The Dutch colony of New Netherland, between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers, was the beginning of colonization in the New York-New Jersey region.
In 1609, the Dutch East India Company engaged the English navigator Henry Hudson to sail to the Americas for a route to the Indies outside Spanish control. Like explorers before him, Hudson, on the Half Moon, traveled west looking for the Northwest Passage through North America. On September 10, he sailed up the river that now bears his name to Albany. The desired passage was not found, but Hudson's exploration gave the Dutch claim to lands in North America to found New Netherland. Dutch settlement progressed slowly as Dutch nationals, without political, economic, or religious duress at home, were not eager to travel unchartered waters for a virtual wilderness.
In 1621, the Estates-General of the Netherlands founded the Dutch West India Company to develop its American claims, hoping to repeat its success with the Dutch East India Company. Its purpose was to open trade in North and South America, build forts, maintain troops, and challenge Spanish trading in the West Indies. Three years later, the Dutch sent Cornelius J. May to colonize its land claims on both sides of the Hudson River. After 1624, the Dutch boasted the building of forts at Manhattan Island, Fort Orange (Albany) and Long Island, and Fort Nassau on the Delaware River. It also developed a settlement on the western shores of the Hudson River that became early Pavonia and Bergen Township, the beginnings of present-day Jersey City and Hoboken
Peter Minuit, best known for purchasing Manhattan from the Manahatta Native Americans, became the director-general of New Netherland in 1626. According to the Dutch West India Company, settlers were considered servants of the company and subject to the directors of the colony. They were expected to be members of the Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) church. However, an atmosphere of religious freedom did prevail and permitted settlement by Puritans, Pilgrims, Anglicans, Quakers, Jews, and Lutherans into the colony.
General satisfaction with conditions at home in The Netherlands continued to moderate the flow of immigrants to the colony. Early settlers to the colony worked in grain production, furs, breweries, and plundering Spanish fleets traveling to the Caribbean. To encourage permanent settlement and agricultural development, the Dutch West India Company offered an incentive called the "patroonship."
Under the land-for-settlement incentive plan, Dutch West India Company members were eligible to receive a feudal estate in America if the patroon settled it with fifty adults, over fifteen years, in four years. The patroon became, in effect, a landlord and local lawgiver. Besides land, the patroon had hunting and fishing rights. The settlers were his tenants, who paid rent during their lease. The patroons were granted an eight-year exemption from taxes and the settlers a ten-year exemption. However, of the five patroonships in New Netherland, only that of Kiliaen Van Rennselaer in Albany County was successful. His patroonship was called Rennselaerswyck and was over one million acres. Overall, the program did not produce the desired effect of promoting settlement. Troubles with the indigenous settlers, beginning in 1640, further hampered the program. (See William Kieft.)
In 1630, a member of the Dutch West India Company, Michael Reyniersz Pauw, received the grant of an estate on the western shore of the Hudson River. He named the estate Pavonia, meaning "Land of the Peacock," a Latin variation of his name. He did not meet the obligation of a patroon to obtain the required number of settlers, never left Amsterdam to supervise his land grant, and sold his estate back to the Company.
The noteworthy outcomes of the Pauw grant were the construction of two houses at Pavonia, the first homes on the west side of the Hudson River, and the appointment of a superintendent, Cornelius Van Vorst, who remained as a settler and "founding father" of the future community of Jersey City.
The center of New Netherland's colonial administration was at Fort New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, where the governor's selected council members received orders from the Dutch West India Company. It was the location of the governor's residence, barracks, church, and marketplace. "Bouweries" or farms were outside the fort. After Minuit's tenure (1626-1633), three governors succeeded him: Wouter Van Twiller (1633-38), William Kieft (1638-1646), and Peter Stuyvesant (1647-1664).
Van Twiller reportedly offered no direction for the settlement, had a reputation for being quarrelsome, and was only noted for expanding the brewery business in New Amsterdam. Kieft embroiled New Netherland in Native American warfare that nearly dismantled the colony, and Stuyvesant, while somewhat cantankerous, worked to stabilize the Dutch settlements and established Bergen Township. On the other hand, he exerted strict control over the heterogeneous colony. He resisted the settlement of Jews from Brazil in New Amsterdam, where they remained by order of the Dutch West India Company. Over the years, the Dutch Company also tried to reorganize the colony by permitting the trading of enslaved people to boost the labor supply and economy.
After some forty years, the Dutch failed to establish a viable colony in New Netherland. In 1664, Stuyvesant made attempts to challenge the English takeover of the Dutch settlement, but he did not have the support of the local assembly or the settlers. Colonists without strong Dutch allegiance and settlers from other countries and colonies had settled in New Netherland.
Commerce was a priority for the Dutch West India Company. Agriculture, which might have attracted more settlers from the homeland, was not considered profitable by the Dutch. Finally, autocratic rulings from New Amsterdam and the lack of local participatory democracy discouraged loyalty to the colony. The governor had an unofficial advisory council, but this did not compensate for the local representative government in colonial assemblies found by settlers in the surrounding English colonies in America.
Lovero, Joan D. Hudson County: The Left Bank. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, 1999.
Savelle, Max and Darold S. Wax. A History of Colonial America. Hinsdale, Illinois: Dryden Press, 1973.
Shorto, Russell. The Island at the Center of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.