Manhattan History – The Dutch Settle Manhattan

LIFE is a progress in misapprehensions; history, a process of correcting some misapprehensions and creating others for good measure.

Verrazzano, as we have seen, took slight interest in the land he glimpsed here, beyond surmising that there might be minerals in its rocks. Hudson saw in Manhattan only a pleasant shore bordering a strait opening into an illusory ocean beyond. But the latter did report the presence of fur-bearing animals, whose skins could be bought with “trinkets and stuffs of the coarsest kinds.” This was enough to rouse the interest of shrewd Dutchmen in the region, for the European market absorbed furs endlessly.

On the thickly peopled Manhattan of the present, the fur trade is still important; but it is a trade now of warehousing and tailoring, whereas once this was a post where the raw skins of the interior were gathered, sorted and shipped to Europe. The waterway north-ward, as Hudson saw, gave access to a great fur-producing area, where rigor of climate and abundant plant food for fur-bearing beasts produced pelts of prime quality. The inhabitants were skilled in the arts of the chase. Men with red skins were there in sufficient numbers to hunt down the fur-bearing beasts.

Before the coming of the white man the human inhabitants of America had worked out a nice economic and theologic balance with the feral inhabitants. They respected the beasts, ascribed to them souls, considered them animal guardians and benefactors, and killed them only in need and then with apologies. To increase the red man’s wants so that he would be more industrious in killing beasts was the mission of the first whites who settled the shores of the Hudson; that, and the housing of the skins and their preliminary curing. The traders wooed the Indians with rum and beads and gewgaws, creating appetites conducive to industry.

Comes now into Manhattan its first white resident—Hendrik Christiaensen. This almost forgotten mariner made several voyages between 1610 and 1616, when he was killed by an Indian at Fort Nassau on Castle Island, near Albany, where he had erected that small fortification in 1614 In 1612 he is said to have erected on Manhattan four small houses—probably mere shacks —and a redoubt on the site of present 39–41 Broadway. If he did so these were the first European structures between Virginia and Maine, except the Martello towers in Rhode Island usually ascribed to the Vikings.

Christiaensen built Fort Nassau for the United New Netherland Company, of which he was factor.’ This company had been formed by adventurous merchants of Amsterdam and Hoorn to exploit the fur trade. In his report to his employers, the East India Company, Hudson had enlarged on the opportunity to secure the furs so desired by the civilized, “in a more accessible region still untrod by Europeans” where the skins could be bought “with cheap trinkets and stuffs of the coarsest kinds.” The East India Company, busy in the East Indian Spice Islands, could not concern itself with American markets, so a new association was formed in October, 1614, with a charter from their High Mightinesses of the States General of the Netherlands allowing them to make four voyages within the space of the next three years.

In shifting from the mouth of the river to the head of navigation, Christiaensen and his company followed sound trade practice, as they could take aboard cargoes at the northern fort for direct transport to Holland. Moreover, there the Dutch could cultivate the Indian tribes having access to the widest territory and the best pelts. A network of rivers extended north and west to the Great Lakes and present Canada; and the Iroquois Indians occupying this water-level route to the interior roved this vast region far and wide in war and hunting parties. Unless they were cultivated at close quarters their furs would have gone to the French traders along the St. Lawrence, in spite of the hostility they felt toward the French because of the appearance of Champlain, the French explorer, with a war party of their enemies, the Algonkians, on the lake of his name, in 1609.

From 1614 it is probable that there were always Dutch traders in residence at Fort Nassau, though perhaps only a few remained over the winter, others returning to Holland with autumn cargoes and coming out again in the spring. On Manhattan, however, no year-round post was maintained, though Dutch traders frequently and perhaps regularly visited the island. The English also reached these waters, to which they laid claims, repeated by every King from James I, in 1621, onward to the English occupations, asserting the prior rights to the region by reason of discovery and occupation. Discovery claims rested on Cabot’s journey; the occupational claim could mean only that the settlement of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts entitled England to areas far distant from their humble habitations.

