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Document Number: AJ-096
Author: Donck, Adriaen van der, 1620-1655
Title: A Description of the New Netherlands
Source: Donck, Adriaen van der. "Description of the New Netherlands." Collections of the New-York Historical Society. (New-York: Printed for the Society, 1841). Second Series. Volume 1, pages 125-242.
Pages/Illustrations: 119 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-096/

Author Note

In 1641, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, a director of the Dutch West India Company living in Amsterdam, hired twenty-one-year-old Adriaen van der Donck (1620-1655) to be his lawyer for the colony, Rensselaerwick, in New Netherlands. Until 1645, van der Donck lived in the Upper Hudson River Valley, near Fort Orange (later Albany), where he learned about the Company’s fur trade, the Mohawk and Mahican Indians who traded with the Dutch, the agriculturist settlers, and the area’s plants and animals. By 1645, his knowledge of the Native Americans was so respected that the Governor of New Netherland asked for his help to negotiate a treaty to end a four-year raiding war with the Indians.

In 1649, after a serious disagreement with the new governor, Peter Stuyvesant, he returned to the Netherlands to petition the Dutch government. In 1653, he returned to New York, but the Stuyvesant administration did not welcome him. His privileges were curtailed and he could not practice the law. In 1653, still in the Netherlands waiting for the government to decide his case, he wrote this book, later published in 1655.

He died in 1655 at age thirty-five. While van der Donck’s estate was sold off in 1676, his nickname, Jonkheer, adhered to the area, now known as Yonkers, New York.

New Netherland Settlement, 1614-1664

In 1614, Dutch merchants and investors set up the New Netherland Company to exploit riches of the Americas. In 1621, the Dutch government granted its successor, the West India Company, a monopoly on the fur-trade in the area. In 1624, the first permanent settlement was established at Fort Orange. Later, the principal settlement was New Amsterdam (later New York City) at the southern end of Manhattan island, which was purchased from Native Americans in 1626. In 1664, as the result of an Anglo-Dutch war, the Dutch ceded their colony to the English and New Amsterdam became New York.

Document Note

Van der Donck’ description includes his perception of Indian cultures and reports on the abundance of the area’s agriculture and wealth of its natural resources. It concludes with a dialogue between a New Netherlander and a ‘Patriot,’ in which van der Donck hoped to promote his brand of Dutch imperialism. He hoped the Dutch government would encourage immigration and trade to counteract the threat of competition with the Spanish and the English, whose nearby colony of New England was rapidly expanding.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The New Netherland Project has a virtual tour of New Netherland, including maps and reproductions of portraits and more information on van der Donck at

http://www.nnp.org/newvtour/index.html
http://www.nnp.org/newvtour/regions/Hudson/colen_donck.html.

See two Newsday.com essays on the history of Long Island at http://www.newsday.com/extras/lihistory/2/hs217a.htm and http://www.newsday.com/extras/lihistory/2/hs217b.htm.

On the early history of New York, see PBS’s “Learning Adventures in Citizenship” at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/newyork/laic/episode1/e1_mm.html.

For history of the Dutch in the Americas, see the online history project of the University of Groningen, Netherlands, at http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/E/newnetherlands/nlxx.htm.

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