World History 2 82 - 6.1.3 French and Dutch Settlements

In 1609, Dutch merchants hired Henry Hudson, an English sea captain, to lead an expedition into the Atlantic Ocean. The Dutch hoped Hudson would find the long-sought Northwest Passage, a mythical water route thought to allow ships from Europe to sail west through the North American continent, cross the Pacific Ocean, and arrive in Asia. Hudson discovered a deep-water port, now known as New York harbor, and a large river, now known as the Hudson, that led inland. For a moment it appeared he had found the Northwest Passage. However, the Hudson River became too shallow for ocean-going ships near present-day Albany, New York, and the expedition turned back. Hudson did not find the Northwest Passage, but he did find a valuable port and rich river valley that he claimed for the Dutch.

After Hudson returned to Europe, the Dutch West India Company, a joint stock company much like the Virginia Company, made plans to set up a small colony in North America. In contrast to the settled agricultural model preferred by English colonists, the Dutch focused on trade. Company directors hoped their colony would improve their access to the North American fur trade, ensure their control of the valuable port eventually known as New York Harbor, and solidify their claim on the area, which they suspected might contain additional sources of wealth they had not yet discovered. In 1624, thirty families aboard the ship Nieu Nederlandt arrived in what is now New York and founded the Dutch colony of New Netherlands. They came for many reasons, but many hoped to become rich by working in the fur trade.

The Dutch, like their Spanish and English colonial rivals, struggled to produce goods using paid labor and sought to remedy the problem with the importation of enslaved Africans. They also encouraged immigration from across Europe with promises of economic opportunities and some level of religious toleration that extended even to Jewish people, who faced severe discrimination in most of Europe. New Netherlands soon became a prosperous colony populated by people from across Europe and Africa. Colonists lived in a band of farms and towns stretching along the Hudson River Valley from New Amsterdam, which is now New York City, north to the village of Beverwijck, now Albany. They engaged in some farming, but they mostly relied on the fur trade for their income.

Beyond the Book

New Amsterdam

New Amsterdam was founded by the Dutch in 1624, at the southern tip of the island now known as Manhattan. The city quickly became a thriving center of trade and commerce. In 1664, an English military expedition captured the city and renamed it New York (Figure 6.8).

A painting shows the view of a settlement from the water, with the sky in the background. In the forefront a large four-masted ship with drab, white sails and a brown hull sits in the water with smoke billowing from a cannon. A smaller one-masted ship with drab white sails and a brown hull sits at the left and three boats with people in them are at the right with three smaller ships shown close to shore. On shore in the middle a tall, thin wooden structure is seen next to a small wooden house. Behind that, red, white, and brown houses of various sizes line the shore, with a taller, blue and white triangle-roofed building in the left background. A tall windmill is to its left. Green grass and brown sand is shown in the landscape. The words “Nieuw Amsterdam ofte Nue Nieuw Iorx opt Teylant Man” are across the top of the painting.
Figure 6.8 This painting of early New Amsterdam, which later became New York City, was made in 1664 by the Dutch artist and cartographer Johannes Vingboons. (credit: “Gezicht op Nieuw Amsterdam” by Geheugen van Nederland/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
  • How is New Amsterdam depicted in this picture? What parts of the picture would have seemed familiar to people in the Netherlands?
  • Do you think this painting is an accurate depiction of life in seventeenth-century New Amsterdam? Why do you think the European artist chose to portray the city in this fashion?

New Netherlands became a scene of increasing conflict as the colony grew. Initially the Dutch enjoyed friendly relationships with Native Americans eager to trade their furs for European firearms, metal tools, and wool blankets. Serious disputes began, however, when the Dutch demanded payment for the benefits they believed they had brought, including knowledge of the Christian faith and connection to global markets. Native Americans refused to pay, and violence broke out. To protect New Amsterdam from attack, the Dutch forced enslaved Africans to build fortifications along what was then the city’s northeast boundary. The street that ran along these fortifications was known as Wall Street; it later became a major economic center and the home of the New York Stock Exchange.

Despite intense warfare, Native Americans were unable to expel the Dutch, who faced a far more dangerous threat from the English. In 1664, an English military expedition arrived in New Amsterdam as part of a broader conflict between England and the Netherlands. With little hope of defending themselves from the English warships, the Dutch surrendered. The English gave them generous peace terms and renamed New Amsterdam New York, in honor of the Duke of York who had organized the expedition (Figure 6.9).

