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Exploration and Colonialism

[The Duke’s Plan] A Description of the Towne of Mannados or New Amsterdam …. New York, 1859; facsimile of 1664 original. NYPL, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division. Digital ID 1650814
Henry Hudson was not the first European to sail along the northeast coast of North America. Samuel de Champlain was exploring the Saint Lawrence, and Lake Champlain, in 1609, the year Hudson traveled up the North (now Hudson) River. However, it was Hudson’s journals that first identified the value of the protected, ice-free harbor, the potential fur trade, and possibilities for settlement in the region.

The Dutch claimed the region between the English colonies of New England and Virginia, bound by the Hudson River and the Delaware (or South) River. Not a military, colonial, or religious establishment, Nieuw Nederland, as the area was called, was a commercial venture, under the control of a private stock company, the Dutch East India Company.

Manhattan proved to be a convenient port for shipment of furs and pelts back across the North Atlantic to Amsterdam. By 1625, the trading post of the Dutch West India Company (which had supplanted the Dutch East India Company) had grown into Nieuw Amsterdam, a settlement located almost entirely below today’s Wall Street, at the southern tip of the island. Farms, or bouweries, north of Nieuw Amsterdam served as country homes, and also helped feed the Dutch and Walloon settlers, who were soon joined by people from across Europe, South America, and Africa, including slaves. Some 23 languages were spoken in Nieuw Amsterdam, establishing an international dynamic still present in the city today.

The English took control of Nieuw Nederland in 1664 and, once here, mapped the newly named City of New York in detail. The British bivouacked in the city throughout the American Revolution, and their maps from this period include the only existing depiction of the natural island in its entirety—from Spuyten Duyvil to the Battery—without the 1811 grid overlaying and controlling the land.

The English had never accepted the Dutch intrusion on “their” American holdings—essentially and strategically split in two by Nieuw Nederland. Once the Dutch were defeated, the historical record was largely rewritten in favor of the English narrative. Thanks to new research, the translation in recent decades of colonial Dutch documents by the New Netherland Project in Albany, and the celebration of the Henry Hudson quadricentennial, that lost Dutch narrative has been revitalized.


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