The history between the USA and the Netherlands

The history between the USA and the Netherlands

With the United States celebrating Independence Day - the day the Declaration of Independence was ratified in 1776 - let's take the time to learn about and celebrate the incredible history between the Netherlands and the USA. A history that begins around 400 years ago in the time of the Dutch Republic.

The first Dutch in America

The first interaction between the Netherlands and America is back in the 16th century when European settlers began to colonise the east coast of America. The first Dutch colony was named New Netherland and was recognised by the Dutch Republic in 1624. New Netherland spanned roughly from Cape Cod (near modern-day Boston) to the Delmarva Peninsula (on which the state of Delaware is situated) and was first maintained by the Dutch West India Company to capitalise on the fur trade.

The area was eventually ceded to the English in 1674, but the early Dutch settlements had a definite influence on the modern-day US. The Dutch settlers constructed a fort, aptly named Fort Amsterdam, to protect their trade interests in the area. The fort eventually grew into a settlement, which was named New Amsterdam and served as the seat for the colonial government in New Netherlands. It was eventually made the capital of New Netherland in 1625. New Amsterdam was renamed New York City when it was first taken over by the English and the area eventually become the modern-day city’s downtown.

Recognising the United States

The Dutch were the second country to formally recognise the United States of America in 1782. However, six years earlier in 1776, a Dutchman actually sanctioned the first-ever formal salute to a ship waving an American flag. The Dutch governor, Johannes de Graaf, fired the cannons of Fort Oranje in St. Eustatius in response to a ship, flying the Grand Union Flag of the United States, firing its guns thirteen times to announce its arrival. The thirteen-gun salute was a reference to the thirteen colonies that were rebelling against England. However, the Dutch government disavowed this motion and de Graaff was called back to the Netherlands to explain his actions.

Towards the end of the American Revolutionary War, John Adams - a Founding Father and second President of the United States - travelled to the Netherlands and was received by the Dutch Government in The Hague on April 19, 1782. He was recognised as the envoy, or Minister Plenipotentiary, of the United States of America in the Netherlands. By officially recognising John Adams as an envoy to America, the Netherlands officially recognised the US as its own state. The house that John Adams bought while in The Hague became the first American embassy in the world.

USA and the Netherlands, fighting together

The Dutch and the US have since fought side-by-side in a number of conflicts throughout history. Perhaps the first instance was in 1832, when the US Navy attacked the village of Kuala Battee in western Sumatra, Indonesia. The attack was meant to punish the local Malays for massacring the crew of the US merchant ship, Friendship. Since the area was part of the Dutch East Indies at the time, the Dutch also responded to the incident and attacked the village. Dutch officers also helped the Americans in another punitive attack on a Sumatran village after local Malays massacred the crew of another US merchant ship six years later in 1838.

The Dutch and Americans would find themselves fighting on the same side again during the Siege of International Legations in 1900, when an international force was sent to liberate around 900 people from Europe, Japan and America, who were hiding in the Peking Legation Quarter in what is now Beijing. They were taking refuge from Boxers, members of the anti-imperialist, anti-foreign and anti-Christian secret society. The siege was eventually broken after the Boxer and Qing (the ruling dynasty of China at the time) armies were defeated.

World War Era

The Dutch were famously neutral during the early 1900s and traded openly with everybody while avoiding any alliances and continuing to maintain their control over the Dutch East Indies. However, the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis in 1940 and remained under occupation until 1945. At the same time, Japan invaded and occupied Indonesia, ending Dutch rule and control over its colonies.

After the end of the Second World War, the Dutch did try to regain control over their territories in Indonesia. However, they were met with fierce resistance from the locals and, after international public opinion turned against them for the savagery of their actions during this conflict, they eventually recognised Indonesian independence. The US, in particular, was impressed with anti-communist Indonesia and insisted the Dutch leave the country.

The US also transferred money to the Netherlands, as part of the Marshall Plan, after the Second World War to help stimulate the Dutch economy and modernise Dutch technology. The US did one time threaten to cut all Marshall aid funding if the Netherlands did not formally recognise the independence of Indonesia. This did evidently not damage relations between the Dutch and the US as, by the 1950s, the Americans and Dutch were described as perfect allies during the Cold War.

Modern-day Dutch-American relations

Today, the Netherlands and the US continue to enjoy close, friendly relations. This is not only due to their historical ties but also due to a shared outlook on human rights, freedom and economics, with former President George Bush describing the US and Netherlands as “brother nations”.

The economic ties between the two countries have garnered great success for Dutch and American companies alike. Today, the Netherlands is the third-largest direct foreign investor in the United States and the US is the largest investor in the Netherlands (investing over 553 billion dollars in 2022). This relationship has created and maintained around 700.000 American jobs.

The countries also continue to work together on a global political scale and have worked with each other within global organisations such as the United Nations and NATO, as well as the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to promote shared economic interests.

The Dutch also continue to fight with the Americans and have joined forces in multiple conflicts such as the Korean War (under the United Nations), and the Gulf War, and the two countries have been active together in peacekeeping efforts around the world.

An unbroken relationship

As we can see from this incredibly brief history of the relations between the United States of America and the Netherlands, the two countries have shared a long, close friendship. Official relations began in 1782 and, exactly 200 years later, the bond was described as “the longest unbroken, peaceful relationship that we have had with any other nation,” by former President Ronald Reagan.

Through its colonial links and history, the Dutch left a permanent legacy on the United States and, like former President Barack Obama said, “Without the Netherlands, there wouldn't be a United States of America as everyone knows it now.”

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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StevenPemberton2 13:46 | 7 July 2022

You forgot to mention that two Dutch banks lent the money for the Louisiana Purchase.