A map is shown of the southeastern coast of Canada and the eastern coast of the United States. A thin area in Canada, from the Atlantic Ocean on the east heading along the St. Lawrence River, extending to the west along the north and south of Lake Huron and Lake Superior is highlighted green, indicating “French colonies.” Labeled within this green area from east to west are: Quebec (1608), Montreal (1642), New France 1534, Huron, Ottawa, Seneca, Ottawa, and Great Lakes. An area highlighted pink that indicates “Dutch colonies” extends from just south of the St. Lawrence River in an oval shape south to the Atlantic Ocean. It is labeled from the north to the south with: Mohawk Oneida, New Netherlands 1624, New Amsterdam (1624), and New Sweden 1638. The rest of the map is gray with these areas labelled, from north to south: Penobscot, Abenaki, Kennebec, New Hampshire 1623, Narragansett, Onondaga Cayuga, Plymouth 1620, Pequot, Rhode Island 1636-1643, Connecticut 1636-1639, New Haven 1636-1664, Iroquois, Tuscarora Delaware, Western Delaware, Pennsylvania 1681, Maryland 1634, Shawnee, Virginia 1606-1607, Upper Cherokee, Middle Cherokee, Catawba, Yamasee, Carolina 1663, Lower Cherokee, Upper Natchez, Lower Natchez, Georgia 1732, Creek, and Florida 1513. At the top of the map the water to the east of “New Hampshire 1623” is labeled “Massachusetts Bay 1629-1630.”
Figure 6.9 This map shows the location of Dutch and French colonies in North America in the seventeenth century and the tribal lands of Native Americans at the time of European conquest and resettlement. (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

The French became aware of colonization opportunities in North America in 1534, when Jacques Cartier voyaged to the area now known as the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada, but they did not rush to set up any colonies. Several early colonization efforts in what is now Canada struggled, mostly due to the harsh northern environment. In 1608, an expedition led by Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec, the first major French settlement in North America. The Company of New France, a joint stock company much like the Virginia Company and the Dutch West India Company, led the early French colonization efforts in North America and helped fund settlements. New France was a collection of French settlements begun in 1534 in what is now Newfoundland. It eventually included much of North America, including Canada and the Mississippi River Valley all the way to southern Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico.

Like the Dutch, French colonizers focused on trade rather than the settled agricultural model preferred by the English. They earned most of their profits from the lucrative fur market and engaged in fishing off the coast of what is now Canada. Among the French settlers were a small number of French Catholic priests who attempted to convert Native Americans to Christianity, as the Spanish had done in their colonies. Most of these missionaries were members of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, a religious organization dedicated to spreading Catholicism and opposing Protestantism. The Jesuits practiced cultural accommodation, a method of integrating a culture into the dominant society without forcing it to fully integrate and adopt all the dominant culture’s components. They just wanted Native Americans to become Catholics and did not care whether they adopted any other aspect of European culture. The Jesuits in Canada also likely realized that they had neither sufficient numbers nor the support from France that would have been necessary to force Indigenous peoples to submit to attempts to change their way of life.

The French probably enjoyed the friendliest relationships with Native Americans of any European colonizers. Unlike their rivals, they usually attempted to solve the shortage of labor by allying themselves with Native Americans. The French sought wealth in furs, and the assistance of Native American tribes, who knew the land much better than did the European newcomers, was needed to best exploit this valuable resource. Also, because few French women came to New France, many French colonists married Native American women, leading to the creation of a multicultural and multiracial society.

In 1627, Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister to King Louis XIII, provided a spiritual justification for Franco-Indian partnerships in the Ordonnance of 1627. The Ordonnance read in part, “The descendants of the French who are accustomed to this country [New France], together with all the Indians who will be brought to the knowledge of the faith and will profess it, shall be deemed and renowned natural Frenchmen, and as such may come to live in France when they want, and acquire, donate, and succeed and accept donations and legacies, just as true French subjects, without being required to take letters of declaration of naturalization.”

Not all Native Americans wanted to give up their traditional beliefs or become French, but the Ordonnance was an important gesture that the French government was willing to accept them as equal members of society. It helped the French build strong relationships with Native Americans, particularly the Algonquin-speaking tribes that populated most of New France. The French further reinforced their alliance with the Algonquins by providing them with weapons, which they used in their wars with rival Iroquoian-speaking tribes and with Dutch and English settlers.

Even when Indigenous peoples profited from their relationship with European colonists, however, they might still suffer negative consequences. The introduction of guns, for example, made Native American warfare more deadly. As the Iroquois, who were armed by the Dutch, waged war with the French-allied Wendat nation, their European trading partners profited from the trade in stolen pelts.

The use of guns and the incentives offered for killing as many animals as possible had environmental implications as well, because it depleted beaver and deer populations in some areas. The hunger for European manufactured goods encouraged some Native Americans to go into debt to European traders, while the reduction of animal populations left some without the means to pay. Many Indigenous people also became addicted to the alcohol sold or traded by Europeans.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax