Going Dutch: A Visit to New Netherland

Fort Orange


The gateway into the fort is on your right. You look up and stare at the fort's walls. They aren't built of vertical logs like you expected. Instead, logs are stacked on top of each other horizontally like a log house. Here and there are straight-up logs that hold the whole wall together. The walls don't look very strong. You see chickens walking in and out of open spaces between the logs.

You enter the fort's gateway, and the first people you see are American Indians. Whoa. Groups of them stand inside the wide-open gate talking to Dutch men and women. Guess they aren't too afraid of Indians here. 

The Dutch hand the Indians trade goods: cloth, scissors, mirrors, beads, some of which fall to the ground and disappear into the mud. In return, the Dutch accept hides, some furs, and large hunks of meat (deer?) in exchange. The meat is covered with flies. You almost gag. People are going to eat that?

These items were manufactured by Europeans for trade with Indians; they include glass beads, metal rings, lead musket balls, part of a flintlock musket, metal scissors, a metal hatchet, a metal pot, and arrow points fashioned from metal objects.” 

As you pass, you hold your breath. They stink, Dutch and Indian both. Doesn't anyone bathe or use deodorant?

You walk toward the middle of the fort. A large brick building sits on a stone foundation. You enter and climb stairs to the second floor. Shouts come from a room. You step inside. It's a courtroom. Two men are arguing in front of judges. It seems one man broke a window of the other man's house while playing golf on Beverwijck's streets. Another ball hit a woman on the head, causing swelling. The man with the broken window is waving a stick with a flat end like a hockey stick. That must be what they use for golf. One judge pronounces that "wishing to prevent" injuries and damage to windows, the court "hereby forbids all persons to play golf in the streets." You slip back out of the brick building, shaking your head. Golf? Who knew? 

There are many wooden houses inside the fort up against the walls. Most aren't in very good repair. Their roofs are missing some red tiles, and glass windows are broken. Soldiers loiter near buildings along the back wall that apparently are their quarters. Some of them are blowing into a white stick, making a whistling sound. It turns out these whistles are made by cutting finger holes into broken tobacco pipe stems.  Could they be for signaling? Or maybe just for fun.

You head back across the middle of the fort and stop to look at a large building just inside the open gateway. A young man standing there introduces himself as Jeremias van Rensselaer. The patroon? No, he laughs, his older brother is the patroon. Jeremias lives in the patroon's house outside the fort, though. Meanwhile, he uses this building for trading and storage. Piles of rough cloth sit by his door. You ask Jeremias what he’ll do with all this cloth. He tells you that he hopes to trade it to the Indians for furs. "There is nothing better than green and white duffel," he says gesturing to the piles. From the cords around the folded cloth hang small lead disks. You ask, and he explains that they are "bale seals." They are there so if the cloth is tampered with during shipment, he will know. He lifts a bale seal up close, and points with pride to the letters pressed into the lead: JvR, his initials. That makes it clear who owns this material! On the other side is a coded mark that means the cloth is of high quality. Jeremias calls a black man to help shift the cloth bundles into his storage building. The man is a slave, whom the Van Rensselaers purchased in New Amsterdam…. You shake your head at the use of slaves, although you knew the Dutch in New Netherland owned them. And it will be over 170 years before slaves are freed in New York. How awful!

As you leave Fort Orange, you see the same man who talked to you on the Beverwijck street. He hails you like an old friend, once again sharing his bad breath. He says he's going to deliver a wagon full of supplies out to "the best farm" in the colony. He invites you to go, too. Sure! A town, a fort, a farm—perfect for that good grade you're aiming to get.

Only one problem: will you be able to get back home to claim that good grade?  You shake off the worry and join your new friend.


1. What types of activities took place in and around the fort?

2.  Before you read this piece, what did you think a Dutch fort would be like?

3. Was the student’s description of the fort different from what you expected? Explain.

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


Subscribe Now

Subscribe to NNI's  e-Marcurius and DAG to receive information about New Netherland-related events, activities, conferences, and research. 


Support NNI

By supporting NNI you help increase awareness of the 17th century Dutch colony of New Netherland and its legacy in America.