Native New York and Dutch New Amsterdam

Museum of the City of New York



  • social and political background
  • reading maps
  • reading documents


Indigenous background

  • "race" emerges in the 18th century - many different nations
  • Lenape, Munsee, and others farmed AND moved seasonally
  • how did Indigenous communities conceptualize land?

Dutch background

  • private commercial venture of the Dutch West India Company
  • governed by appointed director and council
  • large investors paid for the right to buy land from Indigenous nations but had to negotiate for it; individual settlers rented from large investors
  • less than 1000 Europeans in Manhattan in 1650
  • approx 200 free and enslaved African people


  • Indigenous trade networks spanning Mexico, California, and Canada existed before European contact
  • Dutch manufactured items traded for Indigenous corn and animal pelts
  • Dutch reliant on Indigenous people for food and profit
  • trade was mutually beneficial

Reading Maps

US Northeast, 2021

Google Maps

Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova, 1635

Blaeu, Willem Janszoon, Cartographer. Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova. [Amsterdam: Willem Janszoon Blaeu, ?, 1630] Map.

Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova, 1635

Questions I ask as a historian

  • who is the assumed audience?
  • why is the coast oriented that way? where is the "reader" of this map standing?
  • what's pictured? how are Indigenous communities shown?
  • who controls this territory?

who is the audience?

"New Netherland and New England"

where is the reader standing? what's labeled?

"Canoe made from bark and from the hollowed out trunk of a tree"

how are Indigenous communities shown?

"Method of protecting themselves from the Mahican"

who controls this territory?

Nieu Amsterdam = Manhattan, Fort Orange = Albany

Reading a map

  • original created for navigation; printed for promotion and advertising
  • main navigation via rivers; little direct knowledge of interior
  • main profit concern for the colony requires Indigenous trade
  • maps can be both descriptive and aspirational

Reading a document

Questions I ask as a historian

  • Who's the writer?
  • Who's the audience?
  • What's the purpose of this document?
  • How did we get these documents?

Understanding council minutes

  • Writers: Appointed council of male citizens (judge, jury, mayor, and legislature)
  • Audience: Investors of the West India Company
  • Purpose: accountability for decisions and minimizing conflicts between Dutch and between Dutch and Indigenous neighbors
  • Written record of 17th century oral decisions; archived in Netherlands; translated to English in 19th and 20th centuries; published for use by historians and genealogists

Document 1, 9 May 1640


  1. How close did Dutch and Indigenous people live?
  2. What's the conflict between Dutch and Indigenous neighbors?
  3. Who has the responsibility to change?
  4. What are the consequences of not changing behavior?

Document 1, 9 May 1640

Serious complaints are daily made by the Indians that their corn hills are trampled under foot and uprooted by hogs and other cattle and consequently great damage will be done when the maize is growing

Document 1, 9 May 1640

as a result of which the corn would be dear in the autumn and our good people suffer want, the Indians be induced to remove and to conceive a hatred against our nation, and thus out of mischief inflict some injury or other upon us, which we are most expressly ordered by the honorable directors to prevent

Document 1, 9 May 1640

We, the director and council of New Netherland, hereby charge and command all our inhabitants whose lands adjoin plantations of the [Indians] to have their horses, cows, hogs, goats and sheep herded or else to prevent them by fences or otherwise from damaging the corn of the Indians, on pain of making good the damage and of incurring a fine.

Document 1, 9 May 1640

  1. Dutch and Indigenous people lived very close
  2. Different styles of land use conflicted and had to be mediated
  3. Dutch concern with conflict requires change
  4. Indigenous people might not sell corn, might leave the area, might not trade

Document 2, 16 March 1654


  1. What is being traded, and by who?
  2. Why are bakers selling to Indigenous people and not Dutch?
  3. What are the effects of trade?

Document 2, 16 March 1654

The burghers [citizens] have daily experienced that the bakers do not act in good faith in the matter of baking bread for the burghers, but bolt the flour from the meal and sell it greatly to their profit to the Indians for the baking of sweet cake, white bread, cookies, and pretzels, so that the burghers must buy and get largely bran for their money, and even then the bread is frequently found to be short of weight.

Document 2, 16 March 1654

  1. Bakers sell "luxury" food items to Indigenous customers
  2. Selling to Indigenous customers is more profitable
  3. Profitability of fur trade for bakers prices out Dutch customers

Document 3, 21 July 1639

Civil court case

Pedro Negretto, plaintiff, vs. Jan Celes, defendant

  1. What can we know about Pedro?
  2. What is Pedro's status?
  3. What are the stakes?

Document 3, 21 July 1639

Pedro Negretto, plaintiff, vs. Jan Celes, defendant. Plaintiff demands payment for the trouble he has taken in tending the defendant's hogs. The defendant is condemned to pay the plaintiff 2 schepels [about 100 pounds] of maize.

Document 3, 21 July 1639

  1. "Negretto" was a common name given to kidnapped African people; Pedro was a common Spanish or Portuguese name -- Pedro was probably a Black man born in Africa and sold into slavery by Spanish or Portuguese
  2. Only free people could sue in court -- Pedro was probably free
  3. Jan Celes' failure to pay has political/diplomatic consequences

Major takeaways

  • Documents can have internal tensions or conflicts
  • Documents can reflect what the creator sees and wants to see
  • Small interactions could have major diplomatic consequences
  • Many areas of life were shaped by the fur trade
  • Indigenous people and settlers lived in very close proximity and had to negotiate daily interactions

Thank you!