New Netherland's Legacy

Economic Legacy

The economic patterns that the Dutch established in New Netherland flourished under the English. The principles and practices of private entrepreneurship, introduced under the West India Company umbrella, provided the underlying foundations for New York's commercial economy. Manhattan's first successful private merchants were initially representatives of Amsterdam businessmen who channeled Dutch capital into New Netherland and its regional neighbors and were able to firmly established themselves within the English colonial world by combinations of capital and kinship networks.[1] In conducting their business, the Dutch established the precedent in New York of securing trade privileges and protections from city, colonial, and national governments.[2]

The Dutch firmly established Manhattan Island as the center of both an international and regional economy. Albany and its expanding satellite communities along the upper Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and their tributaries evolved from Indian fur-trading posts into grain producing centers. Agriculture along the mid and lower Hudson River thrived as manorial estates retained patroonship land-tenure features well into the nineteenth century and tenant farmers and small freehold farmers exported wheat and other grains for the West Indies and ginseng, potash, and timber for naval stores to Europe.[3] On Long Island and New Jersey, truck farms raised garden vegetables for New York City markets and exported cattle, wheat, peas, and horses to the Caribbean. New York merchants remained middlemen in transporting Chesapeake tobacco and Caribbean dyewoods, cotton, sugar, indigo, ginger, while importing Caribbean slaves and European manufactured goods such as textiles, guns, and rum, and eastern spices such as cinnamon and pepper.[4]

Evidence of the persistence of Dutch commercial networks abound right up to the American Revolution and beyond. These networks were aided by the Dutch Republic's sophisticated banking and credit system and marine insurance. Moreover, these networks deftly avoided the English Navigation Acts intention to restrict them. As a result, an important Dutch legacy in New York were share-holding partnerships as the basic method for economic cooperation and development and, as established networks with Dutch bankers continued to aid in the development of western New York following the Revolution, New York attractiveness to foreign investment continued.[5]

1. Oliver Rink, Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989).

2. Dennis Maika, "Commerce and Community: Manhattan Merchants in the Seventeenth Century" (Ph.D. dissertation: New York University, 1995); Cathy Matson, Merchants & Empire: Trading in Colonial New York (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

3. Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick, A History of Agriculture in the State of New York (Albany: New York State Agricultural Society, 1933), 85 ff.; Thomas S. Wermuth, Rip Van Winkle's Neighbors: The Transformation of Rural Society in the Hudson River Valley, 1720-1850 (Albany: State University Press of New York, 2001), 46-62; David Steven Cohen, The Dutch-American Farm (New York and London: New York University Press, 1992)

4. Robert C. Ritchie, The Duke's Province: A Study of New York Politics and Society 1664-1691 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 108-111.

5. Cathy Matson, "Economic Networks of Dutch Traders and the British Colonial Empire," in Hans Krabbendam, Cornelis A. Van Minnen, and Giles Scott-Smith, eds., Four Centuries of Dutch-American Relations (Albany: SUNY Press, 2009), 97-107; Walter H. Salzmann, A Market to Explore: A history of public-private partnership in the promotion of trade and investment between the Netherlands and the United States (Amsterdam: The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in the United States, Inc., Six Art Promotion bv, 1994), 35.

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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