New Amsterdam: the Dutch settlement that later became New York

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.

Historical background

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 India 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 original dam builders. Image: American Beaver/Wikimedia Commons/CC2.0

In 1621, the Dutch West India Company was founded 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.

New Amsterdam as seen in 1664. Image: Geheugen van Nederland/Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

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.

The Castello Plan — the area where New Amsterdam used to be and where the financial district in Manhattan is nowadays. Image: John Wolcott Adams/Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

However, 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 Anglo-Dutch War. The Dutch capitulated and New Amsterdam got renamed New York in 1665, after the Duke of York.

During the Third Anglo-Dutch 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.

Dutch legacy in New York

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.

Example of neo-revival Dutch architecture in New York. Image: Decumanus/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

READ MORE | Did the Dutch really buy New York for 24 dollars?

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: John Wolcott Adams/Wikimedia Commons/Public domain
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2020 and was fully updated in April 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Vlad Moca-Grama
Vlad was born and raised in Brasov, Romania and came to the Hague to study. When he isn't spending time missing mountains or complaining about the lack of urban exploration locations in the Netherlands, you can find him writing at Dutch Review.

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  1. This was a brilliant trade! Remember the English got there backside kicked out of New York. And lost the whole continent to America. In return the Dutch made money of the resources (Bauxite, gold, diamonds and copper) of Suriname untill 1954 and did not return the country till 1975. Now is that fare to the people of Suriname NO! But from a financial standpoint it was the better trade.

  2. No mention of the 1619 arrival of the first enslaved Africans and Atlantic Creoles? I enjoyed the article, however, it is important to include the whole picture so people know who aren’t that familiar with that aspect of our nation’s history


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