Builders of Our Country: Book I  by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth

The Dutch in America

Peter Minuit

AFTER Henry Hudson had crossed the ocean and explored the river now called by his name, Dutch interest in the New World awakened. Dutch merchants grew eager to trade with the natives of this new country when once they had seen the beautiful furs which Hudson had brought back in the Half Moon.

So, as the years went by, Dutch ships appeared at the mouth of the Hudson; and traders from Holland offered the Indians blue glass beads and strips of red cotton for beaver, otter, and mink skins. A few rough huts were built on the Indian island of Manhattan and were used both as a shelter and as a trading post. The neighboring country was explored, and to all this region the Dutchmen gave the name of New Netherland.

In 1618 these enterprising traders built a fort or strong house not far from the present site of Albany. Here they set up a few cannon and established a small garrison. Then the commander of the little company did a thing which was to prove a lasting good to many people for many years. He invited the chiefs of all the powerful Iroquois Indian tribes to hold a conference with him.

They came gladly. With great solemnity the peace pipe was passed around, and both Dutch and Indians smoked it. Next, a hard-and-fast agreement was made between them. The Indians were to bring all their furs to the Dutch traders and in return were to receive powder and muskets. Finally, as a sign of lasting peace, a tomahawk was buried, over which the Dutch were to build a church, so that it could not be dug up and the treaty ruined. This was the great treaty of Tawasentha.

A little later there was formed in Holland a company known as the Dutch West India Company, and in 1623 this Dutch West India Company sent a colonizing expedition to New Netherland. Thirty families sailed under the leadership of Cornelius May, who was elected their first governor.

A good deal seems to have been expected from these thirty families in the way of settlements. There were only one hundred and ten people in all, and a village of one hundred and ten people is a pretty small town. So you can picture how large their towns must have been when one hundred and ten were divided into several different settlements.

Some of the families stayed on Manhattan Island and built themselves cozy little Dutch homes.

In 1626 Peter Minuit was appointed Governor of New Netherland and came to the Manhattan settlement. He was one of the best and wisest governors that the Dutch West India Company ever sent to look after their interests in America.

Now, up to this time the Dutch had lived on the island of Manhattan without questioning whether it was right or wrong for them to do so. When Peter Minuit came, he said that the island belonged to the Indians, and that they must be paid for it before the Dutch could call it their own. So he sent to the Indians inhabiting Manhattan and asked them to sell the island to him.

The Indian chiefs were willing to part with the land and sold the whole island to the Dutch for twenty-four dollars' worth of beads, ribbons, knives, and blankets. There must have been a great pile of these trinkets which the natives valued so much; and as they knew that there was plenty of land to the West, it is probable that they were well pleased with their bargain.

You see the Indians did not know the value of gold and silver money. The only money they knew or valued was what they called wampum. This wampum was made of shells or beads which had holes through them and were strung on strings. A string of colored beads would buy twice as much corn as a string of the same number of white beads.

Wampum was put to other uses besides that of trading. As the Indians could not write, they kept their records in beads. After a council a belt would be woven in such a way that an Indian could tell from the color and arrangement of the beads just what had been done. Treaty belts, too, were made in this way and given as a pledge that the terms of the treaty would be kept.

After Manhattan became Dutch property, Peter Minuit built a blockhouse surrounded by strong palisades for the protection of the little town which was named New Amsterdam. During the summer more settlers came, and soon there were thirty houses in the village. Besides these houses there was a large windmill, a flagstaff from which the Dutch colors floated on the breeze, and later a church. On one side of the church was the Governor's house; on the other, the prison. Fields were planted with wheat, rye, corn, barley, and oats. Meadows were laid out and stocked with cows, sheep, and goats. And the industrious Dutchmen soon felt much at home.

The Indians and the New Amsterdam settlers were on very friendly terms, and the Indians constantly came into the town to sell their furs to the white men. This trade in furs was carried on between the Indians and the fur traders of other New Netherland settlements as well as with those of New Amsterdam, and it became the great industry of the colony.

One other industry was carried on by these thrifty people. They cut down great trees from the forests and shipped the timber to Holland. When they had cut more than they could ship, they began to build vessels of their own to sail up and down the river and even to the West Indies, with which they were fast building up a trade.

And yet in spite of the shipbuilding, the profitable fur trading, and all the advantages to be had in New Netherland, the Dutch were slow in coming to America. They were too happy at home to care to leave Holland.

The Dutch West India Company saw that some new inducement must be made if their colony was to grow fast enough to suit them. So they offered a tract of land to any member of their company who would agree to have fifty colonists settled on his property within four years. Anyone accepting the offer could choose his own land along any river in the company's domain. If his estate lay on only one bank of the river, he could claim sixteen miles of shore line. Or, he could have eight miles on each bank. In either case his estate should run back from the river as far as he wished it to. The owners of these estates were to be called patroons.

The patroon must consent to pay the Indians for his land, to pay the traveling expenses of his fifty colonists, to fit them out with the necessities of farming, and to provide a schoolmaster and a minister for his estate.

