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The Dutch Put Hartford On The Map

November 20, 2005

With a major development named for a Dutch explorer and new housing going in nearby at Dutch Point, it's a good time to ask just how important the Dutch were in the settlement of Hartford.

The short answer: We wouldn't be here without them.

The Dutch advance on the New World began in 1609, when the Dutch-owned United East India Company employed Englishman Henry Hudson to search the Americas for the Northwest Passage to Asia. It was believed that such a passage must exist, and when found it would provide a shorter and less costly trade route to the riches of Cathay. His explorations established the Dutch claims in the region.

Although he did not find the elusive Northwest Passage, he did discover an abundance of "many skins and peltries, martins, foxes, and many other commodities," according to historians Ross Hatch and Russell Shorto. After Hudson's death in 1611, Dutch merchants sent Hendrick Christianson and Adriaen Block to formally establish the fur trade.

They did, and the newly formed Dutch West India Company was given a monopoly over trade in Africa and America. In 1626, the company bought Manhattan Island for $24, in what may be history's most famous real estate deal, and established a settlement called New Amsterdam. The symbol of the settlement was the beaver. To understand how lucrative the fur trade was, one record lists more than 80,000 beaver pelts and more than 9,000 otter pelts shipped from New Amsterdam to Holland in a 10-year period.

Block charted Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River. In 1633, the Dutch built a small fort in Hartford, where three rivers meet (The Connecticut, the Hockanam and the Freshet, today known as the Park River). Its purpose was to receive the thousands of furs that Indians and others had to trade with them. The fort by all accounts was a modest one, thinly manned on 30 acres of land. Twice a year, when the river was full, Dutch ships would sail up from New Amsterdam to pick up the furs.

The arrival of the English from Cambridge in Hartford in 1636 changed everything. Although some may have come for religious reasons, it is no coincidence that the presence of the Dutch fort and the profitable fur trade dictated that the area around the Dutch fort was the place to establish a permanent inland English settlement.

Early accounts record growing tensions between the men in the fort and the English settlers. Stray Dutch cattle eating English crops further elevated tensions. As more and more Englishmen settled, Dutch lands were encroached upon.

It became apparent to the leaders of the English and the Dutch that something had to be worked out to avoid a war. After much negotiating, it was agreed that the governors of the Plymouth Colony, the Massachusetts Colony, the Connecticut Colony and the New Haven Colony should meet with the Dutch representatives.

The governors wanted to hold the meeting in Boston and the Dutch preferred Manhattan, so Hartford was selected because it was between the two. The Dutch were represented by none other than Peter Stuyvesant, "Governor General of the New Netherlands, Curacao, Aruba and etc" who was accompanied by his English secretary George Baxter and a large entourage.

Stuyvesant set out from Manhattan on Sept. 17, 1650, and visited Dutch settlements along the way, arriving in Hartford on Sept. 21. The English greeted him cordially and wined and dined him. The resulting Hartford Treaty of 1650 formally solidified the English position.

While the Dutch could retain their fort in Hartford, the remaining lands on both sides of the Connecticut River were declared English. A boundary line was drawn between the English and Dutch interests to prevent an incursions by the English on Dutch territory. It ran north-south through Long Island and the mainland, at the west side of Greenwich Bay. (This is why there are English- and Dutch-named counties on Long Island, Suffolk and Nassau.) No Dutch house could be built within 10 miles of the line. Any disputes would be mediated by the Dutch in Manhattan and the Colony of New Haven.

Stuyvesant knew he did not have the military strength to defeat an English invasion from the north, so a treaty that recognized Dutch interests around Manhattan was all he could hope for. The treaty was formally signed and on Oct. 12, 1650, Stuyvesant left Hartford.

Two years later, England and Holland went to war. After the news reached Hartford, on June 27, 1653, Captain John Underhill stormed the fort with a small group of men, threw out the Dutch and proclaimed "I, John Underhill, do seize upon this house and land hitherto belonging as Dutch goods, claimed by the West Indian Company in Amsterdam ... for the state of England.

The Colonial Court ordered Underhill not to sell the fort and its land, but on July 18, 1655, he did just that, conveying the 30-acre property to Richard Lord and William Gibbons. The Dutch were powerless to retake the fort. Upset at the ouster, the Dutch referred to the settlers in Hartford as "Jankes," pronounced Yankees, which meant thief, robber or pirate.

It was the Dutch fort erected at the cross rivers of the fur trade in Hartford that dictated a new English settlement should be built here. When Hartford was chosen as the site for Colonial leaders to meet and resolve their issues, the city-to-be assumed the mantle of a respected place.

Had not been for the Dutch fort, Hartford would not have been the place selected for settlement by the English under the Rev. Thomas Hooker. So Adriaen's Landing and Dutch Point, hold your heads high, for you symbolize why we are in this place today.

Wilson H. Faude is director emeritus of The Old State House and a historical consultant.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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