"Impressions of New Jersey and New York"
Reprinted in Major Problems in American Colonial History
Published in 1993
Edited by Karen Ordahl Kupperman
"The country, especially that along the coasts in the English colonies, is inhabited by Europeans, who in some places are already so numerous that few parts of Europe are more populous."
While the English were establishing colonies along the Atlantic coast and in New England, the Dutch (people from the Netherlands) had been settling New Netherland, the region that is now New York State. In search of a Northwest Passage (a natural water route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans), the Dutch sent English navigator Henry Hudson (?–1611) to the same region that John Cabot (c.1450–c.1499) had explored for the English. In 1609 Hudson led an expedition to New York Bay and up the river that now bears his name. Instead of finding the Northwest Passage, Hudson and his men discovered an equally profitable resource: native peoples who had an abundance of animal skins and furs. Thus the Dutch, in competition with the French, started a thriving fur trade with Native Americans. Over the next decade trade was conducted by independent trappers who roamed the wilderness, lived among the Native Americans in the winter, and then sold their furs to Dutch merchants in the spring. Trading procedures became more commercialized in 1621 with the formation of the Dutch West India Company, which was also granted a charter (contract) for the colony of New Netherland.
At first the company set up trading posts, which also served as forts (military headquarters) that protected the trade routes. The posts at Fort Orange (present-day Albany, New York) and on "the Manhates" (Manhattan Island) soon grew into small settlements surrounded by farms. Beavers were the most important fur-bearing animals, and since they were less plentiful around Manhattan, Albany became the center of Dutch trade. During the annual spring fur-trading season, merchants swarmed to the trading post to await the arrival of traders bringing pelts (the skin of an animal). Albany was a booming town, and even local settlers bought and sold furs—they needed an income for the winter, when the trading post was virtually deserted.
Actual colonization of New Netherland began in 1624 when the Dutch West India Company paid thirty Walloon (people from southern and southeastern Belgium and adjacent parts of France) families to settle in the New World (a European term for North and South America). They settled on farms around Manhattan and Fort Orange and in the Connecticut River valley, where the company had another fort. The settlement on Manhattan, which was named New Amsterdam in 1626, became the center of Dutch control of New Netherland. Within forty years the population of New Amsterdam had reached nearly two thousand. Fort Orange remained a struggling outpost until the 1630s, when the Dutch West India Company authorized one of its directors, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (1595–1644), to bring new settlers from the Netherlands. Called a patroon (proprietor), Van Rensselaer founded Rensselaerswyck, a patroonship (vast estate) that surrounded Albany and extended along both sides of the Hudson River. In the 1640s and 1650s the Dutch established villages that became the present-day New York cities of Schenectady and Kingston. They also expanded onto Long Island and into New Jersey (the Dutch town of Pavonia is now Jersey City), which were also part of New Netherland. Finally, the Dutch took over Swedish settlements on the Delaware River near present-day New Castle, Delaware.
By the early 1660s New Netherland was having serious economic and political problems. The main reason was that the director general (governor) and his council were appointed by the Dutch West India Company primarily to oversee the fur trade. Governing was therefore only a secondary role. Their main responsibility was to rent company lands to farmers and chartered (establish) towns to settlers. They also established contacts with Native American fur traders, which presented a difficult challenge. Almost immediately the company was involved in a conflict between the Mohicans (an Algonquin tribe) and the Mohawks (one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois) over control of trade. At first the Dutch remained neutral, but they finally aligned themselves with the Mohicans in 1642. An even greater issue was farmland; at first, New Netherland officials acquired land through treaties with the Native Americans. But peaceful relations broke down when, from 1643 to 1645, the Dutch killed more than a thousand Native Americans over alleged treaty violations.