A year before the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod, an English mariner who had been one of Captain John Smith’s companions on his voyage to Newfoundland, Captain Thomas Dermer, approached Manhattan from the east, reporting as follows on his passage through Long Island Sound and Hell Gate:

In my way I discovered land [Long Island] about 30 leagues in length heretofore taken for Mayne, where I feared I had been imbayed, but by help of an Indian I got to sea again through many crooked and streight passages. I let pass many accidents in this journey occasioned by treacherie, where we were compelled twice to go together by the eares [oars], once the Savages had great advantage of us in a streight, not above a Bowe shot, and where a multitude of Indians let fly from the banke, but it pleased God to make us victors, neere unto this we found a most dangerous Catwract amongst small rocky Ilands, occasioned by two unequal tydes, the one ebbing and flowing two hours before the other [Hell Gate] : here we lost an anchor by the strength of the current, but found it deepe enough; from here were we carried in a short space by the tydes swyftnesse into a great bay (to us so appearing) but indeede is broken land [the Upper Bay] which gave us light of the sea: here as I said the land treadeth southerly. In this place I talked with many Savages.

Also he encountered a few Hollanders in the region “who had a trade in Hudson’s river some years before that time with whom he had conference about the state of that coast and their proceedings with those people, whose answer gave him good content.”

Apart from this early tribute to the menace of navigation caused by the tidal eddy at Hell Gate in the East River between Long Island and Manhattan, the passage reveals that the temper of the Indians had become somewhat frayed by their contacts with the whites. The Manhattoes and their near neighbors were of Algonkian stock, a sept of the great Indian family stretching over the greater part of eastern North America, except for the penetration of the Iroquois tribes which had irrupted into Algonkian territory within times then recent to seize the most strategic location on the continent. It was war to the death between Algonkian and Iroquois, the latter making up in political cohesion and daring what they lacked in numbers. The Iroquois raided as far as Manhattan; in other directions they went much farther—northeast to Quebec, northwest to Mackinac, west almost to the Mississippi, southwest to the Great Bend of the Tennessee, south to the Carolinas. The Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy claimed sovereign hunting rights over the territory between the Ohio and the Great Bend of the Tennessee; and they had reduced one of the ablest of the Algonkian peoples, the Delaware or Lenni Lenape of Pennsylvania, to the status of a dependent people without control over their foreign affairs, forcing the Delawares to acknowledge themselves “women” rather than “men.” As a feeble offshoot of the Lenni Lenape, the Indians of the lower river must have lived in fear and trembling of their powerful neighbors to the northwest. This had its effect upon their contacts with the whites. Unconquered in 1524, they met Verrazzano as free men, friendly and unafraid. Hudson had trouble with them in 1609 on his way down the river. Christiaensen died from an Indian attack, and Dermer met real opposition which, however, may have been instigated by the Dutch.

If a modern New Yorker cares to see how the original inhabitants of Manhattan lived, let him look at a miniature reproduction of one of their villages in the Museum of the American Indian of the Heye Foundation at 155th Street and Broadway. In the rocky parts of the island, represented for us in these later days by Central, Morningside and Inwood parks, the red men lived in the caves provided by nature, growing corn in small clearings at the base of the cliffs. But in the flat lands along the Harlem, in the two transverse valleys which cross the island on approximately the 125th and 200th Street lines and again on the alluvial lower East Side were larger fields and rude houses of bark. Like all Indians, they moved their villages frequently, thus eluding epidemics caused by their lack of sanitation. Truly for them life was “short, brutish and nasty.” One of the smallest of the Atlantic aboriginal peoples, they made their short resistence to the invading white, then yielded and sank into immediate insignificance. Always few in number, they were also weak in genius and personality. The annals of Manhattan include the name of no great chief, and no record of aboriginal nobility, such as is part of the history and folklore of nearly all sections of America. Virginia had its Powhatan and Pocahontas; the Mohawk Valley, its Hendrik and Abram; Niagara, its Red Jacket; the Ohio valley, its Logan, and the Great Lakes, their Pontiac: but Manhattan, in need of a sachem, had to borrow Taminent, or Tammany, from Pennsylvania.

