The End Of New Netherland

England and The Netherlands emerged as the principal maritime powers of the seventeenth century. Their rivalry led them into several wars, in which the issue at stake was ultimately the freedom of the seas and trade competition.

The first Anglo-Dutch war was set off when a Dutch admiral, meeting an English colleague in what Britain had proclaimed to be English waters, refused to salute the English flag. The war was fought entirely at sea and ended in a compromise after two years of fighting. Ten years later, in 1664, trouble started anew, and this time in the colonies.

The Duke of York, brother of King Charles II of England, had a large interest in the British Royal African Company. In a period of new tension between the two countries on trade matters, ships of his company seized a Dutch settlement on the African coast. When the Dutch States-General received word of this, their top admiral Michiel de Ruyter was dispatched with a fleet to Africa to take revenge. As a result, the English government declared war on The Netherlands. In the meantime, however, another English fleet had appeared off Nieuw Amsterdam and forced Pieter Stuyvesant to surrender New Netherland.

The English expected a fight, but when Colonel Nicolls showed himself before the town with four men-of-war on August 28, 1664, he found a fort so neglected that defiance of his power seemed out of the question. Yet Stuyvesant tried to rally his colony to the defense. For ten days he stalled for time while trying to instill some of his martial prowess in the half-hearted settlers. It was in vain. When Nicolls sent a final ultimatum, the red, white and blue of Holland came down and the white flag was hoisted.

At home the Dutch showed more fighting spirit. After several sea battles Admiral de Ruyter delivered a blow to England by sailing up the Thames and capturing the British flagship right outside of London harbor. In Pepys' diary you can read of the panic he created in the city. Five weeks later a peace was concluded which was rather favorable to Holland. England was to keep New Netherland; but Surinam in South America, which Holland had taken from the English, was to remain under the Dutch flag. The men of the West India Company considered the exchange a happy one. They preferred a tropical country complete with sugar plantations and slaves any day to a settlement of white colonists.

Pieter Stuyvesant was called back to Amsterdam in a rather sad attempt by the Company to put the blame for the surrender of 1664 on him. When the shouting and the shooting had died down, he returned to Nieuw Amsterdam, which had now changed its name to New York and continued to live on his bouwerij or farm in Manhattan. He died there in 1672, but the Dutch name lives on as The Bowery, a well-known street in Lower Manhattan, now unfortunately part of New York's skid row.

Almost everyone here thinks that was the end of New Netherland: conquest by Britain. Actually, there was a different sequence of events. Holland did not lose New Netherland through force. Nieuw Amsterdam was New York from 1664 to 1673, but in that year it became Dutch once more, this time under the name Nieuw Oranje, `New Orange.' That was in honor of the Dutch Prince of Orange, who a few years later was destined to become King William of England. Nieuw Oranje started its short life because of a new war between England and Holland in 1673. Two Dutch admirals with a fleet of no less than twenty-three ships appeared in New York harbor and began to land troops. The story of 1664 was now repeated in reverse. The English commander felt he had no choice but to surrender, and thus the colony once again became New Netherland and the Duke of York had to cede to the Prince of Orange, at least in the matter of names. But Nieuw Oranje lasted only one year.

The Anglo-Dutch war was ended by the Treaty of Westminster of 1674. As part of the peace arrangements, the territory went back to Britain and Orange changed back to York. The Union Jack went up over the town and remained there until the day, more than a century later, when George Washington crossed the Harlem River and took possession of New York for the United States of America.

Map of New Amsterdam