Today, the first three floors of the grand building house the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The museum is open 364 days a year, and admission is free. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, and a number of smaller agencies, have offices there also. In 2003, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection established a lower Manhattan office at the Custom House, a reminder of the building’s original purpose.
NEW YORK—The Dutch first established New York during the second half of the 17th century, when Dutch naval power dominated the world, and Holland dominated global commerce. The area, inhabited by the peaceful Mahican Indians of the Hudson River, made for an easy colonial outpost based on a profitable trade in beaver pelts.
The Dutch home capital of Amsterdam was at that time a cosmopolitan city, and its elaborate maze of canals gave it good protection from the enemies at sea. During that time, the East India and the West India companies were the leading colonial business arms of the Dutch.
Henry Hudson, hired by the East India Company, explored and charted the island of Manhattan in 1609, reporting fertile agricultural ground, abundant forests, and peaceful Indians willing to trade large numbers of furs in exchange for trinkets. There would be no battle with hostile natives—all the Dutch had to do was settle there.
The Hollanders who first settled on the south tip of Manhattan in 1625 were just 30 families—Walloons (French-speaking Protestants) from Leyden brought over by Willem Verhulst of the West India Company.
In a move to secure the land for Dutch use, Peter Minuit, the third director of New Netherland, is said to have purchased the island from the Mahicans for the equivalent of $24 dollars in trading goods, such as knives and beads, on May 24, 1626.
The settlement was named New Amsterdam and became the capital of the larger New Netherland, which is today's tri-state area.
By early 1653, large numbers of people from a variety of religious backgrounds had settled in the Dutch colony. The arrival of Papists, Mennonites, Lutherans, Puritans, Quakers, atheists, and Jews led to increased complexity, and disagreements abounded as to how everyone should live together. At the same time, a threat from England was looming.
New Amsterdam had only 150 soldiers when England attacked in 1664, and people were discontented with the current administration and unwilling to defend their leader. The British Colonel Richard Nicolls, who led four frigates and nearly two thousand men, sent a letter to the Dutch leader guaranteeing “every man in his estate, life, and liberty.”
Peter Stuyvesant, who was in charge of the colony from 1647 to 1664, kept the letter secret, climbed the bastion of Fort Amsterdam and made ready to open fire, but he was led down by friendly council and encouraged to surrender by a group that included his own 17 year-old son.
With the Britons' successful and non-violent seizure of the Dutch colony, New Netherland, and with it New Amsterdam, became New York, named for King Charles II’s younger brother James, the duke of York and the man who had hired Nicolls and funded the expedition.
Fort Amsterdam, located on the southern tip of New Amsterdam, served as the administrative headquarters for the Dutch, and later the British, until it was torn down in 1790 after the American Revolution. Located on the site today is the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, built between 1902 and 1907 by the federal government to run duty collections for the bustling port of New York.
Today, the first three floors of the grand building house the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The museum is open 364 days a year, and admission is free.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, and a number of smaller agencies, have offices there also. In 2003, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection established a lower Manhattan office at the Custom House, a reminder of the building’s original purpose.