The Establishing of Company Farming

From a 1926 publication entitled "A Tribute To The Settlement of Manhattan Island", an illustration which caption reads, "The Treaty Between Gov.  Minuit and the Aborigines for the Sale Of Manhattan Island in 1626." Sometime during the summer of 1625 the famous sale of Manhattan by the local Indians took place. On the accompanying debate about the question who exactly were involved and on which date this bargain was realized, too much useless ink has already been spilled.note In the late summer or fall of 1625, Crijn Fredericksz began his work of surveying the southern part of Manhattan and laying out the fort, the towns and the "bouweries," the West India Company farms. In a 1626 letter it is stated that the colonists sowed all their grain in the middle of May and reaped in the middle of August. They sent back to the Company their samples of summer grain such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, canary seed, beans and flax.note Unfortunately, the contracts between the Company and the individual farmers of 1625 have not survived. Van Tienhoven, however, tells us something about the conditions of these contracts. The farmers were granted the farm, barn, "bergh," and tools for six years, together with four cows, four horses, and pigs and sheep in proportion.note The farmers had to return the same number of cattle on the date of expiration of the contract. All the increase remained with the farmer. The farmers were allowed to sell the milk of their cows for their own profit.note As rent, the farmers annually paid 100 guilders and eighty pounds of butter to the Company. The risk of the cattle dying was shared in common. According to Van Tienhoven, who writes in 1650, this Company policy was a success: the people who obtained these conditions all prospered during their residence on the Company's lands.note As Van Tienhoven wrote a defense of the Company policy in New Netherland and as he was secretary of the colony, he cannot be considered an impartial observer beyond any doubt. Below, we will try to find out whether his statement is true or not.

Not all observers seem to have been very enthusiastic about the quality of Manhattan's soil. According to Dutch dominie Jonas Michaelius, the island was somewhat less fertile than other spots and gave more trouble on account of the multitude of roots of shrubs and trees.note This is confirmed by Nicolaes van Wassenaer, who calls the land "full of weeds and poor."note Another eye-witness, Isaac De Rasiere, is more specific. He writes that most of the land was in need of manure; it was partly worn out by weeds. "Because of the weeds, not all the arable will be sown, the more so because the farmers are hired men." Farms no. 1 and 2 are the best, according to De Rasiere; these were the two most northerly situated; the other farms have also good soil but not as much and it is more sandy (saveliger), so that they are more suited for rye and buckwheat.note The letter of De Rasiere can be dated sometime in 1628; it is remarkable to note that another witness of the developments in the colony in the same year also tends to be more critical. In a letter dated August 11, 1628, the reverend Jonas Michaelius sharply attacks the Company for making promises to him that appeared to have no value. The Company had promised him a few morgens of land for his living (a Dutch morgen is slightly more than two acres) but as it turned out to be impossible to buy any horses or cattle on Manhattan this promise was meaningless. Michaelius complains that in the next winter he will have to do without things like butter and that he will have to live on peas, beans, barley, and stockfish. At one point however, Michaelius is more optimistic: the harvest is in the barns and it has been larger than in the preceding years.

The optimism of Michaelius at this point is balanced by Wassenaer, who states that "the winter grain has turned out well there, but the summer grain which ripened before it was half grown in consequence of excessive heat, was very light."note Michaelius, in a letter of August 8, 1628, gets to the heart of the matter by stating that "we need nothing so much as horses and cows, and industrious workers for the building of houses and forts, and to make our farming more profitable, in order that we may have sufficient dairy produce and crops.note