Besides planting colonies in Brazil, Guiana, and the West Indies, and in parts of Asia and AJrica, the Dutch began settlements in North America, in New Netherland. Colonization was part of the Union and war policy of Maurice and the Calvinists, so that almost all of the first Dutch settlers of New Netherland were hearty upholders of the national church.
Their Heidelberg Catechism and their Bibles, with their semiclerical Comforters of the Sick, were brought to America on the very first ships sailing into New York bay. The skippers also made explorations along the coast. Block Island, after Captain Blok, Rhode Island after the Dutch Rood Eilandt (Red Island), Cape May after Captain May, Staten Island after the Staaten or States-General, Housatonic for Woestenhoek, or Desert Corner, and numerous other names in the middle and adjoining States, are but a few proofs of the Dutch explorers' activity.
The trading station and fort on Manhattan Island was built in 1613, destroyed by the English and rebuilt next year. Near the head of river navigation on the site of Albany, Fort Orange (in Dutch Oranje) was erected. Here, under the commander Oelkens, was begun the league of friendship with the confederacy of the Five Nations or Iroquois Indians.
Under Arendt van Curler, this league of peace became a permanent institution, which mightily helped to decide the possession of the North American continent by men of Teutonic ideas. The old conflict between Latin and Germanic civilization, as represented by Spain and Holland, was to be transferred to America, and many wars were to be fought ; but until the Revolution, which divided British and Americans, the Iroquois remained, faithful to " the covenant of Corlaer."
It was very near the traditional birthplace of their great culture-hero or founder of Iroquois civilization, Hiawatha, and to their famous Tawasentha or ancestral burying " place of many dead," that the Dutch established Fort Orange. The Dutch pronounced this name so that to English ears it sounded like the name of the Cunard steamer Aurania, which has been named in compliment to the people of New York.
In 1623, eighteen Dutch families settled at Fort Orange, forming a wyck or manor, named after the proprietor Van Rensselaer, a pearl merchant in Amsterdam, Rensselaerwyck. Thirty Dutch families at the same time made Manhattan Island their home. A number of Walloons set tied near Brooklyn, in a boght or bend in the East River, called the Walloon's Boght, now corrupted into Wallabout. Gradually other hamlets and villages sprang up, and this, although the men of the little republic were fighting Spaniards at home, and sending exploring expeditions to the pole and to all parts of the world.
There came to America from Nederland about 15,000 permanent settlers, all Calvinists and strong lovers of liberty and of the republic. A thin line of settlements on Long Island and in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys in New York, and a few scattered farms in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, chiefly along the Delaware River, comprised New Nederland. In 1664, in time of profound peace, English ships treacherously made a descent upon Manhattan Island, and the country was seized and brought under British rule.
Then about one half of the Dutch people left America and returned to the Fatherland. This left seven or eight thousand Netherlander to become Americans and fight with others, for one hundred and thirteen years, the arbitrary rule of British kings and their favorites, with republican ideas. Short as was the Dutch occupation, being only fifty years, from 1614 to 1664, the foundations of the Empire State were laid by them. The republican Dutchmen gave New York its tolerant and cosmopolitan character, insured its commerial supremacy, introduced the common schools, founded the oldest day school and the first Protestant church in the United States, and were pioneers in most of the ideas and institutions we boast of as distinctly American.
Almost from the very first, ministers and schoolmasters were active in the settlements, and morality and religion were carefully looked after. Every acre of land occupied was bought from the Indians, according to Dutch law and the West India Company's express order. The Indians were, as a rule, kindly treated, and before John Eliot began his preaching, a Dutch domine, Megapolensis, had converted Iroquois Indians. After him, Freerman and others preached the gospel to them and baptized their children. The records of the Reformed churches still witness to this good work.
As between the sailors and rough characters always found in a great seaport, like New Amster- dam, and the Dutch people in their settled homes, there was a great difference, so between semi-feudal manors and the democratic towns and villages of New Nederland there was equal unlikeness. In order to encourage settlement, the West India Company gave to certain rich men called Patroons the right to buy and occupy large tracts of land, and over their estates and the settlers on them to exercise a sort of feudalism. Several large manors, of which the most celebrated waa that at Rensselaerwyck, thus grew up.
All this was opposed to Dutch ideas of freedom, and the farmers and emigrants from Friesland, Brabant, and other states revolted against it. These men had held their land at home in fee simple, or had breathed the free air of the Father- land too long to stand feudalism in America. Although for the sake of the tempting advantages offered, the Patroons' relations and many poor men settled on the Patroons' manors, the great majority of the Dutch immigrants preferred free soil and people's rights. They therefore bought land of the Indians and made settlements on Long and Staten Islands, in New Jersey, Delaware, and at Esopus.
Arendt van Curler, once as a young man the Patroon's commissary, who had outgrown Patroonism, bought the Great Flat in the Mohawk Valley, and opened the superb region to civilization by founding Schenectady on the principles of freedom. Here the plucky Dutchmen kept up a constant fight against Dutch and English monopolists. So justly did Van Curler treat the Indians, that they always called the governors of New York, even as those in Canada still call Queen Victoria, "Corlear." The Dutch people kept on making steady advances in the assertion of their political rights as against the Patroons and their monopolies, until the British conquest of 1664.
Then their free schools were abolished, many of the free customs of the republic were done away with, and the vicious fashions of monarchy were introduced. When the English governors attempted forcibly to establish the political church of England, they met with tough and continued resistance.
For one hundred and thirteen years the Dutch, German, Huguenot, Irish, and Scottish people in the legislature resisted the encroachments of the British kings and their agents, and maintained their rights. They asserted the freedom of the press, and the German editor Zenger was defended and acquitted. Having no royal charter, the composite people of New York, gathered from many nations, but instinct with the principle of the free republic, studied carefully the foundation principles of government, until in the Revolution they formed a State which of all those in the Union is the most typically American. The historical precedents of New York are not found in a monarchy, but in a republic.