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A passion for trade laid the groundwork for early New York's culturally diverse population. New Netherland was founded by a corporation, rather than by a political entity. Initially, the directors of Dutch West India Company imagined a homogeneous, all-Dutch colony, but lack of interest in migration on the part of their countrymen crushed that dream. Thus, achieving economic success demanded a variety of settlers.

Commerce and cultures mixed in 17th-century New York. The Wekquaesgeeks and other River Indians, who had lived here long before the arrival of the Europeans, traded highly desired furs and land with the newcomers. Artisans and laborers from many parts of northern Europe flowed into Manhattan. A merchant class developed, one composed of Dutch, English, and French traders as well as Spanish, Portuguese, and German-speaking Jews. Tenant farmers of northern European descent were enticed to live throughout the colony; many came to live on the Manor of Philipsburg. The first blacks who entered New Netherland were not all enslaved, but soon race and slavery were inextricably linked. Enslaved people came from parts of West Africa, Madagascar, and the West Indies. Some were native born. They labored as artisans, sailors, farmers, and servants. Colonial New York, a frontier society, simultaneously exhibited cultural segregation, blending, and conflict.

Van Bergen overmantel

For most white and black colonials living in New York, shared race, religion, language, and class ranked as more critical factors than did allegiance to a particular country or ethnic group. Most early New Yorkers did not nurture a strong, lifelong attachment to one ethnic or tribal group, in part because large numbers of people did not immigrate together, a more common demographic pattern in the 19th century. Eventually, many colonists defined themselves by taking a stand for or against political allegiance with England, a decision that tended to cut across ethnic and, to a certain extent, racial lines.


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