New Netherlands

The first larger emigration wave from the Netherlands took place in the seventeenth century. A new colony was established in the Americas, which was called the New Netherlands. After a rough start, this colony attracted emigrants from all over Europe.

Age of exploration

The seventeenth century was an age of exploration. European nations sent expeditions around the globe to claim new regions with their natural resources for their countries. The Dutch republic was no exception. Dutch traders sent ships to the spice islands in Asia and made great profits. As early as 1602, the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) was established to exploit the new-found richess.

The journey to Asia, though highly profitable, was long and dangerous. One of the problems was that the ships had to go through unfriendly waters where English, Spanish or Portuguese ships were on the lookout. The four nations were battling with each other over dominion of the Asian territories. For this reason, the Dutch East India Company was desperately seeking a shorter, safer route.

PortraitIn 1609, they hired the Englishman Henry Hudson to try and find a north-east passage across the Arctic north of Russia. Instead of going to the Arctic, Hudson sailed to the Americas and explored large areas. They used an island they called Manna Hatta as their base of operations. Hudson found a wide bay that ended up in a river and explored to see if that would get them across the Americas and then on to Asia. To this day, this river and bay are named after him.

The VOC was disappointed by his findings because he hadn’t found a shorter route to Asia. Other entrepreneurs heard his stories and did see a way to make a profit, because Hudson had met native Indians that were willing to trade beaver furs. There was a large market for fur in the Netherlands so several merchants sent ships to the areas to trade with the native Indians.

A new colony

This all changed in 1621, when the Dutch West India Company (West-Indische Compagnie, WIC) was established. They gained the monopoly for all trade in the Americas. The WIC established Fort Orange, which today is called Albany. In 1626, a treaty was made with the Indians which allowed the Dutch to build a colony here. The Indians were given goods with a value of 60 Dutch guilders in return. On this island, Fort Amsterdam was established (later called New Amsterdam, which is known as New York today).


Because the WIC had a monopoly on fur trade, not many people were interested to go to the new colony. Most of the new colonists were fortune seekers with rough temperaments. They came from all over Europe. This made the budding settlements difficult to rule.

Nearby, the English were establishing thriving colonies. The main difference between the English and the Dutch colonies was that the English created permanent settlements, while the Dutch colonies were more intended as trading posts. Most of the Dutch colonists were traders, only interested in furs. In the early days of the New Netherlands, it was hard to feed everyone because there simply weren’t any farmers so much of the food had to be brought from the Netherlands.

To encourage settlement, the WIC abolished the fur monopoly in 1639 and made it more attractive to settle in the new colonies. This worked, and more and more people emigrated. New Amsterdam grew and in 1643 a stone church was built. However, the relationships with the Indians became more and more tense. From 1640 on, the colonies and the Indians were often at war with each other. This lasted until a peace agreement between the Dutch and the Indians was signed in 1645.

In 1647, a new governor was appointed: Peter Stuyvesant. When he arrived he found the ‘people gone wild and without discipline’. He worked hard to turn that around. Under his leadership, New Amsterdam got town rights in 1652. He ordered that a wall be built around the town. The path going along that wall was called the ‘Walstraat’ (Wall Street). The rest of the colony flourished as well. New settlements were established, like Breukelen (Brooklyn), Nieuw-Haarlem (Harlem), Heemstede (Hempstead) and Vlissingen (Flushing). Entire families emigrated to the New World, which was a good sign because that meant people thought it was safe.

New Amsterdam was granted a charter in 1653, as the result of the petition by Adriaen van der Donck who had travelled back to the Netherlands requesting more rights for the colonists. By 1660, New Amsterdam had grown to 350 houses and about 1500 inhabitants. The new arrivals were struck by the fact that the city looked so Dutch, with gabled houses and mills. It even had its own post office, so people didn’t have to depend on travellers to bring their mail.

Sea view

Taken over by the English

Although the Dutch colony was growing, it wasn’t nearly as prosperous as the English settlements. The English didn’t officially recognize the Dutch colony, saying ‘We know of no New Netherlands unless you can show us a Royal Patent by His Majesty’. In 1664, the English King Charles II gave the New Netherlands to his brother, the duke of Albany and York. In August of that year, an English fleet went to New Amsterdam to claim the colony. Because the fort hadn’t been maintained and the Dutch were so outnumbered by the English, the town was too vulnerable to put up a fight. New Amsterdam was surrendered to the English.


In 1665-1667, the English and Dutch were at war once again. This was was ended by the Peace of Breda where it was agreed that the New Netherlands would remain English, while the Dutch would get Surinam.

In the New Netherlands, every day life didn’t change that much. The names were angliced, New Amsterdam became New York and Fort Orange became Albany. But the towns remained very much Dutch in character. Many of the people kept on living there, including Peter Stuyvesant. The churches were still serviced by Dutch ministers and answered to the Dutch church council. Dutch was still taught in the schools and spoken in church until late in the 18th century. People from the Netherlands continued to emigrate to New York, although their numbers were smaller than during the New Netherlands era.

When the large emigration wave of the nineteenth century started, the new emigrants were surprised to find people who knew their language and religion. The old Dutch families helped the new families in finding their way in the new country.

Sources and further reading

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists and has a post-graduate diploma in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee. She has been doing genealogy for over 30 years and helps people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Cheryl Johnson says

    I would like help in tracing my Dutch family line. My great grandmother was Laura Della Wikoft. Born abt 1870. Her family came from Holland and settled in Brooklyn, New York circa 1632

  2. Lois Young says

    The spelling of given names in all records from about 1640 in New Netherland varies, especially for females. Many family trees have multiples of one person due to translations by historians and genealogists as various books have been written about the founding families of New Netherlands. Is there a website/list of given names that is best? One name that comes up is Neeltje – Neiltje – Neetie – Neeltjen – Neeltie ….are these all the same name? Translations to English come up with Cornelia and Eleanor. It would be very helpful to have a reliable source for this information of given names. Thank you.

  3. My line goes back to New Netherlands, and Cornelise Van Slyck (1604-1676), married to Ots-Toch (or Alstock). It appears she was either Mohawk, or half Mohawk and half French, with father named Jacques Hertel. She had a son named Jacques, so I wonder if the French father story is correct. Looking for any confirmation on this. I am also looking for her correct birth and death dates. Any help is appreciated. Thanks.

  4. Ceil Rogers says

    I read the Russell Shorto book a few months ago. It was an eye-opener, given the skewed history we were taught in school, which was definitely recorded through an English prism. I’m glad to see it on your list for further reading.

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