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350th Anniversary of the Dutch Settlement of Bergen
Colonial Jersey City

Replica of the Half Moon
Click on the image to go to the website for The Half Moon and the New Netherland Museum website.

Map of New Netherlands Circa 1650
Click on the image to go to an online exhibit of other 17th and 18th century maps assembled by the New Netherland Project using maps from the collections of Fordham University's Walsh Library

Map of Mannados (Manhattan) or New Amsterdam circa 1661.
Source: Public Domain Content Website

 

View of New Amsterdam Circa 1651
Click on the image to go to an online exhibit of other 17th and 18th century maps assembled by the New Netherland Project using maps from the collections of Fordham University's Walsh Library

 
 Map of Bergen Town circa 1727 surveyed by Robert
Crooke. "Pavonia" is identified on the lower right. The actual Pavonia
patroonship originally included most of Hudson County
and part of Staten Island.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

The Dutch were the first Europeans to establish a settlement along the Hudson River between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers. Their stockade, called the village of Bergen, is regarded as New Jersey's first permanent settlement and the genesis of the present Jersey City.

The gated community, constructed for defense in 1660, was laid out in an area of about 800-foot square. A palisade of tall pointed wooden stakes, with a gate on each side, surrounded the land that was designed around two intersecting main streets (present-day Bergen Avenue and Academy Street), creating four quarters. Each quarter was then subdivided into eight plots. A road south from the intersection led to the Kill van Kull at Bergen Point and a road east led to Communipaw. The footprint of the village may be found on contemporary maps of Jersey City by locating Bergen Square and following the configuration created by Tuers Avenue (Southeast), Newkirk Street (Northeast), Van Reypen Street (Northwest), and Vroom Street (Southwest). Today, Bergen Square, the headquarters of the township, is located three blocks south of Journal Square.

Dutch West India Company

The Dutch claimed the area in 1609 when the Dutch East India Co. sent out the English navigator Henry Hudson on the Half Moon to look for a route to the Indies that was not controlled by Spain. Hudson traveled west searching for the Northwest Passage through North America to achieve his goal. On September 10, he sailed up the river that now bears his name. The desired trade route was not found, but Hudson's discovery set the stage for the eventual founding of New Netherland years later.

In 1621, the Estates-General of the Netherlands chartered the Dutch West India Company to develop its American claims. Its purpose was to open trade in North and South America and to build forts, maintain troops, and challenge Spanish trade in America, especially in the West Indies. Three years later the company sent Cornelius J. Mey (variation of name for Cape May) to colonize its land claims on both sides of the Hudson River. Dutch forts on Manhattan Island and at Orange (Albany), Long Island and Nassau (Delaware River) were founded.

The Dutch West India Company hired Peter Minuit, known for the purchase of Manhattan, as the director-general of New Netherland in 1626. Under company guidelines, settlers were servants and subject to the rules of the colony’s directors. They were expected to be members of the Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) church, but a stronger drive to populate the colony left open the opportunity for settlement by Puritans, Pilgrims, Anglicans, Jews and Lutherans.

General satisfaction with conditions at home in the Netherlands countered efforts to encourage their nationals to leave for America. Early settlers who did respond to the call worked in grain production, furs, breweries and plundering Spanish fleets traveling to the Caribbean. Over the years, the Dutch West India Company also tried to reorganize the colony by permitting slavery as well as overseas trade to boost the labor supply and economy.

To promote the agricultural development of the colony, the Dutch West India Company offered an incentive program called the patroonship under the Charter of Freedom and Exemption of 1629. Under this system, members of the company were eligible to receive a grant of land in America if they settled it with fifty adults, over age fifteen, within four years. The patroon, or grantee, was, in effect, a landlord and local lawgiver, and the settlers were tenants who paid rent during the length of a lease. The patroons were granted an eight-year exemption from taxes and the settlers given a ten-year exemption. However, of five patroonships in New Netherland, the grant to Kiliaen Van Rennselaer (called Rennselaerswyck) in Albany County was the only one that was successful.

