This Dutch colonial outpost existed along the Hudson River from 1609 to 1664. A relatively small and ineffectual colony, it was known for its trade and diversity. It was eventually captured by the English and became the colony of New York.
Following its independence from Spain in the 1570s, the Netherlands began constructing a worldwide empire due in large part to its powerful navy and savvy traders. In one of the country’s first colonial ventures, Dutch merchants in 1609 financed Henry Hudson to explore North America and Hudson discovered the river that bears his name.
In 1614, the Dutch established their first permanent settlement at Fort Nassau, later relocated and renamed Fort Orange (present-day Albany). This northerly settlement never grew very large and existed primarily to trade with Iroquois Indians for furs.
In 1625, the Dutch West India Company established New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island to control access to the Hudson River. This southerly settlement soon attracted a variety of settlers to farm.
New Netherland was beset by a series of problems for most of its history. Relations with Native Americans were generally poor. Fort Orange was largely dependent on the Iroquois for its survival, while colonists in the south drove Algonquians from their lands and fought four wars in 20 years with them.
Of more pressing concern, however, were the colony’s mismanagement and ineffective leadership. The colony never produced a profit for its investors, while its most effective governor was the autocratic Peter Stuyvesant (1647–64), who barred the colonists from participating in their own governance.
Because of these problems, New Netherland had trouble attracting colonists. The Dutch West India Company did offer patroonships, large land grants with manorial rights, to anyone who took 50 settlers to the colony. However, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was the only person to take up the company’s offer seriously.
Lacking Dutch settlers, New Netherland opened its borders to dissenters from New England including Anne Hutchinson as well as emigrants from Belgium, France, Scandinavia, and Germany and African slaves. As one visitor noted of New Amsterdam: “There were men of eighteen different languages.” Very quickly the Dutch became a minority in their own colony.
Ethnic diversity invited religious differences and although Stuyvesant attempted to privilege the Dutch Reformed Church, the company insisted upon a policy of religious toleration. Puritans, Quakers, and Lutherans were common in New Netherland, and Jews received greater religious freedom than anywhere else in America.
Ultimately, New Netherland suffered the most from foreign competition. A Swedish colony on the Delaware River proved a distraction to the Dutch and, in 1655, Stuyvesant engineered a military takeover of New Sweden. However, Dutch hegemony proved short-lived as in 1664 an English fleet under the command of Richard Nicolls arrived off New Amsterdam.
Although Stuyvesant attempted to mount a defense of his colony, “a general discontent and unwillingness to assist in defending the place became manifest among the people.” On August 27, Stuyvesant surrendered New Netherland to Nicolls, who granted the colonists generous terms, including the preservation of their property rights, inheritance laws, and religious liberty.