A Brief History of New Amsterdam

7 Interesting Facts About the Dutch Colony Now Known As New York

The Castello Plan, the earliest known plan of New Amsterdam in New Netherland, ca. 1660

Jacques Cortelyou / Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana / Wikimedia Commons / ​Public Domain


Between 1626 and 1664, the main town of the Dutch colony of New Netherland was New Amsterdam, now called Manhattan. The Dutch established colonies and trading outposts around the world in the early 17th century. In 1609, Henry Hudson was hired by the Dutch for a voyage of exploration. He came to North America and sailed up the soon-to-be-named Hudson River. Within a year, they had begun trading for furs with the Indigenous peoples along this and the Connecticut and Delaware River Valleys. They established Fort Orange at present-day Albany to take advantage of the lucrative fur trade with the Iroquois tribe. Beginning with the "purchase" of Manhattan, the town of New Amsterdam was founded as a way to help protect trading areas further upriver while providing a great port of entry.

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The Purchase of Manhattan

Peter Minuit became the director-general of the Dutch West India Company in 1626. He met with Indigenous peoples and purchased Manhattan for trinkets equivalent to several thousand dollars today. The land was quickly settled.

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New Amsterdam Never Grew Large

Even though New Amsterdam was the "capital" of New Netherland, it never grew as large or as commercially active as Boston or Philadelphia. The Dutch economy was good and therefore very few people chose to immigrate. Thus, the number of inhabitants grew quite slowly. In 1628, the Dutch government tried to spurn settlement by giving patroons (wealthy settlers) large areas of land if they brought immigrants to the area within three years. While some decided to take advantage of the offer, only Kiliaen van Rensselaer followed through. 

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New Amsterdam's Diverse Population

While the Dutch did not immigrate in large numbers to New Amsterdam, those who did immigrate were typically members of displaced groups like French Protestants, Jews, and Germans which resulted in quite a heterogeneous population. 

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A Colony Built by Enslaved People

Because of the lack of immigration, the settlers in New Amsterdam relied on the labor of enslaved people more than any other colony at the time. In fact, by 1640 about one-third of New Amsterdam was made up of Africans. By 1664, 20% of the city was of African descent. However, the way that the Dutch dealt with enslaved people was quite different from that of the English colonists. They were allowed to learn to read, be baptized, and get married in the Dutch Reformed Church. In some instances, they would allow enslaved people to earn wages and own property. About one-fifth of the enslaved people were "free" by the time New Amsterdam was taken by the English.

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Peter Stuyvesant Organizes New Amsterdam

In 1647, Peter Stuyvesant became director-general of the Dutch West India Company. He worked to make the settlement better organized. In 1653, settlers were finally given the right to form a city government.

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It Was Surrendered to the English Without a Fight

In August 1664, four English warships arrived in the New Amsterdam harbor to take over the town. Because many of the inhabitants were not actually Dutch, when the English promised to allow them to keep their commercial rights, they surrendered without a fight. The English renamed the town New York.

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England Takes New Amsterdam

The English held New York until the Dutch recaptured it in 1673. However, this was short-lived as they ceded it back to the English by treaty in 1674. From that point on it remained in the hands of the English.

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Kelly, Martin. "A Brief History of New Amsterdam." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/key-facts-about-new-amsterdam-104602. Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). A Brief History of New Amsterdam. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/key-facts-about-new-amsterdam-104602 Kelly, Martin. "A Brief History of New Amsterdam." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/key-facts-about-new-amsterdam-104602 (accessed June 3, 2023).