The Island at the Center of the World
The Island at the Center of the World
It is not uncommon that many students are taught that the colony of New Amsterdam had a short-lived non revolutionary life before the British takeover in 1664, but Russell Shorto contradicts that with recently unearthed Dutch records and his book The Island at the Center of the World. This story focuses on the New Netherlands Dutch colony and its influence on the city and state of New York, which Shorto states when saying “It is a distinctly European tale, but also a vital piece of America’s beginning. (Shorto 1).
This books contribution to United States history is also great. In fact, is looks at an area of American history that is often forgotten or overlooked and helps show how the Dutch influence in this area has infiltrated into our society today. This book shows how the settlement in New York began as a scheme of the Dutch West India Company to gain control over more land and riches that they could potentially export to Europe.
Many people think and/or taught that people came to America only to gain religious freedom, but the colony of New Amsterdam is not that case. New Amsterdam was a settlement created out of commerce, rather than religious survival and this is an important fact to realize when seeing the city of New York Today as one of the most influential and richest cities in the world. The Dutch settlement started in 1609 when the Dutch East India Company sent out Henry Hudson, and English navigator, to look for a route to the Indies not controlled by Spain.
His subsequent discoveries laid claim to lands in North America for the founding of New Netherland. Over the next 60 years or so Dutch entrepreneurs would establish a series of trading posts, towns, and forts up and down the Hudson River, including New Amsterdam or what we know as Manhattan today. For the first twenty years or so efforts to colonize the areas were slow and unsuccessful, as a result the Dutch Parliament chartered the West India Company to oversee the Dutch ventures in the Western Hemisphere.
Soon after 30 or so families arrived in New Amsterdam in 1624 and took an approach much like the English colonists in Virginia, by not taking much of an interest in agriculture, instead focusing on the fruitful fur trade. By 1626 General Peter Munuit was put in charge by the West India Company to administer the struggling colony. Minuit is famous for the purchase of New Amsterdam, or Manhattan Island, which he paid 60 guilders for. Consequently the colony started to grow slowly, as settlers, responding to generous land-grant and trade policies slowly moved up the Hudson River.
By 1640 however the West India Company made a decision that would mark a turning point for the colony. At this time the West India Company gave up it trade monopoly therefore enabling other businessmen to invest in New Amsterdam. Profits began to flow towards Amsterdam, encouraging new economic activity in the production of tobacco, food, timber, and eventually slaves. Although the monopoly had ended and the new economic activity had bolstered the economy, the city of New Amsterdam would eventually find itself in disarray.
Because of this a new Director General was put in charge of the colony, Peter Stuyvesant. Stuyvesant was a company man, with the idea that citizens ruling themselves in any sort of way was beneath his notice. Another man by the name of Adrian Van der Donck also viewed himself as a contender to run the colony and the struggle between the two fills the pages of this book. Van der Donck’s argument to the Dutch Estates General in Amsterdam was that the Dutch West India Company’s rule was stifling to the citizens of the colony, and worse, bad for business.
Van der Donck argued that Stuyvesant was ruling with an iron-hand, and that commerce was suppressed because of it. Van der Donck and his supporters would present brief after brief to the Estates in attempt to break Stuyvesant’s rule and replace it with more of a republican-style government devoted to open trade. Although Van der Donck and his supporters made progress with his idea the efforts eventually failed because of a trade war with England and in particular Oliver Cromwell who tried to break up the influence and power the Dutch had on the seas.
Soon after a real war began (First Anglo-Dutch War) with the English by 1652 and the Dutch government, needing stability, started seeing Van der Donck’s ideas for commerce and governance as a dangerous agent that could ruin the Netherlands efforts to defend its territory. As a result Stuyvesant’s ideas and actions were back in charge. Between all the feuding and the trading wars however New Amsterdam had grown into a developed port town that grew to almost 9,000 people by 1664. By 1664 however the Second Anglo-Dutch War would result in the takeover of New
Netherland and New Amsterdam after the effective naval blockade. Soon after the colony would be renamed New York and would be run by the English until the American Revolution. Overall the Dutch mission in New Amsterdam has had long-term effects that have lasted long since the Dutch colony itself, much of what happened there became very important in the development of the future American colonies and eventually the United States, a lot having to do with Van der Donck’s ideas that would eventually shape New York City into what it is today. The structure he helped win for the place grounded it in Dutch tolerance and diversity, just as he hoped it would, which in turn touched off the island’s rapid growth and increased the influx of settlers from around Europe, just as he predicted. What he didn’t predict was that the English would appreciate this fact, and maintain the structure, and that it would support a future culture of unprecedented energy and vitality and creativity. ”
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 4 January 2017
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