THE STORY OF
PETER MINUIT, FIRST CIVIL GOVERNOR
the new domain, the favorite seat of administration seems at first to
have been on the Delaware, rather than on the Hudson.
Captain May, after
one year, was succeeded by William Verhulst, whose name happily no English
map-maker has rubbed out, for it is recalled in Verhulsten Island,
and perhaps in Hollanders Creek near Philadelphia. This
colony seemed so promising that it was determined to have a director-general
for New Netherland. He was to be advised by a council of five members.
Besides these, who were not Walloons but Hollanders, there were to be
a secretary and a treasurer.
In other words, here
was a civil government, which was a miniature of the Dutch municipal system,
and a manifestation of the Netherlands genius for city organization. It
came to pass that all the cities in the American colonies up to the time
of the Revolution were Dutch; and, except Albany, all these cities lay
along a line stretching from New York to Philadelphia. All the other settlements
in the thirteen colonies, from Georgia to New Hampshire, were towns or
Let us see who it
was that the Company selected as the first Civil Governor or Director-General
of New Netherland. Every time we pass down Fifth Avenue, at Twenty-ninth
and at Forty-seventh Street, we may read his name on the bronze tablets
set in the Reformed Dutch Church edifices standing on these corners. Of
this church he was a deacon. A grand gentleman and a cosmopolitan character
was Peter Minuit, who may be called the founder of the greatest and the
smallest states, New York and Delaware, in the American Union. We may
pronounce his name Minawee, as he sometimes wrote it, to ease some tongues.
His ancestors were Huguenots, but this cultivated gentleman spoke French,
Dutch, and probably German and English, being thus a prototype of the
composite American, superbly fitted to be a pioneer and ruler.
Receiving his commission
six days before Christmas, 1625, he began at once to equip himself for
his great work of transforming trading-stations into agricultural communities.
He found out all he could about the soil and climate of New Netherland.
Then he selected carefully seeds, live stock, farmers tools, food
plants, and other useful vegetables. With his council, except the secretary,
he sailed in the ship Sea Mew from Amsterdam, December 19, 1625. After
many delays, from contrary winds and other causes, he sighted Sandy Hook,
May 4, 1626.
official act, eighteen years before William Penn was born, set for Puritan
and Cavalier, as well as for proprietors of colonies in America, a noble
precedent. He carried out, according to the letter and wholly in the spirit,
his directions as set down in the Charter of the Company. He called together
the Indian chiefs and purchased of them the island named Manhattan, for
what was for them the very generous sum of sixty guilders, or twenty-four
dollars. In modern values, this would be about three hundred dollars.
As expressed in trinkets, mirrors, hatchets, tools, and clothing stuffs,
it must have seemed like a mountain of wealth to the Indians. The place
of sale may have been the Bowling Green, then the heart of the hamlet
of New Amsterdam.
secretary, who had arrived in the ship Arms of Amsterdam, July 26, 1625,
was. Isaac de Rasieres. As was very proper for one who was to have a good
deal to do with Walloons or French-speaking Belgian colonists, he could
talk and write French. He had the pen of a ready writer, and to him we
owe a unique and picturesque account of the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth.
fort must be built for defense, as the ships of any nation could easily
enter the river from the sea, a fact which made New Amsterdam from the
very first a cosmopolitan place, filled with visitors and sailors speaking
many languages. Dutch army engineers had then no superiors in the world.
The greatest of them, Prince Manrice, had died at the Hague, April 23,
1625, the year before; but one of his officers, Kryn Frederickse, came
over with Minuit. He laid out and began building an earthwork with four
bastions, named Fort Amsterdam after the home city. In 1635 the fortification
was faced on the inside with cut stone and good masonry, and the outside
was sodded and made beautifully verdant. This fort had a varied history,
and as kings rose and fell it was called after James, William, Anne, and
George. De Rasieres first proposed the name, The Battery,
but not until Leisler threw up entrenchments beyond and seaward, was this
term much used. In 1789 the ramparts were leveled, and in 1818 a marble
column was erected on the spot. Now the great new Custom House, with groups
of sculpture symbolical of the four continents, and many historic figures,
including one of Admiral Tromp, occupies the site.
of Amsterdam, who printed the news of the world in his day, is our chief
authority as to how things looked on Manhattan before 1630. East of the
fort, where now towers the Merchants Building, were four or live
shops or warehouses of stone, or hard burned brick. Winkle
means a shop, or storehouse, and Rip van Winkle is Rip from the shop,
or Rip the storekeeper. The name of Winkle Street, now built over, long
kept these first shops in memory. Pearl Street, laid out in 1633, may
have been called so first by the children who picked up and played with
the pearly shells then lining the beach facing the bay.
being an intensely religious people, the desire of the colonists was to
have worship at once, and the two Comforters of the sick, Sebastian Jansen
Krol and Jan Huyck, who came over with Minuit, were active in their ministrations.
Thus the very beginnings
of the foundations of New York State were laid in praise and prayer to
God, and with provision made for human need and suffering and for spiritual
aspirations. The creed most often recited was that traditionally named
the Apostles, which the Dutch call The Twelve
Articles of the Christian Faith.
At this time there
were still living at Leyden many English colonists who later went to America
and joined the company of the Pilgrim Fathers, and the Walloons in New
Netherland knew them.
