In the late summer of 1664, four English frigates arrived off shore New Amsterdam. Rather than resisting, the Director-General of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, surrendered the city and colony to the English.
Although the Dutch briefly regained control of the colony in 1673, it was restored to English rule in the Treaty of Westminster the following year, marking the end of Dutch New York.
Despite the English conquest, the Dutch language continued to thrive in New York and northern New Jersey for generations, persisting into the twentieth century in certain areas.
In the immediate decades following the English conquest, the Dutch language predominated in what had been New Netherland. The Dutch generally resisted assimilation and retained their language. Anglicans in New York remarked in 1699 that the colony “seemed rather like a conquered Foreign Province held by the terrour of a Garrison than an English Colony.” That same year, the New York colonial governor commented that the Dutch could “neither speak nor write proper English.” Among whites, the Dutch comprised the majority of New York City into the early eighteenth-century.
In the Hudson Valley, the Dutch language remained even stronger. Immigrants to the region often learned to speak Dutch rather than English. Most of the French Huguenots who founded New Paltz in the 1670s adopted Dutch. Their church originally kept records in French, then switched to Dutch, and only later to English. Dutch cultural practices remained the norm as well. Roman-Dutch law prevailed, which allowed women to make joint wills with their husbands, wives to keep their maiden names, and for daughters to inherent land. Dutch legal practices endured until about 1730 in urban New York and lasted for a generation longer in rural areas.
In New York City, the use of Dutch declined quicker than in the rest of the colony. The Dutch community in Manhattan was not as isolated as those in rural regions, and they were in frequent contact with English speakers. The arrival of new immigrants to the city, disproportionately from the British Isles, also undermined the use of Dutch. By 1730, whites of British descent outnumbered those of Dutch. In the first three decades of the eighteenth century, the Dutch were usually bilingual, using English in public and Dutch at home. After 1730, younger Dutch New Yorkers learned English and not Dutch, and by 1750, the language was generally only spoken among the elderly. The new generation tended to think of themselves as English. They also preferred English language religious services, and many left the Dutch Reformed Church for the Church of England. When Swedish botanist Peter Kalm visited New York City in 1749, he saw the decline of the language, and commented that most New Yorkers of Dutch descent were “succumbing to the English language.”
In the Hudson Valley, the Dutch language remained strong until the late-eighteenth century. In many Albany, Dutchess, and Ulster county communities, Dutch was spoken more frequently than English at the time of the Revolution. Kingston kept its town records in Dutch until 1774. When Peter Kalm visited Albany in 1749, he said that “The inhabitants of Albany and its environs are almost all Dutchmen. They speak Dutch, have Dutch preachers, and the divine service is performed in that language.” Richard Smith visited Dutchess County in 1769 and commented that “the Women and children could speak no other Language than Low Dutch.” Another traveler, Patrick M’Robert, similarly noted in 1774 that in Albany the people were “mostly of Dutch extraction, whose language and manners they in a good measure retain, tho’ they can mostly speak English.” In 1788, the new federal Constitution was translated into Dutch in Albany and published. The Dutch language was also common among black New Yorkers. Runaway slave advertisements frequently said that the enslaved spoke Dutch, and Sojourner Truth, who was born into slavery in Ulster County in 1797, grew up speaking Dutch as her first language.
Dutch began to decline more significantly in rural areas following the American Revolution. Some of these changes can be seen through churches. When the minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany died in 1790, the church ceased to offer regular Dutch language services, to the dismay of some older congregants. Starting in 1808, records at the Dutch Church in Kingston were kept in English. The headstones in the cemetery of the Fishkill Dutch Reformed Church were generally engraved in Dutch before the Revolution, but afterwards switched to English. At service, the Fishkill Church ceased using Dutch around 1800. The New Paltz Reformed Church conducted services solely in Dutch until after the Revolution, when they alternated between Dutch and English to satisfy younger members of the congregation. Beginning in 1800, church records were kept in English and in 1817, English became exclusive language of service.
Although not as widespread as during the eighteenth century, Dutch remained common in many areas of the Hudson Valley well into the 1800s. Reverend Gerardus Balthazar Bosch, a Dutch minister on the island of Curacao, noticed the prevalence of Dutch when visiting New York and New Jersey in 1826. He noted that the language was still spoken in Albany and Schenectady, although he found this dialect of Dutch “very bad, uncouth and coarse, and contaminated with many wrong expressions.” In New Jersey, he heard Dutch in Hoboken, and even met a farmer from Hackensack who did not speak English. Bosch again heard Dutch on several occasions in New York City, spoken by farmers from the Hudson Valley. (Noordegraaf, 93-94) In 1839, another observer said there were still residents in Dutchess County who “rarely speak any language but the low Dutch.” Martin Van Buren, who was born in the old Dutch community of Kinderhook and was president from 1837 to 1841, spoke Dutch as did many others in the area.
