New Netherland's Legacy

A Social Legacy

The rapid economic growth of cities in the Netherlands during the late Middle Ages attracted an enormous number of immigrants. As a result, ethnically diverse commercial interests dominated these cities and their overseas enterprises. The Dutch West India Company's settlement of New Netherland reflected the heterogeneous society of the Dutch Republic's largest province, Holland. As in Holland, the Company's directors allowed various nationalities to settle in discrete communities under its auspices. By the time of the English conquest, New Netherland contained ethnically diverse populations coexisting in a patchwork of communities that mirrored Holland's metropolitan culture. The tolerant yet assimilative culture that the Dutch established continues to echo in the Mid-Atlantic American states today.

In the early modern Netherlands, towns dominated the countryside, and merchant elites known as regents dominated the towns. The Dutch brought this urban tradition with them to the New World. The West India Company's grant of local governing rights to Beverwijck (Albany) in 1652 and municipal rights to New Amsterdam (New York City) in 1653, resulted in the re-creation of a familiar Old World social structure. As an individual acquired wealth through trade, the community elevated his or her social and political standing.[1] An indication of the status of merchants is in their prominence as church officers, and in their appointment as magistrates and to positions of militia commands.[2] The result was the emergence of a middle-class (burgerlijke) urban patrician class that gained social and political dominance after 1664.[3] New York's mercantile urban culture particularly flourished, albeit in Dutch fashion, following England's incorporation of New Netherland into its colonial world.

1. Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Siân Reynolds, trans. (New York, 1976), 1:277-78

2. For the prominence of merchants see Beverly McAnear, "Politics in Provincial New York 1689-1761" (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1935), 1:69-71; and Thomas J. Archdeacon, New York City 1664-1710 (Ithaca, 1976), 58-77; Joyce Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York, 1664-1730 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

3. For the development of oligarchies in New York see Alice P. Kenney, The Gansevoorts of Albany: Dutch Patricians in the Upper Hudson Valley (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1969), particularly the introduction.

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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