These few and feeble Manhattoes occupied this sovereign site largely because it was then relatively worthless and, like themselves, insignificant. There were better sites for Indian life, and abler tribes occupied them. And so the Manhattoes sold their island for trade goods valued at sixty guilders—the equivalent of twenty-four dollars.

Even when they sold Manhattan, the poor Manhattoes probably had no idea that they were actually disposing of their beautiful but unproductive island. Their tenure, traditionally—like that of all American Indians except the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest—was a tenure of possession rather than property. A tribe held what it could against its enemies; within the tribal area the clan held part by common consent of the tribe. But when the clan moved, as it frequently did, the old holding became part of the commonalty of the tribe. Theirs was a primitive communism. Only through experience with the whites would the Indians develop the idea of alienating land from themselves by sale. In the early treaties with whites the Indians thought they were giving the latter the same privileges in the land they themselves possessed, trading the right to use rather than absolute possession. They learned otherwise in time.

With the English settled in New England and Jamestown, and the French in the St. Lawrence, the Dutch by 1621 realized that they would have to colonize their part of America in order to hold it and continue control of the valuable fur harvest. In that year, therefore, the States General granted the charter of the West India Company, entrusting to the Chamber of Amster-dam the colonization of the New World. While the capitalists were raising funds, the statesmen gave New Netherland the status of a royal province (a countship with armorial rights) in 1623; but vested all legislative, judicial and executive powers in the Company. The trading company became an Imperium in imperio, its acts subject only to review in the distant homeland.

Upon oath the settlers agreed to

1. Render strict obedience to the Company and its officials.

2. Confess only the Reformed religion, draw unbelievers, including Indians to that faith; yet allow freedom of conscience without persecution.

3. Obey all provisions of treaties entered into by company officials, even to the point of going to war.

4. Reside six consecutive years in whatever location should be assigned to them.

5. Labor in erecting defenses and public buildings.

6. Turn over all stocks for export to the Company, which monopolized import and export trade.

7. Report all findings of valuable metals or pearls to the Company upon pain of being adjudged felons for concealment of such discoveries.

8. Sell no handicrafts, even of household manufacture, such as the products of the spinning wheel, upon pain of expulsion.

9. Trade with none but the Company.

10. Hold secret from strangers the profits, needs and conditions of the land.

11. After leaving Company service, swear not to enter its territories without consent.

12. Plant and cultivate land as directed by the Company.

13. Deal justly with Indians and neighbors, and keep their women and children in the same path.

In return the Company agreed to

1. Provide transportation for the settlers and their families across the ocean.

2. Assign lands, and provide tools, animals and seed to start cultivation.

3. Supply necessaries of life from its warehouses on credit to poor but worthy heads of families.

4. Maintain free trade within the colony between man and man and adjudicate disputes.

5. Reward discoveries of precious metals, pearls, etc., with one-tenth of the net proceeds over six years.?

Settlement under the West India Company began with the coming of the ship New Netherland, with Cornelis Jacobsen Mey as skipper and first director, in March, 1623, with thirty families, mostly Walloons fleeing from persecution. Eight passengers stayed on Manhattan; the others went on up the river and built Fort Orange. Pieter Evertsen Huth, one of the Amsterdam directors of company, financed another expedition of three ships in 1625 which carried, in addition to human freight, horses, cattle and seeds. One of these ships stopped at Manhattan, adding to its population “six complete families with some freemen; so that forty-five newcomers or inhabitants are taken out to remain there.” 8 William Ver Hulst succeeded Cornelis Mey there, who gave his name to Cape May, as director of the colony during the period.

The records of New Netherland become less sketchy with the arrival of Director General Peter Minuit, the first executive of the colony to bear that title, whose authority exceeded that of his predecessors. Minuit was born of Dutch parents in Wesel in the kingdom of Westphalia, Germany, and he brought with him more Walloon families. He arrived at Manhattan on the Sea Mew, Captain Adriaen Joris commanding, on May 4, 1626. The dicker which gave the West India Company complete possession of the island occurred soon afterward.

