About 133,000 people of Dutch origin settled in the United States
probably more, because no statistics are available before 1820. How did the
Dutch influenced the history of the United States? These men, during their
lifetime met millions of Americans: they lived with them, traded with them,
reasoned with them and shared with them the responsibility for the Local,
the State and the Federal Government. The emigration from the Netherlands to
North America was small in point of numbers. It is important to know when
the Dutch immigration began and where the new settlers made their home.
      As far as the East is concerned the first settlement was made in 1624
and in the West in 1847. The Dutch came at the two most important moments in
the development of American history. The beginning of Colonial History and
the winning of the West in 1847.
      When the American colonies needed it most, the Dutch were ready to aid
them to the best of their ability. There were in the Netherlands at the end
of the sixteenth century two groups who were interested in the American
Continent. The first group regarded the continent as an obstacle, the second
group regarded it as an opportunity.
      To the first group America was an obstacle in the way to China and
Japan. These like the Spaniards, the British, and the French were concerned
only about getting around it quickly. Plancius, a Calvinist minister and a
geographer, had come to the conclusion that the shortest way between the
Netherlands and East-Asia was the way over the North Pole. Nobody knew that
the Polar sea was covered with ice throughout the year, and nobody had the
means to know how far America stretched to the north and Siberia to the
east.Accordingly nobody could know that there was but that one narrow outlet
into the Pacific-the Bering Strait. Expedition after expedition, each
unsuccessful in its turn, was sent from Holland to explore the route.
      One of those expeditions was enthrusted to the Englishman Henry Hudson
and to his stubborn persistence the Dutch owed the rediscovery of the Hudson
River and of the wonderful harbor of New York. It was a rediscovery, for
seventy-five years before Hudson, the Italian explorer Verrazano had already
sailed beyond Sandy Hook into the Narrow.
      Hudson had been strictly forbidden by his Dutch backers to explore the
American coast. Nevertheless, after only a month of cruising, he gave up all
attempts to realize Plancius plans and prompted by his own ideas, sailed to
the southwest. Hudson's backers were not so much interested in his
discoveries as in his failure to achieve anything towards opening a new
route to China.
      But there was the other group, for whom America was not merely an
obstacle in the way to China but important for its own sake. There was
Willem Usselinx, from Antwerp who lived in Spain and on the Azores in those
days known as the "Flemish Islands". Year after year he advocated the
establishment of a West India Company designed to take the rich resources of
the Amercan gold mines from the King of Spain, to deflect all this wealth to
the Netherlands, to encourage the foundation of Dutch colonies overseas. For
Usselinx, West India was the new world.
      To a certain extent Usselinx's plans were realized by the West India
Company which was established in 1621 by the States General of the United
Netherlands. This company directed its main activities towards the
Carribbean.Their Charter, however, included the whole of the American coast,
and so the Hudson territory with its very different interests became subject
to its Directors. In the Hudson territory, after all, men of another spirit
had been at work, quiet traders who wanted to earn their money in normal
ways from the large profits of the fur trade.These Dutch traders sailed
along the American coast and tried to make contact with the Indians, the
purveyors of the fur.
      Prominent among these traders was Adriaan Block who sailed in "The
Tiger." It is likely that he was the first man who intended to make the
Hudson River the headquarters for the trade, for he had been guided in his
sailing by Hudson's directions. Block, then, may well have been the first to
realize the importance of the place, the first to conceive the idea of New
