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CHAPTER VII

Colonization:
The Middle Colonies

The nine colonies whose early history we have traced were all established by Englishmen; but we have now to notice one, destined in future to be the most populous and wealthy community of them all, which was founded and controlled for forty years by a different people -- the Dutch. The people of Holland,1 after a long and terrible war with Spain, had won religious and political independence. With the fall of the Spanish Armada the naval power of the Dutch began to rise, and by the coming of peace in 1609, the Briton alone could rival the Hollander upon the sea.

The Dutch has taken possession of the Molucca Islands and had seized from Portugal the control of the Indian Ocean. Their navigators were unsurpassed in daring adventure. They traded with the Mongolian of the Orient and introduced the use of tea and coffee into Europe; they sailed around South America and gave Cape Horn its name, around the Cape of Good Hope and planted a colony in South Africa; they discovered, in 1606, the far-away continent of Australia, and later the islands of New Zealand and Tasmania. In their effort to find a northeast passage to China they sailed between Nova Zembla and the North Pole and reached a higher latitude than had ever before been reached by man. Their vessels also plowed the icy waters of the Antarctic seas, where they discovered dreary, unpeopled lands were human feet had never been.

As early as 1597 the Dutch made voyages to the West Indies, but it was left for an Englishman in the employ of the Netherlands to make the one and only discovery in the New World by which that nation is remembered. The Dutch East India Company, a great organization trading with the Orient, was exceedingly anxious to find a shorter passage to the China seas. It sent Henry Hudson to find a shorter passage to the China seas. It sent Henry Hudson in search of a northeast passage, but Hudson, after a vain attempt covering several months, turned his little vessel to the waters of the West. The continental character of southern North America was known through the discoveries of De Soto, Coronado, and De Vaca; but the northern portion of that continent was still believed to be an open sea through which a passage to the Orient would yet be found, and it was this delusion of a hundred years that brought Hudson to the western word. He carried with him a letter from his friend, John Smith, with whose exploits in Virginia every reader is familiar. Smith informed Hudson of his exploring the Chesapeake the year before and of his belief that the coveted passage might be found a little farther northward. Hudson now sailed down the New England coast, and in September, 1609, he entered the broad and beautiful river that bears his name. He sailed up the river to the site of Albany, and the impressions he received from the majestic beauty of the palisades, the kindly treatment of the natives, and the many-colored forest, robed in its autumnal foliage, led him to write that it was "as fair a land as was ever trodden by the foot of man."2

Hudson had also sailed into Delaware Bay, and in consequence of his discoveries Holland laid claim to the valleys of the Hudson and the Delaware, then called the North and South rivers, and the country between them was named New Netherland. Trading posts were soon established on Manhattan Island and up the Hudson, but nothing was done at this time toward planting a permanent colony.3 The Dutch West India Company was chartered by the States-General of the Netherlands in 1621. It was a gigantic monopoly (successor to a short-lived company called the New Netherland Company) to which was given control of all Dutch navigation on the coasts of Africa and America. This company was given very extensive commercial and governmental powers, but it was answerable to the home government.

It was three years after the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth that this company sent a small Dutch vessel, with some thirty families, chiefly Walloons (Dutch word for strangers), Protestant refuges from Belgium, to the mouth of the Hudson. A few of them debarked at Manhattan, but the majority sailed up the Hudson and settled at Fort Nassau, later called Fort Orange, now Albany. Almost simultaneously with this the Dutch built Fort Nassau on the Delaware, just below the present city of Camden, a few Dutch families settled on Long Island, and some Dutch traders established a post on the Connecticut River at the site of Hartford. The Dutch had laid claim to the entire vast region between Chesapeake Bay and Cape Cod, through the discoveries of Hudson and Block, and by these settlements they were making good their claim.

The English also claimed this whole territory; but as the Thirty Years' War was raging in Germany, and the Spanish war cloud was darkening over the British Isles, it was thought best not to make an enemy of Holland. On the other hand, the Dutch and British entered into a defensive alliance again Spain. This continued for several years, during which the Dutch on the Hudson were safe from English interference. At the end of this period came the great internal conflict in England -- the strife between Charles I and the Puritans, the Civil War, the execution of the king, the dictatorship of Cromwell -- covering in all nearly forty years; and during these forty years the Dutch were left in control of the Hudson Valley; then came the reckoning, as we shall see on a later page.

The first director of the Dutch colonies was Cornelius May; but in 1626 Peter Minuit was appointed to this office, and, arriving at Manhattan, he purchased the entire island of the Indians, some twenty-two thousand acres, for twenty-four dollars' worth of beads and ribbons. Perhaps no other equal area in the world is now worth so vast a sum of money as Manhattan Island. Minuit built a fort at the southern point and called it New Amsterdam.


Footnotes

1Holland was the most important state of the Netherlands, and the term is often used for the whole country. [return]

2But Hudson was not the first white man to enter the New York Bay. The bay and river had been discovered by Giovanni Verrazano, a Florentine in the employ of the French king, as early as 1524, and again the following year by the Spaniard, Estevan Gomez. After that French vessels frequently ascended the Hudson as far as Albany, trading with the Indians, but their voyages had ceased and were well-nigh forgotten when Hudson rediscovered the river. (See Fiske's "Dutch and Quaker Colonies," Vol. I, p. 68 sq.) While Hudson was exploring the Hudson River, Champlain was not far away, exploring the lake that bears his name, and John Smith was bartering with the Indians in the wilderness of Virginia (ibid., p. 96). Hudson, returning, was detained in England by King James, who determined that so great an English voyager should no longer be employed by foreigners. The next year (1610) Hudson set forth in an English ship, and while in the great bay, afterward called by his name, his mutinous crew set him adrift, with his son and a few others, in an open boat, while they returned to England. On arriving, the crew were sent to jail and an expedition sent to search for Hudson, but the great navigator was never again seen nor heard of. [return]

3In 1614 Hendrick Christiansen built Fort Orange near the site of Albany. Adrian Block explored Long Island Sound, and Cornelius May sailed into the Delaware Bay. At the same time a few traders had settled on Manhattan Island. [return]

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.




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