So Much From So Few,
The Dutch in the American
Steven M. Schuyler
March 15, 1978
It sometimes happens that the course of history can
be profoundly influenced by a small group of people that
are in the right place with the right ideas. The Dutch in
colonial New York are such a group. Their impact on the pol-
itical system and efforts in the Revolution helped establish
the United States of America as the republic it is today.
To understand the Dutch influence, the traditions and
attitudes of the Netherlands must be examined as they relate
to the colony of New York.
The Netherlands was known during the Middle Ages as
the Low Countries. This pivotal area of the European contin-
ent was made up of a group of city states, based on farming,
fishing, and trade. The nature of the soils and the sea
brought great wealth to the cities. At times they were the
commercial and financial centers of Europe. The cities were
competitive, jealous, and tolerent of each other. Each city
was different in the make-up of its inhabitants, their gov-
ernment and religion.
The cities were run by the Burgermasters in a patriarch
plebeian system. Control was held in the power of civic "priv-
ilages", earned or rioted for by the people. So long as
the people with wealth helped better the position of the
masses things went well. The privileges included civic rights,
trading rights, and religious freedom. As long as the priv-
ilages remained in tact the people were complacent, if the
privileges were infringed on, by one government or another,
the people would revolt. Dutch loyalty to their localities
revolved around these privileges.
The Dutch were conquered by the Dukes of Burgundy, a
part of the French Royal Family, during the Hundred Years
War (1340-1453). As they put no great demands on the Dutch
people the rule by the Dukes produced a financially and cul-
turally rich era. The Burgundy rule was replaced by Charles
V, who also inherited the crowns of Spain and Germany. At
this time the Dutch, particularly of Antwerp, were enjoying
great gains supplying the Spanish with grain and lumber in
exchange for New World gold and silver. Yet the Dutch were
apprehensive of the religious convictions of the Spanish
monarch and were not about to submit to Counter- Reformation
Catholicism. Charle's son Philip II exploited the Dutch
only as a way to finance overseas wars.
By 1565 the Dutch in Antwerp felt their privileges
sufficiently threatened so under the leadership of the Cal-
vins they revolted. The troops sent by Philip II were unable
to cope with the resistance of the people and geography, and
only succeeded in forcing many of the people to move to the
north, taking their wealth with them. These people in Holland
and Zeeland again revolted, this time in 1572. For seven
W years the Spanish sieged, but could not conquer. The Dutch
would fight with whatever farces they had, even cutting their
dikes to flood the enemy out.
In 1759 the battle was won and the seven provinces north
of the Rhine formed the Union of Utrecht. It was not until
seventy years and many battles later in 1648 that the remain-
ing ten provinces were recognized as independent by Spain
and the United Neatherlands formed.
The new Dutch Republic was held together by the offensive
and defensive alliances of the Union of Utrecht. The Dutch
tradition of local control and privilege was still rigorously
held. Amsterdam was the center of a vast trading network
S and materials processing industry, but was not a government
center. The other cities would not allow any one part to
become too dominant.
The government of the Dutch Republic was set up so as
to give greatest control to the localities and indirectly
to the people. At the head of the government was the
stadtholder who was also captain-general and admiral-general
heading the military, but could not declare war or conclude
peace. He had charge, as head of the States-General, of
filling most offices with appointees, a most partisan position.
The States-General was the ruling body of the Republic, govern-
ing all affairs of national interest. Each state or province
had one vote. The separate states had assemblies elected by
the councils of the cities which were elected by the burghers,
or wealthy class of the city. Each body elected the representatives
to the body next higher up.
This discussion of the Dutch tradition points out aspects
that will be of great importance to the American Colonies,
namely the zeal for trade, loyalty to localities, rioting for
privileges, devotion to religion, banding together for defense
and steadfastness under siege.
The Dutch zeal for commerce brought them to the shores
of the New World as early as 1609. They were not looking
for the riches in this land, but rather for a way across it
to the trading centers of India and the Orient. The newly
formed Dutch East India Company hired English explorer Henry
Hudson to search for a northwest passage. At that time, no
one knew just how far it was across the continent. The
explorers would head up stream on the biggest rivers they
could find and hope they came out on the other side. Henry
Hudson was no exception. He sailed up what is now.called
the Hudson River to its headwaters and come back. No immediate
riches were found, but accounts of the vast forests and fine
furs encountered were given by some of the crew.
