Description of the New Netherlands/Part 1

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Preliminary Notice[edit]

The following work is the production of a Dutch scholar who in early times joined a colony of his countrymen on the banks of the Hudson. As his little volume has never appeared until now in an English dress, it has been less known and appreciated, probably, by succeeding writers, than its merits deserve. It is, indeed, rather a description of the natural features of the country, for the purpose of commending it to the attention of a Netherland public with a view to promote emigration, than an account of its civil condition, or of what had previously transpired in relation to its affairs. Such as it is, however, it will not be found destitute of interest either to the historical student, or to those descendants of the ancient burghers, who, having lost their ancestral tongue, are only able to converse with their forefathers through the medium of an interpreter.

The author, Adriaen Van der Donck, enjoys the distinction of having been the first lawyer in the Dutch colony. He was educated at the University of Leyden, and, after pursuing a course of legal study, received the usual degree of Juris utriusque Doctor, or as the title-page of his book has it, Beyder Rechten Doctoor - Doctor of both laws, that is, the civil and canon. He was subsequently admitted to the practice of an advocate in the supreme court of Holland. His standing and reputation in the Fatherland may be inferred from his having been appointed by the patroon of Rensselaerwyck, who must have known something of his character, to the important office of Sheriff of that colony.

Van der Donck arrived here in a bark of the patroon Killian Van Rensselaer, in the autumn of 1642, and immediately entered upon the discharge of the duties of his office. The colony of Rensselaerwyck, which embraced an extensive territory on either side of the Hudson, was yet in its infancy. Van Rensselaer himself had been only five years in the country; and although a trading-house was established in the same quarter as early as 1614, yet the first successful efforts to plant a colony were not made until 1630, when the patroon through an agent obtained his first title from the Indians, and despatched a body of colonists from Holland under a liberal charter of privileges from the West India Company. He followed them himself in 1637. The seat of the colony was at Fort Orange, where Albany is now situated, and there out author at first resided.[1]

A few years after, Van der Donck purchased an estate on the Hudson near the upper extremity of Manhattan Island, about sixteen miles from this city, afterwards known as Yonkers. One of his grants of land at that place was made to him in 1648, under the name of Jonker (pronounced Yonker) Van der Donck, and it appears that he was familiarly called the Yonker, a common appellation for a gentleman among the Dutch farmers. His land was spoken of, as we find in the Colonial Records, as the Yonkers land, and there can be little doubt that the name of the present town of Yonkers was in this way derived from him.[2] Van der Donck made several purchases from the Indians in that neighborhood, and altogether acquired an extensive tract of land, bounded on the south by the creek Paprimenin, to which the Dutch name of Spyten-duyvel was afterwards given. On the north was the Zaeg Kil, or Saw-Mill creek, at the mouth of which is the present village of Yonkers, or Phillipsburg, where our author erected mills and laid out a plantation. The land and river of Bronck, or Bronx, another Dutch planter, bounded the estate on the east. Nearly twenty years after, in 1666, when the New-Netherlands had passed into the hands of the English, this estate was re-granted, or confirmed, to the widow of Van der Donck, who had married a second husband of the name of Oneale.

A controversy arose at that period between the government of the colony and several of the colonists, among whom was our author, which led to a remonstrance, addressed to the States General, against the powers exercised by the West India Company, in which the administrations of Kieft and Stuyvesant were violently assailed. This document, signed by Van der Donck and a few others, was printed in Holland, in 1650, and formed a small quarto volume of about fifty pages, entitled, Vertoogh van Nieuw Nederlandt, weghens de Ghelegenheydt, Vruchtbaerheydt, en soberen Staet desselfs. In s'Graven Hage, 1650. (An Exposition of the New Netherlands, in respect to the situation, fertility, and wretched condition of the country. At the Hague, 1650.)[3]

Whatever gave rise to this attempt to shake the authority of the West India Company, on the part of Van der Donck and his associates, it proved entirely fruitless in its results, and only served to re-act unfavorably upon the disaffected parties. In consequence of it, he was permitted only a limited access to the records of the colony for the composition of the present work; and on his application to the Directors of the West India Company for leave to pursue the practice of his profession, he was only allowed to give advice, being forbidden to plead, on the novel ground that, "as there was no other lawyer in the colony, there would be no one to oppose him." This was in 1653.[4]

It does not appear with certainty in what year the first edition of the present work was published; the second, from which the following translation is made, was issued from the press in 1656, under the auspices of Evert Nieuwenhof, a bookseller at Amsterdam. As the privilege, or copyright, bears date May 14th, 1653, it is highly probable that the first edition appeared about that time.

A translation of the work was prepared some years ago by the late Rev. John Bassett, D.D., formerly of Albany, who issued printed proposals to publish it by subscription; but sufficient encouragement not being afforded to induce him to give it to the press, Dr. Bassett offered to dispose of his manuscript to this Society for publication. The subject was referred to a committee, who reported, at the August meeting in 1820, that the expense of printing an edition of one thousand copies would be from eight hundred to a thousand dollars.[5] Nothing further appears to have been done on the subject, although a volume of Collections was published by the Society the ensuing year.

The present translation is from the pen of the Hon. Jeremiah Johnson, late Mayor of Brooklyn, a gentleman who combines with Dutch descent a familiar acquaintance with the language of his colonial ancestors. The translation was made by him several years ago, and the Editor having applied for permission to insert it in the present volume, the request was at once cheerfully acceded to, and a copy subsequently furnished, from which the publication is now made.



  1. For a clear and comprehensive sketch of the colony and manor of Rensselaerwyck, see the Discourse of D. D. Barnard, on the life and services of the late patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer.
  2. See a Memoir read before this Society, in 1816, by the late Judge Egbert Benson, second edition, page 56. Mr. Moulton, author of a volume relating to the early history of New-York, hag furnished the editor with several extracts from the Colonial Records in reference to this matter.
  3. This is the volume referred to by Lambrechtsen, p. 83, which he regrets not having been able to procure. It is also mentioned by Van der Donck in the following work. A copy of it has been recently imported from Holland by H. C. Murphy, Esq., of Brooklyn, which the Editor has had an opportunity of examining. Vertoogh is sometimes translated remonetrance.
  4. The answer to this application of Van der Donck is among the Albany Records.
  5. Minutes of the Society. The memoir on the Mohawk Indians by Rev. J. Megapolensis, jr., was included in the estimate; but that essay is so brief as to occupy only eight or nine pages of Hazard's State Papers, published in 1792.