In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was chartered in the Netherlands. It’s purpose was to trade for spices in Asia as well as carry out colonial activities in the region. It was a monopoly and the first multinational corporation in the world. It was the first company to issue stock. It was a “mega-corporation” with quasi-governmental powers, such as: the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, coin money and establish colonies. The Dutch East India Company received huge profits from its spices monopoly through most of the 17th century.
One of the Company’s ships was the Halve Maen (Half Moon). Commissioned by the Dutch Republic and captained by Englishman Henry Hudson in 1609, he was to search for an eastern passage to Asia. After several months of exploring the eastern coast of the New World (aka: America) from Labrador to the Chesapeake Bay area, the ship entered the bay of current New York. Henry Hudson sailed up the newly discovered river far north until the river became too shallow and narrow to proceed further upriver. He turned around near present day Albany, New York and returned to the bay and Atlantic Ocean.
The river became know as the North River, distinct from the South River where New Amsterdam would later be established in the region of New Netherland. The region was later surveyed and charted and in order to perfect Dutch territorial claim settlement was required. The earliest settlements were Dutch “factorijen”; trading posts with a military presence of soldiers and a small support community.
The early 1600s were a period of prosperity for Europe. The monopoly of The Dutch East India Company in the Asian spice trade and the success of world colonisation with ships that outnumbered the rest of European powers was known as the Dutch Golden Age. It was difficult to recruit people willing to leave the Netherlands with an economic boom and cultural vibrancy experienced in Europe at that time.
The first Dutch settlement along the North River was a fort built in 1614 on Castle Island. It was so named due to an earlier French fortification built on the island and dated to around 1540. It was abandoned due to persistent spring flooding. The Dutch trading post would also be abandoned and rebuilt on higher ground for the same reason.
The trading post was named Fort Nassau and considered the first Dutch settlement in America. It was named in honor for the stadtholder of the United Netherlands–the House of Orange/Nassau. This settlement was a small fortification trading post and warehouse occupied by Dutch traders and soldiers. It’s purpose was to establish a lucrative fur trade with the local Indian tribes.
A distinct charter was granted to The Dutch West India Company in 1621. This established the company with a monopoly of trade in the West Indies and New Netherland. However, company mismanagement and underfunding hindered emigration to New Netherland. The ever present danger caused between Dutch settlers and indigenous tribes because of misunderstandings and armed conflict also hindered early settlement in the upper river valley.
The Dutch West India Company governed the area of New Netherland as it saw fit. A fort was built at the tip of Manhattan Island and New Amsterdam grew into the most settled community of Dutch emigrants. Every settler and trader came to New Netherland on behalf of the Company. Its settlements along the North and South Rivers (Hudson River) were established for trade and commerce. In all manner of speaking–a company town.
I’ve determined how the Dutch came to discover the area we know today as New York, the Hudson River and present day Albany. I’ve researched the particular purpose of establishing trading posts and New Netherland around 1614. Fort Nassau was the earliest Dutch settlement, even though the trading post was flooded out and abandoned.
What I’m unable yet to determine is the statement my great-grandmother (Elsie Van Schaick Ellsworth) wrote as true. She claimed our ancestors emigrated to Fort Orange in 1614. Interesting, but difficult to prove. One–1614 wasn’t Fort Orange, it was called Fort Nassau. Two–Fort Orange was built and settled in 1624 on the west bank of the upper Hudson River and Albany was established from that original trading post.
My quest is to discover the first Dutch ancestor who settled in America. So many questions. Did he/they arrive as early as 1614 (unlikely)? Were my ancestors early settlers of Fort Orange in 1624? So much information has been documented and I just need to find the right path that leads to definitive proof.
The answer is probably not found exploring Fort Nassau. Time to research what I can about Fort Orange. That’s enough data for another day. Next blog will be about the 1624 settlement of Fort Orange in New Netherland. Looking for Dutch family names.
Credit sources: (google search) Dutch East India Company, Dutch West India Company, 1609 Half Moon, Henry Hudson, Fort Nassau 1614, Early Dutch settlement, New Netherland