By the mid-1800s, the Dutch language had declined significantly, and its usage was disproportionately concentrated among the elderly. In 1842, The New York Herald reported that Albany was “fast losing all its Dutch characteristics” and that “the very language is forgotten.” In order “to hear it now in its purity a visit to the Helderburgh [a mountainous region in Albany County] is indispensable.” In 1858, the same paper reported that the Dutch language among Lutherans was virtually gone except for a few congregations in New Jersey where some older congregants still spoke it. The following year, The Weekly Anglo-African commented that some elderly African Americans in Queens County could speak Dutch “as well as many Hollanders” and that the black community was “strongly Dutch descent.”
Dutch was still spoken in old New Netherland in the late 1800s, but it was mostly confined to the Albany region and Bergen County, New Jersey. One Bergen County speaker of “Jersey Dutch,” born in 1860, said that when he grew up, “Jersey Dutch was the prevailing and natural form of speech in many homes of the older residents.” (Noordegraaf) In 1895, the New-York Daily Tribune reported on the Dutch community in Hackensack, New Jersey. They noted that many of the descendants of the first Dutch farmers remained on the land and that some still spoke Dutch. In particular, the Tribune said that the old women were “thoroughly Dutch.” The newspaper added, however, that the Dutch community would not last much longer, because many of the young people were moving away, and outsiders were settling in the community. In 1881, one man called on Dutch New Yorkers to support the South African Boers in their fight for independence from the British Empire. He asked, “Have they [Dutch New Yorkers] become so lost to sympathies with their race by contact with the English that they will not join in a movement to aid their kindred?” He added that “even now in our farm houses at Catskill, and in the counties of Albany, Rensselaer, and Duchess [sic], the descendants of the Dutch of New Netherland continue to speak the tongue of their forefathers in the sacred liturgy of home.” A traveler passing through the Hudson Valley in 1909 found that the “Dutch language and customs still prevail to a surprising extent in the old villages up the Hudson.”
In the Albany area and northern New Jersey, the Dutch language survived into the twentieth century. Several linguists rushed to study the small communities of Dutch speakers, recognizing that the language would soon be extinct. In 1908, one scholar wrote “that there are also Dutch-speaking old colonists living upstream along the Hudson river in Albany and also in Schenectady County” but that the younger generation did not know the language, meaning “it will soon have entirely disappeared.” A study appeared on the Dutch spoken around Albany and in the Mohawk Valley in 1938. Another linguist visited Dutch speakers in Bergen County and published an article in 1910 detailing their dialect. Relying primarily on four individuals, all of whom were in their 70s or 80s, the article presented 664 words of Jersey Dutch. The author also said that the Dutch was spoken by elderly African Americans on a mountain outside of Suffern, New York, but that they were hesitant to meet with outsiders and he had been unable to examine their language. Perhaps the last native speaker of Jersey Dutch, John C. Storms, died in 1949. His brother, who spoke the language to a lesser degree, passed away in 1962.
The Dutch language persisted in some form in New York and northern New Jersey for nearly 300 years following the English conquest. While it declined in New York City in the early eighteenth century, it remained the primary language in many rural places until after the American Revolution. And although the language fell off substantially during the nineteenth century, a few isolated pockets of Dutch speakers survived into the twentieth century.
Photos, from above: the oldest section of the Bronck House, located in Coxsackie, built by Pieter Bronck in 1663; headstone of Mathys ten Eyck in the Old Hurley Burial Ground; headstone of Cornelius Low is at the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church Cemetery in Hurley, NY.
Updated: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mathys ten Eyck and the location of Low’s headstone in the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church Cemetery.
Some selected sources for additional reading:
- Joyce Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664-1730 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
- Alice P. Kenney, Stubborn for Liberty: The Dutch in New York (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1975).
- Jan Noordegraaf, “A Language Lost: The Case of Leeg Duits (“Low Dutch”),” Academic Journal of Modern Philology 2, (2013): 91-108.
- A. G. Roeber, “‘The Origin of Whatever Is Not English among Us’: The Dutch-speaking and the German-speaking Peoples of Colonial British America,” in Strangers Within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire, eds. Bernard Bailyn and Philip D. Morgan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 229
C. Gehring says
Excellent article about the “tawl”.