Another explosive situation was created by the diversity of Europeans settlers in the area. Half of the inhabitants of New Netherland and adjoining New Sweden (captured by the Dutch in 1655) were Germans, Swedish, Finns, Norwegians,French, English, Jews, and Africans. With the exception of African slaves, all had been attracted to the area by the promise of religious freedom. Yet the Dutch were Calvinists (those who believe in the strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God, the depravity of mankind, and the doctrine of predestination) and wanted the Dutch Reformed Church to be the official state religion. The New Netherland government had no better success in controlling its own Dutch settlers, who could bypass the council and take grievances directly to the Dutch West India Company. Another problem was that the company was losing money. In 1629 ownership of land had been opened to patroons like Van Rensselaer, and ten years later merchants with no connection to the company were allowed to participate in the fur trade.
The Dutch West India Company attempted to control the situation by appointing Peter Stuyvesant (1610–1672), an arrogant Dutch military leader, as governor of New Netherland. Stuyvesant took his post in 1647, and during the next seventeen years he caused considerable unrest by imposing heavy taxes and passing laws that prohibited religious freedom. For instance, Stuyvesant issued an ordinance that outlawed meetings and gatherings of people who were not members of the Dutch Reformed Church. This made it nearly impossible for other religious groups to assemble and worship. When the directors at the Dutch West India Company headquarters in Amsterdam asked Stuyvesant to be more lenient, their plea landed on deaf ears. The ordinance preventing worship remained in place throughout the Dutch regime in New Netherland.
Stuyvesant also made positive progress, such as improving relations with nearby English settlements and promoting commerce. Nevertheless in 1649 the irate citizens of New Amsterdam forced him to declare the city a municipality (self-governing political unit). Stuyvesant's mismanagement and harsh rule eventually led to the downfall of New Netherland. In 1664, after the English victory over the Netherlands in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, England asserted its rights to New Netherland (which was part of the territory claimed by Cabot in 1497). The Dutch quickly surrendered during a peaceful invasion, and King Charles II (1630–1685) awarded the colony to his brother James, Duke of York (1633–1701; later King James II). New Netherland was renamed New York, and New Amsterdam became New York City.
The English guaranteed that the inhabitants of the former New Netherland, whatever their nationality or religion, could remain in the colony. However, this open-minded policy only resulted in the continuation of political and religious strife in New York. For instance, conflict over land titles started when the English split the southern part of the colony into East Jersey and West Jersey. In 1681 the Quaker founders of Pennsylvania (see The Propriety of Pennsylvania) bought East Jersey, unleashing conflict that resulted in the creation of the independent proprietary colony of New Jersey in 1738. Eight years later long-standing religious animosities (ill-will or resentment) came to a head when Jacob Leisler (1640–1691), a German merchant and militia officer, tried to prevent Roman Catholic domination of the royal government of New York. Although Leisler managed to maintain Protestant control, he was executed for treason and his rebellion only intensified religious differences.
In the late 1600s the British attempted to unite New York, New Jersey, and New England under the rule of royal governor Edmund Andros (1637–1714), but colonists turned against him. Nevertheless, Andros succeeded in negotiating the Covenant Chain (1677). An alliance between the English and the Iroquois, the chain proved to be effective against the French—who had always been a threat to both the Dutch and the English—during the French and Indian Wars (1689–1763). Spanning into the latter half of the eighteenth century, the wars hindered settlement of the western part of the colony. However, the more populous areas of New York and New Jersey continued to attract various ethnic and religious groups during that time.
Despite being a multicultural society that was headed by the English, however, New York was still dominated by the Dutch. They held most of the property and wealth, and real change in power did not take place until the early 1750s, when the Dutch and English intermingled to form a new aristocracy (small privileged class) and political power structure. It was at that time that the language and social customs of the English began to replace Dutch culture. A vivid picture of life in New York and New Jersey during this transition period was provided by Swedish traveler Per (Peter) Kalm in Travels into North America, Containing Its Natural History and a Circumstantial Account of Its Plantations and Agriculture . . . (translated into English and published in 1770). Kalm also gave a brief history of the colony.
Things to Remember While Reading "Impressions of New Jersey and New York":
- In the paragraph on "Indians" Kalm remarked on the absence of Native Americans from land they had previously inhabited in the New York-New Jersey region. He went on to note that "The Indians have sold the land to the Europeans, and have retired further inland." The words "sold" and "retired" suggest that Native Americans—in this case the Algonquians—had voluntarily turned their lands over to European settlers. As a matter of fact, Algonquian peoples were either killed or forced out by Europeans during the seventeenth century.