As fellow Christians,
it was meet that the Manhattaners and Plymouth folk, neighbors, on both
sides of the Atlantic, should be friends, especially since both professed
to have crossed the ocean and come to America to convert the savages to
the doctrines of the Prince of Peace. Nevertheless, it was not yet time
for the united Continental America of 1776, and the jealous quarrels and
wars of the countries and kingdoms of Europe had already, in 1623, been
transferred to America. They were to last until after the Spanish War
of 1900, and until the enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine put an end to
the long strifes and bloodsheddings inherited from Europe.
Although the Dutch
asserted ownership to New Netherland by the triple rights of discovery,
prompt occupation, and colonization, the British Government wanted the
whole of North America, under the flimsy pretext of Cabots discovery
in 1497, when he peeped at portions of the coast. Hence in 1623, since
England claimed as part of Virginia the territory on which the Dutch had
settled while the West India Company called the land its own, there was
danger of a collision. The governors of Manhattan and Plymouth had exchanged
letters in Dutch, for Bradford, like most of the young people of Plymouth,
especially those born in Holland, could read and write that language.
In his letter of 1629, Bradford put on record the kind treatment which
the Pilgrims had received, and which some were still enjoying in Leydon,
for which we are bound to be thankful and our children after us.
Thus Bradford, possibly the greatest of the Pilgrims, himself furnished,
in spirit and letter, the inscription in bronze placed by the Boston Congregational
Club in 1906 on the walls of the Dutch Church at Delfshavcn, now part
did not fully answer the case, and the Manhattan and Plymouth men must
see one another face to face. Since Bradford had requested it, Governor
Minuit sent his secretary, Isaac de Rasieres, with a squad of soldiers
and one of the trumpeters of the Republic, on a mission to the Pilgrim
settlement. Perhaps this sounder of parleys may have been Anthony van
Curler, who, like his fellow music-making patriots, was proud of his fringed
pendant of red, white, and blue silk hung on his trumpet. De Rasieres
embarked on the good ship Nassau. One may picture the ceremonious reception
on the shore, not far front the famous Plymouth Rock that lives colossal
in poetry and after-dinner rhetoric.
The presents from
Manhattan, consisting of three kinds of cloth, a chest of white sugar,
and some small wares, were offered and received. The Plymouth people gave
in exchange some of their own home-grown tobacco, for the new Yankees
were ahead of the Knickerbockers in the tobacco business.
But far greater than any gifts of food, or wear, or ammunition for pipe-smoke,
was the enriching lesson in practical economics which the skilled traders
from the foremost commercial country in Europe taught the Pilgrims. De
Rasieres introduced into Plymouth the Indian shell money, or wampum, made
by stringing the perforated shells into belts, or bands.
Had Governor Minuit
been allowed to continue the development of New Netherland according to
his own ideas, its story might have been one of nearly continuous peace
and prosperity. His zeal and energy in promoting agriculture have left
their marks on the Empire State oven to this day. He wisely distributed
among white men the seeds and grafts which caused garden to grow and orchards
to spring up, and which among the Indians began their march to the Cayuga
Lake region and the Niagara plateau. The Long House of the Iroquois became
famous for the variety and richness of its fruits and vegetables.
Determined to prove
to the Company what could be done in the New World, and to reveal the
wealth of naval stores of all kinds in the colony, Minuit inaugurated
the enterprise of ship-building. He laid the keel of the second vessel
to receive the name of New Netherland, which when afloat was as big as
a ship of the line in the Dutch navy. To get the timber of proper length
and quality he sent his axemen into the region of the Mohawk Valley. This
magnificent ship, pierced for thirty cannon and registered at eight hundred
tons burthen, was launched, loaded, and sent to Holland. There it made
a sensation. It was seen that the colony could be made the basis of offensive
naval war against the Spaniards.
Yet the fur trade
was the main source of immediate wealth, and next to securing the comfort
and safety of the colonists, this was Minuits chief concern. Many
were the ships loaded with peltries which he dispatched to Amsterdam.
In 1630 the imports amounted to 113,000 guilders, while the exports, chiefly
furs, were 130,000, making a handsome profit to the Company.
In return more emigrant
vessels from Patria, with hopeful planters and fresh cargoes of necessities
for field, house, and garden, crossed the Atlantic. The frames of not
a few buildings and frequent loads of brick taken as ballast were sent
to take the places of the temporary bark structures or log cabins. The
thousand little contrivances so common in Holland, calculated to make
home comfortable, were shipped in quantities. Interesting are the frequent
references in the Amsterdam Correspondence to the invoices
of books, Bibles, catechisms, and hymn-books, sent to supply the various
needs of school, pulpit, study, and worship. The Dutch were a reading
people, and in no country were the printed page, the bound book, and the
engraving cheaper than in Holland.
spite of all the efforts made to attract Dutch colonists to the new lands
beyond sea, emigration was slow. Why should any native want to leave the
triumphant Republic? So something must be done to increase Dutch population
plans were upset. In their greed for more money, certain shrewd members
of the West India Company took the step which introduced feudalism on
American soil. Instead of progress, their seeming enterprise was reversion
towards the mediævalism from which the Dutch had long before delivered
themselves. They recalled Minuit, at whose story and fortunes we shall