In 2014 I visited New York City for the first time. It fascinated me that this energetic city was once in Dutch hands and I wondered how it was possible that I actually knew so little about it. The history and origins of a place are sometimes not experienced enough in today’s volatile society. During my first visit, I bought a book concerning Dutch history in America. Walking along Battery Park, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Henry Hudson, being there with new land in sight – hoping for a passage to Asia. Hudson slowly traversed up the river and eventually came along the country side (near present-day Albany) when he realized again, he was unsuccessful. There was no passage and he was forced to turn around. He never knew that he was the one who would discover the new land which is seen today as the capital of the Western world. Numerous locations and stories grabbed me and back in The Netherlands I continued my search for Dutch remnants in the new world. I had already decided that my next project had te be about this subject; the lost Dutch identity in New York.

New Netherland

In seventeenth century Amsterdam, the first multinational of the world was founded; the VOC, United East India Company. Around 1600 the city was in one of the most important transitional phases in its history. It was here that novelties emerged such as the commodity exchange and an exchange city bank. Because of the growing trade thousands of newcomers entered the city. New craftsmen introduced new techniques and people could learn more and more from each other. A special characteristic for the time was its tolerant government with regards to religion. To ‘believe’ was not strictly required, because trade had higher priority. 

"In this city is no one who does not trade," Descartes wrote on Amsterdam, having established himself here in the 1630’s. "Everyone is so filled with his own advantage, I could live there my entire life without being noticed by anyone." The naval trade created Dutch settlements over the world - especially Asia because of the high demand for herbs and spices back home. 

Hudson was commissioned by the WIC, Dutch West India Company to find a new route to Asia. After having been at sea for months, Hudson came across a piece of land perched on rocks in a one mile wide river. He found that its water was salt, which led him to hope that the river would lead to another sea that could form a passage to Asia. Unfortunately, as they boosted further on the river the water became fresh and there was no passage. 

Hudson saw it as a big failure, but other members of the crew would describe the lands as the most fertile they had seen. This news made it back to The Netherlands and the WIC decided (some time later) to attract new groups to the area. The area grew slowly into a new Dutch settlement named New Netherlands and obtained in 1625 its capital New Amsterdam.

The first immigrants to the new World were attracted by the possibilities of freedom that the undiscovered lands of the New World provided. The idea of he American Dream is therefore formed around the 17th century, when America was new, unexplored land - the land of unlimited possibilities: Freedom! The basis for this lies in the way of life in the former Dutch colony. This has in particular ensured that principles like religious freedom, drive to the freedom of trade and tolerance in a multicultural society were of paramount importance.

During the growth of New Amsterdam ‘everyone' was welcome as long as you wanted to work hard. In 1652, there were 200 people. Just like Amsterdam at that time, New Netherland was flooded by settlers from many different nationalities. In 1664, the year the British took over, the country was populated by 10,000 people with Beverwijck and New Amsterdam as stand-alone cities.