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As he was returning to Holland from his voyage to America, Hudson was held with his ship at the port of Dartmouth, on the ground that, being an Englishman by birth, he owed his services to his country. He did not again reach the Netherlands, but he forwarded to the Dutch East India Company a report of his discoveries. Immediately the enthusiasm of the Dutch was aroused by the prospect of a lucrative fur trade, as Spain had been set aflame by the first rumors of gold in Mexico and. Peru; and the United Provinces, whose independence had just been acknowledged, thereupon laid claim to the new country.

To a seafaring people like the Dutch, the ocean which lay between them and their American possessions had no terrors, and the twelve-year truce just concluded with Spain set free a vast energy to be applied to commerce and oversea trading. Within a year after the return of the Half Moon, Dutch merchants sent out a second ship, the crew of which included several sailors who had served under Hudson and of which the command was given, in all probability, to Hudson’s former mate. The vessel was soon followed by the Fortune, the Tiger, the Little Fox, and the Nightingale. By this time the procession of vessels plying between the Netherlands Old and New was fairly set in motion. But the aim of all these voyages was commerce rather than colonization. Shiploads of tobacco and furs were demanded by the promoters, and to obtain these traders and not farmers were needed.

The chronicle of these years is melancholy reading for lovers of animals, for never before in the history of the continent was there such a wholesale, organized slaughter of the unoffending creatures of the forest. Beavers were the greatest sufferers. Their skins became a medium of currency, and some of the salaries in the early days of the colony, were paid in so many “beavers.” The manifest of one cargo mentions 7246 beavers, 675 otters, 48 minks, and 36 wildcats.

In establishing this fur trade with the savages, the newcomers primarily required trading-posts guarded by forts. Late in 1614 or early in 1615, therefore, Fort Nassau was planted on a small island a little below the site of Albany. Here the natives brought their peltries and the traders unpacked their stores of glittering trinkets, knives, and various implements of which the Indians had not yet learned the use. In 1617 Fort Nassau was so badly damaged by a freshet that it was allowed to fall into ruin, and later a new stronghold and trading-post known as Fort Orange was set up where the city of Albany now stands.

Meanwhile in 1614 the States-General of the United Netherlands had granted a charter to a company of merchants of the city of Amsterdam, authorizing their vessels “exclusively to visit and navigate” the newly discovered region lying in America between New France and Virginia, now first called New Netherland. This monopoly was limited to four voyages, commencing on the first of January, 1615, or sooner. If any one else traded in this territory, his ship and cargo were liable to confiscation and the owners were subject to a heavy fine to be paid to the New Netherland Company. The Company was chartered for only three years, and at the expiration of the time a renewal of the charter was refused, although the Company was licensed to trade in the territory from year to year.

In 1621 this haphazard system was changed by the granting of a charter which superseded all private agreements and smaller enterprises by the incorporation of “that great armed commercial association,” the Dutch West India Company. By the terms of the charter the States-General engaged to secure to the Company freedom of traffic and navigation within prescribed limits, which included not only the coast and countries of Africa from the Tropic of Cancer to the Cape of Good Hope but also the coasts of America. Within these vague and very extended bounds the Company was empowered to make contracts and alliances, to build forts, to establish government, to advance the peopling of fruitful and unsettled parts, and to “do all that the service of those countries and the profit and increase of trade shall require.”

For these services the States-General agreed to grant a subsidy of a million guilders, or about half a million dollars, “provided that we with half the aforesaid million of guilders, shall receive and bear profit and risk in the same manner as the other members of this Company.” In case of war, which was far from improbable at this time, when the twelve years’ truce with Spain was at an end, the Company was to be assisted, if the situation of the country would in any wise admit of it, “with sixteen warships and four yachts, fully armed and equipped, properly mounted, and provided in all respects both with brass and other cannon and a proper quantity of ammunition, together with double suits of running and standing rigging, sails, cables, anchors, and other things thereto belonging, such as are proper to be used in all great expeditions.” These ships were to be manned, victualed, and maintained at the expense of the Company, which in its turn was to contribute and maintain sixteen like ships of war and four yachts.

The object of forming this great company with almost unlimited power was twofold, at once political and commercial. Its creators planned the summoning of additional military resources to confront the hostile power of Spain and also the more thorough colonization and development of New Netherland. In these purposes they were giving expression to the motto of the House of Nassau: “I will maintain.”

