A Tour of New Netherland


Greenwich Village

Sapokanikan was the name of one of several Lenape villages that archaeologists have identified as existing on Manhattan Island prior to the coming of Europeans. It was located in the southwest portion of the island, on the shores of a trout stream the Indians called Minetta. Stretching things just a bit, one might say the members of this seasonal community were the first residents of Greenwich Village.

Dutch settlement of the area began in 1629, when the third director of New Netherland, Wouter Van Twiller, got a grant from the West India Company for a tobacco plantation. Surprisingly, tobacco was a genuine commodity on Manhattan during the Dutch period. It grew well enough in this corner of the island that the word “Sapokanikan” may in fact have meant “wild tobacco.” The most famous landowners in this area during the period were Everardus Bogardus, the Dutch Reformed minister of the colony, and his wife, Anneke Jans. In reality, it was Anneke who managed the estate, and grew it to considerable proportions.

This was also an area where the West India Company conveyed farm lots to freed African slaves. The records of the colony show the first of these African landholders on Manhattan—Antony Portuguese, Gratia Dangola, Manuel Gerrit de Reus—passing their property down through successive generations. It’s hard to picture the area of that time when walking in the Village today, but a small vestige remains. If you stand at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Bleecker Street, you will see a tiny block that juts northward just a few dozen paces, curving like a stream. Minetta Street is a remnant of what in the English colonial era was known as the Negroes’ Causeway—the road that ran alongside Minetta Brook (which was forced underground in the nineteenth century) and connected the area of African farms with points south.

Through the Dutch period, the village that sprang up here was called Noortwyck (“North District”) since it lay to the north of New Amsterdam. The name Greenwich sounds purely English, and most people assume as much, but they assume incorrectly. In the 1670s, when Yellis Mandeville moved here and bought property, he took with him the name of a Dutch village near where he had lived on Long Island, which has long since disappeared but which was then known as Greenwijck, or Pine District. The first record of the name change to Greenwich Village occurs in Mandeville’s will, in 1696, so it seems likely that he was responsible for the new name and thus that “Greenwich” was an Anglicization of a Dutch name.

Later centuries saw the rise of Greenwich Village as an enclave of artists, poets, writers, and revolutionaries. Edgar Allen Poe, e. e. Cummings, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Theodore Dreiser, and Mark Twain are just a few of the Village’s legendary residents.

About the New Netherland Institute

For a quarter century NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. Directed by Dr. Charles Gehring. More


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