Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Hollanders in the United States

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 7
Hollanders in the United States

The Hollanders played by no means an insignificant part in the early history of the United States. They first appeared in this country at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Holland has the distinction of being one of the smallest of independent European countries (12,648 square miles). Though it was in an almost continual conflict with Spain from which it sought complete freedom, and though the scene of constant religious dissensions, it enjoyed at the same time a world-wide reputation as a maritime power, whose commercial enterprise, especially in its colonies was everywhere acknowledged. In June, 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the service of the Dutch East India Company, sailed in his ship "De Halve Maan" (The Half Moon) to the new continent and was the first to ascend, as far as the site of Albany, the river which now bears his name. Hudson, however, was not the discoverer of this grand river, for, eighty-five years earlier, the Florentine, Giovanni da Verrazano sailed on what is now called New York Bay, and in 1525 another Catholic mariner, Estevan Gómez, explored part of the same beautiful river, which he called Rio San Antonio, under which name it appears on the Ribera map designed in 1529.

The reports of Hudson stimulated the commercial activity of the Dutch, who laid claim to the territory along the river. In 1614, a number of Hollanders, most of whom were agents of the trading company, established themselves on Manhattan Island. Other Dutch settlers, realizing what great resources were at stake, erected several trading posts, beginning at Albany (Fort Nassau; Fort Orange) and extending as far south as Philadelphia. The territory between these two points was called "Nieuw-Nederland" (New Netherlands). Through the influence of William Usselinck, a Holland West India Company obtained from the States-General a charter granting them a commercial monopoly in America and a part of Africa for the term of twenty-four years. The members of the company collected a fund of 7,200,000 florins ($2,880,000) which they divided into 1200 acties (shares). The entire government of the colony was in the hands of the company, with this restriction, that the States-General delegated the nineteenth member to the general convention, and that it was to sanction the appointment of the governor. From 1624 to 1664 the colony was ruled by four governors: Peter Minuit (1624-33); Wouter van Twiller (1633-38); William Kieft (1638-47); Peter Stuyvesant (1647-64). Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for the sum of twenty-four dollars (which was paid in merchandise) and there laid the foundation of the city of Nieuw Amsterdam, which extended as far north as Wall Street in what is now New York City.

In order to encourage emigration, the West India Company (1629) issued its charter of "privileges and exemptions" by virtue of which any member of the company who within four years should plant a colony in New Netherlands of not less than fifty persons of over fifteen years of age, should obtain absolute title to a tract of land extending sixteen miles along the navigable river, or eight miles if on both shores, and so far into the country as the situation of the occupants would permit. These proprietors, called patroons, held great political power as well as judicial power over the settlers. Other grants were given to colonists in 1640, which suppressed the external practice of any religion other than the Dutch Reformed, was revoked the next year. But although no laws existed by which the religious convictions of the immigrants were restricted, the Dutch population was nevertheless predominantly Protestant and belonged chiefly to the Reformed Calvinistic Church. In 1628 Joannis Michaelius organized the first Dutch congregation in New Amsterdam, and by the year 1664 thirteen other Protestant missions had been formed. As only a very small percentage of the Dutch immigrants were Catholics, history does not take notice of them, nor does it record the establishment of any Dutch Catholic parish or institution in that community. The French Jesuit, Father Isaac Jogues (martyred 18 Oct., 1646), was the first Catholic missionary to the New Netherlands, and exercised his ministry principally among the Indian tribes.

The actual number of inhabitants in New Amsterdam in 1664, just before the English took possession of it, was nearly 1200; that of the entire colony about 10,000, divided among English, French, Bohemians, and Dutch, with the Dutch predominant. On 4 September, 1664, the English, unjustly disputing Holland's claim to the New Netherlands, appeared with a fleet before New Amsterdam, and the Dutch, realizing their powerlessness to offer any effective resistance, reluctantly surrendered. Again taken by the Dutch under Cornelius Evertsen in July, 1673, during a war between Holland, on the one side, and France and England, on the other, it was restored to England under the treaty of 1674. Thus the rule of Holland in America came to an end; Nieuw Nederland became an English possession, and Nieuw Amsterdam received its present name of New York, in honour of the Duke of York, afterwards James II. Very few of the Dutch returned to their native country. The majority stayed and for many years carried on a bitter struggle with the English Government for the independence of their Church. This was guaranteed to them by charter in 1696. In 1698 they had forty congregations.

Although many of the Dutch intermarried with other races, yet there were a goodly number who remained faithful to their nationality, so that at present the element of Dutch extraction in the Eastern States is considerable. Some of the descendants of the old Dutch settlers who gained renown in political and economic activities were: Van Cortland, from whom Van Cortland Park, in New York, derives its name; General Stephan Van Rensselaar, the New York statesman; Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the U. S. From the end of the seventeenth till the beginning of the nineteenth century the emigration from the Netherlands was small. That of the nineteenth century had two principal causes, the first of which was the religious strife among Protestant denominations in Holland during the reign of William I. Dutch Protestants professing the Calvinistic creed established large colonies in Iowa and Michigan. The other cause of emigration was the unfavourable economical conditions in their native country. These conditions were brought about by the defects of social legislation and by the limited opportunities for business enterprise in a country so densely populated as Holland is. This is particularly true of the southern provinces, where the inhabitants are almost exclusively Catholic, where the soil is less fertile, and where a large portion of the productive land is in possession of the wealthier class. Of late, however, Catholic social organizations have ameliorated conditions somewhat; hence emigration from these provinces is decreasing.


According to the twelfth census, that of 1900, there are about 105,000 foreign-born Hollanders in the United States (one per cent of the entire foreign-born population). These are distributed over the different states as follows:

New Jersey
New York
South Dakota