After the discovery of the Western Continent, by Christopher Columbus, the attention of Europe seemed to be turned toward the southern part of the new world, where the gold was found emblazoning the garments of the aboriginal inhabitants, holding a glittering temptation to the enterprise of adventurous spirits. Thus the cold regions of the north lay unvisited for more than a hundred years by any other than passing vessels, sailing along the coast, and making formal discoveries of its shores, to be mapped as the property of their royal employers.
One of these vessels of discovery, commanded by Verrezano, in the service of the French, is believed to have entered the south bay of New York, in the year 1525, and thus may have had a distant glimpse of the island which is the subject of our history; but by some it is doubted if his description of the harbor, which is not very explicit, is applicable to the bay of New York.
The first discovery has been generally ascribed to Henry Hudson, an Englishman by birth, who, in the year 1609, being then in the service of the Dutch, sailed westward from the shores of Europe, in search of a north-west passage to the East Indies. The vessel, commanded by Hudson, was a small yacht, called the ” Half Moon,” manned by Hudson’s discovery of this island.
From sixteen to twenty men, partly of Dutch and partly of English birth. This vessel was not over eighty tons burthen, being designed for coasting. After traversing the American coasts, between Newfoundland and the Chesapeake bay, he turned his course northward again, designing to explore, leisurely, the extent of country thus passed by. On the 1st of September, 1609, he discovered the Highlands of Never sink, described by him as a ” very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see.” The next day he rounded Sandy Hook, and the second day following he anchored under the Jersey shore, in the south bay.
The Indians flocking to the shore in great numbers, appear at once to have understood the designs of their visitors, for, whether by tradition or rumor from other lands, they seem to have been acquainted with the articles of trade, most in use, between the whites and the Indians, and were apt at driving a bargain. They offered tobacco and other products, in exchange for knives and beads. Their disposition seemed friendly, and the women presented such articles of food as they had prepared in that season.
On the 6th of September, a boat’s crew, dispatched by Hudson, to explore the coast further inland, entered the Narrows, and came in sight of Manhattan Island. They described the land, encircling the bay, as covered with trees, grass and flowers, and the air as filled with delightful fragrance. The return of this small party was unfortunate, as, from some unexplained reason, the boat was attacked by two canoes filled with Indians, and one of the crew, named John Coleman, was killed by an arrow piercing his throat. It seems probable, from the course taken by Hudson, after this disaster, that the assault by the natives was not without provocation, as friendly intercourse was still kept up between the parties.
On the 11th of September, Hudson weighed, and sailed up through the Narrows. Having anchored in New York harbor, he was visited by the neighboring Indians, who made great show of love, giving presents of tobacco and Indian corn. He remained at anchor but one day, and on the 12th of September, took his course up the river, which has since borne his name. In his exploration to the head of navigation, near the present site of Albany, he was engaged about three weeks, and finally put to sea on the 4th of October, making directly for Holland, with news of his discovery of this fine river and its adjacent country, which he described as offering every inducement for settlers or traders that could be desired.
Beside the fertility of the soil, which was satisfactorily shown by the great abundance of grain and vegetables found in the possession of the Indians, a still more enticing prospect was held out to the view of the merchant, in the abundance of valuable furs observed in the country, which were to be had at a very little cost. Hudson had, therefore, scarcely made publicly known the character of the country visited by him, when several merchants of Amsterdam fitted out trading vessels and dispatched them to this river. Their returns were highly satisfactory, and arrangements were immediately made to establish a settled agency here to superintend the collection of the furs and the trade with the Indians, while the ships should be on their long journey between the two hemispheres. The agents thus employed, pitched their cabins on the south point of Manhattan Island. The head man being Hendrick Corstiaensen, who was still the chief of the settlement.
In 1613, at which period, an English ship, sailing along the coast from Virginia, entered the harbor on a visit of observation. Finding Corstiaensen here, with his company of traders, the English captain summoned him to acknowledge the jurisdiction of Virginia over the country or else to depart. The former alternative was chosen by the trader, and he agreed to pay a small tribute to the Governor of Virginia, in token of his right of dominion. The Dutch were thereupon left to prosecute their trade without further molestation.
The government of Holland did not, however, recognize the claims of England to jurisdiction over the whole American coast, and took measures to encourage the discovery and appropriation of additional territory, by a decree, giving to any discoverers of new countries the exclusive privilege of trading thither for four successive voyages, to the exclusion of all other persons. This enactment induced several merchants to fit out five small ships, for coasting along the American shores in this vicinity. One of these vessels, commanded by Captain Block, soon after its arrival on the coast, was accidentally destroyed by fire. Block immediately began the construction of another, of thirty-eight feet keel, forty-four and a half feet on deck, and eleven and a half feet beam, which was the first vessel launched in the waters of New York, She was called the ” Unrest,” or Restless, and ploughed her keel through the waters of Hell Gate and the Sound, the pioneer of all other vessels, except the bark canoes of the aboriginal inhabitants.
The several ships dispatched on this exploring expedition, having returned to Holland, from their journals and surveys a map of a large extent of country was made, over which the Dutch claimed jurisdiction, and to which they gave the name of “New Netherland.” The owners of these vessels, as the reward of their enterprise, were granted the promised monopoly of trade hither for four voyages, to be completed within three years, commencing on the 1st of January, 1615.
These merchants seemed to have been composed in part of those who had established the first trading post here, but having increased their number and capital, and enlarged their former designs of trade, formed themselves into a company under the name of the ” United New Netherland Company.” Corstiaensen was continued the principal agent here, and they likewise established a post at the head of the river, on an island opposite the present site of Albany. Forts, of a rude description, (being merely inclosures of high palisades,) were erected at both places.
The privileges granted to the ” United New Netherland Company,” being, however, limited in respect to time, their establishment on this island, can hardly be considered as a permanent settlement; the cabins of the settlers were nearly of equal rudeness with those of their Indian neighbors; and but few of the luxuries of civilization found their way into their habitations. The great object of the settlement was, however, successfully carried on, and stores of furs were in readiness to freight the ships on their periodical visits from the fatherland. No interruption of the friendly intercourse carried on with the Indians took place, but on the contrary, the whites were abundantly supplied by the natives with food and most other necessaries of life, without personal labor and at trifling cost.
The Indian tribes in the neighborhood of this trading post, were the “Manhattans,” occupying this island;
The trade of this colony of settlers was sufficiently profitable to render its permanency desirable to the ” United New Netherland Company,” as it is found that at the termination of their grant, in the year 1618, they endeavored to procure from the government, in Holland, an extension of their term, but did not succeed in obtaining more than a special license, expiring yearly, which they held for two or three subsequent years.
In the mean time, a more extensive association had been formed among the merchants and capitalists in Holland, which in the year 1621, having matured its plans and projects, received a charter under the title of the “West India Company.” Their charter gave them the exclusive privilege of trade on the whole American coast, both of the northern and southern continents, so far as the jurisdiction of Holland extended.