Marie Westerfelt says
This was excellent. My daughter went through Ancestry. Com and found our Dutch ancestor’s came to the this country in 1682, from the Netherlands. It was amazing to find out about who we were and are, today.
Nicely done. I learned a lot .
Be well. Mike from Fulton County.
Daniel Meeter says
When you write about New York City, don’t forget about Kings County (Broooklyn, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Utrecht, and Bushwick.) The Brooklyn church continued Dutch services till almost 1820.
Kieran O'Keefe says
Right, many of the areas outside of Manhattan held on to the language much longer, particularly Kings County.
Victor Ammirati says
I believe that’s the foundation for The Brooklyn accent . Therty Therd & Therd . I’m goin to werk .
MATTHEW J BURDEN says
I do not know what you are trying to say; the Dutch can not pronounce “th” as in the word the. If you are referencing the number thirty (30) as an example of how a Dutchman would pronounce it in English – the Dutchman would pronounce it as “dirty” or just say dertig as would in Nederlands.
kevin gerard davitt says
just wrote the same thing.
A.J. van der Wielen says
Great article, very interesting.
Jannie van Eik says
Fascinating article. Not living in the USA, I had no idea that Nederlands lasted as long as it did after the Brits flexed their muscles.
I did however know that women within the Nederlandse communities had more rights before the Brits took those rights away.
One major error, the name on the headstone is “Mathys ten Eyck”, not Mathysten Eyck.
MATTHEW J BURDEN says
Hello Mevrouw van Eik,
You would hardly ever hear any account of the Dutch peoples within the New Nederland territories after 1662 and never hear or read anything about the Dutch recapture without a shot New Nederland in September 1674 when the Dutch having arrived from Curacao intimidated the British to surrender. Nor would you ever hear or read in British or American history books about the Dutch Raid on Medway in June 1667 in retaliation for their burning of West Terschelling, and certainly never anything about the Glorious Revolution or the fact the William Penn’s mother was Dutch or of his travels to the Low Countries and Germany to bring skilled and cultivated settlers to Pennsylvania. Why? That is because we only get the English version of history. I live in Philadelphia and noticed that the English (particularly in the south of Nieuwe Nederland) were quick to name and re-name nearly every town and community from Swaanendal to Schenectady after someplace or something in the UK, except maybe the Schuylkill or Barnegat Light.
Nice article. Maybe it would be nice to clarify that ‘Dutch’ and ‘Low Dutch’ is the same language (‘High Dutch’ being German, called ‘Deutsch’ by its speakers).
Marguerite Kortjé says
Is Deutch not German? I’m confused now. My mother tongue, Afrikaans, largely developed from Ou Nederlands. It has very little in common with Deutch, Duits in Afrikaans.
yes Deutch is Duits is German.
Dutch is Netherlands, never German.
deutsch = german in german language
english word ‘dutch’ is from old dutch word ‘diets’
for many here in NL is confusing the word Duits(chen) in our anthem. some think it means German. it however means Diets/Netherlands.
greatings from the netherlands
Joop van Diepen says
Gerard you mean our national anthem with the text: ben ik van Duitsen bloed. En lateron: de koning van Hispanje heb ik altijd geëerd: I’ve always honoured de Spanisch king. Difficult to explain.
Greetings from Westfriesland: Joop
Jacqueline van der Kooij says
William of Nassau (the man in the anthem), was of german blood. He was also born in Germany.So Duitsschen bloed is Deutschland and not Dutch.
Not correct what you are saying.
Deutsch is german for german. Dutch is “Nederlands”; the language that is spoken by people from (former) kingdom of The Netherlands.
Willem Huiting says
Deutsch is German and Nederlands is Dutch.
Afrikaans developed from Dutch en was influenced by English and Portugese.
Afrikaans is grotendeels uit het Nederlands ontstaan en is beïnvloed door Engels en Portugees.
Groeten uit Nederland
Susan van Hemert says
Afrikaans is ook verder beïnvloed deur Maleis wat deur slawe aan die Kaap gepraat is.
Cheryl McDonald says
I loved this article. After I read this article I reflected upon the fact that even though we broke with England, the Hanoverian Kings still ruled and German was spoken in the Kings Court up through the beginnings of the Reign of Victoria.
Cool! As someone who lived for 12 years in the Hudson Valley and now 15 in Amsterdam (NL, not NY), I find this entire topic really interesting.
One small correction: “…and for daughters to inherent land.” They probably “inherited” it instead 😉
Peter Pemmelaar says
The following comment I will write in Dutch.
Ik had geen enkel idee van dat wat in bovenstaand artikel staat. Het is verrassend om te lezen dat het Nederlands zo lang en zo veelvuldige in dat gedeelte van de USA is gebruikt.
I hadn’t any idea about what is written in above article.
It’s surprising to read that Dutch such a long time and so frequently was used in that part of the USA.
E. James Schermerhorn says
Well written article & great references!
Darlene Schneck says
Thank your for sharing this history, it is fascinating! I am eighth-generation Pennsylvania Dutch (Pennsilfaanisch-Deitsche) on both sides of my family. I did not know there was such a thing as Jersey Dutch. We of course were not “Dutch” but of German-speaking ancestry. People who emigrated out of Rotterdam to Pennsylvania were all called “Dutch” in the 1700s. The Pennsylvania Dutch held onto their language even longer than the Jersey Dutch. My parents, who are 88, are bilingual and fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch. And there are others in the region over the age of 70 who still understand the dialect (aside from old order Mennonites and Amish). The Lutheran church I grew up in had services in Pennsylvania Dutch into the early 20th century. We were not a people who gave up our traditions lightly!
Ainsley Mitchell says
Me as well! I am only 15 but my Great-Grandfather (still living age 97) knows some Pennsylvania Dutch, he is from Lehigh Valley and we are of Pennsylvania-Dutch (German) ancestry. Our family name is “Schermerhorn” We are also Lutheran!
Nice piece, interesting to read Dutch continued to be spoken for so long.
It should be obvious, but the Dutch language is of course not extinct – it’s alive and well in the Netherlands and Flemish Belgium.
It would be interesting to hear what ‘US Dutch’ sounded like after such a long time ‘in isolation’, and if modern Dutch people would have a hope of understanding it.
Johan Herrenberg says
Fascinating stuff! Greetings from the Netherlands.
gavin caruthers says
An entertaining anecdote about the first time a pastor attempted to use English at the Old Dutch Church, circa 1785:
“The offense was one which the people did not easily forgive. The first plunge is usually remembered, and, although English gradually superseded Dutch in the services of the Church, Rev. Van Voorhees was not popular in Philipsburg. He also began to keep the church records in English, thus turning the weapon in the wound. His term was short. “
Excerpted from Edgar Mayhew Bacon’s Chronicles of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow: Life, Customs, Myths and Legends, recently republished by HVA Press.
I enjoyed the article, but the reddish headstone of Cornelius Low is located in the Old Hurley Burial Ground, not in Fishkill.
Judy Gumaer Testa says
Cornelius Low is buried in Hurley Burialground as is Captain Ten Eyck. Shame no mention of Olde Ulster, Warwarsing, Rochester & Wagheckemeck. The later Dutch sermons were held until mid 19c & language held until 1870s.
My 94 year old grandfather remembers people speaking Dutch in the Hilltowns of Albany county when he was a kid.
Kieran O'Keefe says
Interesting! Do you know the towns specifically where he heard Dutch?
There are not many towns in the Helderbergs, and some have historical societies. Knox, Gallupville, Berne, West Berne, East Berne, Rensselaerville are some.
John v. Putten says
A very intresting article about the stubbern dutch. Nowadays in The Netherlands high schools and universtys give lectures in only Enghlish. Not everyone is happy with that. The idea after that is it atracts more international students and that dutch students are good prepared for a international carreer.
It’s a small world afterall.
MATTHEW J BURDEN says
What is the point of your statement unless you want to cease an opportunity to label the Dutch people stubbern – sorry it is spelled stubborn here in the United States as we are not in england. So it is not such a small world after all…..
Very interesting article, I didn’t know anything about the continuation of the Dutch language.
Jacques Huisman says
Nice and interesting to read,
Lots of Dutch-Netherlands words are still in use in the USA
Yankee: jan -Kees / nickname for Dutch
Candy: Kandij (sugar)
True, except about “Yankee”! It was originally a Dutch derogatory term that the Dutch in New Netherlands used to refer to the English settlers in New England, who they saw as poor country bumpkins — or in Dutch “Jan Kees” (dialect of Kaas = cheese) = “John Cheese”, i.e., akin to calling them “Cheeseheads”. Eventually “Yankee” lost the negative connotation and just became a slang word to refer to New Englanders.
W0W! Whoda thunk it! thanks for the added insight, Paul! George
Fascinating article-thank you for sharing!
