History of Holland > New Amsterdam history (New York) > First traders on the island of Manhattan

First traders on the island of Manhattan

First traders on the island of ManhattanFor several years after the return of Hudson, merchants from the Netherlands sent their ships to the Island of Manhattan, and each ship returned to the Netherlands laden with costly furs which the Indians had traded for glass beads and strips of cloth. The Indians cared a great deal more for glittering glass and highly colored rags than they did for furs.

One trader above all others whose name should be remembered, was Adrian Block. He came in a ship called the Tiger. This ship was anchored in the bay close by what is now called the Battery in New York, and directly in the course that the ferry−boats take when they go to Staten Island.

On a cold night in November it took fire and was burned to the water's edge. Block and those who were with him would all have been burned to death had they not been strong and hardy men who were able to swim ashore in the ice−cold water. Even when they reached the shore they were not safe, for there were no houses or places of shelter; the winter was coming on, and the woods were filled with wild beasts. But Block and his men very soon built houses for themselves; rude and clumsy buildings to look at, but warm and comfortable within. They were the first houses of men from Europe on the Island of Manhattan. If you wish to see where they stood, take a walk down Broadway, and just before you reach the Bowling Green, on a house which is numbered 41, you will find a tablet of brass which tells that Block's houses stood on that self−same spot.

As soon as the hard winter was over, Block and his men began to build a new ship, and before another winter had come they had one larger than the Tiger. It was the first vessel to be built in the new world, and was called the Restless.

That same year the merchants from Holland decided that they were giving too many glass beads for the furs, and that if all the merchants combined into one company they might not have to give so many. So they did combine, and called themselves the United New Netherland Company. It was in this way that the name New Netherland first appeared.

When the first ships of the new company reached the island, a house was built for the use of the fur−traders, just south of where the Bowling Green Park is. This structure was called Fort Manhattan. It was of wood, and did not take long to build because the traders did not intend to live in it a great while. They felt quite sure that all the furs would be collected in a few years, and that then the island would be abandoned. No one thought at that time that the little wooden stockade was the commencement of a great city.

But after a few years it was found that the new country was a much richer place than had been supposed. Shipload after shipload of otter and beaver skins were sent across the ocean and still there were otters and beavers without number. The fur−traders were growing rich, and after a few years there came a decided change, when a new company was formed in Holland; a great body of men this time, who had a vast amount of money to build ships and fit them out. This organization was the "West Indische Compagnie" (Dutch West India Company), and was to battle with Spain by land and by sea (for the Netherlands was at war with Spain) and was to carry on trade with the West Indies, just as the East India Company carried on trade with the East Indies. As the West Indies ncluded every country that could be reached by sailing west from Holland, you will see that all the Dutch land in America, which land was called New Netherland, came under the control of this new company.

The territory called New Netherland was the country along the Atlantic Ocean which now makes up the States of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. But its limits at this time were uncertain as it extended inland as far as the Company might care to send their colonists.

Within a few years, the 70 ships sailing under the flag of the "West Indische Compagnie" (Dutch West India Company), fought great battles with the Spaniards, and won almost every one of them. There were branches of the Company in 7 cities of Holland, and the branch in Amsterdam had charge of New Netherland. So it will be only of the doings of this branch that we shall read. Colonists were to be carried to New Netherland from Holland; farms were to be laid out and cultivated; cities were to be built, and the Dutch West India Company was to have absolute control over all, and was to rule all the people. To do these things they had authority from the States−General of Holland, which was the name given to the men who made the laws for that country. The Company was to make regular reports to the States−General, and tell of the growth of the colony and the progress of the people in it. But as the years went on the Company was not as particular as it should have been about what it told the States−General.

It was not until the "West Indische Compagnie" (West India Company) took charge of New Netherland that it was decided to make the settlement on the island of Manhattan a city. Up to this time it had been merely a trading station. In order to build up a city, the West India Company knew that it would be necessary to send people in sufficient numbers so that no matter how many were killed by the Indians the settlement would not be wiped out. Many inducements were offered, and men with their families soon began to flock to New Netherland. With the ship that brought the first families was Cornelius Jacobsen May, who was to live on the Island of Manhattan and look after affairs for the Company. Rude houses were set up about the fort, and the first street came into existence. This is now called Pearl Street.

Cornelius Jacobsen May cared for the colony for less than a year, when his place was taken by William Verhulst. Before the year was out, Verhulst decided that the new country never would suit him, and he sailed away to Holland. Then came in his place, in the year 1626, Peter Minuit, under appointment as the first Dutch Governor of New Netherland.