New Amsterdam (Dutch: Nieuw Amsterdam, pronounced [ˌniʋɑmstərˈdɑm] or [ˌniuʔɑms-]) was a 17th-century Dutch settlement established at the southern tip of Manhattan Island that served as the seat of the colonial government in New Netherland.
In 1524, nearly a century before the arrival of the Dutch, the site that later became New Amsterdam was named New Angoulême by the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, to commemorate his patron King Francis I of France, former Count of Angoulême. The first recorded exploration by the Dutch of the area around what is now called New York Bay was in 1609 with the voyage of the ship Halve Maen (English: "Half Moon"), captained by Henry Hudson in the service of the Dutch Republic, as the emissary of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, Holland's stadholder. Hudson named the river the Mauritius River. He was covertly attempting to find the Northwest Passage for the Dutch East India Company. Instead, he brought back news about the possibility of exploitation of beaver by the Dutch who sent commercial, private missions to the area the following years.
At the time, beaver pelts were highly prized in Europe, because the fur could be felted to make waterproof hats. A by-product of the trade in beaver pelts was castoreum—the secretion of the animals' anal glands—which was used for its medicinal properties and for perfumes. The expeditions by Adriaen Block and Hendrick Christiaensen in 1611, 1612, 1613 and 1614, resulted in the surveying and charting of the region from the 38th parallel to the 45th parallel. On their 1614 map, which gave them a four-year trade monopoly under a patent of the States General, they named the newly discovered and mapped territory New Netherland for the first time. It also showed the first year-round trading presence in New Netherland, Fort Nassau, which would be replaced in 1624 by Fort Orange, which eventually grew into the town of Beverwijck, now Albany.
In 1620 the Pilgrims attempted to sail to the Hudson River from England. However, the Mayflower reached Cape Cod (now part of Massachusetts) on November 9, 1620, after a voyage of 64 days. For a variety of reasons, primarily a shortage of supplies, the Mayflower could not proceed to the Hudson River, and the colonists decided to settle near Cape Cod, establishing the Plymouth Colony.
The mouth of the Hudson River was selected as the ideal place for initial settlement as it had easy access to the ocean while also securing an ice-free lifeline to the beaver trading post near present-day Albany. Here, Native American hunters supplied them with pelts in exchange for European-made trade goods and wampum, which was soon being made by the Dutch on Long Island. In 1621, the Dutch West India Company was founded. Between 1621 and 1623, orders were given to the private, commercial traders to vacate the territory, thus opening up the territory to Dutch settlers and company traders. It also allowed the laws and ordinances of the states of Holland to apply. Previously, during the private, commercial period, only the law of the ship had applied.
The territory of New Netherland was originally a private, profit-making commercial enterprise focused on cementing alliances and conducting trade with the diverse Native American ethnic groups. Surveying and exploration of the region was conducted as a prelude to an anticipated official settlement by the Dutch Republic, which occurred in 1624.
The threat of attack from other European colonial powers prompted the directors of the Dutch West India Company to formulate a plan to protect the entrance to the Hudson River. In 1624, 30 families were sponsored by Dutch West India Company moving from Nut Island to Manhattan Island, where a citadel to contain Fort Amsterdam was being laid out by Cryn Frederickz van Lobbrecht at the direction of Willem Verhulst. By the end of 1625, the site had been staked out directly south of Bowling Green on the site of the present U.S. Custom House. The Mohawk-Mahican War in the Hudson Valley led the company to relocate even more settlers to the vicinity of the new Fort Amsterdam. In the end, colonizing was a prohibitively expensive undertaking, only partly subsidized by the fur trade. This led to a scaling back of the original plans. By 1628, a smaller fort was constructed with walls containing a mixture of clay and sand.
In May 1624, the first settlers in New Netherland arrived on Noten Eylandt (Nut or Nutten Island, now Governors Island) aboard the ship New Netherland under the command of Cornelius Jacobsen May, who disembarked on the island with thirty families in order to take legal possession of the New Netherland territory. The families were then dispersed to Fort Wilhelmus on Verhulsten Island (Burlington Island) in the South River (now the Delaware River), to Kievitshoek (now Old Saybrook, Connecticut) at the mouth of the Verse River (now the Connecticut River) and further north at Fort Nassau on the Mauritius or North River (now the Hudson River), near what is now Albany.
Verhulst, with his council, was responsible for the selection of Manhattan as a permanent place of settlement and for situating Fort Amsterdam. He was replaced as the company director-general of New Amsterdam by Peter Minuit in 1626. According to the writer Nathaniel Benchley, to legally safeguard the settlers' investments, possessions and farms on Manhattan island, Minuit negotiated the "purchase" of Manhattan from a band of Canarse from Brooklyn who occupied the bottom quarter of Manhattan, known then as the Manhattoes for 60 guilders' worth of trade goods. Minuit conducted the transaction with the Canarse chief Seyseys, who was only too happy to accept valuable merchandise in exchange for an island that was actually mostly controlled by the Weckquaesgeeks. The deed itself has not survived, so the specific details are unknown. A textual reference to the deed became the foundation for the legend that Minuit had purchased Manhattan from the Native Americans for twenty-four dollars' worth of trinkets and beads, the guilder rate at the time being about two and a half to a Spanish dollar. The price of 60 Dutch guilders in 1626 amounts to around $1,100 in 2012 dollars. Further complicating the calculation is that the value of goods in the area would have been different than the value of those same goods in the developed market of the Netherlands.
