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

They Get No Respect; The Walloons of Fort Orange

The first settlers of Albany weren’t Dutch. (I know – makes your head spin, right?)The first settlers in 1624 were French Protestants. The Walloons (a/k/a Huguenots) were driven out of France in 1572 following a wholesale slaughter of Protestants in Paris and other French cities. They migrated to Belgium then to Holland*. In Holland many lived in Leiden and attended the same church, the Vrouwekerk (Lady Church) as the Pilgrims. (The communities were so intertwined that Francis Cooke, one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact, married a Walloon, Hester Mahieu**.)

In 1622 a leader of the Walloon community, Jesse DeForest, secured permission from the Dutch West Indies Co. (DWIC) to send a contingent of families to New Netherland, so that they, like the Puritans, could practice their religion in peace. In exchange they were establish a trading colony, shipping goods to the DWIC in Holland.

In late spring, 1624 about 3 dozen mostly Walloon families arrived in what today is New York City aboard the “Nieu Nederlandt”. Some of the families remained in what is now NYC, other went New Jersey and Connecticut, but the bulk of the group sailed up the Hudson to Albany. There they established Fort Orange, a rude stockade, threw up some huts, and began the work of establishing a settlement. Within 6 months they’d collected thousands of beaver and otter furs to send back to Holland. In June 1625 Sarah Rapalie was born in Fort Orange, daughter of Joris Jansen and Catalina Trico Rapalje, French speaking Walloons – she was the first girl and the second child born in New Netherland.

It’s not clear how long families remained at the Fort, but we do know that after a brutal and fatal skirmish with a local Native American tribe in 1626 (in what we know as Lincoln Park) all women and children were sent down to New Amsterdam. By then, the colony was governed by Peter Minuit (the guy who bought Manhattan, and who was, yes … a Walloon! )

In the years immediately following 1624 additional Walloons migrated to New Netherland, but by about 1630 the Dutch migration began in earnest.

Today there’s almost no vestige of the Walloon presence in Albany, except Peyster and Bancker Streets, named after the Walloon-descended Johannes de Peyster and his wife Anne Bancker .

There’s Defreestville, named after the Walloon De Forests, children of Jesse. In NYC in Battery Park there’s a Walloon Settler’s Monument, dedicated in 1924, the 300th anniversary of the Walloon settlers’ arrival in New York. The most visible commemoration of the Walloon preserved in New York can be found in New Paltz at Historic Huguenot Street, generally considered the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. It includes 7 historic stone houses, a reconstructed 1717 Huguenot church, and a burial ground that dates to the very first settlers.And if you are a stamp collector there were 3 stamps issued in 1924 on the 300th anniversary of the Walloons arriving in America. One shows them landing in Fort Orange.

*National boundaries were very fluid.

**Her Walloon nephew, Philiipe de la Noye (Delano), would emigrate to Plymouth 2 years later in 1622 and become the first ancestor of FDR in America.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

1626: The Massacre in Albany’s Lincoln Park

The City of Albany is proposing to put a sewage treatment facility in the upper section of Lincoln Park. It’s needed to address several long standing problems related in part to the Beaver Creek that runs under the Park; other changes will made be to the Park’s landscape. We thought this was an opportunity to tell you about an incident in that area almost 400 years ago that had a major impact on our history and could have changed the fate of our city.

First you have to imagine how the Park looked in the early 1600s. Today we see mostly manicured lawns, pretty shrubbery and trees and gentle rolling hills. When the Dutch first came here it was a wilderness of fierce and awesome beauty. It was a heavily forested, with a deep ravine running much of the length of the Park, a rapid flowing creek (known alternatively as Buttermilk Creek, then the Beaverkill and today, Beaver Creek) and Buttermilk Falls. (The Falls were described in 1828* as a charming spot with a foaming cascade that plunged 30 feet into a deep gorge.)

Fort Orange, the trading outpost of the Dutch West Indies Co., was established on Broadway (near the existing Holiday Inn Express) in 1624. In late summer 1626 the soldiers from the Fort set out on an expedition to the west, following the creek up to the Falls, into the area of the Park known today as the “Ravine” (in the northwest corner of the Park – near Delaware and Park Avenues), about a mile from the Fort.

It was here they were ambushed by a party of Mohawks (part of the Iroquois Confederacy). The group from the Fort included Daniel Van Crieckenbeek (there are several variant spellings), a number of soldiers (2 of whom were Portuguese) and Mahican Indians (Algonquin tribe). (There’s no indication of the number of Mohawks or Mahicans killed.)

The ambush was revenge against the colonists for siding with the Mahicans and helping them attack the Mohawks. Van Criekenbeek’s decision to join with the Mahicans was a departure from the previous neutrality of the Dutch in Fort Orange that had insured good relations with the Iroquois.

A contemporary account says that the Dutch force was met with a “barrage of arrows”. Van Criekenbeek and several men were killed. 3 men escaped; one man was wounded, but survived by swimming to safety. The most horrific reports of the ambush focus on Tymen Bouwenz. He was said to have been roasted alive and then eaten, with the Mohawks carrying some of his limbs back to their camps as symbols of their victory. (Legend has it that he was singled out by the Mohawk for the great courage he demonstrated as a brave warrior during the ambush.) The 4 men killed were buried near where they fell.

Most settlers (there were about 8 families) in the Fort fled to Manhattan fearing further retribution by the Mohawks; about a dozen soldiers remained behind. When reports of the massacre reached Manhattan Peter Minuit, recently appointed Director of the New Netherland Colony, dispatched Peter Barentsen (a sloop captain with experience among the various tribes in the Colony) to the Fort. The Mohawks explained the massacre was retribution for Dutch interference in the inter-tribal dispute and provided beaver skins as a peace offering, Amity was restored between the Dutch and both tribes. However, it would about another 4 years, in 1630, before re-settlement of families would begin. In the absence of the Barentsen’s intervention, the consequences of the massacre might have been quite different, as well as the history of Albany.

Although Buttermilk Falls is long gone and the wilderness tamed over centuries, a small part of the Ravine remains – the area where the massacre occurred in 1626, near the Falls. Despite significant changes in the 19th century and the building of the Park (it was originally called Beaver Park) in the 1890s it is the last area that remains in a natural state (perhaps kismet). The early Park planners were careful to maintain the Ravine in a natural state.** It’s remained un-marked and forgotten, although it’s the last remaining patch of Albany’s earliest history, and the location of an event that could have forever changed the fate of our city. A path has been beaten through rock outcroppings; there’s a dense cluster of trees and tangled vegetation. The rocky walls mark the Creek’s course; there’s a deep, grated culvert through which you can sometimes here the last surviving sounds of the waterfall.

The current master plan for the upper part of the Park calls for the creation of all sorts of man- made amenities, including improvement of “unusable lands in the ravine by creating the new Reflection and Learning Garden at Lincoln Park”. We’re not quite sure what that means, and clear answer from city officials about the intent for the Ravine has not been forthcoming so far.

Whatever is planned it must include preservation of the Ravine area in which the massacre occurred in a natural state, with appropriate historic maker/signs that tell its history.

Preservation of historic spaces is just as important as preservation of historic buildings. When you know the story of the massacre and walk through the Ravine you feel a visceral connection to our earliest history. It comes alive. As the historian Arthur Schlesinger said, “… history requires atmosphere and context as well as facts”.

The site in the Ravine is an historic battlefield– as much as Gettysburg or Yorktown. It’s part of our Albany history and a cultural resource that requires conservation and a commitment to remembering our past. It’s as important as to our history as the Schuyler Mansion; it’s the earliest evidence of our deep Dutch roots, and the first Dutch settlers in the New World. With a little TLC the Ravine could be maintained its natural state and this small, but critical piece of our history, preserved and marked for future generations. So few remnants of our past remain; this one is a keeper.

2

2

5.JPG

*”The Runaway, Or, The Adventures of Rodney Roverton”, New England Sabbath School Union, 1842

** Indeed, when the Lincoln Park was originally envisioned the idea was to leave the area of the Ravine as a “ramble” (“The Public Parks of the City of Albany”, 1892). We suspect that the intent was to create something similar to the “The Ramble” designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in Central Park in NYC. It’s an area of winding paths a rustic setting, within a natural landscape of rocky outcrops that, although man-made, offers a needed contrast to the rest of the Park.

12.jpg

Thanks to Paula Lemire and the “Battle of Lincoln Park” in her Albany History Blogspot http://albanynyhistory.blogspot.com for much of the material used for this post.