In 1565, the Spanish settled 600 soldiers and civilians at St. Augustine, Florida. In 1607, the English established their first settlement in North America at Jamestown, Virginia, but after a series of floods, Jamestown was abandoned in 1699. Today Jamestown is a national park and archaeological site.
In 1602, the States General of The Netherlands granted a charter to a powerful group of Dutch merchants creating the Dutch East India Company and giving them the exclusive right to develop and conduct trade with the markets in the Far East which included the Spice Islands and China. Soon, these merchants began bringing exotic silk, clothing, ceramics, teas and spices back to the Netherlands. In their travels, the Dutch ship captains discovered the continent of Australia and named it “New Holland.”
Travel to the Far East from The Netherlands was a long arduous trip around Africa, filled with danger. In 1609, the merchants of the Dutch East India Company hired experienced navigator and ship captain Henry Hudson to find settlements where he could conduct trade and explore the Bearing Sea, north of the Netherlands, and try to find a northern route around Russia that would take them to the Far East, a shorter and safer journey. Hudson had experience sailing in this area as he had previously sailed the Bearing Sea for the English Muscovy Company.
Henry Hudson, in the Halve Maen (Half Moon), loaded with trade goods, left The Netherlands on March 25, 1609 headed northeast. For over a month he continued north and east until ice packs in the Arctic Ocean blocked his path.
Hudson turned and headed back toward Amsterdam, but by the end of May, the Half Moon passed Amsterdam and continued west toward Newfoundland and the coast of North America to see if they could find a route to the Far East by sailing west or locate other settlements where they could successfully trade their goods.
By mid-July Hudson reached the coast of Maine and continued south along the North American coast all the way to Virginia, passing by the English settlement at Jamestown. Hudson then turned around and headed back north searching the coast for the possible passage. The Half Moon explored the Delaware Bay which Hudson named the “South River” and continued north.
On September 2, 1609, the Half Moon dropped anchor off Sandy Hook at the mouth of what Hudson named the Grande Noordt River (Grand North River, later Hudson River). Robert Juet, a sailor on Hudson’s boat, recorded that “the people of the country come aboard of us, seeming very glad of our coming, and brought greene tobacco, and gave us of it for knives and beads.” Hudson had located people willing to trade.
On September 19th, Hudson reached the most northerly navigable portion of the river. He had reached the location of what would later become the city of Albany.
Hudson’s trip up the Grande Noordt River did not produce a route to the Far East but near the northern end of the navigable portion of the river, he noticed many streams feeding into the river and thousands of beaver and other wildlife, including deer and mink. The beaver were of particular importance because beaver fur created the highest quality felt for hats which were very much in style in Holland. He also saw an almost endless supply of lumber.
Many local native people, anxious to obtain knives and axes, cloth, pants, shirts, and hats, enthusiastically traded with Hudson and his crew. They offered furs of beaver, mink, fox and other animals which ran freely in the forest. Beads were also popular which they strung with string and used as money (sewant). Hudson returned to Holland having conducted a financially successful trade voyage.
Between 1610 and 1614, several Dutch ships followed Hudson’s trade voyage. The Little Fox and Little Crane touched the American coast in 1611-1612. In 1613-1614, The Fortune commanded by Hendrick Christiaensen, together with the Tiger captained by Adriaen Block, and also Fortune under Cornelis Jacobsz May, accompanied by Thys Molkertsen Mossel in the Nightingale, explored North America.
Christiaensen and Block reached the current site of Albany and, over the winter of 1613-1614, constructed a company fort, about 58 feet by 58 feet, on Castle Island (later called Westerlo Island) beginning the first permanent settlement of Albany.
They called it “Fort Nassau” in honor of Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Oranje. Inside the fort, Christiaensen and Block built a trading house 38 feet long by 28 feet wide. The fort was garrisoned with about 12 men destined for year-round stay and Jacob Elkins was placed in charge. Since the only earlier English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, was abandoned in 1699, this settlement at Albany is the earliest permanent European settlement in the original thirteen colonies.
That winter, Block’s ship, Tiger, caught fire at the south shore of today’s Manhattan Island (or possibly Governors’ Island) and was destroyed. Over the winter, Block reconstructed a new boat from the salvaged hull, native timbers and salvaged hardware, which he christened the Onrust or Restless. Block and his crew sailed the Onrust back to Holland.
Upon their return to the Netherlands a figurative map and report were prepared for the States General presenting the results of the exploration and requesting a charter for the merchants that had financed the voyages. On the map, the name “New Netherland” was used for the first time. On October 11th, 1614, the States General of the Netherlands granted a charter to Amsterdam merchants, called the New Netherland Company, giving them the exclusive privilege of conducting trade with New Netherland for a three-year period.
Christiaensen returned to Fort Nassau the next spring (1615) where he was killed by an Indigenous person who had been part of Block’s crew. The fort and trading house were destroyed that spring by a flood (freshnet) but were rebuilt on the mainland at the foot of the Norman’s Kill.
Illustrations: Map of New Netherland and New England (north is to the right) courtesy Biblioteca Nacional de España; a sketch of the Half Moon; and the approximate location of Fort Nassau in what is now downtown Albany, NY.