On November 22, 1630, Michael Reyniersz Pauw, a member of the Dutch West India Company and Burgomaster of Amsterdam, was granted an estate on the western shore of the Hudson River. He named it Pavonia, meaning "Land of the Peacock," a variation of his name. In 1634, he appointed Jan Evertsen Bout, who settled at Communipaw, as his superintendent. The Pauw grant resulted in the construction of two houses, the first homes on the west side of the Hudson River. In 1636 Pauw appointed Cornelius Van Vorst, his second superintendent, who remained as a local leader for the nascent community and built a home at the area near Fifth and Marin Boulevard. Pauw did not obtain the required number of settlers and never left Amsterdam to live on his estate.

The governance of New Netherland on both sides of the Hudson River was in the hands of an appointed director-general or governor and council. They were located at New Amsterdam, at the lower end of Manhattan Island, where they received their orders from the Dutch West India Company. Minuit (1626-1633), the first director-general was succeeded by: Wouter Van Twiller (1633-1638); William Kieft (1638-1646); and Peter Stuyvesant (1647-1664).

Colonial histories portray Van Twiller as offering no particular direction for New Netherland. He left behind a reputation for a quarrelsome personality and an interest in expanding the brewery business in New Amsterdam.

William Kieft, 1638-1646

The next director-general William Kieft embroiled New Netherland in Indian warfare that nearly dismantled the colony due to his lack of diplomacy.

While in Holland, Kieft worked as a merchant and was selected for his potential to make the colony profitable. Soon after his arrival in September 1639, Kieft levied a tax on the Indians living in all of New Netherland. The purpose of the tax in maize or wampum was said to provide the local Indians "protection" from rival tribes, portraying him as an interloper from the perspective of the indigenous peoples. David F. Winkler, in his article "Revisiting the Attack on Pavonia," comments that Kieft’s decision to impose a tribute for Dutch security only earned the disdain of Indian chiefs.

Algonquian-speaking Indians had previously killed two colonists, and Kieft sought to place the suspects on trial under Dutch law. To advise him on recurring incidents, Kieft formed a "Council of Twelve." In 1641, hostilities mounted and members of the Council petitioned Kieft to avenge the deaths of Dutch settlers. Winkler writes that despite claims of Kieft's war aggression, there are conflicting accounts of "Kieft's war" that bring into question "his enthusiasm for the anti-Indian expeditions" (10).

Kieft ordered an attack on the Indians at Pavonia, but he told his soldiers to spare the women and children. Eighty Dutch soldiers reached Pavonia on the night of February 25, 1643. The soldiers failed to heed the exemption and killed eighty men, women and children in a rampage. Winkler notes that while his orders were not followed, "Kieft thanked and rewarded the troops for their conduct" (11).

Eleven Indian tribes grouped for retaliation across New Netherland. According to Jersey City historian Joan D. Lovero, "Dirck Straatmaker from Caven Point ventured out to see what had happened and was struck by a poisoned arrow. . . . The [Cornelius] Van Vorst home at Harsimus was set ablaze and a child, Ide Van Vorst, taken as captive. The less unfortunate Dutch escaped to New Amsterdam, where they watched the fires that ravaged their homes and their crops. Pavonia was desolate" (10). Peace did not return to the area until a cease-fire agreement ended the hostilities in August 1645.

Settlers in the colony asked the Dutch West India Company to recall Kieft to Holland for an investigation of his actions. In 1647, Kieft died in a ship wreck off the coast of England and his papers were also lost at sea. He was never able to report his version of the war associated with his administration to redeem his name. The Indian hostilities convinced some settlers to return home to Europe; this diminished the confidence of the remaining settlers in the Dutch colony.

Peter Stuyvesant, 1646-1664

The fourth and last Director-General of New Netherland was the somewhat notorious Peter Stuyvesant. A former soldier, he had served as governor of the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curacao, where he lost his right leg. The injury left him with the unfortunate nicknames of "Peg Leg Pete" and "Old Silver Nails" from the stick of wood studded with silver nails that was his artificial limb. The uncomfortable prosthesis may have been the reason for his reputed ill-tempered manner and autocratic style.

