A Tour of New Netherland



The Dutch established their capital at the southern end of Manhattan Island, so as to be able to defend the island and the river from European invaders. It struck the settlers that the northern flatlands-an area the Delaware Indians called Muscoota, meaning flat-would be suitable for farming, and much of this part of the island was at first divided among a handful of men who had dreams of vast tobacco plantations. But the ventures failed, and the owners died or went bankrupt. Meanwhile, Petrus Stuyvesant and his fellow residents of New Amsterdam realized they needed a settlement and garrison that would help them to defend their island from invasions that came from the north-from the English or the Indians. So Stuyvesant and his council devised a plan in which individuals might receive lots in a new village, one located at the northern end of the island, at very favorable terms. The ordinance, dated March 4, 1658, read:

The Director-General and Council of New Netherland hereby give notice, that for the further promotion of agriculture, for the security of this Island and the cattle pasturing thereon, as well as for the further relief and expansion of this City Amsterdam, in New Netherland, they have resolved to form a new Village or Settlement at the end of the Island."

In exchange for a modest annual payment, each settler would receive a sizable lot and be exempted from paying taxes for fifteen years. The new village would have a garrison consisting of a few soldiers. Its name-Nieuw Haarlem-came from the city of Haarlem in Holland, which was probably chosen because of the heroic defense the citizens of that town had put up against Spanish invaders in the Eighty Years War.

The going was slow at first. It was two years before the community got a court of justice, and three before it warranted magistrates. It remained rural through the period of New York's colonial history, and by the early 1800s was a favorite place for country estates by the likes of Alexander Hamilton.

Of course, to modern ears the name Harlem is synonymous with black culture. In the early years of the twentieth century, blacks fled harsh conditions in the rural South and moved to northern cities. In New York, they settled in this community at the northern end of Manhattan Island, and in time musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Chick Webb made the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom famous, while poet Langston Hughes and novelist Zora Neal Hurston sparked the Harlem Renaissance. By then, of course, the farms were long gone.

  • An online exploration of the Harlem Renaissance.

  • The Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture has a terrific online compendium to the Harlem of 1900-1940.

  • From Malcolm X to the Harlem Renaissance, soul food to gospel choirs, Harlem Heritage Tours arranges walking tours to suit all tastes.

  • And here is the Dutch city of Haarlem online.

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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