The Dutch East India Company lost interest in the New
World. Inspired by the reports of furs, a group of merchants
in 1614 applied for, and were granted, a trade monopoly between
the 40th and 45th parallel. In 1621 the Dutch West India
Company, a New World counterpart of the Dutch East India
Company, was incorporated. These trading companies looked
at the New World strictly as a money producing venture. People
and families were not sent so much as settlers to plant the
Dutch tradition, but as employees to expand the company purse.
The first settlement of Fort Orange, was located at the
present site of Albany, New York. Founded in 1624 by 30
families under Cornelious Jacobsen May, it was truely a
company town. The town was run by a Director-General,
usually a ship captain who had absolute power, although his
decisions could be appealed to the Amsterdam Council; but
one must remember that at this time, communication between
the two places could take six months to a year.
In 1626, Manhattan was purchased from the Indians for
the amazing sum of 60 guilders worth of trinkets. Peter
Minuit was appointed Director, and tried to consolidate
all the colonists into this area. By this time, the people
that wanted to stay-- those scattered up and down the Hudson
Valley-- were not to be budged.
While the Dutch West India Company was principally
responsible for the area, it was also allowing for private
development. Kiligen Van Rensselaer was one of the leading
developers. His Rensselaerswyck was an estate about half
the size of Long Island on both sides of the Hudson, encompass-
'ing the area of Fort Orange. Van Rensselaer was an absentee
landlord and a stickler for detail. Even though he hadn't
seen the land, he sent great detailed letters outlining the
S development of the land, the crops to be grown, the form of
the government and even the plans for the houses. His youth-
ful settlers tried to follow these instructions that verged
on the ridiculous. He had even sent all the official trappings--
hats, swords, capes, etc. of office to a place where almost all
people held a position of some sort.
Rensselearswyck was popularly governed as compared to
the rest of the settlements. Its government was typical of
that in the Netherlands. The highest ranking official was
the sheriff, or schout, followed by two buromasters and five
aldermen or schepens. Together, they formed the municipal
court or bench. This body served as legislature and judiciary.
The court system differed from the English, in that there was
no jury, rather the two parties debated their cases until a
settlement was reached.
Growth of the colony was slow and staggering. The fur
trade was expanding to the point that few Dutchmen wanted
to do anything but trade with the Indians. Farming was put
aside. Some people made their fortunes and returned to the
Netherlands, others failed. When William Kieft was appointed
governor in 1638, the colony was in a state of shambles. Kieft
was a man of organization, and a strongwilled autocrat. The
Company had been handling things so poorly, that the States-
General revoked his privilege of monopoly. Legitimate colon-
ization started, though the people still had to follow the rules
Ak of the Company and the government at home.
Kiefts' term as governor is marked by positive reform and
blunders that led to advances for the common people. An act
was called for the surveying of the land and a general clean
up of the villages. When he tried to tax the Indians, they
flatly refused. Later, when an excise on distilled spirits
was proclaimed, the brewers refused to pay, saying the tax
was unauthorized by the people. It was this resistance to
oppression that gave the people a knowledge of their political
When the Indians threatened attack in reprisal for the
murder of one of their tribesmen, Kieft called a common
meeting that elected a committee which was called the Twelve
S Men. After giving their advice on the situation, the Twelve
Men were disbanded. A second body, the Eight Men, was called
with similar results. These bodies were called for a specific
purpose and had little power.
The New Amsterdamers were learning of their power and
were being influenced by people from other lands. The rights
and privileges of the people in the Fatherland were being
demanded and tensions arose. Kieft was replaced by Peter
Stuyvesant as Director-General in 1647.
Stuyvesant brought reform and moved toward self-government.
