How New Amsterdam Became New York
All the colonies which we have so far talked about were founded by Englishmen. Now we come to one which was founded by another people who, like the English, were great sea rovers and adventurer’s-the Dutch. Even before the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers the Dutch laid claim to the valleys of the Hudson and the Delaware.
In those days people still knew very little about the continent of North America. They knew it was a continent, but they did not believe it to be very wide, as is proved by charters like that of Virginia which made the colony extend from sea to sea. Nor did people know how long the continent was. They had no idea that the great double continent stretched from north to south all across the hemisphere, and they were continually seeking for that North-West passage which would lead them to India by way of the west.
Now in 1609 Henry Hudson, an English sailor in the pay of the Dutch, came seeking the North-West passage. He did not find it, but sailed into Delaware Bay and up the beautiful river which is now known by his name as far as where the town of Albany now stands. It was autumn when Hudson sailed up the river; the sky was gloriously blue, and the woods aflame with red and yellow, and he went home to tell the Dutch that he had found “as pleasant a land with grass and flowers and goodly trees as ever he had seen,” “a very good land to fall with, and a pleasant land to see.”
By right of Hudson’s discoveries the Dutch claimed all the land between Cape Cod and Chesapeake Bay, and, tempted by his glowing descriptions, they very soon established trading ports upon the Hudson which they called the North River. The Delaware they called the South River.
The English too claimed the same land, and it was not until some years after the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers that the Dutch settled in the country. Then they formed a company and bought the Island of Manhattan where New York now stands from the Indians for about five pounds’ worth of glass beads and other trifles.
Here they built a little fort which they called New Amsterdam in 1626.
The colony grew slowly. For the life was by no means an easy one, and the people of Holland lived in freedom and religious peace at home, so they had no need to cross the Atlantic to seek them. But the company wanted settlers. They therefore offered to give an estate with eighteen miles’ bay or river frontage to every man who would bring, or send, fifty colonists. Many people at once became eager to win such a prize, and very soon there were little settlements all along the shores of the Hudson.
The men who received these huge estates were called patroons, which is the same word as our English patron, and they had power not unlike the feudal lords of old time. They were bound to supply each of their settlers with a farm, and also to provide a minister and a schoolmaster for every settlement. But on the other hand they had full power over the settlers. They were the rulers and judges, while the settlers were almost serfs, and were bound to stay for ten years with their patroon, to grind their corn at his mills, and pay him tribute.
Over the whole colony there was a Governor who was as a rule autocratic and sometimes dishonest, and there was a good deal of unrest in the colony. The patroons were soon at loggerheads with each other and with the Governor. There were quarrels with the Swedes, who had settled on the Delaware, and there was terrible fighting with the Indians.
At length the state of the colony became so bad that the settlers wrote home to Holland complaining of their Governor and blaming him for all their troubles. The people in Holland listened to this complaint and a new Governor was sent out. This was Peter Stuyvesant, the last and most famous of the Governors of New Amsterdam.
Peter Stuyvesant, Governor from 1647-1664; He was a fiery old fellow, with a great love of pomp, and a tremendous opinion of his own importance. He had lost a leg in the Spanish Wars, and now he stamped about with a wooden one. But as no plain wooden leg would please his taste for grandeur he had it bound with silver.
The people were heartily tired of their old Governor, so they hailed the coming of Stuyvesant with joy. But no sooner had their new Governor arrived than they began to wonder if after all the change was a happy one. For Stuyvesant seemed to look down upon them all. He landed with great state and pomp, and some of the chief inhabitants who had come to meet him were left standing bareheaded for several hours while he kept his hat on, as if he were Tsar of all the Russias.
When he took over the direction of affairs from the late Governor, he did it with great ceremony in presence of all the colonists. And the late Governor, thinking to make a good impression before he left, made a speech thanking the people for their faithfulness to him. But the stolid Dutchmen were not going to have any such farce. So they up and told him boldly that they would not thank him, for they had no reason to do so.
Stuyvesant, however, would not have any wrangling; he loudly and proudly declared that every one should have justice done to him, and that he would be to them as a father to his children. But his bearing was so haughty that some of them went away shaking their heads, and fearing that he would be but a harsh father.
And so it proved. If the settlers’ lot had been hard under the rule of other governors, it was still harder under that of Stuyvesant. He was autocratic and hectoring. He stumped about with his wooden leg, and shouted every one else down, and no one dared oppose him. Some indeed, more brave than others, declared that they would write home to Holland to complain of his tyranny. But when Stuyvesant heard it he got so angry that he foamed at the mouth. “If any one appeals from my judgments,” he shouted, “I shall make him a foot shorter and send the pieces to Holland. Let him appeal in that way.”
But Stuyvesant with all his faults was a far better Governor than those who had gone before him. And he had no easy post, for on every side he found himself surrounded by other States, the inhabitants of which were constantly encroaching on the borders of New Netherland.
The English, both from Massachusetts and Connecticut, seemed to think that the Dutch had no rights at all. Where they found good land they settled, scoffing at the Dutch remonstrances.
Stuyvesant too was soon at loggerheads with the Swedes who had settled on the Delaware. The Dutch claimed both sides of the river and the Swedes laughed at their claims. They would sail up the river past the Dutch fort without stopping and displaying their colours, and when challenged, and asked for their reason, replied boldly that they would certainly do it again.
Then the Dutch began to build a new fort on land which the Swedes claimed, and the Swedes came and destroyed it. So things went from bad to worse, until at length Stuyvesant decided to put an end to it. He gathered an army of six hundred men, the largest army that had ever been gathered in North America, and with seven ships entered the Delaware.
Against a force like this the Swedes could not defend themselves, so they yielded on condition that they should march out of their forts with all the honours of war. This was granted to them and with colours flying, drums beating and trumpets playing the Swedes marched out and the Dutch marched in. Thus without a blow, after seventeen years of occupation, New Sweden became part of New Netherland. Later on this land captured from the Swedes was to become the State of Delaware.
From his triumph over the Swedes Stuyvesant was recalled by the news that there was war with the Indians. He soon brought that to an end also. But he was not always to be victorious, and at length the time came when the power of the Dutch was to be swept away before a still greater power.
Stuyvesant had ruled New Netherland for seventeen years. The colony had prospered, and the number of new settlers had steadily increased. During these same years Great Britain had been passing through stormy times. King Charles had been beheaded, the kingdom had been declared a Commonwealth with Cromwell at its head, but he was now dead, the Stuarts once more ruled, and King Charles II sat upon the throne. He cast a greedy eye upon New Netherland, for he wanted it for his brother, the Duke of York.
There was peace between Holland and Britain, but Charles II cared little about that. So in 1664 he secretly granted all the land lying between the Delaware and Connecticut rivers to his brother, and sent a fleet of four ships and about four hundred soldiers under Colonel Richard Nicolls to take possession of the country.
When Stuyvesant heard of it he made ready to resist. He gathered in what powder and shot be could from the surrounding settlements; he mounted cannon, he ordered every able-bodied man to take his turn at strengthening the fortifications and keeping guard. And having done all he could he sent a messenger to Nicolls asking why he had come.
Nicolls’ reply was a summons to surrender the town. At the same time he promised that any one who would submit quietly should be protected by “his Majesty’s laws and justice.” “Any people from the Netherlands may freely come and plant here,” he wrote, “vessels of their own country may freely come hither, and any of them may as freely return home in vessels of their own country.”
But Peter Stuyvesant was hot to fight. So lest the easy terms should make any of the settlers willing to give in he tried to keep them secret. But the Council would not have it so.
“All that regards the public welfare must be made public,” they said, and held to it.
Then, seeing he could not move them from their determination, in a fit of passion Stuyvesant tore Nicolls’ letter in pieces, swearing that he would not be answerable for the consequences.
The people were growing impatient, and leaving their work upon the fortifications they stormed into the Council Chamber. In vain Stuyvesant tried to persuade them to return to their work. They would not listen to him. They replied to him only with curses and groans. Then from all sides came cries of, “The letter, the letter, we will have the letter.”
