When New York Was New: Chapter Five, New Netherland


Just three months after the French had led the battle near Crown Point, a second European nation appeared in our region.

Henry Hudson was an Englishman, but he had been hired by the Dutch to look for a way to get through the New World to China and India. On September 3, 1609, his ship, the Half Moon, sailed into the river that would be named for him.

Hudson sailed his ship much farther up the river than Verrazzano had, and went all the way to where Albany now stands, before the water became too shallow for the Half Moon.

Along the way, he met with several groups of the Lenape and Mahican people who, in those days, lived on both sides of the river. Hudson traded with them and was delighted to see the beaver and other furs that they offered in exchange for metal tools and other things the Europeans had to offer.

He was also very impressed with the countryside, which he called “the most pleasant he had ever seen.”

Not everything went well in this first meeting between native people and the Dutch, and, during the month Hudson was on the river, there were some violent quarrels in which both Dutch and Mahican people died.

But other meetings went very well and the next year, Dutch traders began to visit this pleasant land that they called New Netherland.

In a few years, they had built a small settlement called Fort Nassau south of what is now Albany, where both Mahicans and Mohawks could bring furs to trade. But while both the Europeans and the natives did a lot of business, there were very negative things happening as well.

One was that Indian people had never been around the diseases that were common for Europeans, and their bodies had never developed immunities to these ailments. Millions throughout the New World would die of these diseases in those first years, and epidemics did great damage to Mahican and Mohawk communities near the European settlements.

Meanwhile, the Dutch had created other settlements, including some in parts of present-day New Jersey and Connecticut.

New Amsterdam, at the mouth of the Hudson, started on Governors Island and expanded to Manhattan. It would be the center of Dutch government in New Netherland, while the fur trade would take place at Fort Nassau and then at the newer community of Fort Orange, now called Albany.

Hudson’s description of the pleasant land had not been forgotten, either, and settlers began to come to the area between Fort Orange and New Amsterdam. If you look at names of cities and towns in the Capital District and down through the Lower Hudson Valley to New York City, you’ll find that many are Dutch and many others are from the Mahican and other Algonquin languages of the people who first lived there.

Settlement of the area meant more people building and farming on land that had been in the hands of the various native people – mostly Algonquins like the Mahican – in the region, and there were many misunderstandings.

Among the native people, it was common to give a gift to show friendship, and they didn’t always understand that when Europeans gave them things in order to be able to use the land, it meant forever and that it didn’t mean sharing the land.

Sometimes, these disagreements became violent, and there were times when quarrels turned into battles.

In 1643, Willem Kieft, who was the governor of New Netherland, started a war against the Lenape in the area around New Amsterdam. Algonquin villages were attacked by his men, and the Algonquin fought back and began to attack Dutch settlements.

The Dutch colonists and traders had not wanted this war and they had told Kieft so.

Despite the problems that came up from time to time, they had gotten along with the various Algonquin people in the Lower Hudson Valley. Besides, they warned him, there were far more native people than Europeans in the region, and it was foolish to start a war with them.

Over the next two years, they turned out to be right. The various Algonquin tribes, furious at Kieft’s attacks, came together and increased their own attacks on Dutch settlements and hundreds died on both sides.

Some settlers decided New Netherland was too dangerous and returned to Europe, but others went to the Dutch government for help. Governor Kieft was removed from office and sent back to Holland, and a new governor, Peter Stuyvesant, was appointed.

Meanwhile, there was a second serious problem closer to Fort Orange: Jealousy and competition between the Mahican and Mohawk. The Mohawk became very unhappy over having to cross Mahican territory on the west bank of the Hudson to trade with the Dutch, and the two also attacked each other to take the valuable furs each had hunted.

At first, the Dutch took sides with the Mahican, who lived closer to their settlements, but quickly realized that this warfare was extremely dangerous for everyone and also bad for their business.

The Dutch called for a meeting and the three groups agreed on the Covenant Chain, a peace treaty to end what was called “The Beaver War.” However, by then the Mahican had been driven off the west bank of the Hudson.

And now wars were being fought far away from our region that would bring the area a new European nation, and a new name.


Click here to read, Chapter One: Where did New York come from?

Here to read, Chapter Two: The People of the Longhouse

Here to read Chapter Three: The First Europeans

And here to read Chapter Four: The French

Come back next week to read Chapter Six: Kings and Queens and Their Quarrels

Text copyright 2016, Mike Peterson – Illustrations copyright 2016 – Christopher Baldwin

This project was made possible with the support of the New York Newspapers Foundation with funding from the New York State United Teachers.


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