Who Lived There?
Not all of the colonists of New Netherland were Dutch but all of them lived under Dutch rule. 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. Soon the Netherlands were filled with people from many different nations. 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. 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.