The Dutch West India Company appointed Stuyvesant to replace William Kieft in July 1646 at a time when the colony was most vulnerable to failure. As the new governor, Stuyvesant's charge was to improve the economic status of the colony and to quell the Indian hostilities that interfered with the growth of Dutch settlements like Pavonia.

A staunch member of the Dutch Reformed Church, Stuyvesant knew the Bible well, and was known as a strict adherent to the rules of his employer. These factors would come into play in 1655 when the Dutch West India Company ordered Stuyvesant, illiberal in matters of religion, to rescind his initial objection to the arrival of Dutch Jews from Brazil to live in the colony.

Peach Tree War

In August 1655, with the support of some 600 soldiers, he left New Amsterdam to secure the colony of New Sweden along the Delaware River for the Dutch. During his absence, on September 15, 1655, a young Indian girl entered the orchard of Henry Van Dyck on Manhattan Island. She climbed a tree to pick a peach she had spied. Van Dyck took offense at her indulgence and took the extreme reaction of killing her with his rifle. Seizing what they believed to be an opportune time to retaliate, five hundred Indians attacked Hoboken, Pavonia and Staten Island for three days. It caused the death of 100 Dutch, the capture of 150, the wounding of Van Dyck, and the devastation of many homes.

On his return to New Amsterdam from the New Sweden victory, he faced a grave situation at Fort Amsterdam and Pavonia that became known as the "Peach Tree War." The task before him was to negotiate with the Indians and bargain for the ransom of the captives, who were being held at Paulus Hook. The captives were returned for ransom, which included powder and lead.

Stuyvesant successfully entered into negotiations that later culminated in a treaty signed on March 6, 1660, making the "Peach Tree War" the last major Dutch-Indian hostility in New Netherland. The event led to the establishment of the fortified village of Bergen by Stuyvesant. Following this last Indian crisis, Stuyvesant directed settlers at Pavonia to establish a fortified town for defense rather than return to live on their isolated farms and estates along the Hudson River.

Lithograph looking north along Bergen Avenue
from the center of Bergen Square (circa 1850?)
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
Postcard circa 1950 of Bergen Square looking north along
Bergen Square. Source: The Jersey Journal, February 18 2010
Map of Bergen and Buyten Tuyn showing
the 1660 Cortelyou plan of Bergen.
Source: Eaton, Jersey City and its Historic Sites (1899)
Detail of the 1855 Woods Map of Jersey City, Bergen, and Hoboken
Note the four square block area of the fortified settlement (center right).
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
A map of "The Old Town of Bergen as Part of Jersey City in 1882"
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
A map of Bergen Square circa 1910
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

On January 30, 1658, as part of the peace negotiations, Stuyvesant met with local Indian chiefs at Fort Amsterdam for the repurchase of the western shore. It included "all the lands between the Hackensack and North (Hudson) rivers from Weehawken and Secaucus to the Kill van Kull" (Lovero 12). At his request, the Council of New Amsterdam approved a hilltop site for a garrison-style town or village. Settlers from the colony were invited to move to the fort and live behind a square wooden palisade where they could defend themselves with a militia against the Indians. On March 1, 1660, a request for a fortified settlement had come from Teilman Van Vleck and other settlers.

The site chosen was a former cornfield cleared by the Hackensack Indians on the "heights" approximately two miles from the Hudson River and was referred to as "the new village on the maizeland." It was surveyed by Jacques Cortelyou, in the employ of New Netherland, and given the name "Bergen," the Dutch word for hill. The name may have come from the capital of Norway or from the town of Bergen op Zoom in Holland, eighteen miles north of Antwerp.

Settlers built homes on lots within the fort and established farms outside its walls, creating a defensive zone against the Indians.A description of the seventeenth century village of Bergen appears in the Preservation Plan of the Van Wagenen/Apple Tree House by Holt Morgan Russell Architects:

Planned in 1660 likely by Jacques Cortelyou, the first surveyor of New
Amsterdam, the village of Bergen was laid out on the Dutch model of brinkdorp or agricultural village with a square. In the brinkdorp pattern, farmsteads were clustered around a village green known as a brink. Within the village, land was divided into smaller plots for individual farming; meadows, separate from the village were used for pasturage.