A general election was held, and 18 men were chosen for con-
sideration as members of a council of Nine Men. The election
process of that time was termed cooptation. The people presented
a double list from which the Director-General would draw half
to form the council. Replacement members were also chosen
in this way. The Nine Men were eager, and petitioned the
States-General for a popular government "where neither patrons,
nor lords, nor princes are known, but only the people"1
Stuyvesant asked the Dutch West India Company for self-rule
and was refused, but the concession of a Bench of Justice
New Amsterdam was becoming a major trading center, and
truly cosmopolitan, even in 1643 there were 18 languages
spoken. The influx of foreign traders and transients present-
ed a threat to the Dutch merchant class. Laws were enacted
as to the minimum time a person had to spend in one place
before being allowed to open a shop. The "Old" Amsterdam
system of Great and Small Burghers, known as the Burgher-
Right, was adopted in 1657. Power was based on the wealth
of a persons property -- a Great Burgher having 500 guilders
and a Small Burgher, 50. The Burgher-Right was protested,
but defended as a way of protecting the loyal permanent
The taxation system was typically Dutch, in the tradition
of getting what you pay for. There was no direct taxation,
rather funds were raised by a system of fees, duties and excises.
Fees were taken for the stamping of weights, surveying of land,
inspection of fireplaces and other direct services. Duties
were placed on goods coming into the colony from other places
and at times for the exportation of essential goods. Exicises
were placed on some local goods, including the slaughter of
cattle and the brewing of liquor. Many Dutch did their
best to avoid paying these indirect taxes and were absolute-
ly against a direct tax.
A change in the royal families of the English Court was
to have a profoud effect on New Amsterdam. The Stuarts
regained power in 1660 and put Charles II on the throne.
He granted his brother, the Duke of York, proprietorship
of the Americas from Maryland to Canada. Seeing the Dutch
as a foriegn element in his domain, the Duke in 1664 dis-
patched four warships to take the colony. They arrived in
August and demanded the surrender of the city. Stuyvesant
refused but could get little backing from the inhabitants
of the city. The fort was earthen and could barely stand
an attach by indians with muskets, much less a broadside
from a British Man-of-war.
The people had been displeased with rule by the company
and Governor Stuyvensant; in many ways they welcomed the
takeover. The burgomasters and schepens sent a letter to
the Dutch East India Company that fairly sums up their opin-
ions. It went in part: "We your Honor's loyal, sorrowful,
and desolate subjects, cannot neglect nor keep from relating
the event which through God's pleasure...unexpectedly happened
to us in consequence of your Honor's neglect and forgetful-
ness... Since we have no-longer to depend on your Honor's
PW promises of protection, we with all the poor, sorrowing and
abandoned commonality here must fly for refuge to the Almighty
...not doubting but He will stand by us in this sorely afflict-
ing conjuncture." 2
British rule was established under Colonel Richard
Nicolls, the commander of the overtaking forces. The terms
of the treaty gave generous terms to the Dutch. The town
officials would remain unchanged and continue acting as they
had. The treaty also promised all personal property would
be respected. The Duke of York was to get all public rights
and franchises along with those of the Dutch West India
* At first business carried on as if nothing had happened.
When it came time replace members of the councils Nicols
chose to directly appoint new members. The Dutch protested
to some avail, they were later allowed to submit one list
for approval as opposed to the double list of cooptation.
This went on until Nicols was replaced by Lovelace, who
went back to cooptation. Other changes to the Dutch system
included "the employment of the jury system as against the
Dutch method of referees; the support of the clergymen by
the town instead of by the provincial government; and in 1668
the abolition of the exclusive burgher right".
Stuyvesant returned to the Netherlands shortly after
the surrender. He was exonerated of any wrong doing and
soon returned to New York. A great welcome was given and
he settled down on his farm or "bouwerie". As did many of
the Dutch he fratenized closely with the English. He gave
his city house to Nicols as an official residence and died
a close friend of the governor in 1672.
The decade following the English conquest was a period
of adjustment and prosperity. New York was..eailled th^sfnest
of all the colonies and became the English favorite.
There was minor friction when British troops were quartered
among the people, but this quieted down when the housing
allotment was upped to a point the Dutch felt profitable.
The Navigation Acts were more closely enforced, supporting
the English mercantile system. Trade with England was un-
restricted but the more profitable trade with the Netherlands
had to carried on by smuggling.
The English system of currency, and weights and measures
was adopted. The Dutch resisted at first, but found they
could exploit the differences to avoid paying taxes. As
long as trade continued and the merchants prospered the
Dutch were happy with the English.
The Third Anglo-Dutch War brought a brief period of
Dutch rule to New York. On August 7, 1673 a Dutch fleet
of 23 warships with 1600 men under the command of Admirals
Everston and Bindeles took the city. The situation was
similar to that of 1664, and almost a bloodless conquest.
Captain Anthony Colve became governor, the colony was re-
named New Orange,and the capital was moved to Fort Orange
(Albany). For the next year the colony was subjected to a
strict military rule, hated by Dutch and British alike. In
1674 Hostilities ceased between England and the Netherlands.
New Orange reverted back to the English and again became New
York. The only long term change was the moving of the capital.
After the brief change of rule New York continued its
growth of commerce and influence. The city was becoming a
popular place of the British officials, partly due to its
central location in the colonies and partly due to its world
roaming Dutch trading captains. Illegal trade was flour-
ishing. In 1677 the Dutch West India Company tried to take
advantage of this by putting a 3o tax on smuggled goods. The
Dutch traders though were not about to smuggle to avoid one
tax only to pay another, they refused.
The English implemented changes in an area that was
extremely dear to the Dutch, religion. By this one issue
nearly all the Dutch were alienated. Ministers of the Dutch
Reformed Church had been paid through taxes, the English
stopped this and so put the church in economic difficulties.
English officials were placed in the church as was an English
speaking clergy. The Dutch openly resented supporting and
being dominated by a clergy they could not understand.
The domination of mercantilism was represive to most
inhabitants of New York. The tanning of hides was to be pro-
hibited in the city. The hides would be sent to England for
processing and with cheap English labor made into shoes for
shipment back to the colonies. The shoe making industry
was well established in New York, there being several suc-
cessful and wealthy cobblers. The plan was protested and
never implemented. A similar situation happened with the
distilling of liquor, another strong local industry.
New York City was becoming so Anglicised that it started
to alienate itself from the rest of the colony. In 1679
New York City became the sole grain inspecting point in
the colony and also took a monopoly on the milling and pack-
ing of grain. The port bf New York City became the exclu-
sive port of the colony. This may have been a boom to the
city but it was devastating for the patroons,farmers, and
traders of the Hudson Valley.
A more liberal governor, Thomas Dongan, came to power
in 1683. Dongan called for greater taxation of the colony
and was strongly critized. Seeing the Dutch need for a
representative body in the area of taxation, he called for
a popular election of an assembly to help run the colony.
The assembly, powerwise, was more like the States-General,
sovereign, as opposed to the powerless Parliment. The
assembly lasted until 1685 when the Duke of York ascended
to the British throne as King James II, and revoked it.
The ascension of the colony's namesake to the throne
was unheralded by it's population, for one reason, King
James II was Catholic. "The ravages of Louis' armies,
like those of Philip of Spain, confirmed the people of the
Netherlands in their fear and hatred of Catholicism."4
The best point of James II reign was that it was short. In
1688 William III of Orange invaded England from the Nether-
lands and the "Glorious Revolution" was successful.
The rise of William and Mary to the throne put new
hope in the Dutch of New York for Dutch rule. While William
was organizing a Grand Alliance in Europe, a Dutchman in
New York was credited^a revolt there that bears his name.
Jacob Leisler was a selfmade man. A successful merchant
and captain in the militia. He was also an active defender
of the church.
New York had earlier been annexed by New England, much
to the displeasure of the Dutch. The governor, Edmund Andros,
had been moved to Boston. Charge of New York was left to
Lieutenant-Governor Francis Nicholson, a weak and non-
The revolution in Europe brought divided loyalties in
the colonies. The masses supported William and Mary, the
old status quo of high officials, the clergy, and lay elders
did not. The commoners of Boston hated Andros and jailed him,
leaving Nicholson in charge. Facing extreme money problems
and not knowing what to do, Nicholson called on the captains
of the militia for advice. Still failing to take any action
the situation grew worse and the people revolted. Leisler
did not lead the masses, rather they led him. The fort, and
thus the city were taken.
Leisler wound up as governor and held that position
for nearly two years. He had no official sanction from
England, just the support of the people. As governor he
called for a popular assembly for the purpose of raising
revenue. This was one of the first assemblies to embody
taxation through representation. The Assembly also re-
formed many of the repressive laws and taxes of the colony.