York. We know that he was the first ship-builder on the river. Kindly
assisted by the Indians, he built a small bark to supplant his own ship
which had caught fire, and used this bark in exploring the coast near the
New York Harbor. In 1614 other Dutch skippers found him and rescued him, and
from this moment on a regular trade in the Hudson Valley began. Small posts
sprang up along the river, at Fort Nassau, and at Manhattan, and another was
set up on the South River. After October 11, 1614, the merchants organized
as the New Netherland Company under charter of the States General of the
United Netherlands-continued to trade with the newly discovered territory
for ten years. The small "forts" which they built were hardly an adequate
protection, and the safety of the traders depended upon the good will of
Indians who understood perfectly well what advantages accrued to them from
the presence of the white men. An important element in the Dutch American
settlements of the seventeenth century: the traders had to get along with
the Indians for they needed the Indians even more than the Indians needed
them.  Who was going to get the furs, if the Red men did not get them?
Meanwhile the colony had to be protected from other dangers. What with these
various threats and dangers, the military and political protection of the
Dutch settlement could no longer be adequately provided by the New
Netherland Company. This company, consequently, gave way to a more powerful
corporation-the West India Company.
      The new company was established in 1621.For two years the Directors
were too busy with other affairs to tend to those of New Netherland. Funds
for the support of the Company were hard to procure, for there was little
enthusiasm for the new project among the Dutch capitalists. Obviously a
large capital had to be invested before the colony would pay. The West India
Company, of course, at no time had the intention to establish a large
settlement in North America. This was completely outside their policy. The
Company gladly accepted such settlers as were willing to go to America at
their own risk and at their own expense. Besides, the Directors were willing
to cooperate to a certain extent with others, who saw opportunities in the
project, and who would provide the capital necessary for the establishment
of plantations, or for the exploitation of the soil by tenant farmers. So
far as the Company itself was concerned, it was content with the
encouragement of a few "bouweries," a few farmsteads on Manhattan. All the
Directors wanted was a colony able to supply the traders and the soldiers
who had to protect the traders and the Company's rights, with the necessary
products, and to supply a safe refuge for the ships which they knew would
eventually have to be repaired. All other ends were incidental or
superfluous. After the purchase of Manhattan Island from the Indian chiefs,
the whole population, or most of it, was transported to this new center. It
was this decision to move the colony which resulted in the founding of New
York. The act of establishing the settlement there was entrusted to Willem
Verhulst. Verhulst was merely the agent of the Company, the executor of the
Directors' wishes; he had no further significance.
      Another man who deserves to be mentioned among the founders of the
future metropolis was Pierre Minuit, or Peter Minnewit, a French refugee
from Wesel, in the county of Cleves, who had come to Holland to seek his
fortune, and who became the governor of New Netherland when Verhulst
left.The first settlers, few as they were, were men of several
nationalities. Some of them were refugees from religious persecution; others
were mere adventurers to whom religious issues meant little. It was the task
of the governor to make these divergent elements cooperate with each other,
and to make the group as a whole cooperate with the Company. Minuit realized
that more could be made out of the settlement by pursuing a sound policy of
colonization than by following the Company's orders. Nevertheless, he had
his commission from the Directors, and their wishes had to be his. In order
to comply with these, Minuit bought Manhattan island from the Indians and
made it the center of the settlement.