Bergen followed the Dutch pattern of nucleated agricultural village. It was laid out as a square whose sides measured 800 feet long. Two cross streets bisected the larger square, dividing it into four quarters. Each quarter was then divided into eight house plots or roughly four per block. While some blocks in Bergen only had three lots per side, the majority had four. This was a classic feature of the brinkdorp in which a cross street consistently separated every fourth lot. At the center of the larger square was the brink which in Bergen measured 100 feet by 120 feet. This square was the center of community life.

. . . . The village lots were generally small with street frontage. The exterior lots, called buyten tuyn, were typically situated to allow access to a main road, river water (in this case the Hackensack River) and an area of marsh or meadow for cattle feed. These exterior lots allowed for large agricultural production including orchards, field crops, and cattle and dairy production while the village plots housed smaller kitchen gardens, orchards and the outbuildings for the farm. The village plot provided a centralized based for the outlying farmlands. ("Preservation Plan" 11-1).

Cornelis Van Reypen purchased the first lot, now 201 Academy Street. According to Owen J. Grundy and Luis P. Caroselli, "What is now Bergen Avenue was the road that ran through its center, with gates and block houses at either end. . . . A well in the middle was the city’s first water works." The eight hundred foot area is now Bergen Square at Bergen Avenue and Academy Street.

The location of the town was favorable for settlers in other sections of present-day New Jersey to reach in the event of future hostilities. As potential threat of future Indian attacks receded, the palisade was eventually dismantled by the colonists. During the remainder of Stuyvesant's tenure, Dutch settlers, mostly from New Amsterdam, moved into the settlements of Harsimus, Paulus Hook, Communipaw, Hoboken, Minkakwa (Greenville), Pamrapo and Bergen.

On September 5, 1661, Stuyvesant as director-general issued a charter of incorporation to the Village of Bergen that included a court of justice, church and school. That same year, he granted Bergen limited powers of self-government and a Court of Inferior Justice. Members of the Dutch Reformed Church (now Old Bergen Church) began the establishment of a permanent meeting place and the colony's first elementary school was built.

Three years into the founding of Bergen village, Stuyvesant tried to defend New Netherland from takeover by England. Charles II and his brother James, the Duke of York, wanted to close the geographic gap in their control of the northeast coast of America. An Anglo-Dutch rivalry had developed over the slave trade and the availability of cheaper goods from the West Indies. The elimination of New Netherland would also affect an end to the illicit trade conducted by the Dutch with the English southern colonies.

The Duke of York commissioned Colonel Richard Nichols with four ships and 400 soldiers to take over the Dutch colony. Nichols first went to Boston for additional recruits. When the English naval fleet arrived at the entrance of the New Amsterdam harbor on August 27, 1664, Nichols sent notice to Stuyvesant to surrender. Stuyvesant failed to rally support among the settlers to defend the colony. Rather, the settlers and his council offered no resistance and advised him to surrender. After years of discontent with Dutch rule and Indian warfare, the colonists held back while the English claimed control of the colony. Stuyvesant surrendered to the English on September 8; the Dutch government in Europe agreed to a peace treaty a few years later in 1667.

After the English took over the colony of New Netherland in 1664, a charter granted by Governor Philip Carteret recognized Bergen Township. On April 7, 1668, Carteret and his council of East New Jersey renamed the site "The Towne and Corporation of Bergen" that extended west to the Hackensack River. The settlers could keep their property, religious freedom and continue trade with the Dutch. These conditions allowed the Dutch to retain their ethnic culture in America through their customs and the institution of the Dutch Reformed Church. Many Dutch settlers, as well as Stuyvesant, remained in America and accepted English rule and law that included the promise of town government. Peter Stuyvesant retired to his farm on Manhattan Island and is buried on the grounds of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on the Bowery.