- Kalm described the Jews he visited in New York. The first recorded Jews in North America—the Ashkenazim (European Jews) and Sephardim (Spanish Jews)—had arrived in New Amsterdam a century earlier, in 1654 and 1655. Between 1690 and 1710 Jews of Anglo-German heritage migrated to New York City; in 1730 they built the first synagogue (Jewish house of worship) in North America.
- Near the end of Impressions of "New Jersey and New York," Kalm tried to account for the inhabitants of Albany, New York, whom he found to be extremely selfish and greedy. Since they were so different from other people in New York, Kalm concluded that in the early days the Dutch, in desperation, had sent a "pack of vagabonds" to clear the remote frontier around Fort Orange (Albany). The Dutch West India Company indeed had difficulty attracting settlers to this part of the colony. In the 1630s, after the failure of the patroon system, the company offered property to colonists who could pay their own passage to America and would invest in the New Netherland venture. Each of these settlers was required, however, to bring along a family of at least five members. Kalm was probably referring to this policy when he wrote that "a few honest families were persuaded to go with them, in order to keep them in bounds."
"Impressions of New Jersey and New York"
Trenton [New Jersey] is a long narrow town, situated at some distance from the Delaware River, on a sandy plain; it belongs to New Jersey, and they reckon it thirty miles from Philadelphia. . . . [F]rom Trenton to New Brunswick, the travellers go in wagons which set out every day for that place. Several of the inhabitants however subsist on the transportation of all sorts of goods, which are sent every day in great quantities, either from Philadelphia to New York, or from there to the former place. Between Philadelphia and Trenton all goods are transported by water, but between Trenton and New Brunswick they are carried by land, and both these means of transportation belong to people of this town. . . .
We continued our journey in the morning; the country through which we passed was for the greatest part level, though sometimes there were some long hills; some parts were covered with trees, but by far the greater part of the country was without woods; on the other hand I never saw any place in America, the city excepted, so well peopled. An old man, who lived in the neighborhood and accompanied us a short distance, assured me however that he could well remember the time when between Trenton and New Brunswick there were not above three farms, and he reckoned it was about fifty and some odd years ago. During the greater part of the day we saw very extensive cultivated fields on both sides of the road, and we observed that the country generally had a noticeable declivity towards the south. Near almost every farm was a spacious orchard full of peaches and apple trees, and in some of them the fruit had fallen from the trees in such quantities as to cover nearly the whole surface of the ground. Part of it they left to rot, since they could not take care of it all or consume it. Wherever we passed by we were welcome to go into the fine orchards and gather our hats and pockets full of the choicest fruit, without the owner so much as looking at us. Cherry trees were planted near the farms, on the roads, etc.
The barns had a peculiar kind of construction in this locality, of which I shall give a concise description. The main building was very large almost the size of a small church; the roof was high, covered with wooden shingles, sloping on both sides, but not steep. The walls which supported it were not much higher than a full grown man; but on the other hand the breadth of the building was all the greater. In the middle was the threshing floor and above it, or in the loft or garret, they put the unthreshed grain, the straw, or anything else, according to the season. On one side were stables for the horses, and on the other for the cows. The young stock had also their particular stables or stalls, and in both ends of the building were large doors, so that one could drive in with a cart and horses through one of them, and go out at the other. Here under one roof therefore were the thrashing floor, the barn, the stables, the hay loft, the coach house, etc. This kind of building is used chiefly by the Dutch and Germans, for it is to be observed that the country between Trenton and New York is not inhabited by many Englishmen, but mostly by Germans or Dutch, the latter of which are especially numerous.
