Engaging in a voyage for the Dutch East India Company, in 1609, Henry Hudson was seeking a Northwest Passage to the Indies and the spices and wealth of Asia. Hudson’s attempt was fruitless, but by it, learned that the mouth of Hudson River offered attractive possibilities for settlement, due to the fertility of the land and the possibilities of a profitable fur trade with the Iroquois Indians.
The Dutch East India Company quickly lost interest in this region, after the attempt to find a passage to the Far East had failed. However, other Dutch businessmen quickly sent voyages to explore, what is now New York, to seek out these new business opportunities, which ultimately led to permanent settlement. An important figure was Adrian Block, who sailed to Manhattan in the year 1613 and discovered; the Housatonic and Connecticut Rivers, Rhode Island, and Block Island. In 1614, other Dutch ship owners secured trading posts in the area, leading to the permanent settlement of Albany.
All of the early trading posts were established through the direct efforts of business firms, and not through the initiative of governments.
The Dtuch West India Company
However, in 1621, the Dutch Government chartered the Dutch West India Company to trade and colonize that area. The government granted the company the authority to appoint a governor, and to draw up rules of government, of which the colonists were divided into two classes, free colonists, who received transportation and maintenance for the first two years, who could own homesteads, and the bound farmers, who were required to work on the company farms or the farms of company officials. The first settlements were near, what is today, the New York City area. The first official settlement on Manhattan Island was secured by Peter Minuit. He arrived in 1626 and proceeded to purchase Manhattan from the native Indian chiefs for trinkets worth twenty-four 1933, US dollars.
Whereas the Dutch secured the first colony along the middle Atlantic coast, they failed to establish it as such, a Dutch colony, mainly for three conspicuous reasons; their land policy, their inept leadership, and their reluctance to grant the colonists the kind of self-government, which the English settlers were to enjoy elsewhere along the North Atlantic coast.
Although the Dutch were shrewd businessmen, they failed to capitalize on the greatest of all impulses toward the colonization of America, the desire of the underprivileged people of Europe to secure a piece of land they could call their own. The Dutch firms granted land to settlers under perpetual leases. Not enough settlers bought into their concept, when other colonies were giving plots of land to homestead, the concept on which New England was founded, thus the Dutch have no permanent settlement they can call their own.
The Dutch West India Company, which was overseeing the attempted Dutch colonization, had leadership that put self-interest ahead of public good. According to Washington Irving, they were a quarrelsome, arrogant lot, whom were too friendly with the wrong people, Peter Minuit included. One failed leadership replacement after another of the Dutch West India Company, plus having no good relationships with the Indians of the area, led to their failure to colonize. Finally, Peter Stuyvesant, the tenacious and colorful one-legged Dutch hero, was the right leader, but too late to turn the attempt of Dutch colonization around.
A third basic reason for the breakdown of the Dutch to colonize was the failure of the authorities of the Dutch West India Company to recognize the positive values of granting self-government, and their inveterate hostility to anything that smacked of democracy. The failure to confer broad legislative powers upon the representatives of the people certainly contributed to the gradual crumbling of the colony’s morale.
English Involvement In Dutch Affairs
Meanwhile the English had come to regard that the Dutch were interfering with their expansion and enforcement of trade laws, had outbreaks with the Dutch over the control of New York, starting in 1664. Except for a brief period, the English maintained control of New York, until the evacuation of the British troops in 1783.
But Father Knickerbocker’s cultural grip upon the colony persisted long after Dutch political rule had ended. As much as they could, the Dutchmen in the Hudson Valley had duplicated the life of Holland, building their towns on the models of Amsterdam, establishing Dutch law, the Dutch Reform Church, and the Dutch language, which continued to be spoken for generations after the area became under English rule.
Although the fire of 1776 in lower Manhattan destroyed the Dutch legacy, it could not destroy the Dutch spirit. Even though the Dutch did not make their own, the part of New England that today we call, New York, the Dutch spirit lives on. It is the American Spirit, and it has made this nation great. Hats off to the Dutch!