After forty years in America, the Dutch failed to establish a successful colony at New Netherland. Several factors were responsible: First, the concept of patroonship failed to lure settlers. As a result, settlers of diverse nationalities and religions populated the colony. Second, commerce was a priority for the Dutch West India Company, and agriculture, which might have attracted more settlers, was not considered profitable. Finally, somewhat autocratic governance from New Amsterdam and the absence of local participatory democracy discouraged loyalty to the colony. The governor had an unofficial advisory council, but this did not compensate for the tradition of self-rule and home rule experienced by settlers in the surrounding colonies.

As the Dutch population continued to grow and establish new farms in areas north and west of Bergen village, the English colonial administration attempted to keep pace with various revisions to the political organization of the area. Bergen Township, which included the former village of Bergen, was founded in October 1693, and Bergen County was established to include both Bergen and Hackensack townships.

In later years, as the state of New Jersey evolved from an agricultural to an urban and industrialized economy, additional municipal and county boundary changes were warranted. Hudson County was created in 1840 from the southernmost part of Bergen County where new cities like Hoboken and Jersey City required different local governments than the more rural towns further north. After Bergen Township became part of the incorporation of the City of Jersey City in 1870, the name "Bergen" was officially discontinued. Reminders of the older place name in are Old Bergen Road, Bergen Avenue and Bergen Square.

Postcard of the Statue of Peter Stuyvesant
to be constructed on Bergen Square circa 1910.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Statue of Peter Stuyvesant in its first
location (1913-1969) on the northeast corner
of Bergen Square in front of the second PS #11.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

 Lithograph of Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of the New Netherlands Colony.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Statue of Peter Stuyvesant in its second
location (1969-2010) on the north side of the plaza
in front of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. PS #11.
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2002

A statue of Stuyvesant once marked the site of the village of Bergen. It stood in the courtyard of the Martin Luther King, Jr. School, formerly School No. 11, at 866 Bergen Avenue. The statue was proposed in 1910 at the commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of the founding of the village of Bergen. Sculpted by Scottish artist J. Massey Rind, the eight-foot high statue originally stood on an elaborate base, twelve-feet long and eight-feet high that was later modified.

The unveiling of the statue took place on October 18, 1913. The inscription on the base read: "In the year of our Lord 1660, by permission of PETRUS STUYVESANT, Director-General, and the Council of New Netherland, around this Square, was founded and built the Village of BERGEN, the first permanent settlement in NEW JERSEY." The statue was removed from the school site on February 5, 2010, amidst some controversy. It is now in storage at The Beacon, the former Jersey City Medical Center. There are plans for the statue to be restored and eventually be placed on a new base within historic Bergen Square.

Historic sites dating back to the village of Bergen are the Old Bergen Church and Cemetery, Newkirk House (currently a restaurant), and Van Wagenen estate or the "Apple Tree" House.

References:

Egan, Colin. "Stuyvesant Statue Belonged Where It Was," Jersey Journal 16 February 2010.
Fiske, John. The Dutch and Quaker Colonies of America. Vol. I. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903.
Grundy, J. Owen and Louis P. Caroselli, "History of Forms of Government from Early Dutch Days to the Present Time." City of Jersey City: http://www.cityofjerseycity.org/docs/grundy.shtml (accessed March 6, 2001).
Harvey, Cornelius B., ed. Genealogical History of Hudson and Bergen Counties, New Jersey. New York: The New Jersey Genealogical Publishing Co., 1900.
Holt Morgan Russell Architects. "Preservation Plan/Van Wagenen House." Jersey City, NJ: Jersey City Division of City Planning, 2005.
La Rosa, William J. "Bergen" in Encyclopedia of New Jersey by Maxine N. Lurie and Marc Mappen, eds. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.
Lovero, Joan D. Hudson County: The Left Bank. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, 1999.
Savelle, Max and Darold S. Wax. A History of Colonial America. Hinsdale, Illinois: Dryden Press, 1973.
Winkler, David F. "Revisiting the Attack on Pavonia." New Jersey History. Fall/Winter 1998:3-15.
Winfield, Charles H. History of the County of Hudson, New Jersey. New York: Kennard & Hay Printing Company, 1874.
Year Book of the Holland Society of New York. Vol. II. New York, 1914.

By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub