On the Trail of Our Ancestors

Life in New Amsterdam in the 17th Century
by Donna Speer Ristenbatt

URL of this website: http://www.ristenbatt.com/genealogy

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Earliest life in New Amsterdam was primitive by today's standards, but did change considerably in a relatively short time frame. After Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan, a fort was staked out by the engineer, Krijn Frederijcke, on the southern part of the island, called Fort Amsterdam. A stone building with a thatched roof was the counting house of the Dutch West Indies Company, while the other buildings (houses) were of wood. There were about thirty houses on the east side of the river. A horse mill was begun by Frances Moelmacker with a large room above used as a meeting place for religious services. With no regular clergymen, Sebastian Jansen Krol and Jan Huych, Comforters of the Sick (Kranck- besoeckers), read the Bible and held meetings on Sundays. Jan Lempo was the schout, or sheriff.

Each colonist had his own farm on the Company's land and was supplied with cows. These temporary dwellings were outside the Fort at this time. By 1628, Fort Amsterdam was completed with four bastions, and faced with stone. There were now 270 people in the colony including men, women and children and the people supported themselves chiefly by farming. The West Indies Company made up for deficiencies.

During Wouter Van Twiller's administration, Dominie Everardus Bogardus arrived, and 104 soldiers, New Netherland's first military force. Also, Adam Roelantsen, the first schoolmaster arrived. A church was now built on Pearl Street and the fort was finished in 1635.

When Van Twiller was succeeded by Willem Kieft, a new stone church was built within the Fort, building lots were granted and citizens were allowed to vote in public affairs. The "Twelve Men" were selected to advise the governor in the Indian trouble. The Indian war made Kieft very unpopular and he was recalled. Unfortunately when he set sail on the Princess in July, 1647, the boat suffered shipwreck and he and the other passengers, including Dominie Bogardus, were drowned.

Regarding food in the colony, the woods were full of game and unoccupied land was used for common pasturage. Goats, sheep, hog, and cattle needed protection against their natural enemies as well as Indians and dishonest white men. The enemies referred to were primarily wolves and dogs.

Early householders didn't always fence their grounds, thus animals would stray elsewhere. Pigs were incorrigible and pigs, goats, sheep and cattle would stray on the walls of the fort.

While the Dutch were known for extreme cleanliness, this did not apply to the streets. People would throw their rubbish, filth, dead animals and such into the public streets.

In direct contrast with this filth were the lovely gardens and flower beds. The tulip mania began in France in 1635 and soon spread to the Low Countries. During this time the following flowers could be found in New Netherland - white and red roses, eglantine, gillyflowers, jenoffelins, tulips, crown imperials, white lilies, the lily frutalaria, anemones, violets, marigolds, summer sots, etc.

Gardens were very important in New Netherland and sometimes men whose sole occupation was gardening, were the keepers of the gardens. In 1665, William the Gardener (de Tenier) lived in the Prince Graft.

Fruit and vegetable sellers displayed their wares in baskets in their shops and also carried them from door to door, even on a Sunday. Fruits such as pears, peaches, grapes, melons, plums, nectarines, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, etc. were produced. Vegetables included cabbages, parsnips, carrots, beets, endive, succory, finckel, sorrel, dill, spinach, radishes, onions, parsley, and whatever is commonly found in a kitchen garden, plus Indian maize, or corn.

In 1642, two very important buildings were erected, - the city tavern and the church in the fort. At a later date the city tavern became the Stadt Huys, or City Hall, for both Dutch and English. Also, on March 31, 1644, a fence was ordered to be erected so that cattle could be pastured in security.

First, houses were built of wood with thatched roofs. Some houses, though, were built of brick and stone with tiled roofs, and some wooden houses had brick chimneys. (Brick kilns soon existed on Manhattan Island, at Fort Orange, and in the Dutch settlement on the Delaware.) There is ample evidence that glass was used in the windows of all but the poorest houses. Glaziers did indeed exist in New Amsterdam.

In 1648, firewardens were appointed due largely in part to flimsy construction of dwellings and people neglecting to keep the chimneys clean. Also coming into being was the "schuttery." The Burgher Watch (Citizen's Watch or Guard) was formed. At a later period the Rattle Watch was instituted, consisting of six men whose duty was to patrol streets at night, to arrest thieves, to give alarm in case of fire, and all other warnings. They carried a large rattle. In 1658, they were required to call out (going the rounds) "how late it is at all the corners of streets from nine o'clock in the evening until the reveillé beat in the morning". Each man received eighteen guilders a month.

Around 1655, the Schoeyinge was constructed - a sort of sea wall that reached from the City Hall at Coenties Slip to the Water Gate at Wall Street. On the northern side of Wall Street from the East to the Hudson River a line of defense was erected called the Palisades.

In 1678, the principal towns were New York, Albany and Kingston. All the rest were country villages.

In 1697, the streets were first lighted at every seventh house by a lantern which hung on a projected pole.

By 1707, when Madame Knight visited New York, she wrote: "The Cittie of New York is a pleasant, well compacted place situated on a commodious River with a fine harbor for shipping. The Buildings, Brick generally, very stately and high, though not altogether like ours in Boston".

For more information on this subject, you might want to read the source for this material:

Dutch In New York by Esther Singleton, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company (original publishers) 1909.

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