He also tried to organize an intercolonial expedition
against Canada. This Dutch attitude of banding together
for military purposes was not understood by the British
and they failed to aid him.
Leisler's Rebellion ended when William named a gover-
nor to succeed him. The new governor did not understand
the situation and the confusion caused by there being no
charter for the colony. He felt Leisler had betrayed the
crown of England and had him tried as a traitor. Leisler
was hung in May 1691.
The period between Leisler's Rebellion and the Rev-
olution saw the colony dividing in loyalties. New York's
Dutch were general assimilated with the English, while
the upstate Dutch were retaining more traditional ways and
attitudes including language. The colony as a whole had a
strong Dutch character.
The Dutch, being some of the first urban dwellers,
were advanced in the areas of health and sanitation. They
understood the corolation between cleanliness and health,
and were leaders in the field medicine.
Dutch women were treated in a better way. There was
opportunity for education and it was acceptable for a Dutch
woman to work in her husband's shop. There was more than
one Dutch widow that took over her husband's business com-
The Dutch rere more liberal with their slaves. Treated
as servants or even part of the family, slaves could buy
their freedom. Some held outside jobs or were paid by the
family. Much to the discust of the British, freed slaves
held white servants and even intermarried.
The French and Indian Wars indicated to the people of
the Hudson Valley the military importance of their land.
Lake Champlain and the Mohawk River valley link together
with the Hudson near Albany and form an avenue from Canada
to New York City that splits the colnoes. To drive a wedge
into this split the French, in 1755, built a large stone
fort on the upper Hudson at Ticonderoga. This Louis the
XIV fort was engineered by Vauban and was one of the most
advanced of its day. From its very start the fort was a
military target and pivitol point. The presence of the fort
brought destruction to the valley, it also brought hungry
troops and prosperity to the farmers that fed them.
After the British passed through Albany, the city was
left in a state of political confusion and petty infighting.
Traditional politics was of the landed families. Abraham
-Yates was a shoemaker turned lawyer that was to change
this. In an unsuccessful try for .the Assembly, Yates "intr-
duced into Albany a new feature in New York politics, the
organized political party in which proffesional politicians
rely for their power on the votes of a body of independent
electors held together by issues."5
The end of the war in 1761 brought a period of depres-
sion to the colony. The Dutch merchants had been smuggling
tea, gunpowder,guns, and cloth from the West Indies and land-
ing them on the coast. The end of hostilities meant the
british officials could devote more energy to stopping the
untaxed trade. Many Dutch merchants that thought they were
assimilated found themselves at odds with the British policy.
The series of events that led to war between the colonies
and the Fatherland rarely saw the Dutch in the forefront,
though they were never far behind. This was true for two
reasons: the high ratio of loyalists; and the reluctance
of the Dutch to engage in the fighting of a war.
It seems strange that a colony that started out under
one nationality and was conquered by another should remain
loyal to the conquerors. Many Dutch, particularly the wealthy
merchants, saw the British as a way to end the domination of
the Dutch West India Company and gain more control of their
own affairs. In general the coastal areas remained more
Loyalist because of their greater contact with Briton.
New York City as the leading port of New England was held
in tighter rein than the rest of the area. As of 1767 New
York was made British Headquarters and thus the seat of
For all the rioting and protesting the Dutch did, they
were not inclined to fight a war. A riot would be over
quickly, usually with an immediate gain. Wars tended to be
drawn out and disruptive of trade. The Dutch would rather
engage in the trade of war, but once stirred to fighting they
were a formidable adversary.
The early history of the colonies shows them to be
diverse and self-centered. As they grew, they became more
in touch with each other through improved communication,
travel and trade. Committees of Correspondence were formed
in many places to keep the colonies up to date on political
and economic maters. With the gradual breakdown of British
rule these committees drew strength and began to replace the
In 1764 news of the impending Stamp Act reached New
York. Tax stamps were common in Europe and demanded on
publications and official documents. They were never pop-
ular. In Albany "the Assembly urged united action in the
name of English liberty against the objectionable duty on
the ground that the people were being taxed without their
The term "English liberties" is significant in under-
standing the tenor of the times. Few people were advocating
a break with Briton, rather the establishment of English
privileges of citizenship for the colonies. The forces of
separation grew stronger as these expectations went unful-
filled and as the Britishtried to place greater control
and taxation on the colonies. Most colonists were in agree-
ment about their grievences, it was the means to resolve
them that divided their loyalties.
