsterdam, to Plymouth Colony. It will be remembered that the English Puritans in Leyden had it in mind at one time to emigrate from Holland, where they had taken refuge from persecution at home, to New Netherland and had south the aid and protection of the Dutch government in the passage across. Eventually this company of English people aiming at the Hudson River had found their way to what they called Plymouth. It would seem, however, that once in their new home and encountering the hardships of the early years, they imagined that things might be better farther south and still had a hankering after the Hudson Valley that was their early destination. In spite, therefore, of the feelings of gratitude felt towards the Dutchmen who had given them a home when their own country thrust them out, they could not refrain from calling in question the title of the West India Company to regions that were desired by the English government as part of /Virginia and claimed as England's property on the ground of the explorations of Giovanni Caboto more than a century before. One or two communications by letter that passed between Governor Bradford and Director-General Minuit proved unsatisfactory, and at Bradford,s request a responsible number of the government was dispatched to Plymouth for a personal conference. The delegate selected was de Rasieres, secretary to the council at New Amsterdam. He had arrived in July, 1626, in the ship "The Arms of Amsterdam," which in September returned to Holland with the news of the purchase of Manhattan. In the spring of 1627 he set out on this mission, attended by a party of soldiers, with a trumpeter as a guard of honor. He embarked in the good ship, "Nassau," which threaded its course safely through the treacherous Hellegat, and the Sound, and landed its passengers and the goods intended for presents and traffic at the head of Buzzard's Bay. A boat was sent from Plymouth as far as it would go up the creek running into the peninsula from Cape Cod Bay, and in it de Rasieres took passage. Under the gay sound of trumpet and drum the secretary made his entry among the English settlers. Pourparlers were carried on in a friendly spirit and an entente cordiale established. In those days the Dutch, as in many days since, could teach these less sophisticated English, and one result of the visit of de Rasieres was the adoption by the Plymouth settlers of wampum or beads, as currency, in negotiating with the Indians, a medium which had long before come into vogue among the Dutch traders as a medium of exchange with the aborigines.

Government and Church--As time went on the organization of government, and society in New England became more closely knitted and enlarged, taking as its model always as was natural the system of society of the home country. They were direct, hard-thinking men, with a lively sense of the value of material comforts, and conveniences, and they lived in the day and the present. They were, therefore, willing to begin in a modest way, whatever the department to which they put their hand. Thus, their government was modeled on the municipal government rather than the national government of their own country, and it was the institutions of the town and city, rather then of the nation and the country, that they held before their eyes when they set about creating new institutions in the new land to which they had fallen the heirs. Like all the people of the period in Europe, a period of fierce theological controversy, the church was one of the foremost institutions in their mind. The church organization in the New Netherlands, it is therefore interesting to note, was only two years behind the establishment of the colonial government itself. Religious worship was provided for, however, at the very beginning. In the company of the director-general when he arrived there were two lay readers, who were also known as krankenbesoekers, or visitors of the sick; their names, Sebastian Jansen Crol and Jan Huyck or Huyghen, the brother-in-law of Peter Minuit. These two men conducted services in the upper loft of the horse-mill already mentioned, leading the singing, reading from the creed and the commandments, and occasionally a sermon from some printed volume. Then, in 1628, there arrived the Rev. Jonas Michiels, who latinized his surname into Michaelius. He was a graduate of Leyden University, ordained to the ministry in 1600, and for several years had been pastor of the churches of Nieubokswonde, and Hem, in the Classis of Enkhuizem, North Holland. He had had considerable experience of colonial life before landing on Manhattan. In 1624 he was sent out to the recently conquered city of San Salvador, in Brazil. In 1625 he was located on the cost of Africa, in Guinea, being chaplain of the fort erected by the West India company there. In 1627 he was back in the Netherlands. It appeared high time, however, that a minister should be sent out to Fort Amsterdam, for it was the practice of both the East Indian and the West India companies to provide each of their colonies with a minister and a schoolmaster. Accordingly, the directors of the company asked Mr. Michiels to take the responsibility of that office in their settlement on the Hudson. He sailed from Amsterdam on January 24, 1628, and arrived on April 7. His wife and three children accompanied him, two of them girls of tender age. Neither the voyage nor the environment agreed with Mrs. Michiels, it appears, and she died about seven weeks after arrival