So at last Stuyvesant yielded; the torn fragments were gathered together and a copy made. And when the people heard the terms they bade him yield. Still he would not, and he sent another message to Nicolls.
But Nicolls would not listen. “To-morrow,” he said, “I will speak with you at Manhattan.”
“Friends will be welcome,” replied the messenger, “if they come, in friendly fashion.”
“I shall come with my ships and my soldiers,” answered Nicolls. “Hoist the white flag of peace on the fort, and then something may be considered.”
When this answer was known terror seized the town. Women and children came to implore the Governor with tears to submit.
He would not listen to them. Like the fierce old lion he was he knit his brows and stamped with his wooden leg. “I would rather be carried a corpse to my grave than give in,” he cried.
But he alone had any desire to fight. For in the whole fort there was not enough powder to last one day, from the river front there was absolutely no protection, and on the north there was only a rickety fence three or four feet high. There was little food within the fort, and not a single well. So all the chief inhabitants wrote a letter to the Governor begging him to give in.
“You know, in your own conscience,” they said, “that your fortress is incapable of making head three days against so powerful an enemy. And (God help us) whether we turn us for assistance to the north, or to the south, to the east or to the west ’tis all in vain! On all sides are we encompassed and hemmed in by our enemies. Therefore we humbly and in bitterness of heart, implore your Honour not to reject the conditions of so generous a foe.”
This letter was signed by all the most important people of the town, even by Stuyvesant’s own son. With every one against him he could hold out no longer. So he yielded and at eight o’clock on Monday morning, the 8th of September, 1664, he marched out of Fort Amsterdam at the head of his soldiers. With colours flying and drums beating they marched down to the riverside where a ship awaited them, and getting on board they set sail for Holland.
Then the Dutch flag was hauled down, the British flag was hoisted in its place, and New Amsterdam became New York, a name given it in honour of the King’s brother, the Duke of York.
A few weeks later every other Dutch settlement had yielded to the
British. Fort Orange became Fort Albany, so named for the Duke of
York’s second title, and Dutch dominion in North America was at an
As to Stuyvesant, he sailed home and was severely scolded by the West India Company for his “scandalous surrender.” He was, however, able to defend himself, and prove to the directors that he had done his best. Then he returned to America and spent the rest of his life quietly on his farm, or “bowery” as it was called in Dutch.
Those of you who are familiar with New York know that there is still a part of it called The Bowery, and it may interest you to learn that it is so called in memory of the farm where this arrogant old lion of a Dutchman spent his last days. He spent them peacefully and happily. Now that he was no longer a ruler he lost much of his overbearing pride, and all that was kindly in his nature showed itself. Many who had feared and hated him came to love and admire him. Among others he made friends with the Englishman who had ousted him, and many a jolly evening he and Nicolls spent together cracking jokes and listening to each other’s stories of the brave days gone by.
Peter Stuyvesant died at the age of eighty, and was buried in what is now St. Mark’s Church, where a tablet on the wall marks the spot where he lies.
New York was now a proprietary colony like Maryland, its overlord being the Duke of York, and when in 1685 he became King of England New York became a Crown Colony.
The Dutch rule had been autocratic, the people having little say in the government. They had chafed against it and had hoped that the change of ruler would bring a change of government, and that they would be allowed freedom like the New England Colonies. But James was not the sort of man to allow freedom to people when he could prevent it. So the government of New York continued as autocratic as before.
Meanwhile New York once more changed hands. In a time of peace the British had calmly and without a shadow of right taken the colony from the Dutch. Nine years later when the two countries were at war the Dutch took it back again.
It was just the same nine-year-old story over again. Only this time it was the Dutch who marched in and hoisted the Dutch flag over the fort.
Once more the names were changed; New York became New Orange, and the province was once more New Amsterdam.
But this was only for a month or two. The following year Holland and Britain made peace, and by the Treaty of Westminster all Dutch possessions in North America were given back to Britain, and Dutch rule in North America was at an end for ever.