Back in their glory days, the Dutch were busy going around the globe, stealing spices and resources, and creating outposts so they could steal more spices and resources more easily (true efficiency).
As part of their globe-trotting adventures, the Dutch found themselves on the island of Manhattan. There, they initially established a fort called Amsterdam, in order to defend their fur trade business in the area, as well as to secure a strategic position at the mouth of the Hudson River. The area around the fort eventually developed into a settlement called New Amsterdam, which served as the predecessor to modern-day New York.
The 17th century was a period in which the European powers were trying to outdo each other by colonising as much of North America as possible. The Dutch first explored the area back at the beginning of the century. An explorer named Henry Hudson, on a boat of the Dutch East Trading Company servicing Prince Maurice of Nassau, explored the area in search of things to loot.
He did not find spices, but he found something just as fun: beavers. Ah yes, back in the day, beavers, specifically their pelts, were very valuable in Europe. Beavers were also expert dam builders, something that the Dutch were very much into.
Actually, the Dutch were really into the beavers’ anal glands. Not for perverted things, mind you. The anal glands secreted castoreum, which was used for creating perfumes. A bit counter-intuitive, but oh well.
The Dutch West India Company was founded in 1621 to manage trade in North America and to secure those beaver pelts and sweet anal glands. The mouth of the Hudson River provided the ideal strategic outpost to establish trade and protect the area. As such, Fort Amsterdam was built in 1624. By 1626, the Dutch purchased Manhattan from the Native Americans in the area.
New Amsterdam gets established
The settlement received municipal rights from its home country in 1653, becoming a full-fledged city. It developed akin to all colonial cities back then: a church was built, fortified walls were developed, houses and windmills constructed, you name it. The city even welcomed Jewish refugees, with one of them being the first Jew to own property in North America.
Another interesting fact about the city at the time is that it was extensively documented, compared to other new settlements in the New World. A detailed layout of the city was captured in cartography called the Castello Plan. The plan showcases the city in all of its detail. By cross-referencing with archival information from the time, it’s possible to determine who lived in each house.
Either way, as geopolitics went back then, New Amsterdam did not stay Dutch for long.
The English takeover
In 1664, England and the Dutch Republic were at peace. That did not stop a couple of English frigates from entering the port of New Amsterdam and demanding the surrender of the city as well as the broader New Netherland province. That also kickstarted the second Dutch-Anglo War. The Dutch capitulated and New Amsterdam got renamed New York in 1665, after the Duke of York.
During the third Dutch-Anglo War in 1673, the Dutch managed to occupy the city again and renamed it New Orange. However, with the Treaty of Westminster in 1674, the city was given back to the Brits, who renamed it again, back to New York. The Dutch got Suriname in return, which was of great strategic and resource importance back in the day.
Not much remains of New Amsterdam besides archaeological remains. The last house from New Amsterdam that survived in New York was unfortunately destroyed in the mid-19th Century.
However, the cultural legacy of the city has survived through the form of neo-colonial Dutch architecture.
Another clear legacy from New Amsterdam is the street layout, which has remained mostly intact in today’s Manhattan.
Did you know that New York started originally as a Dutch colony? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Feature Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2020 and was fully updated in December 2020 for your reading pleasure.