The Stamp Act was put into effect in -65. --Massa-
chusetts called for an intercolonial body to take action on
the measure. The stamp Act Congress was the first body to
represent all the colonies. Held in New York, the Congress
called for moderate action against the Act including the
stopage of trade with Briton. Not all protest of the Stamp
Act was peaceful. The Sons of Liberty formed and used violent
and intimidating tactics to keep stamps from being landed
Seeing that enforcing the Stamp Act was impossible,
Parliment suspended it in 1766, but maintained they had
every legal right to enact it in the first place. Repeal
was greeted with joy and celebration. The colonists were
seeing that they could have an effect on Parliment and that
their political/economic strength was growing.
As a punitive measure for their rebellious nature,
Parliment suspended the powers, of the New York Assembly,
leaving a political vacum in the colony. This action could
only help strengthen the exta legal committee system and
further alienate the people from the Crown.
In an effort to raise revenue and reestablish their
control, Parliment imposed the Townshed Acts in 1767.
This series of indirect taxes was met with the same resis-
tance as the Stamp Act, only it was better organized. Non-
importation was reinstated in 1768 and formalized by the
Non-importation Agreement of 1769. In the three years the
boycott was.in effect 7/8 of the trade with Briton was
stopped. There is little doubt that the Dutch, skillful in
smuggling, were able to bring needed goods in from the West
What is perhaps the first skirmish of the revolution
was fought in New York. One man was killed and several
wounded when British soldiers cut down the fourth Liberty
Pole the Sons of Liberty erected. The Battle of Golden
Hill in 1770 shows of the growing rift between colonial
activists and British authority.
For a time things were generally quiet. The colonies
were in a period of prosperity and with prosperity comes
complacency. The committee system was growing and the more
radical groups were looking for points to fight.
In an effort to bolster the East India Company, Parli-
ment passed the Tea Act in 1772. The Act refunded the tax
on tea for the colonies to the Company, and allowed them
to sell directly to retailers. This undercut the price of
smuggled tea and put many wholesalers out of business. It
was widely protested, the most famous protest being the
Boston Tea Party. A shipload of tea was dumped into the
harbor by Samual Adams and the Sons of Liberty.
In retaliation for the Boston Tea Party, Parliment
in 1774, passed the Coercive or Intolerable Acts. "(1)
By the Port of Boston Bill the port of Boston was closed to
commerce until the tea should be paid for. (2) The Massa-
chusetts Government Act permanently altered the provincial
government by providing a new appointive council under a
new military governor and appointive sheriffs and justices
of the peace. (3) The quartering Act was re-enacted for
all thirteen colonies. (4) The Administration of Justice
Act provided that royal officers accused of capital off-
ences could be tried elsewhere at the discretion of the
governor." The Intolerable Acts turned out to be a uni-
fying element of the colonists. Loyalists were appealed
and many changed sympathies.
In response to thects, New York organized the Commit-
tee of 100, which became the Committee of 51. This commit-
tee was the first to take action outside the realm of cor-
respondence. It urged the other colonies to form an inter-
colonial congress and elected delegates for such a congress.
On September 5, 1774 the First Continental Congress met.
It was no more than a collection of committees of corres-
pondence, but it gave an aire of legality to the committees
it called for.
The First Continental Congress also set up a general
association. "The Association" was an agreement to be signed
by the people for the non-importation of British goods. It
was a means of determining the loyalties of the population
with non-signers to be reported to the Continental Congress.
Sanctions were taken against non-signers but generally if
they stayed quiet they were left alone.
1775 was the turning point for revolutionary activities.
Before then reconciliation with Briton was generally sought.
The New York General Assembly adjourned early in April still
holding to this intention. The Battles of Lexington and
Concord signaled the start of open hostilities. The First
Provincial Congress replaced the Assembly. In Albany the
Committee of Correspondence came out of hiding, held a gen-
eral meeting and elected a Committee of Safety. Rural
districts were invited to join in the election of members
to the Provincial Congress. From the Provincial Congress
members of the Second Continental Congress were chosen, and
the duties of the Assembly were taken over.