Two years elapsed between the promulgation of the charter and the first active operations of the West India Company; but throughout this period the air was electric with plans for occupying and settling the new land beyond the sea. Finally in March, 1623, the ship Nieu Nederlandt sailed for the colony whose name it bore, under the command of Cornelis Jacobsen May, of Hoorn, the first Director-General. With him embarked some thirty families of Walloons, who were descendants of Protestant refugees from the southern provinces of the Netherlands, which, being in general attached to the Roman Catholic Church, had declined to join the confederation of northern provinces in 1579. Sturdy and industrious artisans of vigorous Protestant stock, the Walloons were a valuable element in the colonization of New Netherland. After a two months’ voyage the ship Nieu Nederlandt reached the mouth of the Hudson, then called the Mauritius in honor of the Stadholder, Prince Maurice, and the leaders began at once to distribute settlers with a view to covering as much country as was defensible. Some were left in Manhattan, several families were sent to the South River, now the Delaware, others to Fresh River, later called the Connecticut, and others to the western shore of Long Island. The remaining colonists, led by Adriaen Joris, voyaged up the length of the Mauritius, landed at Fort Orange, and made their home there. Thus the era of settlement as distinguished from trade had begun.

The description of the first settlers at Wiltwyck, on the western shore of the great river, may be applied to all the pioneer Dutch colonists. “Most of them could neither read nor write. They were a wild, uncouth, rough, and most of the time a drunken crowd. They lived in small log huts, thatched with straw. They wore rough clothes, and in the winter were dressed in skins. They subsisted on a little corn, game, and fish. They were afraid of neither man, God, nor the Devil. They were laying deep the foundation of the Empire State.”1

The costume of the wife of a typical settler usually consisted of a single garment, reaching from neck to ankles. In the summer time she went bareheaded and barefooted. She was rough, coarse, ignorant, uncultivated. She helped her husband to build their log hut, to plant his grain, and to gather his crops. If Indians appeared in her husband’s absence, she grasped the rifle, gathered her children about her, and with a dauntless courage defended them even unto death. This may not be a romantic presentation of the forefathers and foremothers of the State, but it bears the marks of truth and shows us a stalwart race strong to hold their own in the struggle for existence and in the establishment of a permanent community.

From the time of the founding of settlements, outward-bound ships from the Netherlands brought supplies for the colonists and carried back cargoes of furs, tobacco, and maize. In April, 1625, there was shipped to the new settlements a valuable load made up of one hundred and three head of live stock — stallions, mares, bulls, and cows — besides hogs and sheep, all distributed in two ships with a third vessel as convoy. The chronicler, Nicholaes Janszoon Van Wassenaer, gives a detailed account of their disposal which illustrates the traditional Dutch orderliness and cleanliness. He tells us that each animal had its own stall, and that the floor of each stall was covered with three feet of sand, which served as ballast for the ship. Each animal also had its respective servant, who knew what his reward was to be if he delivered his charge alive. Beneath the cattle-deck were stowed three hundred tuns of fresh water, which was pumped up for the live stock. In addition to the load of cattle, the ship carried agricultural implements and “all furniture proper for the dairy,” as well as a number of settlers.

The year 1625 marked an important event, the birth of a little daughter in the household of Jan Joris Rapaelje, the “first-born Christian daughter in New Netherland.” Her advent was followed by the appearance of a steadily increasing group of native citizens, and Dutch cradles multiplied in the cabins of the various settlements from Fort Orange to New Amsterdam. The latter place was established as a fortified post and the seat of government for the colony in 1626 by Peter Minuit, the third Director-General, who in this year purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians.

The colony was now thriving, with the whole settlement “bravely advanced” and grain growing as high as a man. But across this bright picture fell the dark shadow of negro slavery, which, it is said, the Dutch were the first to introduce upon the mainland north of Virginia in 1625 or 1626.

Among the first slaves were Simon Congo, Anthony Portuguese, John Francisco, Paul d’Angola — names evidently drawn from their native countries and seven others. Two years later came three slave women. In a letter dated August 11, 1628, and addressed to his “Kind Friend and Well Beloved Brother in Christ the Reverend, learned and pious Mr. Adrianus Smoutius,” we learn with regret that Domine Michaelius, having two small motherless daughters, finds himself much hindered and distressed because he can find no competent maid servants “and the Angola slave women are thievish, lazy, and useless trash.”

