Before New York was English and New York, it was Dutch and called New Amsterdam. New Amsterdam was a 17th-century Dutch settlement established on the southern tip of Manhattan Island and was the seat of the Dutch colonial government of New Netherland. The settlement sprang up around Fort Amsterdam at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan built to defend the fur trade of the Dutch West India Company on the Hudson River.

Today some of the old Dutch influence continues to echo through the Big Apple. Exploring the rich history of NYC is one of the rewarding things one can do for free. While there may not be much left of New Amsterdam, it is the humble founding story of what would grow into the great city of New York.

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From New Amsterdam To New York City

The Dutch began to trade along the Hudson River as early as 1611 and established Fort Amsterdam in 1625. The English meanwhile started their own outpost further north founded the town that would become Boston and would go on to be drawn into conflict with the Dutch.

  • Boston: Founded by Puritans As a Religious Utopia
  • New Amsterdam: Founded For Those Wanting To Make Money In The New World

The two towns were very different, while the English were still hanging Quakers in Boston in the 1650s, the Dutch never hanged anyone for their religious beliefs. Today the cities are nothing like their colonial past and both Boston and New York City are worth a weekend getaway.

According to the BBC, at a time when the brutal wars of religion were raging in Europe, it was possible to see "Papist, Mennonites, and Lutherans" walking the streets of New Amsterdam (the Dutch themselves were Calvinists).

The English set out with a force of around 1,200 soldiers to claim New Netherland and establish coastal supremacy in the New World. The English were growing in power in the Americas and they took over it in 1664 and renamed it New York (after the Duke of York who went on to become King James II and VII).

  • Capital: New Amsterdam Was Designated the Capital of the Province in 1625
  • Population in 1655: 2,000 In New Netherland Colony with 1,500 In New Amsterdam
  • Population in 1664: 9,000 With 2,500 In New Amsterdam, 1,000 Near Fort Orange

After the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Netherlands agreed to the status quo, the English kept the island of Manhattan. The Dutch gave up the rest of their claim to the colony and traded Suriname in South America instead.

Related: These Quaint, Yet Charming, Towns In Upstate New York Are Perfect For A Weekend Getaway

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Exploring The Remains Of New Amsterdam Today

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For those wanting to rediscover Dutch heritage in NYC, there are a few sites and museums that remain and tell the story. Explore a chamber of Dutch secrets at Van Cortlandt House Museum in the Bronx. This room tells the story of a 17th century family in the New Netherland colony.

There is also the reconstructed Old Stone House built to be a Dutch farmhouse from 1699 (it's actually much younger).

Wyckoff Farmhouse: Brooklyn's Wyckoff Farmhouse is the oldest surviving building in New York State and among the oldest European structures in the United States and is open to the public. Pieter Claesson Wyckoff arrived in the New Netherlands in 1637 as an indentured servant of the van Renssalaer family. He went on to become a successful farmer and magistrate, it was the first building to be designated a New York City landmark in 1967.

  • Address: 5816 Clarendon Road in Canarsie
  • Built: Around 1652

Other Sites Include:

  • Lent-Riker-Smith House: Dates From 1654-56 In The Queens And May Be The Oldest Inhabitabed Private Dwelling In The USA
  • The Billou-Stillwell-Perine House: Staten Island's Oldest Building Dating From 1662
  • The Pieter Bronck House: Located In Coxsackie, Dates From 1663
  • Crailo State Historic Site or Fort Crailo: Begun In the 1660s, Currently A Museum of Colonial Dutch Culture in Rensselaer, New York

Related: NYC Is More Than The Empire State Building And Central Park

Virtual Dutch Heritage Trail

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For those interested in how different cultures have left their mark on NYC join the virtual Historic Houses on the Dutch Heritage Trail. This virtual heritage trail explores the lasting impact of the Dutch colonists on NYC's architecture. One should contact them for when the next virtual tour is scheduled. Highlights include:

  • Van Cortlandt House Museum: Explore How The Dutch Room Tells the Story of a 17th Century Dutch Family In the New Netherland Colony
  • Old Stone House: Explore This Site's Interesting Saga and Its Connection To The Brooklyn Dodgers
  • Staten Island's Conference House: See How A Princess Of Holland, a Dutch Brickmakers, a Local Real Estate Magnate Interset In A Story So Strange One Couldn't Make Up
  • Brooklyn's Wyckoff Farmhouse: See Inside The Oldest Surviving Building

Next: A Travel Guide To New York City: 10 Things To Know While Planning Your Trip