After Lexington, Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill,
America was committed to war. Loyalties were divided but
events such as the publishing of Thomas Paine's "Common
Sense" helped pull people to the side of the Revolution. The
Second Continental Congress took charge of the war effort,
appointed George Washington Commander-in-Chief of the army,
adopted a "Declaration of Causes of Taking Up Arms", and
sent a petition to the king known as "The Olive Branch"8
Even though armies were being raised and government
bodies were changing independence was not the desired result.
The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental
Congress on July 4, 1776 and New York on July 9,was intended
to put preasure on Parliment more than force separation.
Through out the war people that were fighting in the name
of independence were still favoring union with England.
The political events of the Revolution show New York
going along with the will of the other colonies. The new
form of government that evolved; placed greater emphasis
on the rights and powers of the common man, as guaranteed
by law. To establish the laws permanently and to regulate
thqtorkings and duties of the government, written consti-
tutions were adopted. The writing of a constitution was
itself a new political concept. John Jay wrote the first
draft for a constitution for the united colonies in 1776.
In 1777 the Committee at Albany wrote a compromise state
constitution and became a state in 1778. Governor Clinton
recommended adopting the Articles of Confederation that were
to hold the states together as a union.
Three years after the signing of the Declaration of
Independence the Continental Congress on July 12 1779 es-
tablished the United Staes of America under the Articles of
Confederation. In October, New York officially ratified
the Articles and became part of the United States.
At the outbreak of fighting there were about 2.5
million people living in the colonies. One half million
were Negro, the rest were white. "Of the white population
the national origins have been estimated as follows:
English 77 percent; German 9 percent; Irish 3.8 percent;
Dutch 3.5 percent; French 2.5 percent; all others 4.2
percent.' The Dutch were a decided minority yet they were
to bear a large portion of the responsibility for fighting
the war. Nearly a third of the battles fought during the
seven years were fought in the Hudson Valley.
The problems of money and supplies were to plague the
Continental Army through out the war. The government of
the Netherlands was technically allied with England, but
in spirit was on the side of the Americans. The Dutch
were hoping independence would open new trade in America,
yet they feared open approval would lead to war with Briton.
They would certainly loose such a war and so a policy of
neutrality was taken.
While maintaining 4 egal neutrality, a trade in mu-
nitions was indirectly carried on through the island of
St. Eustatia. The Dutch expertise in smuggling allowed
necessary supplies of powder, shot, guns, and cloth to get
through to the Americas. A handsome profit was turned and
the British were furious, later taking the island but not
stopping the trade. The Dutch seamen were also suppling
France and Spain with the materials needed from the Scan-
dinavian countries to produce ships and munitions for the
British interference with trade along the European
coast eventually brought the Nethrtlands into the war.
Under an earlier treaty navigation of "free ships with free
goods" was tobrespected. When this agreement was blatently
violated the Netherlands into an association with Denmark,
Sweden, Portugal, and Russia called the Armed Neutrality.
The British knew of the help the Netherlands was giving and
resented it. The Dutch were the first to salute the Amer-
ican flag, the British demanded an explanation. The American
Captain John Paul Jones was put up at Texel with two cap-
tured British Men-of War while his ship was repaired. The
British filed an official complaint which the Dutch ignored.
Hostilities between France and England began in 1778.
By 1779 France and Spain declared war on England. In 1780
England declared war on the Netherlands. The American Rev-
olution became a world war to open the Atlantic for free
trade and a chance to humble the British.
When France began lending money to the Americans the
Dutch followed suit, but had to go through France to avoid
detection from the British. British funds were diverted
through France by the Durch dealing a double blow to England.
The Dutch were impressed with the republican attitude of the
Americans, one similar to their own, and the vast rescources
of the country, and so felt the Americans would be a good
The war in the colonies centered on the Hudson Valley.
The British stretagy was to split the colonies along that
line and force submission. Shortly after the signing of
the Declaration of Independence, Contineental troops began
pouring into New York City with George Washington to lead
them. The force was illtrained and illequiped so that when
Admiral Lord Howe and General Sir William Howe with crack
British troops invaded it was all Washinton could do to
retreat to New Jersey without losing his whole army. New
York City was reestablished as British Headquarters and
would remain in British possession until the end of the war.
