In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed up the river that would one day bear his name. The Englishman was an emissary of the Dutch and had been dispatched to chart a new passage to Asia, where the Dutch West India Company wanted to expand its trade. Hudson ultimately failed at that task, but his journey laid the groundwork for the Dutch colonization of New Amsterdam at the mouth of that river.
When the first Dutch settlers (mostly from Holland, hence the naming of their settlement “New Amsterdam”) were after beaver pelts. These pelts were used in Holland for the production of hats and trade in these pelts was a lucrative trade between the Dutch and the region’s Indigenous inhabitants — among them the Lenape and Mahican peoples. Hundreds of thousands of pelts were provided by hunters in exchange for metal, cloth and other valuable trade goods from the Dutch.
As this trading relationship matured, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company or VOC) needed to establish a base of operations in order to secure their dominance in the New World against other European competitors. The colony of New Netherland was established in 1624 and grew to encompass all of present-day New York City and parts of Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. The VOC maintained two important trading centers. One at at Fort Orange (now Albany) and a larger fort at New Amsterdam (now New York City). At these settlements, local residents exchanged Dutch manufactured goods for furs and tobacco. This profitable trade relationship motivated the VOC to secure territory across what is now Manhattan, Brooklyn, Governors Island and Staten Island.
On May 4, 1626, Peter Minuit arrived as the new director from the Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam (now New York). Minuit had been sent to diversify the trade coming out of New Netherland, then almost exclusively animal pelts as well as settle any disputes with local Native American tribes over trading and land rights. Soon after his arrival, Minuit entered into a transaction with one or more local tribes over the rights to the island of Manhattan which he purchased for about 60 gold Gilder worth of trade goods. The main documentary evidence we have for his transaction is a Dutch West India Company internal communication from late 1626 that says the following:
Gisteren is het schip het Wapen van Amsterdam hier aangekomen. Het zeilde op 23 september vanuit Nieuw-Nederland uit de rivier de Mauritius. Ze melden dat onze mensen in goede moed zijn en in vrede leven. De vrouwen hebben daar ook enkele kinderen gebaard. Zij hebben het eiland Manhattes van de wilden gekocht voor de waarde van 60 gulden. Het is 11.000 morgens groot.
(Yesterday the ship the Arms of Amsterdam arrived here. It sailed from New Netherland out of the river Mauritius on the 23d of September. They report that our people are in good spirit and live in peace. The women also have borne some children there. They have purchased the Island of Manhattan from the savages for the value of $1143. It is 22,000 acres in size.)
In 1630, the Dutch also purchased Staten Island, again for about 60 guilders worth of trade goods. A copy of the deed explained that the supplies offered to local chiefs in exchange for unfettered right to the land included kettles, axes, hoes, Jew’s harps, and drilling awls. These items were highly useful to local Native Americans and while we place little value on them from a modern perspective, it is important to understand that these were items the native peoples could not make on their own and created a huge improvement in their lives.
The settlement received municipal rights from its home country in 1653, becoming a full-fledged city. The city, designed largely to mimic similar cities in the Netherlands was built about a central church and had fortified walls (along what is now Wall Street). The town even welcomed Jewish refugees, one of them being the first Jew to own property in North America.
In 1664, two English frigates entered the port of New Amsterdam and demanded the surrender of the city and the broader New Netherland province. This ignited the American theater of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. When a stalemate was reached, the VOC traded captured territories with the British and New Amsterdam was exchanged for the Indonesian islands of Run and Suriname which are the chief sources of nutmeg in the 17th Century. New Amsterdam was surrendered and renamed New York in 1665. In 1686 New York City became the first colony to receive a royal charter.