New Amsterdam – The Beginnings of New York City

Peter Stuyvesant

Peter Stuyvesant

The affairs of the colony now began to assume a more cheering aspect. Settlers arrived from various quarters; among them a number of Jews, exiles from various parts of Europe, and also fugitives from New England, driven out by religious intolerance. Already, New Amsterdam contained a population made up from almost every country in Europe, and of nearly every religious creed. This leniency in matters of religion was not agreeable to the taste of the governor, who liked the Lutherans and the Quakers as little as did his neighbors in New England; but, he was overruled by his superiors at home, who commanded that the same indulgence that made the parent city a general asylum for the oppressed, should prevail also in its namesake on the Hudson River; so, though quite contrary to his wishes, the governor permitted them to remain in peace.

New Amsterdam, New York People by Karl R. Free.

New Amsterdam, New York People by Karl R. Free.

In the meantime, the Dutch West India Company was largely concerned in the slave trade, and special permission was given to particular merchants to send two or three ships to the coast of Africa to purchase slaves and to promote the settlement of the country by importing them into New Netherland. Most of the slaves thus introduced remained the property of the company, and the more trusty and industrious of them, after a certain period of labor, were allowed little farms, paying in return a certain amount of produce. Thus, early was the African race introduced among the population of the colony, and the system of African slavery incorporated among its institutions, to remain a scourge and reproach for nearly two hundred years.

Unquestionable as was the right of the Dutch to the country they occupied on the Hudson River, that right had never been acknowledged by Great Britain; but, on the contrary, the whole region was claimed as a portion of the possessions of that kingdom. Several faint attempts to assert that claim had been made at different times, but, without success. Soon after the restoration of Charles II, this whole territory was granted to his brother, the Duke of York, who proceeded immediately to take measures to seize upon the colony. The Dutch knew nothing of these transactions before the ships bearing the duke’s forces had actually sailed. Rumors of the intended invasion had reached New Amsterdam before the arrival of the hostile fleet, but no adequate provisions were made for the public defense. Governor Stuyvesant would have given battle to the invaders, or suffered the rigors of a siege; but, his feelings were not those of the colonists generally. The Dutch cared little whether they were under a Dutch or an English yoke; and the English, who constituted nearly half of the entire population, rather favored than opposed the claims of their own countrymen. Accordingly, after several days spent in negotiations, the entire colony was surrendered to the English on September 8, 1664, on terms quite satisfactory to the inhabitants.

With a change of masters, came also a change of name to the conquered colony; and from that time both the province and the chief town were called New York, in compliment to the duke, who now became their proprietor and ruler. Though greatly improved under the administration of Governor Stuyvesant, the fledgling city consisted of but of a few narrow streets, near the southern extremity of Manhattan Island. There were a few handsome buildings, covered with tiles brought from Holland; but, most of the houses were thatched cottages.

The Fall of New Amsterdam

The Fall of New Amsterdam

Soon, the water line was carried out far beyond its original place, so that what was once outside streets are now a considerable distance from the water. The southernmost point was occupied by the fort, which, however, did not lie immediately upon the water’s edge, as a ledge of sunken rocks, extending off this point, rendering it inaccessible to all kinds of watercraft. Within the fort was the residence of the governor, the public offices, and the Dutch Calvinist church. Between this and the beach was an irregular and unoccupied space, which was used as a place of resort for outdoor exercises by the townspeople.

Just above the fort was a triangular space, devoted to no special purpose, and therefore ready to be occupied in any way that the public convenience might require. This was the campus where the field sports of the men and boys of New Amsterdam took place. At an early period, it was used by the soldiers of the garrison for their manual exercises, and hence, it was called the Parade. It was also used as a cattle market, and in 1659, an ordinance was made by the town authorities regulating the manner of keeping the cattle here offered for sale. At a much later period, it was enclosed, and devoted to the purpose that has given it its name — the Bowling-Green, where residents played the game of lawn bowls.

Fort Amsterdam, New York

Fort Amsterdam, New York

From the fort, and beyond the triangle of the Bowling Green, a broad and straight roadway led back toward the cultivated boweries farther up the island. This was from the beginning, the principal street of the town, though not a favorite one for residences on account of its distance from the water. The Dutch called it “De Heere-straat,” or Main-street. In 1665, when an enumeration of all the houses in the town was made, this street had only 21 dwellings. The English changed its name to Broadway. Passing along the south side of the fort, a street extended along the East River to the great swamp, where it turned away to the northward, leading to the boweries. The western portion of this street the Dutch called ” Perel-straat;” and the more easterly,” Hooghstraat,” or High-street. This was a favorite place for residences with the Dutch settlers — about one-quarter of all the houses in the town at the time of the conquest were on this street. To the east of the fort, a short distance, was a small stream, ending in a deep marshy inlet, just eastward from the rocky point of Manhattan Island. This stream and inlet were, in the early days of the colony, excavated and turned into a drain and canal, called “De Graft.” Houses were afterward built upon its banks, after the manner of Amsterdam in Holland; and, as several smaller “grafts” had been made, this began to be called “De Heere Graft,” or main canal. Into this canal, all vessels trading to New Amsterdam were accustomed to enter, for the purpose of loading and unloading. Here, was the custom-house, and, of course, the “graft” was an object of little interest to the government. Twenty dwellings were located on its banks in 1665.

Surrender of New Amersterdam in 1664 by Charles Harris

Surrender of New Amersterdam in 1664 by Charles Harris

Immediately under the east wall of the fort, and reaching down to the water close by the rocks, ran a little street, that seems to have been as old as the town itself. The Dutch called it “Winchel-straat,” or Shop Street and it was paved as early as 1658, before any other street, though it had but five houses. A battery, called Whitehall, was, at the subsequent period, erected near the foot of this street, and that name was later given to the street. A street was opened leading eastward from the southeast angle of the fort, and, passing the “Heere graft” by a bridge, ending in “De Hoogh-straat.” The name of Bridge Street was naturally given to it, and has never been exchanged for another. Directly above this, abutting the east side of the fort, was another small street, called “the Brewer’s street,” as it was the site of Van Cortlandt’s brewery. Later, it was renamed Stone Street. Opposite to the Parade, eastward, a drain was opened leading into the main canal, called “Beaverdrain;” and, on the opposite side of the canal, another drain, called “Prince’s,” entered from the east. On the banks of these drains, the Dutch had erected about thirty houses before the conquest. Beaver Street would later occupy the place of those canals. Below Beaver drain, and parallel with it was a narrow and inconsiderable street, called Marketfield Lane, along which were erected eight dwellings. On the eastern side of the town was a street leading to and beyond the city wall, called by the Dutch the “Valley,” and by the English, Smith’s Valley, which later became William Street. About twenty houses were found on this road when the town fell into the hands of the English.

The whole number of dwellings in the town at the time of the capture, including several outside of the palisade, was less than 250 and the population was less than 2,000 people. Such was the famous city of New Amsterdam when it became the capitol of the Anglo American colony of New York City.

Compiled by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2019.

About the Author & Article: The Discovery of what would become New York City is excerpted from the book New York: A Historical Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Metropolitan City of America by Daniel Curry, published by Carolton and Phillips, in 1853. However, the text as it appears here is far from verbatim, as it has been heavily edited, truncated, and updated for the ease of modern readers.

Also See:

Discovery, Description & Early Occupation of New York City

The Dutch Colony of New Netherland

Henry Hudson – Northeast Explorer

New York State History

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *