Who Lived There?
Centuries before European colonists arrived in North America, the area the Dutch called New Netherland was home to many native people. Indians who lived in the Hudson Valley between New Amsterdam (New York City) and Beverwijck (Albany, New York) spoke Munsee and Mahican, both Eastern Algonquian languages. Mohawk Indians lived in towns just west of Beverwijck. They were one of the five Iroquois nations and spoke an Iroquoian language.
The Europeans who settled New Netherland came from many different nations. During the 1500s and 1600s, there were many religious wars in Europe. These wars forced many people to leave their homes and become refugees. Most countries would not admit these refugees, but the Dutch had a different attitude. They welcomed the exiles to live in their country. Some of these refugees chose to sail to across the Atlantic Ocean and settle in New Netherland. As a result, the settlers in New Netherland were a diverse group. Among them were Germans, Scandinavians, French, Scots, English, Irish, Jews, Italians, and Croats. Although not all settlers were Dutch, they all lived under Dutch rule.
Other residents of New Netherland were born in Africa and brought to the colony as slaves. Some of these slaves were later freed.
Colonists practiced a variety of religions, but most belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, which was the only religion sanctioned by the Dutch West India Company charter. (The Company was a private corporation set up to govern—and profit from—Dutch colonies in North and South America.) Other settlers were Lutherans, Quakers, Mennonites, Roman Catholics, Jews, and Puritans. These settlers were entitled to freedom of conscience. This meant they were allowed to practice their religion privately but not publicly.