My ancestors came to New Amsterdam in 1623 or so from Holland. Huguenots.
I really enjoyed this article.
Don V D Broek says
Very interesting article. May I suggest reading the book “Island at the Center of the World” for Dutch influence in Manhattan & NY. I am a descendent of Rev. Everardus Bogardus, & his wife Annetje (1630), my 8th great grandparents.
kevin gerard davitt says
Fascinating article-thank you for sharing!
Marilyn Douglas says
If you have not already done so, you might find Dr. Gehring’s dissertation of interest
Gehring, C. T. (1983). The Dutch language in colonial New York: An investigation of a language in decline and its relationship to social change. Ann Arbor, Mich: Univ. Microfilms.
kevin gerard davitt says
I grew up in Flatbush (Vlack Bos) and now live in Bergen County, NJ.
I’m not a professional historian but I believe the Dutch influence lasted much longer in Brooklyn than in Manhattan.
When I was younger, we attended Easter Egg hunts in the graveyards of the Ducth Reformed Churches on Flatbush Ave. and a second one on Kings Highway in the Flatlands section.
This was somewhere between 1960 and 1964. I heard Dutch being spoken at both locations.
In northern Bergen County, NJ, there are a number of Dutch families who have been here since the 18th century, especially in town like Wyckoff and Glen Rock.
Jim Planck says
Nice article. Thank you. I feel there should perhaps have been mention, however, of the huge influx of German-speaking Palatines to the Hudson Valley in the early 1700s, as I believe there was a strong association both culturally and linguistically with the “Low Dutch”-speaking Hollanders, and their commonalities would only have been strengthened by interacting with the pre-Revolutionary English presence. I feel that at least some of the surving old words/terms like front “stoop” and “kill” in the nomenclature for “creek” remain in part because the rural Palatines were picking them up from the Dutch and helped keep them in use. Also, thank you for your use of the Bronck House in the article, home of the Greene County Historical Society.
Brian Fitzgerald says
In the “Jersey Dutch” article there’s a reference to the colonists using a Lenape loan-word, häspân, for “Racoon.” It would make sense to use a native word as the Dutch immigrants wouldn’t have had a name for it – there were no raccoons here in the Netherlands in the 17th century. But I’m curious how the creature’s name ended up back in the home country as “Wasbeer” — literally a “bear that washes.” It’s very cute!
John Warren says
Raccoons are known to wash their food before eating it, and often go throw a motion with the their hands while holding food that looks like they are washing it.
MATTHEW J BURDEN says
Racoons also wash their hands and will use a hand towel (if in sight) to dry off.
“The author also said that the Dutch was spoken by elderly African Americans on a mountain outside of Suffern, New York, but that they were hesitant to meet with outsiders and he had been unable to examine their language. Perhaps the last native speaker of Jersey Dutch, John C. Storms, died in 1949. His brother, who spoke the language to a lesser degree, passed away in 1962.”
Does anyone know if this is referring to the Jackson Whites?
Paula Hartman Behnken says
I could be wrong but I think the Jackson Whites lived in Sussex County NJ, not Suffern NY. They are not too far apart, however.
Todd Sundell says
Jackson Whites are in Hillburn, which is nearby.
Walter Van Winkle says
I am a 10th generation descendant of Dutch settling in New York and New Jersey. A second generation ancestor was farming on Manhattan Island and was killed by Indians. Another formed the town of Wallington New Jersey.
Willem Huiting says
I only recently learned that they only president of the United States whom spoke another native tongue than English was Martijn van Buren who spoke Dutch.
It’ll never happen again I guess, a US president with a different native tongue than English…
Greetings from The Netherlands
MATTHEW J BURDEN says
Woodrow Wilson (also former Princeton University president) probably spoke another language or maybe two since he is the only US president to have a Ph.D., where a perquisite for obtaining a Ph.D. would to be at least proficient in two languages. But maybe not back in Wilson’s time.
Jan Noordegraaf, “A Language Lost: The Case of Leeg Duits (“Low Dutch”),” Academic Journal of Modern Philology 2, (2013): 91-108.
The link given to this article fails to resolve the domain.
Here’s a web archive link to the PDF of the paper
A large number of Dutch from the island of Goeree-Overflakke in South Holland emigrated to Lodi, Bergen County, New Jersey in the mid to late 1800s. While the area had already been settled by the Dutch for well over a hundred years these newcomers set up their own Dutch-speaking churches with their own Dutch-speaking ministers.