Indians. Before I proceed I must mention one thing about the Indians or old Americans; for this account may find readers, who, like many people of my acquaintance, have the opinion that North America is almost wholly inhabited by savage or heathen nations; and they may be astonished that I do not mention them more frequently in my account. Others may perhaps imagine that when I state in my journal that the country is widely cultivated, that in several places houses of stone or wood are built, round which are grain fields, gardens and orchards, that I am speaking of the property of the Indians. To undeceive them I shall here give the following explanation. The country, especially that along the coasts in the English colonies, is inhabited by Europeans, who in some places are already so numerous that few parts of Europe are more populous. The Indians have sold the land to the Europeans, and have retired further inland. In most parts you may travel twenty Swedish miles, or about a hundred and twenty English miles, from the coast, before you reach the first habitation of the Indians. And it is very possible for a person to have been at Philadelphia and other towns on the seashore for half a year without so much as seeing an Indian. . . .
About noon we arrived at New Brunswick, (situated about thirty miles from Trenton and sixty from Philadelphia), a pretty little town in the province of New Jersey, in a valley on the west side of the river Rarit
The river Raritan passes close by the town, and is deep enough for large sailing vessels. Its breadth near the town is about the distance of a common gun shot. The tide comes up several miles beyond the town, which contributes not a little to the ease and convenience of securing vessels which dock along the bridge. The river has generally very high and steep banks on both sides, but near the town there are no such banks, because it is situated in a low valley. One of the streets is almost entirely inhabited by Dutchmen who came hither from Albany, and for that reason it is called Albany Street. These Dutch people keep company only with themselves, and seldom or never go amongst the other inhabitants, living as it were quite separate from them. . . .
The Jews. Besides the different sects of Christians, many Jews have settled in New York, who possess great privileges. They have a synagogue, own their dwelling-houses, possess large country-seats and are allowed to keep shops in town. They have likewise several ships, which they load and send out with their own goods. In fine, they enjoy all the privileges common to the other inhabitants of this town and province. . . .
During my residence in New York, both at this time and for the next two years, I was frequently in company with Jews. I was informed among other things that these people never boiled any meat for themselves on Saturday, but that they always did it the day before, and that in winter they kept a fire during the whole Saturday. They commonly eat no pork; yet I have been told by several trustworthy men that many of them (especially the young Jews) when travelling, did not hesitate the least about eating this or any other meat that was put before them, even though they were in company with Christians. I was in their synagogue last evening for the first time, and today at noon I visited it again, and each time I was put in a special seat which was set apart for strangers or Christians. A young rabbi read the divine service, which was partly in Hebrew and partly in the Rabbinical dialect. Both men and women were dressed entirely in the English fashion; the former had their hats on, and did not once take them off during the service. The galleries, I observed, were reserved for the ladies, while the men sat below. During prayers the men spread a white cloth over their heads, which perhaps is to represent sackcloth. But I observed that the wealthier sort of people had a much richer cloth than the poorer ones. Many of the men had Hebrew books, in which they sang and read alternately. The rabbi stood in the middle of the synagogue and read with his face turned towards the east; he spoke however so fast as to make it almost impossible for any one to understand what he said. . . .
The first colonists in New York were Dutchmen. When the town and its territories were taken by the English and left to them by the next peace in exchange for Surinam, the old inhabitants were allowed either to remain at New York, and enjoy all the privileges and immunities which they were possessed of before, or to leave the place with all their goods. Most of them chose the former; and therefore the inhabitants both of the town and of the province belonging to it are still for the greatest part Dutch, who still, and especially the old people, speak their mother tongue.
They were beginning however by degrees to change their manners and opinions, chiefly indeed in the town and in its neighborhood; for most of the young people now speak principally English, go only to the English church, and would even take it amiss if they were called Dutchmen and not Englishmen. . . .
The Dutch Settlers. But the lack of people in this province may likewise be accounted for in a different manner. As the Dutch, who first cultivated this section, obtained the liberty of staying here by the treaty with England, and of enjoying all their privileges and advantages without the least limitation, each of them took a very large piece of ground for himself, and many of the more powerful heads of families made themselves the possessors and masters of a country of as great territory as would be sufficient to form one of our moderatelysized, and even one of our large, parishes. Most of them being very rich, their envy of the English led them not to sell them any land, but at an excessive rate, a practice which is still punctually observed among their descendants. The English therefore, as well as people of other nations, have but little encouragement to settle here. On the other hand, they have sufficient opportunity in the other provinces to purchase land at a more moderated price, and with more security to themselves. It is not to be wondered then, that so many parts of New York are still uncultivated, and that it has entirely the appearance of a frontier-land. This instance may teach us how much a small mistake in a government can hamper the settling of a country. . . .
Trade. . . . Albany carries on a considerable commerce with New York, chiefly in furs, boards, wheat, flour, peas, several kinds of timber, etc. There is not a place in all the British colonies, the Hudson's Bay settlements excepted, where such quantities of furs and skins are bought of the Indians as at Albany. Most of the merchants in this town send a clerk or agent to Oswego, an English trading town on Lake Ontario, to which the Indians come with their furs. I intend to give a more minute account of this place in my Journal for the year 1750. The merchants from Albany spend the whole summer at Oswego, and trade with many tribes of Indians who come with their goods. Many people have assured me that the Indians are frequently cheated in disposing of their goods, especially when they are drunk, and that sometimes they do not get one half or even one tenth of the value of their goods. I have been a witness to several transactions of this kind. The merchants of Albany glory in these tricks, and are highly pleased when they have given a poor Indian, a greater portion of brandy than he can stand, and when they can, after that, get all his goods for mere trifles. The Indians often find when they are sober again, that they have for once drunk as much as they are able of a liquor which they value beyond anything else in the whole world, and they are quite insensible to their loss if they again get a draught of this nectar. Besides this trade at Oswego, a number of Indians come to Albany from several places especially from Canada; but from this latter place, they hardly bring anything but beaver skins. . . .
The Dutch in Albany. The inhabitants of Albany and its environs are almost all Dutchmen. They speak Dutch, have Dutch preachers, and the divine service is performed in that language. Their manners are likewise quite Dutch: their dress is however like that of the English. It is well known that the first Europeans who settled in the province of New York were Dutchmen. During the time that they were the masters of this province, they seized New Sweden of which they were jealous. However, the pleasure of possessing this conquered land and their own was but of short duration, for towards the end of 1664 Sir Robert Carr, by order of King Charles the second, went to New York, then New Amsterdam, and took it. Soon after Colonel Nicolls went to Albany, which then bore the name of Fort Orange, and upon taking it, named it Albany, from the Duke of York's Scotch title. The Dutch inhabitants were allowed either to continue where they were, and under the protection of the English to enjoy all their former privileges, or to leave the country. The greater part of them chose to stay and from them the Dutchmen are descended who now live in the province of New York, and who possess the greatest and best estates in that province.
The avarice, selfishness and immeasurable love of money of the inhabitants of Albany are very well know throughout all North America, by the French and even by the Dutch, in the lower part of New York province. I was here obliged to pay for everything twice, thrice and four times as much as in any part of North America which I have passed through. If I wanted their assistance, I was obliged to pay them very well for it, and when I wanted to purchase anything or be helped in some case or other, I could at once see what kind of blood ran in their veins, for they either fixed exorbitant prices for their services or were very reluctant to assist me. Such was this people in general. However, there were some among them who equalled any in North America or anywhere else, in politeness, equity, goodness, and readiness to serve and to oblige; but their number fell far short of that of the former. If I may be allowed to declare my conjectures, the origin of the inhabitants of Albany and its neighborhood seems to me to be as follows. While the Dutch possessed this country, and intended to people it, the government sent a pack of vagabonds of which they intended to clear their native country, and sent them along with a number of other settlers to this province. The vagabonds were sent far from the other colonists, upon the borders towards the Indians and other enemies, and a few honest families were persuaded to go with them, in order to keep them in bounds. I cannot in any other way account for the difference between the inhabitants of Albany and the other descendants of so respectable a nation as the Dutch, who are settled in the lower part of New York province. The latter are civil, obliging, just in prices, and sincere; and though they are not ceremonious, yet they are well meaning and honest and their promises may be relied on. . . .
