See R. Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World (2004); J. Jacobs, The Colony of New Netherland (2009).
In 1524 the first European to visit the area was Giovanni da Verrazzano, who was hired by the French crown and sailed the Dauphine (English: Dolphin) from Cape Fear in the south to Nova Scotia in the north during his expedition to find a route to the Pacific Ocean.
In 1609, during the first year of the twelve-year armistice between The Dutch Republic and Spain, Henry Hudson who had been hired by the Dutch East India Company, sailed the yacht Halve Maen (English: Half Moon) across the Atlantic on an expedition in search of a passage to China. He made landfall at Newfoundland Island and next at Cape Cod, which he mistakenly thought was an island too. Setting off again he sailed south to the Chesapeake and explored the coast northward including the bays and rivers, ending up at the location of present day Albany on the Hudson River, at which point the water became too shallow to continue, and he headed back to Europe. Hudson’s report to his superiors relayed that he had engaged in small-scale bartering for furs with the natives he had encountered along the Mauritius River, which attracted further Dutch interest in the area.
In 1610, the prospect of exploiting Henry Hudson’s report of a new trade resource was the catalyst for Dutch private merchant-traders to explore the river region Hudson had discovered. It resulted in the only known commercial expedition in the year 1610 by Symen Lambertsz Mau to the Mauritius River, which was the original name for the Hudson River.
In 1611-1612, the Admiralty of Amsterdam sent two covert expeditions to find a passage to China with the yachts Craen and Vos, captained by Jan Cornelisz May and Symon Willemsz Cat respectively.
In 1611-1614, during four voyages, the area between present day New Jersey and Massachusetts was commercially explored, surveyed and charted by Adriaen Block, Hendrick Christiaensz and Cornelis Jacobsz May. Their map of 1614, presented to the States General, claimed the territory as New Netherland for the Republic of the Seven United Provinces. Some of those explorers are still honored today such as Adriaen Block, for whom Block Island has been named, and Cornelis Jacobsz May, for whom Cape May, New Jersey is named, and his business partner Thymen Jacobsz Hinlopen for whom Cape Henlopen, Delaware, is named.
The results of these explorations, surveys and charts made from 1609–1614, were consolidated in a map made by Adriaen Block and presented to the States General in 1614. The map named New Netherland for the first time and was delivered on behalf of various competing trading companies in the Hudson River region. They had amalgamated in a new company named the New Netherland Company.
The map and a companion detailed report were presented in response to a States General promulgation of March 17, 1614, that it would grant an exclusive patent for trade between the 40th and 45th parallels, good for four voyages to the discoverer of new countries, harbors and passages. The journeys had to be undertaken within three years after granting the trading rights at the exclusion of all other Dutch. The New Netherland Company was the winner on October 11, 1614 with the date of patent expiration on January 1, 1618.
The New Netherland Company had the Delaware area surveyed by skipper Cornelis Hendricksz of Monnikendam in the years 1614, 1615 and 1616. However, it was unable to secure an exclusive patent from the States General for the area between the 38th and 40th parallel. Upon Block’s departure to patria in June 1614, Cornelis Hendricksz had stayed behind and had been appointed by Block as skipper of the North American-built ship Onrust (English: Restless). Restless was a replacement ship built by Block in the vicinity of Manhattan upon the destruction of his yacht Tyger which had been lost to fire in January 1614. Adriaen Block never returned to New Netherland. Cornelis Hendricksz’s Zuyd Rivier, (Delaware River) explorations, from its very top to the lower bay, have been preserved in a map of 1616.
Between 1621 and 1623, in preparation for North American colonization, the West India Company recalled all private commercial parties operating in the New Netherland territory, and invalidated all private commercial interests, thus voiding maritime law as the only legal recourse in the region. The peopling and growth of New Netherland as an overseas province was to be financed partly by profits from fur trading operations. That trade was therefore made exclusive to the West India Company in order to minimize the company’s financial exposure to the colony.
Since the issue of patents by the States General in 1614, New Netherland had been a private, commercial venture. This changed in 1624, when New Netherland became a province of the Dutch Republic and the northern border was lowered to 42 degrees north in acknowledgment of the inevitable intrusion of the English north of Cape Cod (see John Smith's 1616 map as self-anointed Admiral of New England). According to the Law of Nations, a claim on a territory required not only discovery and charting, but also settlement. In May 1624 the Dutch completed their claim by landing 30 Dutch families on Noten Eylant, modern Governors Island.
A fur trading post had been established by Dutch traders in 1614 or 1615 with the construction of Fort Nassau on Castle Island, up Hudson's river, in the area of present-day Albany. The location of the fort proved to be impractical, due to repeated flooding of Castle Island in the summers, and the fort was abandoned in 1618. In 1624, Fort Orange was built nearby, on the west bank of the river. The primary purpose of the forts was to defend river traffic against interlopers and to conduct fur trading operations with the natives. (Fort Nassau and Fort Orange were named in honor of the House of Orange-Nassau, whose members occupied positions of power as lord-lieutenants of various provinces of the Dutch Republic.)
In the summer of 1624, the Dutch West India Company delivered the first colonists (mostly from southern Netherlandic or Walloon ancestry) on Noten Eylant, now Governors Island, in New Netherland. They came from the Walloon communities in Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden and comprised thirty families. These colonists had disembarked on Governors Island from the ship named “New Netherland” under the command of Cornelis Jacobsz May, the first director of the Province of New Netherland. Some of these colonists traveled upriver and settled near Fort Orange, where the settlement of Beverwijck grew up. (This settlement was the forerunner of New York state's capital, Albany; the name was changed when the English captured New Netherland in 1664.) In June, 1625, forty-five more colonists disembarked on Governors Island from three ships named Horse, Cow and Sheep which also delivered 103 horses, steers and cows, in addition to numerous pigs and sheep. It successfully completed the Republic’s first planting of a colony in 1624. Director May (1624-1625) was replaced with Director Willem Verhulst (1625-1626).
Prior to establishment of Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island in 1625, giving birth to New York City, there was a fort on Noten Eylant in 1624, giving birth to New York State (as well as New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware, i.e., the New York Tri-State region). On the Delaware River there existed a Fort Wilhelmus on Verhulsten Island, now Burlington Island, a Fort Nassau (1623-1651), now Gloucester in New Jersey, and in the Connecticut River was Fort Goede Hoop, also known as Huys de Hoop in 1633 (En. "House of Hope"), giving birth to Hartford.
Although the Dutch West India Company had established the Reformed Church as the official religious institution of New Netherland , the early Dutch settlers planted the concept of toleration as a legal right in North America as per explicit orders in 1624. They had to attract, “through attitude and by example”, the natives and non-believers to God’s word “without, on the other hand, to persecute someone by reason of his religion and to leave everyone the freedom of his conscience” (via “levenshouding en voorbeeld” moesten zij “de Indianen ende andere blinde menschen tot de kennisz Godes ende synes woort sien te trecken, sonder nochtans ijemant ter oorsaecke van syne religie te vervolgen, maer een yder de vrijch[eyt] van sijn consciencie te laten”).
Those instructions derived from the founding document of the Dutch Republic, the 1579 Union of Utrecht, stating “that everyone shall remain free in religion and that no one may be persecuted or investigated because of religion” (“dat een yder particulier in sijn religie vrij sal moegen blijven ende dat men nyemant ter cause van de religie sal moegen achterhaelen ofte ondersoucken”). That statement, unique in the world at the time, became the historic underpinning for the opening of the first synagogue in the Western Hemisphere at Recife in Dutch Brazil in 1642 as well as the "official" granting of full residency for both Ashkenazim and Sephardim at New Amsterdam in 1655. Furthermore, the laws and ordinances of the states of Holland were incorporated by reference in those first instructions to the Governors Island settlers in 1624. They contained the legal-cultural code that lies at the root of the New York Tri-State traditions and, ultimately, American pluralism (diversity) and liberty.
In 1658 Franciscus van den Enden together with Pieter Corneliszoon Plockhoy worked on a project for a utopian settlement in New Netherland, more precisely in the area of the present Delaware. In 1663 Plockhoy and 41 settlers made their way to Delaware Bay and established their colony near the former Swaanendael.
Peter Stuyvesant was Director-General of the colony from 1647 until it was ceded provisionally to the English in 1664.
With the 1650 Treaty of Hartford, Stuyvesant provisionally ceded the Connecticut River region to New England, drawing New Netherland's eastern border 50 Dutch miles west of the Connecticut's mouth on the mainland and just west of Oyster Bay on Long Island. The Dutch West India Company refused to recognize the treaty, but since they failed to reach any agreement with the English themselves, the Hartford Treaty set the de facto border.
In March of 1664, Charles II of England resolved to annex New Netherland and to “bring all his Kingdoms under one form of government, both in church and state, and to install the Anglican government as in old England”. In the face of this the Directors of the Dutch West India Company comforted themselves that the religious freedom of the colony rendered military defense against New England unnecessary. They wrote to Director-General Peter Stuyvesant, “we are in hopes that as the English at the north (in New Netherland) have removed mostly from old England for the causes aforesaid, they will not give us henceforth so much trouble, but prefer to live free under us at peace with their consciences than to risk getting rid of our authority and then falling again under a government from which they had formerly fled.”
On August 27, 1664, four English frigates sailed in New Amsterdam’s harbor and demanded New Netherland’s surrender. They met no resistance because previously, numerous citizens’ requests for protection by a suitable garrison against “the deplorable and tragic massacres” by the natives had gone unheeded. That ongoing lack of sufficient garrisons, ammunition and gun powder, as well as the indifferent responses from the West India Company upon frequent and urgent requests for reinforcement of men and ships against “the continual troubles, threats, encroachments and invasions of the English neighbors and government of Hartford Colony” made New Amsterdam defenseless. Stuyvesant made the best of a bad situation and negotiated successfully for good terms from his “too powerful enemies." The capture of the city was one out of a series of attacks on Dutch colonies that resulted in the Second Anglo-Dutch War between England and the Dutch Republic.
During the negotiations over the Articles of Transfer, Petrus Stuyvesant and his council secured the principle of tolerance in Article VIII, which assured New Netherlanders that they “shall keep and enjoy the liberty of their consciences in religion” under English rule. In the 1667 Treaty of Breda, the Dutch did not press their claims on New Netherland. The status quo, with the Dutch occupying Suriname and the nutmeg island of Run, was maintained; no definitive solution was decided on.
More visible traces of Dutch influence include the prevalence of Dutch placenames in the region from Rhode Island to Delaware to this day. Examples include:
In addition, many New York citizens are directly descended from the Dutch citizens of New Netherland. For instance, the Roosevelt family, which produced two Presidents, are descended from Claes van Roosevelt, who emigrated from Haarlem in about 1650. The Van Buren family of President Martin Van Buren also originated in New Netherland.
Further, the colors of the flag of the City of New York are the blue, white and orange of the old Dutch flag. The colors are also seen in the Nassau County flag, material from New York's two World's Fairs and the uniforms of the New York Mets baseball club, New York Knicks basketball club, and New York Islanders hockey club.
The folk tales of the Dutch peasants of the Hudson Valley gave literary inspiration to Washington Irving for his two most famous short stories, Rip van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, proving the survival of the local Dutch culture well into the first part of the 19th century.