First Dutch Settlers

The first group of Dutch settlers did not stay for long on the new continent and they can hardly becalled settlers. It had not been their choice to stay there: their ship, the Tyger (tiger) had caught fire sailing on the Hudson. Captain Adriaen Block was commanding one of the ships that came looking for trade on the American coast in the years after Hudson's voyage. They bartered beads and knives for furs from the natives. When Block came in the winter of 1613-1614 he lost his ship in a fire and had to spend the winter in America. He let his crew build a couple of huts and then they began building a sloop, the Onrust (unrest). In the spring Block and his men did some explorations along the coast of Long Island (Het Lange Eiland). Block Island still bears his name. Finally they were sighted by another Dutch ship and Block and his crew were off again.

But Block's maps created a new interest in America. A group of thirteen merchants acquired a charter from the Staten Generaal - the dutch equivalent of the US Congress - for exclusive trade on the American East Coast in what would be called "New Netherland". This group of thirteen decided that an island just below present-day Albany would be the ideal place to serve as a centre of trade.

The Dutch had no tradition of colonization. Usually they would found a stronghold in distant territory, which they called a factorij. They would put a garrison in it and would trade with the locals from there. They had fortresses on the west and east African coast, on the Cape, on Ceylon, on the Indian coast, and in the East Indies. Some of these were captured from the Portugese and some had been built by the Dutch themselves. Allthough there was a very high mortality rate in the factorijen, this policy was still cheaper than having to provide for a real settlement. Since the colonial activities were in the hands of privately owned enterprises, empire building was not one of their aims. Only Cape of Good Hope and Surinam were more extensive settlements.

So a fort was to be erected which would bear the name Fort Nassau - named after the family of quasi monarchs that served the United Provinces as Stadholders - , becoming one of the first permanent European settlements in what later became the United States. It was 1614, six years before the Mayflower would bring the Pilgrim Fathers to the new continent.