Dutch Food. The whole region about the Hudson River above Albany is inhabited by the Dutch: this is true of Saratoga as well as other places. During my stay with them I had an opportunity of observing their way of living, so far as food is concerned, and wherein they differ from other Europeans. Their breakfast here in the country was as follows: they drank tea in the customary way by putting brown sugar into the cup of tea. With the tea they ate bread and butter and radishes; they would take a bite of the bread and butter and would cut off a piece of the radish as they ate. They spread the butter upon the bread and it was each one's duty to do this for himself. They sometimes had small round cheeses (not especially fine tasting) on the table, which they cut into thin slices and spread upon the buttered bread. At noon they had a regular meal and I observed nothing unusual about it. In the evening they made a porridge of corn, poured it as customary into a dish, made a large hole in the center into which they poured fresh milk, but more often buttermilk. They ate it taking half a spoonful of porridge and half of milk. As they ordinarily took more milk than porridge, the milk in the dish was soon consumed. Then more milk was poured in. This was their supper nearly every evening. After that they would eat some meat left over from the noon-day meal, or bread and butter with cheese. If any of the porridge remained from the evening, it was boiled with buttermilk in the morning so that it became almost like a gruel. In order to make the buttermilk more tasty, they added either syrup or sugar, after it had been poured into the dish. Then they stirred it so that all of it should be equally sweet. Pudding or pie, the Englishman's perpetual dish, one seldom saw among the Dutch, neither here nor in Albany. But they were indeed fond of meat. . . .
What happened next . . .
During the late 1750s, the final decade of the colonial period, New York made its first steps toward independence from England. As the fur trade declined, settlers in the Hudson River valley had turned their attention to growing wheat. Fishing and shipping became the other principal industries. New York City was now a thriving commercial and cultural center, and its first institution for higher learning, King's College (now Columbia University), had opened in 1754. Fifteen years before the American Revolution (1775–83), New York opposed repressive English commercial laws. As smugglers deliberately violated the Navigation Acts (a series of laws, enacted 1660–73, that protected English shipping and trade in America), New York colonists were taking a stand against policies that prevented the establishment of an American-based economy.
Did you know . . .
- The Dutch West India Company imported Africans to New Netherland as slave laborers. African men loaded cargo from ships into warehouses and worked as field hands on farms. Women performed domestic chores as well as gar dening and light farm tasks. Almost all of the Dutch settlements used slaves, who were taken from various parts of Africa. In 1664, when the English took over New Netherland, around three hundred slaves and seventy-five free blacks were living in New Amsterdam. A census taken in 1698 showed that 2,170 Africans, mostly slaves, were living in the entire colony.
- Stuyvesant tried to expel Jews who arrived in New Netherland in 1654. Resisting his order, they appealed to fellow Jews who were major investors in the Dutch West India Company. The investors successfully persuaded company directors to override Stuyvesant's prejudices and allow the new settlers to stay in the colony.
- In 1660 New Amsterdam had thirteen hundred inhabitants and more than three hundred dwellings. Yet the town was a dreadful place: the fort was nearly in shambles, raw sewage filled the streets, and hogs roamed freely—thus spreading the sewage into yards and walkways. Stuyvesant and the council tried to clean up the town by fining residents who did not confine their animals (the required method was to put rings in the hogs' noses) and prohibiting the building of outhouses beside public highways.
- Although the fur trade continued after the English took over New Netherland, fur-bearing animals were nearly all killed off at the turn of the eighteenth century. Native Americans then either had to trap in other areas or buy furs from more distant tribes whose lands still had a plentiful supply of animals. By 1700 Albany merchants were engaging in illegal fur trade with the French in Montreal.
For more information
Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 3–244.
"Charter of the Dutch West India Company (1621)" in Documents Relevant to the United States Before 1700. http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/9061/USA/colonial/bef... Available September 30, 1999.
De Leeuw, Adéle. Peter Stuyvesant. Champaign, Ill.: Garrard Publishing Company, 1970.
Goodfriend, Joyce. Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Henry Hudson and the Half Moon. Available September 30, 1999.
Kupperman, Karen Ordahl, ed. Major Problems in American Colonial History. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1993, pp. 277–82.
The Life and Times of Henry Hudson, explorer and adventurer. http://www.georgian.net/rally/hudson/ Available September 30, 1999.
Middleton, Richard. Colonial America: A History, 1585–1776. Second edition. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, pp. 114–120, 127–135.