Throughout the first half of the seventeenth century, the powerful Dutch West India Company sought to establish a permanent Dutch presence in what is now New York State.
“Never have I beheld such a rich and pleasant land!” wrote Henry Hudson during his 1609 voyage through the Valley that would one day bear his name. He took particular note of the abundance of beavers along the shores, and it was this that prompted the Dutch to settle along what they called the Groote Rivier, or Great River.
In 1621, the Dutch West India Company was granted a trade monopoly in the Caribbean, and given control over Brazil, North America, and the West African slave trade. Having established trading posts throughout its territory, the company became integral to Dutch colonization of the Americas, including New Netherland, which comprised parts of present-day New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey.
Fort Orange and New Amsterdam Are Established
Still, the company’s main focus in New Netherland was fur-trading, not settlement. One reason for this was the difficulty of enticing Dutch people to leave their affluent homeland. Yet in 1623 thirty Walloon (French-speaking Protestant) families agreed to settle in North America. Most of them traveled 136 miles up the Hudson River, establishing Fort Orange on the west bank. However, a small number chose to remain on Nut Island (present-day Governor’s Island) in Upper New York Bay. The Nut Islanders later decamped to the southern tip of Manhattan Island, establishing a trading center they would call New Amsterdam.
Peter Minuit, director of the Dutch West India Company, purchased Manhattan Island from the Lenape Indians for sixty guilders, and New Amsterdam became the central Dutch settlement in North America. By 1626, the busy fur trading post at the mouth of the Hudson consisted of a mill, a counting house, thirty residences, and a fort.
Patroonships Entice New Settlers
The board of the Dutch West India Company wanted to see similarly thriving settlements throughout the Hudson River Valley. They came to believe that farmers, not fur traders, held the key to stable, permanent colonization. Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a company director, developed a plan to grant large estates to men who would be called patroons. The patroons would then pay agricultural workers to emigrate from Holland and settle on their estates. Ideally, a patroon would be able to obtain fifty adults to work his land within a period of four years.
In June 1629, the Dutch West India Company approved the patroonship plan, granting to six patroons tracts of land extending for sixteen miles along one shore of the river, or for eight miles on both shores. Each patroon was now responsible for the administration of law and order on his estate, and from his tenants he would receive payment in grains, produce, and livestock, as well as 500 guilders per year.
Among the patroonships, Rensselaerwyck was the largest and most successful. Other prosperous estates included Van Cortland Manor in present-day Westchester County, and Livingston Manor in present-day Columbia County. Modern New Yorkers might be familiar with the names Thomas Pell, Caleb Heathcote, and James Lloyd, but they might not be aware that each of these men were patroons—of Pelham, Scarsdale, and Lloyd Neck, respectively.
The Birth of Albany and New York City
Though his estate grew to encompass much of the land around Fort Orange, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer never actually set foot there. Instead, his overseer, Bastiaen Jansz Krol, ran the operation on the east side of the Hudson. Tensions arose in 1652 when he attempted to extend his reach to the west shore trading village of Beverwyck, prompting Peter Stuyvesant—New Netherland’s pugnacious, one-legged governor—to sail north from New Amsterdam to mediate.
Stuyvesant had all of those involved swear a new oath of allegiance to the Dutch West India Company, and granted the village of Beverwyck an independent municipal charter. Beverwyck was to thrive and grow into present-day Albany, the capital of New York State. (When Albany celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2002, it was actually commemorating the founding of Beverwyck.)
Stuyvesant granted a similar charter to New Amsterdam in February 1653. From then on, the two cities flourished as centers of trade, but the stretch of the Hudson River Valley between them remained sparsely populated until the English takeover of New Netherland in the 1660’s.
- Lankevich, George J. River of Dreams: The Hudson Valley in Historic Postcards. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006. Print.
- “America’s Dutch Heritage.” newnetherland.org. Web