The Dutch exploited the hydropower of existing creeks by constructing mills at Turtle Bay (between present-day East 45th-48th Streets) and Montagne's Kill, later called Harlem Mill Creek (East 108th Street). In 1639 a sawmill was located in the northern forest at what was later the corner of East 74th Street and Second Avenue, at which African laborers cut lumber.
The New Amsterdam settlement had a population of approximately 270 people, including infants. In 1642 the new director-general Willem Kieft decided to build a stone church within the fort. The work was carried out by recent English immigrants, the brothers John and Richard Ogden. The church was finished in 1645 and stood until destroyed in the Slave Insurrection of 1741.
A fort and sawmill were soon erected at Nut Island. The latter was constructed by Franchoys Fezard and was taken apart for iron in 1648.
A pen-and-ink view of New Amsterdam, drawn on-the-spot and discovered in the map collection of the Austrian National Library in Vienna in 1991, provides a unique view of New Amsterdam as it appeared from Capske (small Cape) Rock in 1648. Capske Rock was situated in the water close to Manhattan between Manhattan and Noten Eylant, and signified the start of the East River roadstead.
New Amsterdam received municipal rights on February 2, 1653, thus becoming a city. Albany, then named Beverwyck, received its city rights in 1652. Nieuw Haarlem, now known as Harlem, was formally recognized in 1658.
The first Jews known to have lived in New Amsterdam arrived in 1654. First to arrive were Solomon Pietersen and Jacob Barsimson, who sailed during the summer of 1654 directly from Holland, with passports that gave them permission to trade in the colony. Then in early September, 23 Jewish refugees arrived from the formerly Dutch city of Recife, which had been conquered by the Portuguese in January 1654. The director of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, sought to turn them away but was ultimately overruled by the directors of the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam. Asser Levy, an Ashkenazi Jew who was one of the 23 refugees, eventually prospered and in 1661 became the first Jew to own a house in New Amsterdam, which also made him the first Jew known to have owned a house anywhere in North America.
In 1661 the Communipaw ferry was founded and began a long history of trans-Hudson ferry and ultimately rail and road transportation. On September 15, 1655, New Amsterdam was attacked by 2,000 Native Americans as part of the Peach Tree War. They destroyed 28 farms, killed 100 settlers, and took 150 prisoners.
There is a particularly detailed city map called the Castello Plan produced in 1660. Virtually every structure in New Amsterdam at the time is believed to be represented, and by cross-referencing the Nicasius de Sille List of 1660, which enumerates all the citizens of New Amsterdam and their addresses, it can be determined who resided in every house.
In 1664, Jan van Bonnel built a saw mill on East 74th Street and the East River, where a 13,710-meter long stream that began in the north of today's Central Park, which became known as the Saw Kill or Saw Kill Creek, emptied into the river. Later owners of the property George Elphinstone and Abraham Shotwell replaced the sawmill with a leather mill in 1677. The Saw Kill was later redirected into a culvert, arched over, and its trickling little stream was called Arch Brook.
On August 27, 1664, while England and the Dutch Republic were at peace, four English frigates sailed into New Amsterdam's harbor and demanded New Netherland's surrender, whereupon New Netherland was provisionally ceded by Stuyvesant. On September 6, Stuyvesant sent lawyer Johannes de Decker and five other delegates to sign the official Articles of Capitulation. This was swiftly followed by the Second Anglo-Dutch War, between England and the Dutch Republic. In June 1665, New Amsterdam was reincorporated under English law as New York City, named after the Duke of York (later King James II). He was the brother of the English King Charles II, who had been granted the lands.
In 1667 the Treaty of Breda ended the conflict in favor of the Dutch. The Dutch did not press their claims on New Netherland but did demand control over the valuable sugar plantations and factories captured by them that year on the coast of Surinam, giving them full control over the coast of what is now Guyana and Surinam.
In July 1673, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch briefly and quickly occupied New York City and renamed it New Orange. Anthony Colve was installed as the first governor. Previously there had only been West India Company directors. After the signing of the Treaty of Westminster in November 1674, the city was relinquished to the English and the name reverted to "New York". Suriname became an official Dutch possession in return.
Broadway was the main street that led out of town north towards Harlem. The town was surrounded to the north by a wall leading from the eastern to the western shore. The course of this city wall is today Wall Street. A canal led from the harbor inland and was filled in 1676, which today is Broad Street.
The Dutch-American historian and journalist Hendrik Willem van Loon wrote in 1933 a work of alternative history entitled "If the Dutch Had Kept Nieuw Amsterdam" (in If, Or History Rewritten, edited by J. C. Squire, 1931, Simon & Schuster).
The presentation of the legacy of the unique culture of 17th-century New Amsterdam remains a concern of preservationists and educators. The National Park Service celebrated in 2009 the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage on behalf of the Dutch with the New Amsterdam Trail.