HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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EARLY DUTCH SETTLEMENTS IN THE UNITED STATES
TOWARDS the close of the sixteenth century began the protracted struggle of a handful of brave people against the seemingly invincible power of the wealthiest nation in the world. How the descendants of the liberty-loving Batavi of Roman times, dwelling like their forebears in the same lowlands of the Rhine delta, defied and humbled the armies and navies of Spain; how these hardy Hollanders prospered in the midst of war and finally won national independence and high position in the world - these are the noteworthy facts which make the story of the Golden Age of Holland a classic in historical literature and a cause of pardonable pride to every man with Dutch blood in his veins.(1)
Contemporary with the period of the highest glory of the Dutch Republic, when art, learning, industry, commerce, religious toleration, and democracy flourished side by side as nowhere else in Europe, when little Holland's name was heard in every quarter of the globe, New Netherland came into being in the Western Hemisphere. Dutch merchants, moved by visions of commercial gain, fitted out a little ship in charge of Hendrik Hudson to search for that unknown but alluring northwest sea-passage to China and India, the discovery of which had defied and baffled the most daring navigators of the age. Thus Hudson steered the Half Moon westward, not to Cathay, but into the river which later received his name. This incident proved to be the real beginning of Dutch interest in the American continent; and thereafter merchants began to ply between the Indians of America and the markets of Europe, for the trade in furs and peltries gave promise of much profit.
Approximately all the region which lies between the Connecticut and the Susquehanna rivers was claimed by the Dutch as their exclusive preserve for purposes of trade; but nothing was done to validate this claim until 1624, when the first band of some thirty families emigrated from Leyden and made settlements on Manhattan and Staten islands and at Fort Orange (now Albany).(2) These Walloons, who had formerly fled from religious persecution in the Belgic Netherlands and were not thoroughly Dutch except in religious belief and loyalty to the Republic and who now forsook the city of their adoption to try their fortunes in the wilderness of a New World, came as the special charges of the West India Company, to the decrees of which they were subject in all commercial and political affairs.
Although the Company's charter contained a provision relative to "the peopling of the fruitful and unsettled parts" of New Netherland, there appears to be little evidence that the Company was ever really sincere in promoting emigration from Holland except as a means to its chief end--the monopoly of trading rights. During the early decades of the seventeenth century Dutch ships scoured the high seas in search of Spanish ships, for the spoils of war were preferred to the less remunerative and nobler work of planting a colony in the wilderness.(3) Whenever it was rumored that a truce was about to be declared, the directors of the Company petitioned the States-General of Holland to desist on the ground of the damage which they had done to the enemies of the republic; and when peace was at length concluded with Spain in 1648 the Company became permanently crippled.
During the early history of New Netherland the growth of the Dutch population even for purposes of trade was insignificant. As a matter of fact conditions in Holland were quite unfavorable to the promotion of colonization. While economic and religious causes brought thousands of English to a new England, labor was well rewarded in Holland and religious toleration prevailed in the Dutch provinces. Conditions such as these did not induce emigration to a strange land where the outlook was so uncertain. Furthermore, the Dutch inhabitants in the Hudson River region had not only found very scant means of livelihood, but they also worried much about the dangers from Indians and foreign enemies. The Company, moreover, declared that protection was possible "at a greater expense than the apparent gains to be derived therefrom seem to justify. "(4)
To direct Dutch settlers to New Netherland the States-General, urged by the West India Company, adopted a novel measure. By a charter of freedoms and exemptions large tracts along the Hudson River were granted to Dutch burghers who offered to procure a certain number of persons to cultivate the land. This revival of the feudal system of landholding by patroons proved to be a worthless expedient: Dutch inhabitants of America continued to look to the fur-trade as their main source of wealth; and the patroons, instead of concerning themselves with agriculture, "diverted their energies and means in competing with the company for a share of the Indian trade. " (5) This colonization policy tended to retard the settlement and prosperity of New Netherland, so that down to the year 1634 a few forts were the chief centers of life - Fort Orange and Fort Amsterdam on the Hudson, Fort Good Hope on the Connecticut, and Fort Nassau on the Delaware.
In 1638 the States-General of the Dutch Republic complained that the population of New Netherland was not increasing as it should; that, indeed, the colonists appeared to be decreasing in numbers and to be so neglected by the West India Company that if the matter were not at once attended to foreign princes and potentates would entirely overrun the colony. This was a serious complaint, but it brought no tangible results aside from a resolution to "assist in making and enacting such effectual order regarding the population of New Netherland, and thereunto invite all good inhabitants of these Netherlands by such inducements and pre-eminences as they shall resolve to offer to all colonists" who wished to emigrate to a land where they might expect great profits from farming.(6)
Under Governor Kieft conditions in New Netherland assumed no better aspect. It is true that when trade with the Indians was thrown open to all in 1639 a new era began in the history of the colony, communicating a decided impulse to its settlement and to the increase of population, for fresh colonists came not only from the fatherland, but Englishmen came also from Virginia and New England.(7) It may be that free farmers at Esopus, New Paltz, Schenectady, and on Long Island experienced a certain degree of prosperity; but the Indian trade attracted a large number of people who cared little to acquire a permanent domicile in New Netherland: they came for big profits and sacrificed honest dealing with the Indians in order to realize their ambition. They abused the privilege of free trade and provoked the Indians to a series of massacres extending over nearly three years.
For several years the Dutch inhabitants of New Netherland maintained themselves in a most miserable and destitute condition: they appealed in vain to the States-General for aid, and they failed to obtain from the West India Company such supplies as were most urgently required for their support and protection.(8) When in 1644 comparative peace had been restored upon the high seas the Company was urged once more to facilitate emigration from Holland by promising to credit prospective colonists with ocean passage to America and by introducing farm servants and negroes to promote agriculture. Moreover, New Netherlanders were instructed not to scatter but to live together as did the New Englanders in order to protect each other.
In 1649 the people of New Netherland addressed to the States-General of Holland a long petition, enumerating the causes of their colony's wretched condition and proposing certain remedies. First of all, the petitioners complained very bitterly of the inhuman cruelties, tyranny, and misgovernment of the servants of the West India Company - especially Director Kieft. The Directors, they declared, had always been the chief obstruction in the path of progress because they preferred to secure for themselves large profits from the fur-trade rather than to promote solid agricultural prosperity, which alone could guarantee the survival of their colony in America. Indeed, they had listened more often to interested than to sound advice and had given New Netherland so evil a reputation that not only prospective colonists were frightened from setting out to try their fortunes in such a country, but scores of dissatisfied settlers returned to Holland on account of the unsuitable government, the scant privileges, the extortionate prices, and the heavy impost duties. The petitioners called attention also to the superabundance of petty traders and pedlers, to the need of farmers, to the destitution of the inhabitants in general, and to the insufferable arrogance of the Indians.
The inhabitants of New Netherland proposed, among several remedies for the evils of their colony, the abolition of duties and the free conveyance of poor people from Holland. Their humble petition to the States-General was summed up in these words:
There is no evidence, however, that the Dutch government ever thereafter took an active interest in the welfare of her American colonists - except in 1656 when the States-General ratified the conditions of an agreement between the West India Company and the city of Amsterdam, offering very good encouragement to prospective inhabitants of the city's colony on the Delaware River.(10) It was not until after 1652 that agricultural settlements began to grow in New Netherland, owing to the influx of Walloons, Huguenots, and Waldenses from Europe and Puritans from New England.(11) During the naval wars between England and Holland the province of New Netherland lay quite defenceless, and Governor Stuyvesant's appeals to his profit-loving, money-grabbing superiors went unheeded. Whatever else may be said about the English capture of the colony in 1664, it is fairly evident that a change of masters was not especially distasteful or disadvantageous to the Dutch colonists: they had little to lose and much to gain.(12)
Of the cosmopolitan population of fifteen hundred persons in New Amsterdam in 1664 more than one-half were Dutch. The same is true of the three thousand inhabitants in 1674 when the Dutch regained the colony for a short period of ownership. The entire population of New Netherland when transferred to the English is variously estimated: eight thousand is considered a liberal figure. Of these colonists in 1664, and of the twelve thousand in 1674, two-thirds were probably Dutch, while most of the remainder were English. Agriculture was then beginning to prosper, while trade was profitable and was extending farther inland. Gradually, and especially under a Dutch king on the English throne, the two chief elements of the population of New York merged and fused because they found a community of interest as colonists, entertained a common hostility towards France, and worshipped God in much the same way. In 1667 it was reported that there were three towns and fifteen villages, "besides divers extensive Colonies, bouweries and plantations"; while in 1673 the province consisted of three cities and thirty villages.(13)
It must be admitted that Dutch emigrants were by no means successful as colonizers in America. They were never numerous enough to enable Holland permanently to play a great part in the history of American colonization. To be sure, the Dutch were at that time not an emigrating but a trading people; and yet the failure of their American colony in the seventeenth century should not be attributed wholly to their character as a nation of seamen and traders. That they have always preferred to cultivate domestic virtues rather than a love of conquest and adventure there can be no question.(14)
It has been asserted that the Dutch could never have peopled a continent, on the ground that after forty years of possession "of the fairest part of America they numbered but ten thousand", while the Puritan colonies of New England contained fifty thousand.(15) That this fact should demonstrate the utter incapacity of the Dutch for colonization and their lack of fitness to found a colonial empire does not necessarily follow. Widely different conditions prevailed in England and Holland. Nor is it difficult to explain why the, Dutch came chiefly to trade, while the English came to build homes. At that period in the world's history there was no particular reason why large numbers of Dutch emigrants should forsake their European homes to entrust themselves to the uncertainties of a foreign land: as long as civil and religious contentment reigned in Holland the people did not care to live elsewhere.