The company now owned Manhattan and intended to keep it. Those Walloons who wanted freehold land went to Staten Island. To settlers who remained on Manhattan the company leased land; not for several years would individuals be able to buy Manhattan real estate, a fact which leaves us in the dark as to the initial values of Manhattan land. The colony was intended to be a trading settlement first and foremost; and as such it made a prompt start. By November, 1626, a fort, large for its time, had been staked out by Master Kryn Frederycks. In that month departed the good ship Arms of Amsterdam “with 7,248 beaver skins, 675 otter skins, 48 mink, 36 wildcat and various other sorts; many pieces of oak timber and hickory.”

By this time there had been erected a stone countinghouse—the first sign of a financial district in lower Manhattan—thatched with reed, and thirty other houses on the east bank of the Hudson, the latter habitation being constructed “of the bark of trees,” as the chronicler says.

The white inhabitants were few but industrious, and they had the Dutch knack of getting the Indians to work for them. Within two years after Minuit’s arrival, six farms, or “bouweries,” were laid out on alluvial land north of the settlement, four of them lying “along the River Hellegat,” and were leased to the settlers, rent being paid in shares of produce. They were to be worked for the Company by “boowmeisters,” or “boss farmers.” The name of five of these boowmeisters are given—Walich Jacobson, Jacob Lourenson, Mathew de Reus, Wolfert Gerritsen and Jan Ides. One bowery was assigned to the director general, who hired his own overseer.

No. 1. The most northerly, Bouwerie No. 1, was a tract of 60 morgen, or 120 acres. Its boundaries, on the modern map, were: starting at the junction of the Bowery and Stuyvesant Street, northwest along the Bowery to about halfway between present Twelfth and Thirteenth streets; then northeast to Eighteenth Street and First Avenue, which was at that time on the river bank; southwest along the East River shore to Fifteenth Street about one-third of a block east of Avenue A; then southeast along Stuyvesant Street to St. Mark Place and the Bowery.

This farm was afterwards leased to Wouter van Twiller and later was bought by Peter Stuyvesant. The Stuyvesant home, Petersfield, was near the center of the block, Fifteenth to Sixteenth Street and First Avenue to Avenue A.9 The southeast half of Stuyvesant Square, St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie, and St. Mark’s Cemetery are within its boundaries.

Stuyvesant’s farm ultimately included a large tract of land north of this bouwerie and Bouwerie No. 2 and part of No. 3.

The Bouwerie Village was established by Stuyvesant on the western edge of this farm, and the present Bowery is part of the original Bouwerie Lane which was laid out to connect up the village with New Amsterdam.

No. 2 lay south of Bouwerie No. 1, bounded on the modern map west by the Bowery and Third Avenue, north by Stuyvesant Street, east by the East River and south by a line which ran irregularly from Fourth Street at the Bowery to Eighth Street at the East River.

No. 3, Bylevelt’s Bouwerie, was east and south of a line which, beginning a little south of the present intersection of Eldridge and Rivington Street, ran north-ward and northeastward to about the intersection of Ninth Street and Avenue A, thence eastward to the river; the southern boundary was a line which ran northeastward from the point near Eldridge and Rivington to the river somewhat south of Fifth Street.

No. 4. The north line of Bouwerie No. 4 extended from Bouwerie Lane (present Bowery) just south of Delancey Street northeastward to the line of Corlaer’s plantation, which bounded it on the east from Suffolk Street just north of Stanton Street southeast to Clinton Street a little south of Broome Street. The southerly line of this bouwerie ran thence westwardly to the bouwerie at Canal Street.

No. 5 lay on the south, bounding No. 4 from Canal Street and the Bowery to a point in Stanton Street just north of Broome Street; its east line running thence southerly to the intersection of Division and Attorney streets, the southern boundary running through the center of Division Street to Chatham Square.

