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A Bit of Dutch History
by Donna Speer Ristenbatt

Orange Beads

In the early 1600s, the government in the Netherlands was not strongly centralized. Each of the provinces jealously guarded and preserved its special privileges and customs, a practice which continued for a long time. These differences in dialect and social customs frequently transferred to the Dutch settlements in America, as each settlement reflected the locality in the Netherlands from which each group originated.

It was not until 1648 that the new northern state known as the Netherlands, the Dutch Republic and Holland came into existence through the Treaty of Munster. The government was a loose confederation of seven provinces with statelands called Brabant and Limburg. The statelands were not given provincial status until many years later. The government established by the Treaty of Munster lasted until 1795.

The economic preponderance of the Province of Holland, as compared to other provinces, also helped give unity to the fragmented state. Most of the Dutch financial and commercial enterprises were located in Holland. Holland regularly contributed over half of the National Budget. Because of its financial dominance, Holland had a commanding voice in the conducting of the government, and it was the great importance of Holland that made it commonplace to refer to the whole Netherlands as Holland.

When the Dutch began colonizing, they were not originally too interested in North America. They preferred the more lucrative tropical products and the Baltic trade. Cod season off of the Newfoundland coast coincided with herring season nearer to home. To improve their dominance in the tropical products trade, the Dutch were busy establishing colonies in Brazil. Exploring vessels were sent between 1609 and 1614. It was this period in time when the Dutch became mildly interested in trade with the American Indians and finding a northeast passage through North America to the Orient. In 1609, an Englishman by the name of Henry Hudson was hired by the Dutch to find a northeast passage through the new world to the Orient and India. The voyage of Hudson's ship, The Halve Moon, failed to find such a passage, but Hudson brought back detailed maps and information on the northeast coast of North America.

In North America, the Dutch claimed the land between the Delaware River and the Connecticut River. This territory was 175 miles in width at the coastline, a territory which became known as New Netherland.

In New Netherland, Fort Nassau was established about 1614 on the upper Hudson River at Castle Island, later destroyed by floods in 1617. Fort Orange was built on the west bank of the Hudson River and later became the nucleus for present day Albany. In 1623, officials of the Dutch West Indies Company were permitted to establish and govern the colonies as they saw fit.

Most of the colonists that came to the New Netherlands during the 1623 to 1624 time period were either Protestant refugees, Walloons from the Spanish Netherlands, or Huguenots from France. They settled at Fort Orange, Governor's Island, off of the tip of Manhattan Island and south on the Delaware River. (called South River) It was at this location near what is today Gloucester, NJ, that the next Fort Nassau was later built. It was not long afterward that this fort was abandoned because of conflict with the Quakers. (The Quakers tended to be very clannish and would trade only with their own. If a Quaker were selling something for 100 pounds and a Dutchman were selling the same thing for only 50 pounds, the Quaker would buy from the Quaker. Being the merchants that they were, the Dutch did not find this a very lucrative way to live.)

In 1625, Cryn Fredericksz, the new governor of the New Netherlands, built Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. The settlement which grew up around this fort became known as New Amsterdam or today New York City. Fredericksz was replaced by Governor Verhulst. Governor Verhulst moved the Delaware colonists to Manhattan Island and the colonists at Fort Orange were permitted to stay where they were.

In 1626, Pieter Minuit took over for Verhulst and purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians. In 1635, Fort Nassau on the Delaware River was regarrisoned. A trading post was established in what is now Philadelphia and was abandoned a short time later.

In 1640, persons of limited economic means were encouraged to settle in the New Netherlands by being promised 200 acres of land to each person who went to the colony with 5 souls above 15 years of age. They had to settle the area given within 3 years with 50 people. These patronships, however, were not succesful.

In 1644 and up to 1654, 200 Dutch soldiers and refugees from the failed Brazil colonies arrived in New Amsterdam. Between 1654 and 1659, small groups of boys and girls from poorhouses and orphan asylums were transported to New Netherland. They were under contract to work for a time and given freedom afterward. Be aware that some Dutch were coming to America through the auspices of Sweden during this time.

In 1664, the English began their takeover of New Netherland. Governor Pieter Stuyvesant wanted to fight the English, and defend the Dutch colony. The Domini, or Reformed Dutch Church Pastor, convinced Stuyvesant that the Dutch were outgunned and that it was senseless to fight, and thus Governor Stuyvesant surrendered to the English. Since the Dutch interest was commercial gain, the English did not interfere or restrict Dutch trading.

In the early 1660s, some of the Dutch began moving south into New Jersey, establishing Bergen (now Jersey City), and Hackensack in Bergen County, New Jersey. At this time Bergen, or Jersey City, was also part of Bergen County. The settlements were small and grew along the waterways. The Reformed Dutch Church grew along with the settlements.

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