Old Bergen

Chapter IV.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

ALTHOUGH the East India Company did not take any immediate steps to develop or occupy the territory discovered by Hudson, some of the merchants of Amsterdam, feeling that a hitherto unknown country had been opened up to the mercantile world that bade fair to rival even the Indies in the magnitude of its commercial possibilities, became deeply interested.

Hudson's Report stated that he found the soil fruitful, the rivers teeming with fish, and the immeasurable forests and numerous swamps the abode of wild beasts, whose skins were greatly valued as articles of trade; in short, "that it was the most beautiful country on which you could tread with your feet. . . . The natives are good natured and the climate very nearly to ours."

This favorable account of the country aroused their enthusiasm to such an extent that, in the following year, 1610, they freighted a vessel with a variety of goods suitable for traffic with the native tribes that dwelt about the Hudson River and its vicinity. On its arrival, so great was their encouragement that a trading post was established on Manhattan Island, to facilitate trade with the Indians occupying the country round about.

In 1613, Capt. Samuel Argalls, returning to Virginia from his expedition against Acadia, discovered the small settlement of Dutch merchants on Manhattan Island -- as he reported, "four houses built, and a pretended Dutch Governor under the West India Company of Amsterdam, share or part, who kept trading boats and trucking with the Indians." He claimed the ownership of the whole territory for His Majesty of England "as part of Virginia." Hendrick Christaen, who was the opperkoopman, or superintendent of trade on the river, submitted to this asserted authority.

After the departure of Argalls, the Dutch merchants sent information to Holland of his interference, and Christaen was removed and a new superintendent sent over. The latter not only refused to pay tribute, but erected forts and "put himself in a posture of defence," and it is added "that the claim of the English being either wholly waived for the present, or but faintly pursued, they " (the Dutch "the same year, made a firm settlement, which soon became very flourishing and populous." Fort Amsterdam was then erected, near the ground now known as the Battery, on the southern extremity of Manhattan Island.

To encourage trade, the States General issued an edict March 27, 1614, by which, "all and every, of the inhabitants who should discover any courses, havens, countries or places, should have the right to frequent them for four voyages." Under this edict five ships were fitted out by a number of merchants, and despatched under the direction of Adrian Block, Hendrick Cortstiansen and Cornelius Jacobus May. They established small trading-posts, and from them small vessels explored the neighboring bays and creeks. The prospect of trade with the new territory being encouraging, the early pioneers united themselves into a trading company, and made application to the States General for a charter which would give them a monopoly of traffic in that region. This was granted under the name of the United New Netherlands Company, October 11, 1614, and the unoccupied region of America lying between Virginia and Canada, was designated as the New Netherlands. They thus became possessed of the right to trade exclusively in this territory, including the region along the Hudson. They at once despatched vessels suitably laden for the purpose of trading with the Indians, and built forts and established trading posts at New Amsterdam And up the Hudson. Block and May appear to have returned shortly after to Holland, to render an account of their discoveries, and obtain if possible the privilege of exclusive trade.

Christansen, who remained in this country, determined to secure any advantage that might be obtained. He went up the Hudson and erected a rude fortification on an island near the west bank below Albany, which was called Fort Orange; and leaving some of the company here, he returned with the remainder to Fort Amsterdam, which, as stated, was situated near the mouth of the river on the Island of Manhattan.

It must be remembered that these early settlements were the result of private enterprise, and instituted by a private corporation, organized under the auspices of the home government, but only nominally protected by it. The Company's headquarters was established at New Amsterdam, and the records relating to the territory were kept there. These early records related mostly to trading operations in general, and consequently detailed accounts concerning any particular territory are not to be found. It is safe to assume, however, that the territory on the west bank of the Hudson opposite the trading center, was just as important in its relation to the traffic of that day as it is at present, when the bull: of the wealth of this vast country is poured out at its wharves.