A Tour of New Netherland


Connecticut River (The Fresh River)

A navigable waterway, peaceable natives and lots of fur-bearing animals. To a Dutch explorer on the North American coast in the early seventeenth century, that combination spelled money. Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage, in which he outlined the American territory that the Dutch would claim, was only a first step. Over the next five years, several smallscale explorations took place-to discover whether there was money to be made in the territory, and where. The most determined of these explorers was Adriaen Block, who made four voyages on behalf of a group of Amsterdam merchants, and who also made a remarkably accurate map of the whole area (right).

In 1611, Block became the first European to explore the Connecticut River, which he named the Versche, or Fresh, River. In addition to studying the land and water (he found the river dangerously shallow in places), Block initiated contact with the Indians of the region. He discovered, perhaps by accident, that the polished shell pieces the Pequots made from local shells-called sewan or wampum-were highly prized by the Mohawks far to the north and west. The Mohawks, in turn, had plentiful beavers to trade. Thus, far before the English had even heard of wampum, the Dutch set themselves up as middle men in a three-way trade. The Pequots got European manufactured goods such as cloth and cookware; the Mohawks got the wampum they valued; and the Dutch got the furs that Europeans clamoured for.

The lively, unimpeded trade didn't last long, however. English settlers from New England who were unhappy with the Puritan administrations of the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies began filtering into the territory in about 1630. In 1633, Massachusetts governor John Winthrop wrote a terse letter to Wouter Van Twiller, director-general of New Netherland, informing him that King Charles claimed the river for England, based on the 1497 voyage of John Cabot to the New World. Van Twiller replied hopefully that "as good neighbors wee might live in these heathenishe countryes.... I should bee very sorrye that wee should bee occation that the Kinges Majestie of England and the Lords the States Generall should fall into anye contention."

But contention was already upon them. The Dutch had far fewer people in their colony, and it was all they could manage to keep their major settlements on the North River (the future New York City, Kingston, and Albany) manned. They watched helplessly as the Fresh River became the Connecticut River, and would-be Dutch settlements became English cities.

That said, recent archaeological and archival work suggests that the extent of Dutch presence in the Connecticut area was much greater than has previously been known-which may help to explain why a Dutch legacy remains in Connecticut: in place names, in locations scouted by the Dutch as suitable for settlement, and in the complicated tangle of cultures that defined the region's beginnings, as Dutch, English and Indian groups vied with one another.

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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