Let us leave it to those who have the heart and the nerves to dwell upon the horrors of the middle passage and the sufferings of the poor negroes as set down in the log-books of the slavers, the St. John and the Arms of Amsterdam. It is comforting to the more soft-hearted of us to feel that after reaching the shores of New Netherland, the blacks were treated in the main with humanity. The negro slave was of course a chattel, but his fate was not without hope. Several negroes with their wives were manumitted on the ground of long and faithful service. They received a grant of land; but they were obliged to pay for it annually twenty-two and a half bushels of corn, wheat, pease, or beans, and a hog worth eight dollars in modern currency. If they failed in this payment they lost their recently acquired liberty and returned to the status of slaves. Meanwhile, their children, already born or yet to be born, remained under obligation to serve the Company.

Apparently the Dutch were conscious of no sense of wrong-doing in the importation of the blacks. A chief justice of the King’s Bench in England expressed the opinion that it was right that pagans should be slaves to Christians, because the former were bondsmen of Satan while the latter were servants of God. Even this casuist, however, found difficulty in explaining why it was just that one born of free and Christian parents should remain enslaved. But granting that the problems which the settlers were creating in these early days were bound to cause much trouble later both to themselves and to the whole country, there is no doubt that slave labor contributed to the advancement of agriculture and the other enterprises of the colony. Free labor was scarce and expensive, owing both to the cost of importing it from Europe and to the allurements of the fur trade, which drew off the boer-knecht from farming. Slave labor was therefore of the highest value in exploiting the resources of the new country.

These resources were indeed abundant. The climate was temperate, with a long season of crops and harvests. Grape-vines produced an abundant supply of wines. The forests contained a vast variety of animals. Innumerable birds made the wilderness vocal. Turkeys and wild fowl offered a variety of food. The rivers produced fish of every kind and oysters which the letters of the colonists describe as a foot long, though this is somewhat staggering to the credulity of a later age. De Vries, one of the patroons, or proprietors, whose imagination was certainly of a lively type, tells us that he had seen a New Netherlander kill eighty-four thrushes or maize-birds at one shot. He adds that he has noticed crabs of excellent flavor on the flat shores of the bay. “Their claws,” he says naïvely, “are of the color of our Prince’s flag, orange, white and blue, so that the crabs show clearly enough that we ought to people the country and that it belongs to us.” When the very crabs thus beckoned to empire, how could the Netherlanders fail to respond to their invitation?

The newly discovered river soon began to be alive with sail, high-pooped vessels from over sea, and smaller vlie booten (Anglicized into “flyboats”), which plied between New Amsterdam and Fort Orange, loaded with supplies and household goods. Tying the prow of his boat to a tree at the water’s edge, the enterprising skipper turned pedler and opened his packs of beguiling wares for the housewife at the farm beside the river. Together with the goods in his pack, he doubtless also opened his budget of news from the other settlements and told the farmer’s wife how the houses about the fort at Manhattan had increased to thirty, how the new Director was strengthening the fort, and how all promised well for the future of New Netherland.

For the understanding of these folk, who, with their descendants, have left an indelible impression on New York as we know it today, we must leave the thread of narrative in America, abandon the sequence of dates, and turn back to the Holland of some years earlier. Remembering that those who cross the sea change their skies but not their hearts, we may be sure that the same qualities which marked the inhabitants of the Netherlands showed themselves in the emigrants to the colony on the banks of the Mauritius.

When the truce with Spain was announced, a few months before Hudson set sail for America, it was celebrated throughout Holland by the ringing of bells, the discharge of artillery, the illumination of the houses, and the singing of hymns of thanksgiving in all the churches. The devout people knelt in every cathedral and village Kerk to thank their God that the period of butchery and persecution was over. But no sooner had the joy-bells ceased ringing and the illuminations faded than the King of Spain began plotting to regain by diplomacy what he had been unable to hold by force. The Dutch, however, showed themselves as keenly alive as the Spanish to the value of treaties and alliances. They met cunning with caution, as they had met tyranny with defiance, and at last, as the end of the truce drew near, they flung into the impending conflict the weight of the Dutch West India Company. They were shrewd and sincere people, ready to try all things by the test of practical experience. One of their great statesmen at this period described his fellow-countrymen as having neither the wish nor the skill to deceive others, but on the other hand as not being easy to be deceived themselves.

Motley says of the Dutch Republic that “it had courage, enterprise, intelligence, faith in itself, the instinct of self-government and sell-help,  hatred of tyranny, the disposition to domineer, aggressiveness, greediness, inquisitiveness, insolence, the love of science, of liberty, and of money.” As the state is only a sum of component parts, its qualities must be those of its citizens, and of these citizens our colonists were undoubtedly typical. We may therefore accept this description as picturing their mental and spiritual qualities in the pioneer days of their venture in the New World.


1 See the monograph by Augustus H. Van Buren in the Proceedings of the New York Historical Society, vol. xi, p. 133.

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