Going Dutch: A Visit to New Netherland



State Street and the Dutch Reformed Church by James Eights

You face the square building again and stop a man wearing loose floppy knee breeches with dirty wrinkled stockings below. You ask him where you are—and are shocked to discover you're speaking in Dutch! Luckily, he pays no attention to your jeans and tee-shirt. Unluckily, his breath stinks, and he's missing several teeth. You hold your breath until he's finished. Bevervwijck, he says. He jerks his thumb to the square building in front of you. The new church, he explains. He tells you that it's also a blockhouse, a place people can go for safety and points to loop holes in the upper wall where the mouths of cannon stick out. During church services, the men sit in the balcony so they can get to the cannon quickly, if needed. He points with pride to the large weathervane in the shape of a rooster on the roof of the church. Came from Holland, he boasts.

He gestures to the cross street to your right as the way to the fort, Fort Orange. A fort! Yes!

You step around poop left on the streets by cattle and pigs. Now you understand why the houses have fences: to keep out the animals! Chickens scatter ahead of you, squawking. People pass speaking Dutch, French, German, English, Mohawk, Mahican, and even some Spanish. What a mixed up town.  Women carrying laundry stroll ahead of you, laughing and talking to each other. They're on their way to the North River. Close-up, you realize their dresses are stained and dirty, although their aprons are white and look newly washed. But aren't the Dutch supposed to be super clean?

You continue down the dirt street. No paving here. Dutch women with brooms certainly don't clean these streets.  Ahead you see lumber piled so high that carts have difficulty passing. So much for neat streets. Things sure are different than you expected.  

There is no palisade around the town, you realize, as you head toward a little bridge over a creek. So they need a fort, in addition to the church-blockhouse, for protection. You cross the bridge. There are benches on each side where some of the laundry women sit or lean on railings while they talk and laugh. You ask an elderly man about the building on the side of the street just over the bridge. The poor house, he tells you. The minister, Rev. Schaets, lives there. Most of the poor in town live elsewhere, but sometimes they need to come here for help. Oh yeah, your teacher mentioned that the Dutch are very good about taking care of the poor. They take collections in church, and even in taverns. People leave money in their wills for them. Nodding and thanking the man, you turn back to the road. Good for the Dutch!

A wooden building across a narrow street from the poor house is sending out delicious odors.  A man comes out its door munching what looks like a small donut but without a hole in the middle. Your mouth waters. You'd love to buy something at a bakery, but you don't have any money. The man laughs at your almost-drooling face and hands you a donut. You bite into its sugary crispness and enjoy every bite. Then, wiping your fingers on your shirt, you keep walking.

The Baker by Job Adriaensz. Berckheyde

On each side of you lies soggy pasture land where cattle are grazing. You spot wooden shoes on the young boys guarding the cattle. Finally! You didn't see any on the feet of people in town, so they must be only for wet muddy areas. Good to know; surely, knowing this will help you get a good grade.

Straight ahead of you on the right side of the narrow road is a large wooden house built close to the walls of the fort. You stop one of the women carrying laundry and ask about the house. It's the patroon’s house, she explains, and trudges on. Your teacher taught you that the Van Rensselaers are the patroons, owners of most of the land here. You saunter carefully by, not wanting to disturb such an important person.

Fort Orange's wooden walls loom ahead.


1. What did the student think he knew about New Netherland before traveling back in time?

2. Which aspects of life in New Netherland surprised the student?

3. Did anything surprise you?

About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, 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. More


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