Have you been to downtown New York, NY? Manhattan Island is a whirl of taxi cabs, skyscrapers, shopping, theaters, hot dog carts, subways, the media, etc. etc. etc. It’s almost frightful to discover the price of real estate there…but once upon a time some Dutch colonists made the best bargain ever. (Except they didn’t know it at the time!)
Introducing our new blog series for October 2015 – “Founding Colonies.” I’m so excited to share some fun stories about the earlier colonial settlers who came to America! The title of the series conveys the idea of the colonies which founded the United States through the American War for Independence, and the history of the actual “I claim and settle this land” as the colonies were established.
Here’s our first story of a colony…New York.
Yes, absolutely. It wasn’t just the English who wanted to colonize the New World. (In fact, the Spanish had a huge head start with their colonizing efforts in Central and South America.)
The Dutch are a people group that we Americans sometimes forget about in our world history studies, but in the 1600 and 1700’s they were a powerful nation. Ever heard of the Dutch East India Company? The trade empire of this European country was amazing and global…and they rivaled the British.
In 1609, Henry Hudson (an Englishman hired by the Dutch) explored the New York coastline and in 1621 the Dutch West India Company had received the rights from the government to colonize the land.
The colonial agent – Peter Minuit – bought Manhattan Island from the local Native Americans. The form of payment? Trinkets, beads, and rum. The sum? $24.
New settlements were built in the wilderness along the Delaware and Hudson Rivers and were called the colony of New Netherland. Fort Orange and New Amsterdam were particularly successful. This colony offered religious freedom to all.
While the Dutch colonized the New York/New Jersey area, to the south in the Delaware area the Swedes were starting their own colony. Fort Christina was the first successful Swedish settlement in America. However, lack of growth made New Sweden an easy target and it was eventually assimilated into New Netherland. No rivals here.
A Faulty System
The Dutch adopted a unique method for bringing people to their colony. Unfortunately, it didn’t allow for much political freedom.
The system is called “the patroon system” and here’s how it worked. The Dutch West India Company granted land to deserving landowners who were called patroons. However, in order to fulfill his part of the bargain the patroon had to bring 50 other people to the New Netherland with him. The patroon became a little dictator, instructing his 50 people how to settle and work his land.
In many ways, the patroon system was a modernized version of the feudal system from the Middle Ages. It didn’t promote much unity and the patroon’s working folk didn’t get a say in the government of their homeland.
New Netherland Becomes New York
The English had also been busy in the New World, and, by the mid-1600’s had well-established colonies to the north and south of New Netherland. Remember the rivalry between the Dutch and English, stemming from trading rights? Something was going to have to give…because that Dutch colony was right in the middle of England’s colonial expansion.
To make New Netherland even more desirable to the English, the Dutch already had a prosperous fur trade started in the area, and they controlled one of the best harbors on the Atlantic coast.
Well, it happened that in 1664, just as conflict between England and Holland was imminent in the European sphere, the king of England (Charles II) gave his brother (the Duke of York) a gift. The present was New Netherlands in America, and, to make the gift even nicer, the king renamed the land New York.
Warships flying the British flag appeared off the coast of New Netherland. Peter Stuyvesant – the Dutch governor and a feisty man with a wooden leg – stamped around preaching that he’d never surrender. However, the residents of New Netherland were more sensible (or more frightened of the British guns) and refused to fight. The Dutch were allowed to stay in their homes and retain their property…and thus, peaceably, New Netherlands became New York.
British Colony to State
For a while in the colonial period, the New Yorkers were frustrated at the lack of representative government. They weren’t keen on the idea of the duke across the pond telling them what to do. It got worse when the Duke of York inherited the throne and became James II. New York seemed stuck as a royal colony, with little say in it’s destiny.
Then came the Glorious Revolution in England (1688). James II fled for his life and King William and Queen Mary were crowned. These new monarchs decided to keep New York’s status as royal colony, but granted that colony the right to have a representative assembly. The colony flourished and prospered.
The American War for Independence brought challenges to the colony. A state government was set up in 1776, and a governor was elected. The representatives from New York in the Continental Congress were the only ones not to vote for independence; the representatives had not been authorized to take that measure and did not feel it was right to overstep the directions they’d been given. However, New York did endorse the Declaration of Independence. About 1/3 of the battles of the war were fought in New York and there was also civilian conflict since many of the settlers retained loyalist sympathies.
After winning independence, America struggled. Alexander Hamilton, a New Yorker, advocated for a stronger government and was one of the state’s representatives at the Constitutional Convention. New York was the 11th state to ratify the constitution.
The huge metropolis of NYC stands on Manhattan Island…the site of the a Dutch settlement in New Netherlands…on land that was once purchased for $24… My, how time changes value!
P.S. So…what would you buy with $24?
(I’m voting for a new book…of course…I’m usually predictable…)