New Netherland Myth Busting

On May 4, 1626 Peter Minuit, the 3rd director of the Dutch West India (DWI) Co., set foot on Manhattan Island. But Minuit was not Dutch – he was a Walloon.

The first settlers in the New Netherland Colony weren’t Dutch. They were Walloons – Belgian and French Protestants.

They were the people the DWI could convince to move to the New Netherland Colony, where there was nothing. Zip, zero, nada. They would have to hack their way through the wilderness, build shelter, clear land, grow crops, all while abiding to the Company’s rules.

But the financial upside was enormous. They stood to make fortunes (the Company would take a cut) from the riches of the New World they sent back to Holland -mostly furs in the beginning, and to the rest of Europe. If they could survive and thrive.

24 families and soldiers came to the Colony in 1624. About 18 families and soldiers came to Albany and established Fort Orange. A small contingent stayed down river, not in Manhattan, but on Governors Island (then known as Nut Island). There was a small outpost of soldiers on Manhattan Island.

Minuit, was sent to New Netherland in 1626. He promptly made a deal with the native tribe, the Lenape, and purchased land on Manhattan for 60 guilders worth of trade goods. Which was a good thing.

Because later that year a deadly skirmish happened in Albany between soldiers and a local tribe in what is now Lincoln Park, at the ravine. Minuit sent a ship up the Hudson, and the Albany families fled south to the newly purchased settlement of New Amsterdam.

Some of the original settlers returned to Albany, but some decided to remain in the Big Apple.

So, to recap. Peter Minuit – not Dutch. First New Netherland settlers – not Dutch. The New Netherland Colony was a venture capitalist enterprise.. in today’s parlance, the Colony was a “start up”. It was one of several Dutch colonies in the New World including the Caribbean and on the coast of South America, and in Asia, and in Africa where the DWI had its slave trade in Ghana and Benin.

The DWI was licensed by the Dutch government, which took a cut too. There was a board of directors and other investors, including foreign shareholders. The first settlers were “early adopters”; the “the beta testers” of New York.

And, according to historians, this explains, in part, why New York State has always been just a bit different. If your goal is make $, you don’t really care about peoples’ religion and ethnicity. It’s divisive and detracts from the ability to accumulate wealth.

So, when Peter Stuyvesant became the Colony’s director the DWI smacked him down when he didn’t want Jews to settle here, and tried to stop Quakers from practicing their religion in peace. They even allowed Catholics, despite the long standing religious wars in Europe between Protestants and Catholics.

Sadly, the DWI’s race for wealth resulted in its aggressive involvement in the slave trade, including the importation of Africans into the Colony (and Albany) as early as 1628. And that legacy remained for centuries, even under English control (which happened when Stuyvesant surrendered the Colony in 1664). The owning of enslaved people became the norm .. if you were Dutch, English, French, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish for almost 2 centuries in New York State.

Enslaved labor became the economic engine for capital formation in New York until slavery was abolished in 1827 in the state.

Julie O’Connor

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

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