Going Dutch: A Visit to New Netherland

New Amsterdam


New Amsterdam by Johannes Vingboons. 

You find yourself walking up a short street into New Amsterdam. Funny, you don't remember the trip down the North River or even sleeping. This still feels like the same day, but it's early morning again.

You see a fort. And two windmills on the river's shore. The mill nearest you must be a gristmill—men are driving wagons in with bags of grain. The farther one must be a sawmill—you sniff freshly cut wood in the clear morning air.

A sound blares out from a nearby street. Your head snaps sideways. A young man blowing into a cow horn is strolling in front of houses while cows come slowly toward him. He's collecting them to go to the town pasture, just like your teacher described. You hurry away so you don't get caught in a crowd of cows.

You don't need to visit another fort. You stand outside this one and look up a broad street running near the North River. There's a tall wooden wall in the distance. Your teacher said that the Dutch built such a wall to protect themselves against the English. It stretches all across the north end of New Amsterdam. You stop in your tracks. Ah-ha! That's Wall Street. You look around at the quiet street lined with old-fashioned Dutch houses. You suddenly realize that someday it will be filled with tall skyscrapers, busy honking traffic, and the deep rumble of subway trains. It doesn't seem possible. You shake your head.

Houses sit with their gable ends toward the road. Many of the gables are built of red brick, others are wood—all with red tile roofs. The town looks older, more settled than five-year-old Beverwijck.

To your right is another short street that ends in a canal. You back up and stroll across the market square in front of the fort, passing several small streets until you turn down one full of warehouses. You peek into a brick one. It is three stories high with a red tile roof. Wooden bins full of stuff are stacked on a cobblestone floor. It's too dark to see what's in them. The Dutch are great traders, so here's where they store all the goods they ship to the Netherlands. How exciting to be inside one of these! Trade and shipping are why most of them came here—and what they do all over the world.

At the back of the warehouse, you spy some men eating at a long table and walk toward them. From light furnished by a back door, you see they are strong beefy guys, perfect for lifting heavy loads. They're eating a hearty meal, too. You see hunks of brown bread and cheese. They seem to be drinking buttermilk or cream, judging by the milk on their lips. Peaches lie on the table. They wave at you and keep eating. You go out into the back yard and see a small wooden house. Your nose tells what it is as you get closer—an outside bathroom, privy, a necessary—whatever it's called. You grab your nose and go inside. There's only one hole to sit on, and it's over a barrel that sits over another barrel to catch human waste. You back away. Enough of that. But the kids in your class will love hearing about it.

At the end of the street, you smell the canal before you see it. You realize it's actually a place where the East River pokes into this side of Manhattan. It's full of trash. It has little bridges built over it. The trash surprises you. You think of the Dutch as being neat and clean. But you remember the stained clothes the women wore in Beverwijck and the messy streets. At least the canal and bridges look like the pictures you've seen of Amsterdam in Europe. 

You return to the market place by the fort and see a blond boy wearing a wide hat ambling toward you. He's carrying a slate under his arm. He must be going to school. You stop him and ask. He explains that school is in the schoolmaster's house. Mr. Van Hobooken is the master, and he also leads singing in church on Sunday. You squint at the sun and say it's very early to go to school. The boy answers that he's been up since sunrise. He's already eaten his breakfast and carted in firewood and water for his family. Wow! The kids work hard here.


The Village School by Jan Steen.

You walk with your new friend toward the teacher's house. The boy goes in, but you stop at the doorway. It's dark inside and chilly. The girls sit in the back separate from the boys. The teacher stands near a desk and chair, but the students sit on rough benches with no backs. The teacher snaps a bundle of switches made of some kind of flexible tree branches in the air, and all grow quiet. Mr. Van Hobooken lays the whip down on the desk and begins the day by reading from the Bible. He announces that this morning they will do spelling and reading. He will pray with them before lunch. They are to return two hours later for more Bible readings, some history and arithmetic, and prayer before they go home for the day.

Your new friend slips out the door to visit the privy in the backyard. You stop him again and ask first about the whip. Teachers keep those to make the big boys behave, he says. They're made of willow branches. There's also a wooden paddle that is used on the younger ones like him. You shiver, glad that's not allowed in your school. He says they're supposed to go to school all year round, but they often don't. He's working harder than most, because there's going to be a Latin school started next year. To get in, boys have to be eight years old and able to read. There they will learn Latin and Greek, translate texts, and write reports in those languages. What? you want to say. Why? But you realize this must be very important since the boy is so excited about it. So you just nod and watch him scurry away.


1) In what ways was the Dutch school similar to or different from your school today?

2) What do you think was in the stack of wood bins in the warehouse?

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.