Dutch New Amsterdam
Lenape peoples farmed, fished, and hunted on Mannahatta (a “hilly island”) and traded with other peoples along the river. In 1624 the Dutch West India Company arrived to join that trade, seeking animal furs for the European market. The company brought diverse groups of able-bodied Europeans to build their outpost. Germans, English, and Walloons (French speakers from today’s Belgium) populated the colony along with Dutch nationals. In the 1630s one observer heard up to eighteen European and Native American languages in the streets of New Amsterdam. Africans also lived there, both enslaved and free. Sephardic Jews arrived from Brazil in 1654.
Plan of New Amsterdam, 1660
This first accurate plan of the city, drawn in 1660, shows a defensive wall along the northern edge of the city (Wall Street today) and a broad city street (or Broadway) running north.
Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam, fostered cooperation and an enterprising spirit among the varied people there. To accomplish this, he awarded land grants that gave recipients the rights to live, farm, and trade. This grant is for land in Midwout, part of today’s Brooklyn.
Africans in New Amsterdam
The Dutch West India Company brought enslaved people from its slave-trading posts in Africa to work on farms, build roads, and perform domestic labor. Urban life created a different sort of African American society than was emerging in the plantation colonies. Africans in New Amsterdam lived in their own households and established families. After years of work, some won partial freedom and land allotments from the company. Still, the company claimed the children of these people as slaves. To increase those children’s chances of freedom, African parents and godparents had their children baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church.