A Brief History
The search for a passage to India was not abandoned when the colonization of America was begun by England. The Dutch, who confined their trading to the Indies, now, more than ever, desired a shorter route. In September, 1609, Hendrik Hudson, an Englishman in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, sailed westward and entering the river now bearing his name, proceeded as far as Albany.
For several years no attempt at colonization was made, but traders were active and furs in great numbers were gathered. In 1614 a post called Fort Nassau was built near the site of Albany; in 1615 a Manhattan Island post was established, and some years later on the east bank of the Delaware, near Philadelphia, a second Fort Nassau was founded.
The Dutch West India Company
In 1615 the States-General of Holland granted a trading charter for three years to the New Netherland Company, who quickly established extensive trading interest in the Hudson River region. This company was succeeded in 1621 by the Dutch West India Company, whose charter contemplated the "peopling of those fruitful and unsettled parts," as well as the political and commercial government of the region.
In 1624 settlement was seriously undertaken and thirty families of Walloons were sent to America, some settling at Albany, thereafter known as Fort Orange; some at Fort Nassau, on the Delaware; some at Hartford, and the rest on Long and Manhattan islands.
(The Walloons were a people of Celtic origin, but had mixed with the Romans after Caesar's conquest of Gaul. In the sixteenth century they inhabited southern Belgium and were a slow, methodical and industrious people.)
The Coming of the Dutch in Delaware and New Jersey
Dutch traders founded Fort Nassau at the present site of Gloucester, N. J., in 1623, and a party of patroons established Swaanendael (Lewes, Delaware) in 1631. Both settlements were dispersed by the Indians within a few months, but in 1635 Fort Nassau was re-established.
Founding of New Amsterdam
Two years later, in 1626, Peter Minuit, the company's director in New Netherland, purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for trinkets worth about twenty-four dollars and founded New Amsterdam. From this center, flourishing commercial settlements were organized in all directions.
The Patroon System
In 1629 the company promulgated a new charter, authorizing its members to purchase lands from the Indians and to plant colonies. For each colony of fifty persons older than fifteen years, the member was given a tract of land sixteen miles along one side of any river, or eight miles along both sides, "and so far into the country as the situation of the occupiers will permit." Over the colonies thus established the founder or patroon had almost absolute political and judicial authority. The members hastened to take advantage of this opportunity. Among the estates thus founded was Rensselaerswyck, opposite Fort Orange (Albany). This and other similar estates endured almost intact into the nineteenth century and gave rise to an anti-rent agitation about 1840, which resulted in serious social and political disorder.
Decline of the Dutch Colonies
The patroons soon assumed to dictate to the company; jealousy and dissension were rampant; governors were sent out with vague instructions, or with none at all save to make large returns to their employers. These governors were sometimes men of selfish ambitions, reckless of right and wrong, tactless and incapable. Conflicts with the New Englanders on the Connecticut River and with Virginians on the Delaware resulted usually in the humiliation of the Dutch.
In 1638 the company appointed a certain Kieft as governor. He had no sooner accepted that position than his tactless Indian policy brought on a costly war with the Algonquin (1643-1645), which resulted in the destruction of all the frontier settlements. Meanwhile, the evil effects of building up a landed aristocracy had impressed the company, and in 1640 it was decided that the free estates thereafter granted to patroons should be limited to a tract one mile along the river and two miles deep. At the same time similar privileges were extended to new settlers.
Holland versus Sweden
In the course of the dissension which had rent the Dutch West India Company, Peter Minuit, founder and governor of New Amsterdam, and some associates left the company. Under the auspices of the South Company of Sweden, Minuit led a company of Swedes to the Delaware River and there built, in 1638, Fort Christina, later called Wilmington. Sweden, as a powerful Protestant ally of Holland in the Thirty Years' War, was in a sense the protector of the Netherlands. The Dutch were not fully at liberty to prevent this invasion and permitted the Swedes to build a fort upon Tinicum Island, near the mouth of the Schuylkill River. At the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, this obstacle was removed and Governor Stuyvesant planted a fort in the vicinity of Fort Christina. In 1655 the South Company of Sweden was forced to abandon the field.
