Appendix #7: Why the Dutch Gave up New Netherland

The aggressive British "trade" policy of Charles II, which in addition to the takeover of New Amsterdam included raids on Dutch trading posts in West Africa and the blatant attack on a Dutch merchant fleet in the Mediterranean, soon led to war (1665). But, the war Charles expected, short, glorious and profitable, was not the war he got. He and his supporters thought their war would unfold like the first Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654) where English naval tactics, seamanship, and fleet of large warships, fifty of them more powerful than the largest Dutch shipi, forced the Dutch into an embarrassing peace treatyii. What Charles did not comprehend was the scale of the Dutch naval build-up over the next decade (1654-1664). By the 1660s the Dutch had competitive warships and would soon adopt English in-line naval tacticsiii.

The war was longer than Charles could sustain. Its glory evaporated into humiliation when the Dutch raided the English fleet left unmanned up the Medway near Upnor Castle. They burned several English warships and sailed the 82-gun first-rate flagship, the Royal Charles, back to the Netherlandsiv. And, far from profitable, Charles was nearly bankrupt. His foreign policy certainly went broke when the French, a Dutch ally in this war, kicked England's German ally out of the Netherlands all the way back to Munsterv. Moreover, in 1665 a plague ravaged England and in 1666 London burned down. By 1667, it was England's turn for an embarrassing treaty.

However, remarkably, the Dutch offered a reasonable, some would say lenient, treaty. By the terms of the Treaty of Breda, Manhattan remained in English handsvi. How could the Dutch abandon their colony after the struggle and sacrifice of three generations in a harsh and hostile land?

By the time Newton hypothesized gravity in the 1660s, the Dutch had developed their own financial "Principia" with profit as its gravity. The dynamics of profit motivated a Dutchman in the world of commerce as inexorably as gravity influenced the elliptical wanderings of planets in the heavens. Their calculus did not demand, but would predict, that they give up Manhattan because it had not been profitable.

Of course, some individual Dutchmen did make money in New Netherland; but, the organization managing the settlement was the West India Company and it had shown little or no profit from New Netherland for many yearsvii. If it had not been for its slave trade in the 1660s and 70s, the company itself might have folded. Far from being sentimental about abandoning their countrymen, the Dutch did not see how investing in a marginal operation of a problematic company made sense, especially when they could reinforce and perfect their claims to more profitable territories in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Far East as they were unloading Manhattan in the Treaty of Bredaviii.

Even more, the Dutch knew that the English would soon demographically engulf their settlements in America. English colonists had already metastasized into Long Island and central Connecticut before Nicolls arrived. The Dutch believed that what had happened to Native Americans would happen to them... and anyone else whose property manifestly hindered the destiny of English land-grabbers. For example, Sir Robert Carr was part of Nicolls' contingent, but he did not fully embrace the Nicolls ethic. Sent to pacify the Delaware River settlements, he plundered them and sold the Dutch soldiers there into slavery. He then bequeathed the former owners' estates to his son, his officers, and, of course, himselfix. That was what many Dutch believed was their future in all New Netherland, if kept as a Dutch colony.

Five years later, in 1672, the English and the Dutch were again at war. This time Charles had finally persuaded King Louis XIV of France to join him to crush the Dutch: Louis by land, Charles by sea. In response, the Dutch sent two naval squadrons independently to wreak havoc on English and French possessions in America. Their raids had serendipitously crossed paths near Barbados and they combined to attack several Caribbean islands, relieve Virginia of its tobacco crop, and recapture Manhattanx. There the Dutch commanders reinstituted Dutch civil governance and the burgemeesters were back in business.

Meanwhile, the Dutch needed to get the English out of the war quickly so they could focus on the French who had already invaded the southern Dutch provinces. Yet another incentive for a fast settlement, if one were needed, was the fact that Spain would not join the Dutch against France until the English quit the war. Fortunately, Charles was in a mood to bargain. The war with the Dutch was unpopular, particularly among the influential merchant class that had lost several hundred cargo ships to Dutch privateersxi. For Charles, too, the war was ruinously expensive, and the awful violence of the tremendous naval battles resulted in no advantage, strategically or financially.

The Dutch guided the Treaty of Westminster towards status quo ante in which each side retained what they had before the war. It was simpler and had a better chance for rapid resolution than the sluggish year-long, negotiated-for-profit Treaty of Breda (1667) where each side retained what they took during the warxii. The English, or more specifically James, Duke of York, got Manhattan back with the Westminster treaty in 1674.

  1. Rodgers, N.A.M., The Command of the Ocean, (W.W. Norton & Company; New York London 2004) page 12
  2. Gijs Rommelse, The Second Anglo-Dutch War, (Verloren; Hilversum 2006) pages 22-23; Stephen C.A. Pincus, Protestantism and Patriotism, (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge 1996) pages 158-160. The most embarrassing article in the treaty for many Dutch was the requirement of Dutch men-of-warships to "strike their flag and lower their topsail" when passing an English warship.
  3. Frank L. Fox, The Four Days' Battle of 1666, (Docema: Cambridge 2009) pages 127-128
  4. P.G. Rogers, The Dutch in the Medway, (Oxford University Press: London 1970) P118
  5. Stephen C.A. Pincus, Protestantism and Patriotism, (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge 1996), pages 336-339
  6. Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic, (Clarendon Press: Oxford 1995) page 774
  7. Drs. Dirk Barreveld, From New Amsterdam to New York (Writers Club Press: Lincoln 2001) page 326
  8. Israel, page 774
  9. Ritchie, pages 23-24
  10. Donald G. Schomette, Robert D. Haslach, Raid on America (University of South Carolina Press: 1988) pages 95-110 & 169-174
  11. Richard Harding, Seapower and Naval Warfare 1650-1830 (Naval Institute Press: Annapolis 1999) p104
  12. Schomette and Haslach pages 292-295