What Was New Netherland?

Why was the colony of New Netherland initially founded?

The initial settlement of New Netherland was created for reasons that were very different from those that motivated the English and French. In many ways, the Dutch colony's early years were unlike what was experienced by other European colonies in North America.   

In the late 1500s, the European territories or "provinces" known as "the Spanish Netherlands" revolted against Spain. Seven of the northern provinces joined together to form a representative government and declared their independence from the Spanish king.  This new Dutch Republic (also known as the United Provinces of the Netherlands, or the Netherlands for short) then fought a long war for its independence from Spain. The Dutch officially gained their freedom in 1648.  

In 1609, after many years of fighting, Spain and the Dutch Republic agreed to a twelve-year truce.  That same year, Henry Hudson sailed to North America on his voyage of discovery.  During that twelve years of peace, Dutch merchants explored the area that was known as New Netherland.  They traded with the Natives and realized the area's rich potential. 

When the truce ended in 1621, the Dutch West India Company was created to continue the fight against Spain.  They attacked Spanish colonies around the world and captured Spanish ships that were carrying gold and silver.  The new company operated as a "monopoly," with complete  control over all trade that took place in areas under Dutch control in Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and in the New Netherland portion of North America.  The chance to make a profit from so many new trading opportunities encouraged many Dutch to invest in West India Company stock.

At first, trade and war were the most important goals of the Dutch West India Company.  Within a few years, however, some Company leaders wanted to build an agricultural colony to support their trading goals in New Netherland.  This new strategy required settlers.  Since many Dutch people in the Netherlands had a good life, it was difficult to find people who wanted to move to New Netherland.  The West India Company turned to a group known as "Walloons," French- speaking people who had fled their homeland in what is now Belgium and came to the Dutch Republic.  These "Walloons" became the first permanent settlers in New Netherland.  In the next forty years, they were joined by many other people of various ethnic groups who settled in the Dutch colony. 

This section is by Dennis J. Maika, NNI's Associate for Education and Web Content

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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