The clergyman was heartily welcomed by the settlers, and he at once set about organizing a church.. Crol having gone to Fort Orange, Director-General Minuit, who had been a deacon in the Dutch church at Wesel, and his brother-in-law Huyghen, who had been a elder of the Walloon church there, were duly elected elders of the church of Fort Amsterdam. The proper ritual was gone through in installing these men into their offices and their work, and after the ceremony the Lord's Supper was celebrated, and several people were received into the church by certificates of membership from churches in the mother country. A few who had forgotten or lost their papers were received on the testimony of other that they were members, the unsettled conditions natural to a new country providing enough excuses to dispense with the strict observance of the customary formalities. Thus 50 communicants are said to have partaken and they constituted the firs regularly organized church society on Manhattan. This church society developed eventually into the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of New York City. the first church in the New Netherland was included and enrolled among the churches of the Classis of Amsterdam. It is to be noted that the Collegiate Reformed Church was more democratic in its beginnings than it afterwards became. For while the Consistory or Board of Officers became, in course of time, a self-electing body, allowing no vote to the congregation, the elders in the early days were chosen by the people. This was a settled policy clearly, for Pastor Michiels, we learn, was "intending the coming year, if the Lord permit, to let one of them retire, and to choose another in his place, from the double number first lawfully proposed to the congregation." As a rule the pastor preached in Dutch. Occasionally he would select the French tongue as the medium of his discourse for the convenience of the Walloon element in the congregation, though the years that most of them had spent in the Netherlands had made them familiar with the language of that country.

Life at Fort Amsterdam--If we could have placed ourselves at that early period upon some neighboring height we would have seen before us the little fort, only partially finished, remarks Daniel Van Pelt:

Near it on the east rose the modest but substantial Company's Winckel, or storehouse. Still further east (perhaps somewhere on Mill Street, now South William) stood the mill that was also a church. Ere long the hose-mill for grinding corn was supplemented by a windmill for sawing wood, and it may have stood on the rise of ground which runs up Broadway from bowling Green. The little cabins or houses of the settlers were scattered in irregular groups along these larger structures; and even thus early the record of New York's conflagrations had begun. One winter's night, when the fierce cold had tempted a householder to pile on the logs and urge them to too fell a blaze, the puny tinderbox of boards and bark had taken fire and sent the flames through the whole group of dwellings. all the settlers, however, did not live under the shadow of the fort. Some of the Walloons came in on Sundays from quite a distance, perhaps from Staten Island and the Wallabout, perhaps even as early as this from Harlem Plains or from beyond the Harlem River. it cannot be said that living was luxurious at Fort Amsterdam. The widowed dominie could obtain no maid servants to attend to his two little daughters, and his boy servant was of so little use to him that he lent him to the farmers, who were short of hands. Butter and milk could be obtained only at a high figure, for they were scarcely sufficient to supply the needs of the farmers' families themselves. Thus most of the food wherewith the denizens of Manhattan had to content themselves was hard and stale, doled out often like rations on shipboard and in insufficient quantity, barley, dried codfish--behold the bill of fare for the precursors of the patrons of Delmonico and Sherry and Taylor. The land seemed to be all that could be desired. It yielded abundant harvest from year to year; but the soil needed much tilling and clearing and manuring. The climate was marked hen as now with sudden changes of temperature, he sun being very hot as compared with Holland, and the winters far more severe and quite as long. At that season everybody clad themselves in rough skins and wood wine was plentiful enough to prevent suffering. But the farmers were handicapped by the lack of horses and cattle. Laborers, too, were few, and often labor was difficult because of insufficient or unwholesome food. These difficulties continued longer then they might, perhaps, because the council were men of little experience in public affairs, and had no intelligent view of the situation and of its remedies. There seems to have been also a lack of definite regulations on the part of the West India company as to what was to be done in the emergencies likely to arise in so wild a region. By the side of agriculture, industry and manufacture, more of a piece with our city's doings in these later days, seem also to have made a fair beginning. Wood was cut in such abundance that there were not ships enough to carry it away and a windmill was erected to cut it into timber. Brickyards were established, but the brick baked was of a poor quality. Oyster shells were burned for lime, and kilns for the purpose sent up their smoky volumes. The manufacture of potash was attempted, but it did not work well. Stone was quarried for the fort. And the briny water of the surrounding bays and rivers was exposed in pans to the excessive heat of the sun for making of salt.

A curious picture is afforded of the intercourse of the settlers with the natives. They were not spoken of in complimentary terms by dominie Michiels, although the point of view of the theologian may have made their conspicuous deficiencies so tempting a confirmation of the Calvinistic dogma of total depravity that he was led to insist on evidence of it a little beyond the facts. The interchange of ideas between the races must have been rather defective, for the Indians did not seem anxious to have the new comers learn their language. They would half utter their words or break their sentences in two, and call a dozen things by the same name. Thus often a Dutchman would imagine he had learned the language pretty well, when to his surprise he would be as much at a loss to comprehend his savage neighbor as before he began. So, in the end, the settlers were content to communicate with the Indians only on the subject of trade, where signs with the fingers did more than words. Perhaps, the Indians were not so stupid after all, and had their purpose in making it impossible for stranger to understand what they were saying to each other.


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

HTML by Debbie Axtman

You are the Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site™ Since September 5, 2004.


[Index][Book Index][NY][AHGP]