Holland versus England
The same good fortune did not befall New Netherland in its relations with its stronger neighbor, New England. The trouble began as early as 1633, when rival villages were established along the Connecticut, and discord continued to grow with the development and expansion of settlement. England had many excuses for taking possession of New Netherland. The colony separated two English communities, whose union would produce strength and solidarity; communication between New England and the South was hindered; New Amsterdam possessed the most serviceable harbor on the Atlantic; it controlled the best routes of trade with the native; it commanded an easy avenue of approach to and from Canada, the French stronghold at the north. A compromise boundary was finally fixed in 1651, at a line ten miles east of the Hudson River.
In 1640 it was enacted that town and village officers should be chosen by the directors of the company from a list nominated by the people. The seeds of local self-government were thus planted.
In the following year Governor Kieft appointed a council of twelve representatives, chosen from the several settlements, to consult with him regarding an Indian policy; yet he allowed them little voice in the determination of that policy. Peter Stuyvesant was appointed governor in 1647, and under his administration a council of nine members, chosen by him from a list of nominees, was organized. After its first election, however, it was self-electing.
Conquest of New Netherland
At this time England and Holland were at war, and Cromwell sent out an expedition in 1654 to capture New Amsterdam. After the expedition reached America, peace was proclaimed. In 1664 Charles II, on the brink of war with the Dutch, dispatched a strong force to reduce the Dutch stronghold in America. With some Connecticut volunteers, they proceeded to New Amsterdam, and without firing a shot or shedding a drop of blood supplanted Dutch rule in America. Thus England forged the last link in the chain which within a century was to prove invincible against her own Herculean efforts towards disruption.
Under the new regime the territory was given as a proprietary province to the Duke of York, in whose honor the name of the province and of its chief city was made New York. For a time institutions were left undisturbed; prosperity returned and increased, and contentment prevailed.
In 1665 a code of laws regulating local government was drawn up by the governor and a representative assembly of colonists, and became known as the Duke's Laws. This provided the rudiments of a system which, when fully developed, was known as the mixed system or town-country system of local government. General legislation for the colony was controlled by the proprietor, who ordained a governor and council of his own choosing, th whom he delegated all authority.
Reconquest and Retrocession
In 1673 a Dutch fleet appeared before New York and easily compelled its surrender. This event was welcomed by the Dutch inhabitants, whose grievances against English rule had been accumulating. Among these were dissatisfaction with the apportionment of taxes and disturbing land legislation; the grant of New Jersey to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. A colony was founded at Elizabethtown in 1665; it did not prosper, and in 1674 Berkeley disposed of his right to a party of Quakers, among whom was William Penn. By the Treaty of Westminster in 1674, New York was retroceded to England. In the same year, Sir Edmund Andros, later famous for his despotic career in New England, was appointed governor.
Development and Decline of Civil Liberty
The example of New England, the increasing boldness of the liberal party in England and the growing strength and population of the colony engendered courage in New York to demand greater powers of self government. An assembly, composed of eighteen representatives of the people, was organized, and became of equal importance and power with the governor's council; suffrage was given to freemen and freeholders; religious toleration was guaranteed; the legislature only was authorized to levy taxes; the Duke reserved a veto power.
Upon the accession of the Duke to the crown as James II in 1685, these liberties were quickly withdrawn; representative government was abolished; the Church of England was established, and schools were compelled to be licensed by the church.
New York during the Great Revolution
New York was united with New England under the rule of Andros in 1688. In the same year the Great Revolution in England placed William and Mary on the throne and inspired in New York a small uprising under the leadership of the ignorant, reckless and democratic Jacob Leisler, who made himself governor. Among the incidents of his administration was the meeting of the first general intercolonial assembly at New York in 1690. Leisler was deposed by the royal governor, Sloughter, in 1691. Sloughter, while intoxicated, was prevailed upon by vicious friends to sign a warrant for Leisler's execution, which was carried out before Sloughter became sober. The following year the old "Charter of Liberties" was partially restored. In spite of the ill influence of an ignorant and autocratic official class, the colony now flourished as never before.
Excerpts from Progress of Nations, Vol. VI, by the National Progress League, (c)1912, Hanson-Bellows Company.