Settling In

Sparsely populated with traders and soldiers, the first Dutch communities eventually grew into some of the region’s largest cities



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TileThis 17th-century Dutch ceramic tile shows a hunter preparing to catch his prey. This item is one of many featured in “Hudson River Panorama: 400 Years of History, Art and Culture,” an exhibit currently on view at the Albany Institute of History & Art

Photograph courtesy of Albany Institute of History & Art

Europeans, of course, had a completely different mindset. The urge to own land outright drove a group of freemen — colonists with no service obligation either to the West India Company or to a patroonship — to the Kingston area in 1652. Sixteen families — a total of about 70 settlers — headed south, with the blessings of the West India Company, which needed a settlement in the middle of the river to complement Fort Orange to the north and Fort Amsterdam to the south. They set up near the Esopus Creek, but were vulnerable to attacks by the Esopus tribe, who skirmished with them for cornfield rights.

In 1658, Peter Stuyvesant was once again on the scene. “He told them they couldn’t live in scattered farmhouses along the creek. He wanted them to move to a high place,” says Pat Murphy, walking tour chair for the Friends of Historic Kingston.

Stuyvesant personally selected the site, which today we know as uptown Kingston. With some grumbling, the colonists dismantled their houses and reassembled them on the bedrock bluff. “What’s interesting is that Stuyvesant laid out the original street plan, and it still exists. It wasn’t laid out like a grid,” says Murphy.

He also ordered a 14-foot-high stockade be made out of pine trees, which the colonists built with the help of soldiers from Fort Orange. It had gates on all four corners so the men could have access to the fields. Women and children were not allowed outside.

Stuyvesant named the new settlement Wiltwijck (translated variously as “wild woods” or “Indian place”). Then came the Indian raid of 1663, and the buildings went up in smoke (so much for a stockade). The next year, the English took over, renaming the settlement Kingston.

Those early Dutch buildings are gone now, but there are reminders. The Old Dutch Church was among the first buildings in the stockade, erected in 1660 on the corner of the property. The current 1852 building stands on the same site today; the tombstones — some in Dutch — in the surrounding cemetery date to 1710. Evidence of stockade posts were found in and around the Matthew Persen House, a historic structure that dates to the late 1660s. Check out its display of artifacts — Dutch coins, pottery belt buckles — on Saturdays during the farmers’ market season in Kingston.

Beverwijk suffered a similar fate: When Stuyvesant surrendered the colony to the English in 1664, they quickly renamed the town Albany and set about tearing down buildings and putting up their own. But look underground and it’s a different story. Excavations have turned up a lost world of Dutch objects, now on display at the Crailo State Historic Site — a fitting resting place, considering it was the home of Kiliaen van Rensselaer’s grandson. A new interactive exhibit, “Celebration of a Sweet and Alien Land: Colony of the Dutch in the Hudson River Valley,” opens at the site this month. It showcases musical instruments, marbles, delftware, Dutch clay pipes (they were diehard smokers), and other comforting things that would make a strange new world feel like home.

 

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