The Towns Of New Netherland

The development of town life in New Netherland had been greatly retarded by the individualism of the settlers. Apart from the patroonships there was no immigration in groups as in New England. Defense of the scattered farms against the Indians was very difficult, and the Dutch West India Company repeatedly tried to force the colonists to build towns and forts. Incorporation into a town not only provided better defense but gave its inhabitants the added advantage of being permitted to have their own court of justice. Even so the growth of towns was extremely slow.

Nieuw Amsterdam was destined by its location to become the trading center of the colony. In May 1647, when its last and famous governor Pieter Stuyvesant stepped ashore, its population was generally estimated at seven hundred, but some sources state that at that time no more than a hundred people were living there. The town stretched from the fort at the waterfront to the palisades which had been erected against Indian raiders. In Dutch these were called de wal. Look at a map of present-day New York City. Pearl Street marks the limit of what was dry land in those days, the areas south and east of it having been drained and filled in later. The northern boundary -- de wal -- gave its name to the Wall Street of today.

Whatever the number of inhabitants when Stuyvesant arrived, it kept growing regularly from that year on. In 1664 fifteen hundred people lived in the capital. There were at least three hundred and fifty houses, and the town had received jurisdiction of its own, separate from the Governor's court. There were two windmills, a church, and many inns. The inhabitants were actually not one hundred per cent Dutch. One writer reports, without doubt exaggerating slightly, that eighteen languages were spoken in Nieuw Amsterdam. The little capital was definitely more cosmopolitan than anything to be found in New England. Peter Stuyvesant himself, the son of a Frisian minister, was a severe Calvinist, but he had to obey his company. The Company, in the spirit of seventeenth-century Holland, did not allow discrimination and ordered the Governor to accept the settling of Lutherans, Quakers and Jews.

The cosmopolitan and tolerant atmosphere of New Amsterdam outlasted Dutch rule, and is perhaps the most important contribution that Dutch colonization made to the future United States. It was a Dutch minister, Balthazar Bekker, who later in that century wrote a book (The World Turn'd Upside Down), which became a classic denunciation of the belief in witch- craft. This same enlightened spirit could be found in New York in the very years when witch trials were being held in New England.

The relaxed social atmosphere of Nieuw Amsterdam also contrasted with the English colonies to the north, restricted by their rigid Blue Laws. This accounts for a Nieuw Amsterdam characteristic which was inherited by New York: the large number of places to eat, drink and dance. Sports were popular, too. The colonists loved boat and carriage races, and from Holland they imported the game of kolf, which later became golf.

The oldest settlement in New Netherland had been Fort Nassau on an island in the Hudson, and close to it the first real immigrants built Fort Orange. (Fort Nassau had been flooded several times and was finally abandoned in 1617.) Fort Orange and its vicinity were incorporated in 1652 as the town of Beverwyck, which was given its own court of justice in order to protect its inhabitants from the whims of the neighboring patroonship of Rensselaerwyck. Beverwyck is now Albany. Halfway between Beverwyck and Nieuw Amsterdam a settler from Rensselaerwyck founded the colony of Wiltwyck, now called Kingston. Individual farmers, surviving the destruction of settlements in the Hackensack Valley, founded Bergen named for the town of Bergen in Holland, which was incorporated in 1661 and became Jersey City. In those same years Dutch settlers founded Hackensack and what is known today as Ridgewood.

On Long Island the oldest settlement was Nieuw Amersfoort, later Flatlands, which dates from 1636 and was named after the Dutch city of Amersfoort. Destined to become more famous was Breukelen, named by its settlers for their village of origin in The Netherlands. Breukelen became a town in 1646, and in 1661 it counted 130 inhabitants. It has been doing quite well for itself since then: in 1970 it had a population of 2,602,000, . It is still carrying its original name, which -- slightly Anglicized -- is now spelled `Brooklyn.'

In the early sixties of the seventeenth century, Pieter Plockhoy of Zeeland province, The Netherlands, started the first of the many Utopias which shine in the pages of American history. In 1662 he sailed from Holland with twenty-four families, to establish his colony of `universal Christian brotherhood,' ... to raise up an universal magistrate in Christen- dom, that can suffer all sorts of people (of what religion soever they are) in any one country, as God suffers the same in all the countries of the world.' The city of Amsterdam met the expenses of the expedition. The place chosen was on the Delaware River, and the following year forty more immigrants joined those already there. Plockhoy's Utopia was soon to come to a terrible end. It resisted the British troops of Sir Robert Carr which landed in New Netherland in 1664, and was destroyed `to a very naile.'