Bouwerie No. 6. The north line of Bouwerie No. 6, the southernmost of the West India Company’s farms, ran from Chatham Square northeastwardly to Henry Street, near Grand, to Cherry. The west boundary ran along Catharine Street to Cherry Street, which formed the south line of the farm.’°

Within two years the colony on Manhattan, with 270 population, had reached the point where it could do in a pinch without supplies from Holland, since no merchandise was sent out in 1628, though that neglect roused resentment and no doubt caused severe hard-ship. The resentment is easy to understand, since New Netherlands shipped to Holland in that year peltries valued at 61,075 guilders, in spite of supplies being hampered by the “new wars of the Maerchibaeys [Mohawks] against the Mohicans at the upper end of the river.” The report cites other activities:

Much timber is cut there to carry to the fatherland, but the vessels are too few to make much of it. They are making a windmill to saw lumber and we also have a grist mill. They bake brick here but it is very poor. There is good material for burning lime, namely oyster shells in large quantities. The burning of potash has not succeeded. . . . We are busy now in building a fort of good quarry stone, which is to be found not far from here in abundance. . . . There is good opportunity for making salt.

This description is from the pen of New Amster-dam’s first pastor, the Reverend Jonas Michaelius. Although the company would send no goods to its colony in 1628, it showed more regard for the souls of its settlers than for their bodies, dispatching the clergyman who “from the beginning” established “the form of the church.” His congregation continues as the Collegiate Church of New York, the oldest communion of the Dutch Reformed Church in America.

In 1629 Wouter van Twiller, then one of the company’s servants in Holland and later Director General, received a company grant, confirmed in 1638, by a ground brief, to 100 morgens of fertile land near Saponikan (later Greenwich Village) where tobacco could be raised. This was the first segregation of farming land on the West Side.

The two or three hundred white settlers on Manhattan, seeing furs going to Holland at the average rate of 60,000 guilders a year, and no comparable return in goods from the old company, became disaffected. The frontier influence was beginning to get in its work. They wanted freehold land, and rights of citizenship, both of which were denied them. So they began to slip away to the west, to Jersey.

On the other hand, the company protested that it received scant profits, considering its initial investment and the costs of government. As in most distantly con-trolled settlements, overhead ate up the returns. Poor men would not emigrate from old Netherland to New under the prevailing conditions. Unwilling as yet to forgo its special rights on a democratic basis, the West India Company compromised by opening the country to men of means with the expectation that they would finance settlement in a large way. The Charter of Liberties and Exemptions, granted June 7, 1629, made provisions for patroonships under which patroons, agreeing to take out fifty adult settlers within four years, were vested with titles to broad tracts on which they were accorded feudal rights almost as broad as those

of the company itself, except that the production of their lands and tenants should go to European markets through the company. Several patroonships were established, the best known being Pavonia, opened by Michael Paauw on the present site of Hoboken, and Rensselaerwyck, at the head of Hudson navigation, established by Kiliaen van Rensselaer, a rich merchant of Amsterdam. The latter is the only patroonship which enjoyed a long life.

Another clause in the Charter of Liberties and Exemptions provided that freemen settling in smaller numbers than these required for patroonships might have as much land as they could properly cultivate, on the basis of ten years’ free tenure and thereafter one-tenth of the crop payable to the company yearly. Collection of the tithe was deferred by statute, however, so that actually the West India Company recovered little if any revenues on account of farm lands.

Worth noting is the live-and-let-live spirit in this Dutch colony. As the most tolerant nation in Europe, and giving asylum to all victims of persecution, the Dutch sent forth no settlers burning with religious zeal and hence zealots for conformity when they gained power in the New World. Early New Netherland treated Indians kindly and welcomed all manner of white Protestants—English Episcopalians and Puritans, Calvinistic Walloons and French Huguenots. The Dutch were after trade and profits, which is precisely what New York City is after; and the little town, like the Great City, heeded only economic considerations, thereby setting neighboring colonies an example which was too good to last. In due course the barriers in the way of land purchase were relaxed, and many of those who came to labor remained to become prosperous. The idea that the riches of the New World could be exploited by foreign capital entirely for its own enrichment, without regard to the ambitions of those on the ground, was seen to be untenable. The frontier spirit in New Amsterdam attended to that. In a later chapter we shall see how the golden earth of Manhattan came under individual ownership.