While New York City was British, the surrounding areas
and the rest of the state was predominately patriot. This
presented the British with problems in keeping the loyalists
and refugees that fled to the city supplied and fed.
The British General John Burgoyne devised and commanded
the plan to split the colonies. British forces were to come
down the Mohawk Valley, and Lakes Champlain and George, meet
at Albany, continue down the Hudson and connect with forces
sent from New York City. The plan was simple and should
have worked except Burgoyne haaoigured on the extreme sub-
bornness of the Dutch and their ability to resist a siege.
Burgoyne set out in the spring of 1777 with 8000 men.
The Americans avoided direct engagement as they were badly
outnumbered, rather they slowed down the advance and let
nature take its toll. The American force of 2000 abandoned
Fort Ticonderoga rather than be crushed. They may have been
able to hold out but the fort's cannon had been removed by
Washington for the siege of Boston.
The American troops were commanded by generals Philip
Schuyler, Peter Gansevoort, Horatio Gates and Bennedict
Arnold. Schuyler had charge of the Hudson Valley and Gans-
evoort the Mohawk Valley. Arnold kept the British in New
York City and Gates rounded up troops from New England.
Schuyler's troops were able to bog the British down in
the portage between Lake George and the Hudson Valley.
Rather than fighting with bullets, Schuyler concentrated
on blocking the roads and rivers with trees, and turning
the woods into swamps. Burgoyne's progress was checked
at one mile per day.
Gansevoort's troops stopped a supply convoy from coming
down the Mohawk to relieve Burgoyne. While Burgoyne was
running out of supplies and time before winter, Gates was
gathering up troops and sending them west. By October the
combined American forces outnumbered the British four to one.
The Americans dug in at Saratoga and were able to repulse
repeated attacks. With his supplies gone and his troops
beaten Burgoyne surrendered to Gates on October 17, 1777.
Saratoga is referred to as the turning point of the war.
It was not only a military victory, it was a moral one.
Schuyler and Gates proved something Washington could not,
the Americans could win. When Europe heard of the British
defeat they were encouraged and started in ernest to fin-
ance and supply the war.
The war in the Hudson was not over. The river was
blockaded and so the Dutch farmers were cut off from their
world market. The British were to invade again, the indians
kept up a series of raids. The Dutch resisted with all they
had showing great strength and personal sacrifice. Philip
Schuyler personally put up considerable sums of money for
the effort and his wife burned the farm's crops rather than
let the British have them. The Dutch attitude would not
The emphasis of the war shifted south and American
victories became more frequent. In 1781 Washington defeated
Cornwallis at Yorktown signalling the end of fighting.
Peace negotiations began in 1782 with the final treaty
being ratified September 3, 1783. The British troops left
New York en masse later in the fall.
The Dutch entered the Revolution for reasons all their
own and had different goals for its outcome. Yet their
commitment and influence helped establish the United States
of America as the Worlds third great Republic.
..... -< .
L f j ...
Shepherd, William. The Story of New Amsterdam p. 83.
2 Ibid, p. 184.
3 Ibid, p. 196.
Kenney, Alice p. Stubborn For Liberty, p. 62.
5 Ibid, p. 142.
Division of Archives and History, The American Rev-
olution in New York, p. 14.
Smelser, Marshall. American Colonial and Revolutionary
History, p. 129.
8Ibid, p. 135.
9Ibid, p. 143.
Division of Arhives an History, The American Revolution
in New York, The University of the State of New York, Albany,
Edler, Friedrich, The Dutch Republic in the American Rev-
olution, The John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1911
Gerlach, Don R., Philip Schuyler and the Growth of New York,
The University of the State of New York, Albany, 1968
Kenny, Alice P., Stubborn For Liberty, Syracuse University
Press, Syracuse, New York, 1975
Shepherd, William, The Story of New Amsterdam, Kennikit
Press, Port Washington, New York, 1926
Smelser, Marshall, American Colonial and Revolutionary,
History, Barnes and Noble, Inc., New York, 1950
Vidal, Gore, Burr: A Novel, Bantam Books, New York, 1973