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The Dutch heritage of New York

The Dutch heritage of New York

For being such a diminutive country, the Netherlands sure has left a disproportionately large footprint on the world throughout the centuries.

We already touched upon the influence of Dutch on the English language, but what about Dutch place names around the globe? How did so many Dutch names end up in New York for example?

Dutch origins of New York place names

The Bronx, Brooklyn, Broadway, Harlem, Wall Street, Long Island. These and many more New York place names are known all over the world thanks to American television shows, films, music and the dominant global American culture they’re part of. Did you know those place names all come from Dutch?

That means that NY rappers making local references and any TV shows or movies set in New York are actually exposing the Dutch origins of the city.

A Long Island ice tea is a typical American cocktail, but the name is derived from the anglified version of "Lange Eylandt", a name Dutchman Adriaen Block came up with in 1614 when exploring the area.

The Dutch history of New York

From the 17th century onwards, the Dutch explorers and colonists created settlements on many continents across the globe and used place names from back home to add some familiarity to a strange new world.

If you have been to New York it is difficult to imagine that it all started out as a humble Dutch trading post of the West-Indische Compagnie (WIC).

New Amsterdam

In 1625 Dutch settlers founded Nieuw-Amsterdam as the capital of Nieuw-Nederland on the island of Manna-hata, which according to the Native Americans meant "island of many hills". An Englishmen working for the Dutch turned the Native American name into Manhattan.

It was a location chosen for strategic reasons, large enough to be able to sustain the population and small enough to be defended by a fort. For a trading post it was a prime location as well, being close to both the ocean and rivers going inland.

Misunderstanding, theft or honest purchase?

How the Dutch acquired the island of Manhattan depends on which side you ask. The Dutch reported buying it for trade goods worth 60 guilders or 24 dollars from the Native American Lenape tribe.

However, the Lenape did not believe in private ownership of land. They did believe in giving gifts for favours done. The Lenni Lenape, one of the tribes living on the island at the time, interpreted the trade goods from the Dutch as gifts given in appreciation for the right to share the land.

The Lenape did not realise that the Dutch meant to claim the lands for their exclusive use, a situation that the Dutch exploited throughout the region.

Growth of the city

The first buildings erected by the Dutch were all wooden, except for the WIC headquarters which was made from stone. It housed the very valuable beaver pelts before they were shipped back to the old world. Beaver pelts were very fashionable in Europe at the time and a lucrative import business to be in.

Fort Amsterdam was built to protect the harbour against marauders, and soon after a church and a couple of windmills were added.

Administering the Dutch colony proved to be a major challenge, and the English exerted more and more pressure because they were not happy the area had been claimed by the Dutch. The English began to realise that the strategic location was important for the further colonisation of the continent.

By the 1650s, the colony of Nieuw-Netherlands had survived wars, political turmoil and external threats. As the population grew, the wooden cabins were replaced by the typical red brick Dutch buildings with their trademark facades. The colony covered parts of modern-day New York, Delaware, Connecticut and New Jersey.

The English take over

The pressure from the English increased even more during the late 1650s, both politically and militarily. In 1664, the English conquered the fort with four frigates and 300-450 men. September 8, 1664, is when the Dutch reign in North America ended. The English renamed Nieuw-Amsterdam to New York after the Duke of York.

At this time, Nieuw-Nederland had about 6.000 inhabitants, 1.500 of which lived in Nieuw-Amsterdam. Forty percent of the city population were African slaves.

Slave labour widely used by the Dutch

Slave labour was instrumental in the rise of Nieuw-Amsterdam and Nieuw-Nederland. The first African slaves arrived in 1624 and were used as labourers on farms, public works and to construct Fort Amsterdam. They were owned by the WIC, which was responsible for bringing them to the Dutch colony.

Traces of Dutch founders in New York

The traces from the Dutch founders have largely disappeared from New York, but there are still remnants from later settlers such as the 17th century Wyckhoff House in Brooklyn and the 18th century Dyckman House on Manhattan island.

However, the Dutch legacy can clearly be seen in the large number of Dutch, Dutch-related or derived place names around the city.

Dutch place names in New York

Battery Island (a batterij or battery of cannons was once stationed here)
Beekman Street (Manhattan, after Willem Beekman)
Bleecker Street (Manhattan, after the Bleecker family)
Bowery Lane (Manhattan, Bouwerijlaan)
Bronx (New York, after Jonas Bronck)
Bridge street (Manhattan, after Brugstraat)
Broadway (Manhattan, after Breede Wegh which means broad road)
Brooklyn (New York, after Breukelen)
Bushwick (Brooklyn, after Boswijk)
Boerum Hill (Brooklyn, after the Boerum family)
Coney Island (Brooklyn, after Konijneneiland which means Rabbit Island)
Cornelia Street (Manhattan, after Cornelia Herring)
Cortlandt Street (Manhattan, after Stephanus van Cortlandt)
Dutch Kills (Queens, any local names ending in Kill are of Dutch origin)
Dutch Street (Manhattan)
Dyker Heights (Brooklyn)
Flushing (Queens, after Vlissingen)
Gansevoort Street (Manhattan, after Peter Gansevoort)
Gerritsen Beach (Brooklyn, after Wolphert Gerritse)
Gravesend (Brooklyn, after 's Gravesande)
Greenwich Village (Manhattan, after Grenen wijk)
Harlem (New York, after Haarlem)
Hells Gate (New York, after Helle Gadt, referring to dangerous currents in the East River)
Hempstead (New York, after Heemstede)
Holland Tunnel, Holland Avenue
Long Island (New York, after "Lange Eylandt" named by Adriaen Block, 1614)
Minetta Lane (Manhattan, after Mintje Kill)
Nassau Street (Manhattan)
New Dorp (Staten Island, dorp means village)
New Utrecht Avenue (Brooklyn)
Rhode Island (after "Roodt eylandt" which means Red Island)
Rikers Island (Queens, after Abraham Rikers)
Schuylerville (Bronx, after the Schuyler family)
Spuyten Duyvil Creek (after Spuitende Duivel or Spitting Devil, referring to dangerous currents)
Staten Island (after Staten Generaal)
Stuyvesant Street (Manhattan, after Peter Stuyvesant)
Todt Hill (Staten Island, after Dodenheuvel which means hill of the dead)
Vancouver (after George Vancouver, a descendent of the Dutch Van Coeverden nobility)
Vandam Street (Manhattan)
Wall Street (Manhattan, after the city wall around Nieuw-Amsterdam)
Wyckoff Street (Brooklyn, after Pieter Claesen Wyckoff)
Yonkers (after Jonker, Jonkheer and jonge Heer)

Have you stumbled across a Dutch-sounding name somewhere in the world where you least expected it?

Thomas

Author

Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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Tom Schryer 11:25 | 11 October 2018

Coney Island is also on what the Dutch called Schryer's Hook, The Schreierstoren in Amsterdam (Holland) is essentially on Schryer Houck & was built in 1487 & is still in use; Henry Hudson set sail on his journey to Northern America from the The Schreierstoren and that expedition led to the discovery of the island of Manhattan among others. Schryers/Schreyers/etc. still live near Coney Island & thrive in the NYC area.