Why the Dutch Came and Went

SOME came over the sea for tobacco, some for fish, some for cheap land and some to worship God in a meetinghouse instead of a church; but the Dutch came to trade. Buying Manhattan Island for $24—all it was worth to the Indians—those shrewd traders from Holland planted themselves on the spot appointed by nature to be the commercial metropolis of this country. Why? Because it is at the mouth of the longest river that flows down to the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

An English sailor in the pay of the Dutch had mistaken the majestic banks of that river for the portals of the Orient in the golden September of 1609. When he came to shoal water above Albany he was disillusioned. Turning the Half Moon about, Henry Hudson sailed away from the noble stream that bears his name, never to return except in the fancy of Rip Van Winkle's little men of the mountain.

When the Half Moon came back to Holland without the silks of China, but loaded with furs, Dutch traders lost no time in sailing for the Hudson River to barter an alluring assortment of colored beads and shining tin pins for the pelts of the beaver, the otter, the mink and the wildcat. The white men everywhere in America had been flabbergasted to find a race of people who did not lust for little round pieces of white and yellow metal. It remained for the canny, forest-roving merchants from Holland to discover the red man's bump of acquisitiveness—wampum!

That currency of the children of nature consisted of the blue eye-spots of clamshells and certain choice parts of the shell of the quahog, the periwinkle and of other bivalves and univalves. A belt of wampum for the buck and a necklace of it for the squaw were more prized than gold or silver or diamonds. Inevitably the overreaching greed of the whites spoiled the game by inflating and depreciating this circulating medium with glass counterfeits fabricated by the ingenious craftsmen of Europe!

The brief rule of the Dutch strangely stamped itself on Manhattan. While the dugouts and reedy huts of New Amsterdam sprawled over the ground from which the skyscrapers of Gotham now spring heavenward; while Wall Street was the haunt of four-footed bears and City Hall a cow pasture, to which Dutch milkmaids, pails in hand, wended their way by a path that is Maiden Lane today, 18 languages were spoken in the polyglot village that was to become the most cosmopolitan of all the cities of history.

Also and alas, the greedy exploiters in Holland and their greedy agents in America introduced even then the favoritism and pull, the bolding and wide openness that have remained ever since endemic diseases of the island. Immense tracts of land were given to a favored few, on condition that each should style 50 vassals on his estate. With a manor that stretched from below Albany far up the shore of Lake Champlain, Patroon Van Rensselaer, a diamond cutter from old Amsterdam, was most renowned among those feudal lords.

A quarter of a century after the coming of the Dutch traders, New Netherland still was not a colony, but a straggling line of trading posts, with perhaps 2000 population scattered along the Hudson. Holland was too small to compete with the English colonizers and her people were too prosperous and free at home. They did not feel the urge that sent penniless gentlemen and vagrants from England to Virginia and discontented religionists to Massachusetts.

The first real colonists, the first to bring wives and children, were not Dutch at all. They were 33 families of Protestant Walloons from Belgium, who had, like the Pilgrims, taken refuge in Holland from proscription in their native land. They came in 1623 or 1624 and were followed by French Huguenots and also by some Jews, who had been banished from Brazil.

The part enacted by the Dutch is hardly more than an interlude in American history. Yet, too, small credit has gone to them for having been the path blazers of five of the 13 original States—Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. That is the penalty they paid for losing their colony and leaving their story to be told by the conquering race, which made them the butt of that masterpiece of national humor, Washington Irving's "Knickerbocker History of New York."

A Dutch skipper, Adrian Block, sailed by "Helle-gat," up to Hartford and back to Long Island Sound, onward past the island that keeps his name, up Narragansett Bay by "Rood" Island, and finally to "Pye Bay," or Nahant Bay, where he looked in through the yet silent entrance to Boston Harbor. That flying Dutchman and other adventurous pioneers from behind the dykes of the Netherlands left many traces of themselves on the map of America, such as the Schuylkill, the Catskills, Spuyten Duyvil, Harlem, Staten Island, Yonkers and Sandy Hook.

Two Presidents of the United States, Van Buren and Roosevelt, also derived their names from New Netherland, along with the Schuylers, Cortlands, Kips, Frelinghuysens, Beckmans, Longstreets, Jays, Bayards, Stuyvesants, Ten Eycks, Van Rensselaers, Van Wycks, Vanderbilts, Van Zandts, Van Alens, Van Nesses, Van Valkenburgs, Van Schaicks and countless other Vans, who boast the blood of the little band that cleared the way in the wilderness for the Empire State and its imperial city.

The commercial instinct that had guided the Dutch to the gateway of the continent was their undoing. They still keep their big East Indian Empire; but they lost New Netherland, because the new world was to be somewhat more than a trading post for the old.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Oct 29, 1927, p. 14