The Dutch Among the Natives

American Indian-Dutch Relations, 1609–1664

"Accordingly, wind, stream, bush, field, sea, beach, and riverside are open and free to everyone of every nation with which the Indians are not embroiled in open conflict. All those are free to enjoy and move about such places as though they were born there." Adriaen van der Donck, 1655. 

"They have purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders. It is 11,000 morgens in size." Letter of Peter Schagen, representative of the States General in the Assembly of the Nineteen of the West India Company, November 5, 1626.

The acquisition of Indian lands by the Dutch, necessary for the success of New Netherland, began with the 1626 purchase of Manhattan (Manna-hata, Manahata, Manahatin), a Munsee word meaning 'the place where we get bows'. Soon the Dutch secured lands in New Jersey, western Long Island, and Westchester, and in summer 1630, the vast tract around Fort Orange forming the patroonship of Rensselaerswijck. Over the next two decades and in response to the rapid depletion of beaver, the Indians in the middle Hudson Valley turned to selling land in exchange for trade goods. The process by which land was alienated by the Indians and purchased by the Dutch appears straightforward and generally absent wrongdoing or trickery by either party. From what is known, Dutch officials either sought out potential "sellers" or were approached by Native "proprietors." The resulting conveyances contained information sufficient to fulfill the legal requirements of the colony, and apparently, what would satisfy the Indians. It is likely that Native people were quick to recognize that the Dutch wanted to purchase their land, and in selling it, they would receive valuable and needed goods in return. What is clear is that the Dutch and Indians alike saw advantages in these transactions. But land was a scarce and valuable resource for both the Indians and the Dutch, and contests over land led to the violence and brutality of war. Over time the Native people in New Netherland would find it increasingly difficult to hold the land and their place on it.

Instructions to Bastiaen Jansz Crol from Kiliaen van Rensselaer, January 12, 1630.

"Crol shall try to buy the lands hereafter named for the said Rensselaer, from the Mahijcans, Maquaas or such other nations as have any claim to them, giving them no occasion for discontent, but treating them with all courtesy and discretion." 

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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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