In 1629 the West India Company published a charter under which private
persons were offered as much land as they could adequately cultivate by
immigrants.  This charter was the origin of the well known patroonships.
Several capitalists in Amsterdam immediately registered for the new
experiment. Settlements on the Connecticut and the Delaware and several
plantations on the banks of the Hudson were planned. Of all these, only one
really succeeded: Van Rensselaerswijk near Fort Orange, named after its
owner, Kiliaen van Rensselaer.
      It was difficult, however, to find settlers for the new plantations,
and it was even more difficult to make them stay in America once they
arrived. Van Rensselaer brought some men to the Hudson Valley from his own
estate in Holland. Besides, he secured the cooperation of Scandinavians in
clearing the woods. These skilled, Scandinavian lumbermen were very much
needed for the construction of sawmills and blockhouses, of cabins and
barns. Such work of construction naturally had to precede the breaking up of
the land. In general, however, the Company preferred to bring in only such
settlers as were of Dutch nationality or as had come under the allegiance of
the Dutch Republic because of political or religious persecution at home.
The people of Holland-simply did not want to emigrate. They could make a
good living at home. But why should these emigrants go to the banks of the
Hudson to live a life in a wild country among savage natives?
      William Kieft, fifth governor of New Netherland, ought properly to be
omitted. He managed affairs so badly that at the end of his administration
the colony as a whole had lost two-thirds of its inhabitants, and New
Amsterdam in particular had lost four-fifths. Governor Kieft started the
Indian Wars which soon ruined the progress that had been made in the last
ten years. The Mohawks had driven the "River Indians" to despair; the
Algonquin tribes, seeking protection from the Dutch, began more and more to
flee to the South. Kieft took it into his head to attack them. Seeing their
existence threatened from two sides, the Indians struck back furiously. For
a long time they were successful in a war which consisted of ambushing and
murdering isolated settlers. Now the Dutch system of settling in single,
segregated farms instead of in small villages proved to be their undoing.
Nevertheless, the Dutch clung to their old ways and could not be persuaded
to concentrate their settlements.The colonists protested bitterly against
Kieft's dealings, and they considered the Governor alone responsible for all
the bloody consequences of his treacherous first attack on the River Indians
in 1643.
      Kieft's mismanagement lasted for ten years. At the end he was deposed
and replaced by Peter Stuyvesant, governor of the Island of Curacao in the
West Indies. With Stuyvesant the last period in the history of New
Netherland begins. When Stuyvesant took command, the colony numbered about a
thousand inhabitants-a third of the strength it had before the Indian Wars.
When he surrendered to the British seventeen years later, there were ten
thousand colonists in the Hudson Valley. It is true that part of these were
unwelcome immigrants who had crowded in from the British settlements, and
who had little sympathy for the Dutch rule. This situation alone makes it
clear that Stuyvesant had to rule with a firm hand, and goes some way
towards explaining the tenacity with which he clung to an autocratic regime.
The Dutch in those days and for a long time after did not believe in popular
self-government. The Dutch political system in colonial administration was
outspokenly autocratic, and Stuyvesant believed in the efficiency of such an
administration.Two years before Stuyvesant took over the government of New
Netherland, a popular revolt of the Brazilians against the Dutch domination
took place. In the ten year struggle which followed upon this revolt, the
West India Company was completely ruined. A year after Stuyvesant's
accession to power, the peace treaty between Spain and The Netherlands was
signed in Munster. This meant that privateering had to stop, and that
another source of the Company's income was cut off. Two years later Richard
Cromwell came to power in England.
      The New England colonies had grown apace by the immigration of more
than sixteen thousand people. These people had formed a union and had become
more closely connected with the home country by the Navigation Act than they
were before. After Cromwell reconstructed the Navy, the Dutch had to share
the control of the seas with the British. To the north conditions had also
changed. The French became more and more influential among the western
Iroquois, while the undaunted Mohawks, always the allies of the Dutch, were
likely to get in trouble with the ever-expanding English. The political
relations between France and Holland in Europe made cooperation between
their respective colonies in America probable.
      Stuyvesant was the perfect diplomat in maneuvering between these
political cliffs. He tried to encourage peace between the French and the
Mohawks, and thus to forestall all unpleasantness from that side. He managed
to conclude a treaty with the New Englanders at Hartford in 1650 by
which-for the first time in North American history-a boundary was
established. Connecticut, completely under English control, had to be
abandoned by the Dutch, but Stuyvesant now had a strong legal basis for
acting against all the New England settlers who kept pushing westward. The
Swedes were warned to give up their pretensions to American territory and
they submitted without bloodshed. On the whole, Stuyvesant did his best to
avoid unnecessary killing. Stuyvesant had his worst troubles with his own
colonists. They rebelled against his "paternal" rule. Since Kieft's
administration they had become wary of autocratic government. The colonists
had forced Kieft to confer with a select committee of the burghers, and
Stuyvesant was compelled to do the same, for the Company and the States
General sometimes took the side of the colonists. Of course, an oligarchic,
not a democratic system was chosen by the colonists for their


      The most important factor was certainly the Dutch Reformed Church.
This congregation had been organized in 1628 upon the arrival of Jonas
Michaelis, first minister of the church in New Amsterdam. The influence of
the ministry had always been very slight during the Dutch period. The
ministers had not always been the men to command the respect of the settlers
who were people from all nations and of various creeds. Stuyvesant had been
more willing than his predecessors to listen to the advice of the ministry,
but his attempts to follow a less tolerant policy than those before him were
strongly resented by the Hollanders.
      In reference to the church, the governing class in the Netherlands was
very tolerant. The Company wanted its Governor to follow a similarly
tolerant policy. Stuyvesant, however, had from the beginning of his
administration been in a much closer relationship with the Reformed Church
and its ministers than his predecessors. In 1656 he forbade by ordinance the
exercise of all non-conformist religion. He refused the Lutherans the public
worship of their faith and had their pastor deported. A Quaker, a refugee
from Boston, was subjected to torture by Stuyvesant's orders. Influenced
perhaps by
Dominie Megalopolensis, who wrote vehemently against the Jews, the Governor
did his best to counteract the immigration plans of this people. He insisted
again and again that the ordinances on public worship should be enforced
against the non-conformists. From Amsterdam he always received the same
advice: So long as the dissenters do not attract public attention, let them
alone.This was the policy which had often been followed in The Netherlands,
particularly in the province of Holland. It met with full approval of the
burghers of New Netherland. Again the warning came from Amsterdam to
Stuyvesant: Do not act too severely; do not force the people's consciences.
The Governor had to give in, just as he had to admit the Jews by order of
his superiors.
      In a city where eighteen languages were spoken and the church had only
a feeble hold on the public opinion, there was no room for a theological
school such as there was at Harvard. But the desire for secondary education
was alive in the colony, and Stuyvesant was greatly interested in the
establishment of a Latin school. He hoped that such an institution would
have a "civilizing" effect upon the uncultivated population. Three attempts
had to be made before the school was definitely established.
      The most curious figure to appear in the colony was Pieter Plockhoy.
He was a Baptist, born in Zierikzee in the province of Zeeland. Dreaming of
the unification of the Christian world, he went to London to try to gain
support for his plans from Cromwell. From the ideal of religious unity his
fancy shifted to the ideal of social justice. There were to be no servants
in his society, labor was to be distributed equally among all, and the
entire community were to live together in central houses. It was an explicit
point of the program that no definite form of religion should be taught.
This surely was an unusual tenet to be put forth in the seventeenth century
when church and state were never separated and every government committed
itself to a definite form of Christianity. Notwithstanding this
point, the town council of Amsterdam in 1662 accepted Plockhoy's project for
the founding of a settlement on the banks of what is now the Delaware.
Twenty-five Mennonist families left for America with Plockhoy to undertake
the first socialistic experiment in the history of America. This unfortunate
group of idealists met with a terrible fate. Plockhoy himself wandered about
in the colonies until in 1694, now a blind old man, he reached the newly
founded city of Germantown. Here among the Baptists of this settlement, he
was received with the brotherly love which he had so long preached as the
basis for a new social order.


      On March 22, 1664, King Charles II granted all the territory between
the Connecticut and the east side of the Delaware to his brother, James of
York.The Duke hastened to occupy the territory and to reap the fruits of
other people's work. In the month of August the British fleet appeared off
New Amsterdam.
Defense was hopeless. On the 18th of September the Dutch reluctantly yielded
to the inevitable. By the conquest of 1664 ten thousand inhabitants of New
Netherland became subjects of the King of Britain. Of these about six
thousand were of Dutch descent. English influence had already become
apparent. There was a British minister in New York and the English language
was predominant on Long Island. The remnants of Dutch civilization were
doomed to disappear within a short time. Naturally the Dutch Governmental
system had to go out together with the authority of the State General.

      Many of the old settlers resented the sudden changes. In spite of all,
however, the Dutch customs survived a hundred and fifty years longer. There
was practically no support from the home country. What, then, kept the
language and customs alive? The most important factor was certainly the
Dutch Reformed Church . When the King of Britain gained control, and when
the Episcopalian Church was introduced and strongly supported by the
Government the New Netherlanders at once rallied around their Reform Church.
This Church also became a haven of refuge for other dissenters: for the
Huguenots, for Non-Conformist Englishmen, and, in the eighteenth century,
for certain German sects. Consequently the Dutch Reformed Church grew apace
and the official language of that Church spread over the new settlements. By
the year 1737 there were sixty-five churches of the Reformed Church in New
York State and in New Jersey. For it was to New Jersey that many New Yorkers
emigrated when the British authority created all kinds of difficulties for
the Reformed Church in New York. Clinging to their traditional form of
worship helped the New Netherlanders to remain conscious of their national
      Another important factor in the conservation of the Dutch language and
customs was the social aloofness of the upper classes of New Netherland,
that is, of the patroons and their friends-land-owners among whom several
merchant families of New York were included. By intermarriage the Van
Rensselaers, the Schuylers of Albany, the Van Cortlands of New York and
others managed to form a closed group who thus separated themselves from the
main body of citizens. Besides the Van Cortlands who had to thank America
for every cent they owned, there were other Dutchmen, successful business
men, newly rich, who liked very much to show their new wealth. Jacob Marius
and Cornelis Steenwijck were among these first New York capitalists. For
more than a century this group of New Netherlanders was not reinforced by
immigrants from the old country. The few Dutch who came over went to
Pennsylvania, where they joined the Pennsylvania "Dutch," who were Germans
closely related to the newcomers by religion.


      In the founders of Germantown, Dutch immigration came to a standstill,
but shipping relations between America and the Netherlands did not. True,
British Acts of Navigation hindered direct commercial relations between the
two countries. From 1727 to 1775 three hundred nineteen immigrant ships
reached the port of Philadelphia, and of these two hundred fifty-three came
from Rotterdam. A total of ninety per cent of the immigrants passed through
this single Dutch port. Dutch sailors made the first great migration of
Germans to this country easy. Dutch merchants may have made considerable
money by the slave trade, but real interest in North America was lacking in
Holland. The West India Company became bankrupt in 1674. A new company under
the same name confined its efforts to the West Indies. It was not long
before a complete ignorance about American affairs characterized the
Netherlands. The cause for this ignorance lay not so much with the Dutch as
with the general political situation in Europe.


      The Dutch gentry of the manors on the Hudson also shared in these wars
against aggression. Albany was the center for all strategical operations in
North America. When the French wanted to invade the British possessions,
they had to come by way of the lakes and the Hudson Valley. The whole burden
of the war fell upon the old Dutch outposts and often enough the people of
Albany were compelled to defend themselves without any support from the
other colonies. The alliance with the Iroquois, which the British had
inherited from the old Dutch days, was of primary importance now. These
Indians were often tempted by the French to come over to their side and the
Iroquois, discontented with the feeble British help which they received,
would perhaps have done so if it had not been for the continuous effort of
Peter Schuyler of Albany. The massacre of Schenectady in which the whole
population was wiped out on the night of February 9, 1689, gives us an idea
of what would have been the fate of the settlers on the Hudson without
Schuyler's continuous vigilance.


      The War of Independence renewed the contact which had been broken off
between America and the Netherlands. Consequently, the Dutch did not take
much interest in the philosophical and political side of the American cause.
What interested them was the commercial possibilities which might arise out
of a defeat of Britain. In the meantime the war in America offered superb
chances for smuggling in arms, ammunition, and all kinds of supplies. For
more than a century the Dutch powder factories had been the most important
in Europe, and the import of powder was a matter of life and death to the
American patriots. This situation caused a sudden upheaval of the Dutch West
Indian trade. The small island of St. Eustatius had been a free port for a
number of years. To this port war supplies were now shipped and from here
they were transported by fast American blockade runners.  The profits to the
Dutch  merchants, most of them established in Amsterdam, were enormous. The
possibilities of this trade alone were enough to make the Dutch the possible
allies of the American cause. The merchants of Amsterdam, who were eager to
earn money by selling arms, proved very reluctant when they were approached
by the representatives of the American Congress for loans. Amsterdam was
then the banking center of the world.
      In time the Dutch themselves were drawn into the war, but this was a
consequence of European political affairs, not of Dutch-American relations.
Naturally there were Dutchmen among the soldiers of the American army. The
New Netherlanders did their duty gallantly. Even if we must recognize that
many loyalists of Dutch descent must have been among the thousands who
supported the British cause in New York, we must bear in mind that the
leading families sided with the cause of the Revolution. When victory was
won, the American leaders gave generous help to those who had had the
courage to defend, alone and against powerful opponents, their cause in the


When the war was over, the merchants of Amsterdam looked
forward eagerly to increasing possibilities of trade. In this they were
completely disappointed. Trading relations between the United States and
England went on as before the war. Hamburg took an increasing part of the
continental trade. Although British capital was primarily interested in the
enterprises at Hamburg, the Dutch were offering their credit to the
merchants of Bremen. In 1790 Alexander Hamilton, the son-in-law of General
Philip Schuyler, reorganized the finances of the American states and
reestablished the credit of the United States government with the foreign
bankers. This action brought on a quick change in the attitude of the Dutch
capitalists. Henceforth they preferred to invest their money in America. The
French Revolution had begun, the Dutch bankers began to transfer large
amounts across the Atlantic. A
group of bankers sent over their agents to look for profitable investments.
American loans were readily subscribed in Amsterdam. Dutch capital
contributed to the establishment of the Bank of the United States. Within a
short time the Dutch had shares in all kinds of American enterprises. When
the situation in Europe became more and more dangerous, Cazenoe, got the
order to buy large tracts of lands on the frontier. This was the beginning
of what became the famous Holland Land Company.
      This Holland Land Company, formed by a group of the bankers at
Amsterdam mentioned above, started buying land with a capital of about one
million four hundred thousand guilders. Unhappily for the bankers, their
agent Th. Cazenove, a man who was rather rash in his business ventures, had
already bought enormous tracts of land and in this way had obliged the
Company to put more money into the enterprise than they had intended.
Eventually the Company became the owner of about three million acres of land
in the northwestern part of New York state and the adjoining districts of
     The Company might have been a financial success had it not been for the
recklessness of the agent. He believed everything speculators told him and
was ready to invest money in any enterprise to which his attention was
called. Had it not been for the huge financial resources of three of the
backers, the whole Company would have been ruined within a short time. As it
happened, the Company passed through the trying period of the French
Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars without too much damage. In the beginning
of the nineteenth century, after the restoration of the independence of the
Netherlands, the Company began to sell out. In 1858 the history of the
Company came to a close with the payment of the last installment on the
lands in Pennsylvania. The Holland Land Company remains an example of
cooperation between Dutch capital and American labor in the development of
the United States.


      After 1840 a new Dutch element entered the United States. Economic
depression had become general in the rural districts of the netherlands and
for the first time Hollanders left their country in large numbers in hope of
finding a better home overseas. In Holland seven hundred thousand
inhabitants of the total two million were supported by charity. It was this
general impoverishment, combined with a very small scale of religious
persecution which gave birth to another emigration and which eventually led
to the founding of the Dutch settlements in the Middle West. Between 1820
and 1838 not more than twenty-four hundred Hollanders emigrated to the
United States. These immigrants had to suffer all the hardships of the
incoming foreigners of that time, first aboard the overcrowded and badly
managed transport ships, and next on their way through America where they
were cheated by "friendly advisors" and by transport companies. Most of the
Hollanders followed the great route from New York along the Hudson and
Mohawk valleys. It was always a consolation for these poor people to meet
the New Netherlanders with whom they could converse in their own language
and from whom they received many acts of kindness. From 1845 onwards the
Dutch began to move into Wisconsin and Illinois. During the years 1856 to
1880, the number of Dutch immigrants diminished The greater prosperity in
Holland was certainly one of the causes.

              This concludes "Hollanders who helped build America"

Source:    Hollanders Who Helped Build America
Authors:   Prof. Dr. Bernard H. M. Vlekke and Rev. Dr.
                Henry Beets
Publisher:  American Biographical Company-N.Y.C.
Copyright:   1942

                Transcribed by Miriam Medina