In a short time five such estates were laid out, and the proprietors acted like lords. They did not need to exert themselves, for they had all the help they could desire and almost absolute power over all the settlers living on their lands.

In 1632 Peter Minuit was removed from the governorship of New Netherland and sailed away from New Amsterdam after a short but useful service.

Peter Stuyvesant

PETER STUYVESANT was the last of the Dutch governors of New Netherland. He came to the colony in 1647 and ruled for seventeen years. And they were trying years for both the people and the Governor.

Peter Stuyvesant had many good qualities and many faults. He was loyal to the company that had appointed him and tyrannical to the people he governed. He was honest, brave, and fearless. But he was hot tempered, stern, and unrelenting. His motives were good, but his methods severe.

Above all he was stubborn. So stubborn indeed that before he had been long in the colony he was nicknamed "Headstrong Peter."  "Old Silverleg" was another name given him.

These two nicknames illustrate perfectly the contradictory make-up of the man. The first one was given him because of his pig-headedness. The second came through loyal service to his country. He had lost a leg in battle and now stumped about on a wooden peg trimmed with bands of silver.

Peter Stuyvesant found many trials awaiting him in New Netherland. Troublesome neighbors were on every side. Governor Kieft whom he succeeded had had no tact with the Indians. One quarrel had been settled only to be followed by another. War of course had resulted. And although the Indians had been defeated and peace again established before Peter Stuyvesant came to take Governor Kieft's place, the Indians were still restless and revengeful. They were on the lookout for trouble and had to be treated with great care.

Then south of New Netherland lay a Swedish settlement on Delaware Bay. Here trouble of another sort was waiting for the new governor. The Swedes had settled on land which the Dutch claimed was theirs; and the Swedes had been ordered to leave, but had paid no attention to the order. Instead, they had built a fort to protect themselves and had sent for more settlers. Then the Dutch had built a fort near the Swedish fort to enforce their claim. This the Swedes had torn down.

And thus it went until Peter Stuyvesant decided to settle matters once for all. So taking seven ships and seven hundred men he swooped down upon the little colony, forced it to surrender, and turned it from a Swedish to a Dutch colony.

With the English colonists to the east, Peter Stuyvesant had difficulties, too. The English had gradually occupied Connecticut; and now they were crowding the Dutch on Long Island, and even in the land between the Connecticut and Hudson rivers. Settlement of the boundary lines cost much time and many heated arguments.

And all this while Peter Stuyvesant was having other heated arguments with his own colonists. They had many grievances against their governor. They complained of the taxes; they did not want to be controlled solely by a governor, for they themselves wanted a voice in the government.

At last they won what they asked, and Peter Stuyvesant was obliged to listen to their claims. A council of nine men was elected to confer with the Governor, and this council did much toward remedying the evils of which the people complained.

Now, although Peter Stuyvesant's rule was such a stormy one, he left the colony far better than he found it. New Amsterdam especially improved under his care. The town was given a charter and made into a city. And it was a pretty city, too. Along the streets stood the rows of quaint Dutch houses. Their gables were of colored brick and were turned toward the street; weathercocks decorated the roofs. Bright little gardens lay before many houses. And the gay-colored clothes of the people lent a cheerful appearance to the town.

In the public square stood the stocks, whipping post, and pillory for the punishment of offenders. As Governor Stuyvesant was very fond of dealing out public punishment, all three were often occupied at once. Then there was the fort built by Peter Minuit and strengthened by Peter Stuyvesant. Scattered about were Dutch windmills with their four long sweeping arms. And all together New Amsterdam was a charming little town and one of which the Dutch Governor might well be proud. But Peter Stuyvesant's pride in his colony was short-lived.

England and Holland were great commercial rivals; and England had long ago, owing to John Cabot's discoveries, claimed the land occupied by New Netherland. Moreover, the English king was determined to have all the English colonies along the Atlantic coast united, and this was impossible so long as the Dutch held New Netherland. So the English king gave the Dutch land to his brother James, the Duke of York, who sent a fleet to demand the surrender of the Dutch colony.

Suddenly one day this fleet appeared off New Amsterdam, and its commander sent a letter to Governor Stuyvesant. The letter invited him to give up his colony to the Duke of York. In return for the surrender, the colonists were to be allowed to keep their property and all their rights and privileges, and other privileges were to be granted them.

"Old Silverleg" was very wrathful. He tore up the letter and stamped about on his wooden leg swearing that he would rather be carried out dead than give up the fort. He called upon the Dutch to help him, but they refused to come to his aid, as they were anxious to accept the liberal terms of the English.

Poor "Headstrong Peter" could do nothing alone; and a white flag was raised in spite of him, and the colony was given over to the English. This ended Dutch rule in America.

The name New Netherland was changed to the Province of New York in honor of the English king's brother, the Duke of York. And for the same reason New Amsterdam became the city of New York.

Sailing to Holland, Peter Stuyvesant reported the surrender to the Dutch West India Company. Then he returned to his home in New York and lived there as a peaceful citizen all the rest of his life. He died in 1682 when he was eighty years old.