Dutch colonization in America was really a circumstance attendant upon the religious and political struggle between The Netherlands and Spain. Only large numbers of colonists bent upon. -economic and religious independence could have coped successfully with the Indian population of New Netherland. The few thousands of Hollanders who ventured to cast in their lot with the New World suffered much from the lack of protection which had been promised to them. All this was to be expected from a commercial corporation actuated wholly by the love of wealth; and so when the Dutch colonists became incorporated into the British colonial empire they had. no sufficient excuse for showing a vigorous spirit of nationality. The English Puritans who had sought the shores of America for conscience sake were people of property and education: from sheer necessity they had been compelled to leave their homes and to adapt themselves to the rigors of frontier life. Everything conduced to the spread of the English into America; while in the case of the Dutch the same causes and incentives were almost entirely lacking.
Notes and References
(1) Much has been written in praise of the Dutch nation and the
Hollanders. Perhaps no more bombastic appreciation of Dutch institutions
has ever appeared in such attractive form as Douglas Campbell's The
Puritan in Holland, England and America. As for the critical value of
this ingenious two-volume work it is sufficient to refer the reader to
Chapter IX of The Evolution of the Constitution of the United States,
which Sydney G. Fisher has devoted to a very searching analysis and
thorough criticism of Campbell's claims.
(2) In 1620 the States-General of the Dutch Republic had refused to supply two ships of war to protect emigrants on their way to New Netherland. An English preacher had assured the West India Company that he had "the means of inducing over four hundred families to accompany him thither", both out of Holland and England, to plant there a new Commonwealth. * See Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State o f New York, Vol. I, pp. 22-24.
(3) "Neither legitimate trade nor colonization was necessarily the first idea with `John Company'. War, devastation of the Spanish possessions, capture of silver and gold, and traffic in slaves were their primal objects. . . . On the seas, and in the West Indies and South America, this corporation secured its loot and made its greatest conquests. New Netherland was only a by-product. Indeed, if this northern colony had not been at first looked upon chiefly as a station on the way home from Brazil and the Caribbean Sea it might never have started." - Griffis' The Story of New Netherland, p. 139. See also Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. I, pp. 39, 42, 67.
(4) Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. I, pp. 40, 65.
(5) O'Callaghan in his History of New Netherland, Vol. I, p. 178, sketches a New Netherland which might have arisen if the Company's directors had filled the land, "as the English were doing, with thousands of moral, hardy pioneers; had they transported cattle, and encouraged the planting of towns and villages in the wilderness, instead of building solitary forts to serve as a rendezvous for lazy Indians and a few isolated traders' .
(6) Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New
York, Vol. I, pp. 106, 107.
(7) Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. I, pp. 1.49-151, 181.
(8) Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. I, pp. 135, 136, 140, 141, 155, 182. At this time the West India Company again offers a characteristic complaint to the States-General: "Jointly and individually, we sensibly feel in the inmost recesses of our hearts, the miserable and desolate condition of the poor people there, the rather as we find ourselves in such inability that we not only cannot supply the requisite means to bring this Colony, which is a source of so much expense for the West India Company, to such a state that we might in time realize the long looked for fruits thereof".
(9) Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. I, pp. 1.52-154, 161, 251, 259-270, 275-318, 374, 375. In April, 1648, it was asserted that the country lay prostrate, settlers were hunted, lands laid waste, bouweries and plantations to the number of fifty or sixty burnt and laid in ashes, "and what is worst of all, the Dutch name is through those cruel acts, despised to a most sovereign degree, by the Heathens of those parts". Even then it was prophesied that the English, who had grown 'to be about 60,000 strong, would in time take the country.
(10) Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. I, pp. 619, 630-634, 637.
(11) Griffis' The Story of New Netherland, p. 127.
(12) There is authority for the statement that hundreds of the better class of Dutch withdrew from New York, returning to Holland or settling in the West and East Indies, not a few going to Virginia and the Carolinas. - Griffis' The Story of New Netherland, p. 148.
(13) See Roosevelt's History of New York, pp. 48, 58; and Documents Relative to the Colonial History o f the State of New York, Vol. II, pp. 512, 526, where the number was estimated at 8000 in 1667 and at from 6000 to 7000 in 1673.
(14) Cheyney's European Background of American History, pp. 186, 187.
(15) "Writers of English origin and apologists for English
aggression are continually endeavoring to gloss over the English
usurpation of New Netherland by disseminating the fiction that the New
Netherlanders were so tired of -their own government that they welcomed
English rule. The New Netherlanders loved to quarrel with their
governors and to accuse them of various misdeeds, as all oppositions
will do, but this did not imply a predilection for English rule."
The American Historical Review, Vol. XV, p. 394.
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