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New Amsterdam - Origins: African Immigrants

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In 1609, the Dutch laid claim to the area now known as New York when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that now bears his name. Their colony, called New Netherland, began as a fur trading outpost, and African Americans appeared there aboard the earliest ships.


This project is created to support the research into genealogy of the African immigrant population in New Netherland (1609-1674). Because of the 'special nature' of this immigration , the reconstruction of African family trees in New Netherland (and beyond) is particularly challenging. Through the project, collaborators will bring together profiles and supporting documentation to facilitate the research.


By and large, it is estimated that the African residents of New Netherland represented about 10% of the population of the province. Whilst most African immigrants were brought in as slaves, some acquired a certain degree of freedom and the right to property and family.

Feb. 1644, First black legal protest in America pressed by 11 blacks who petitioned for freedom in New Netherland (New York). Council of New Netherlands freed the 11 petitioners because they had "served the Company seventeen or eighteen years" and had been "long since promised their freedom on the same footing as other free people in New Netherlands." In response to the petition by 10 Africans, the Council of New Netherland and its Director, Willem Kieft, struck an ordinance in 1644 which gave these Africans a level of freedom. The text of this ordinance can be found here.

The Dutch Reformed Church in New Amsterdam started to keep baptismal records in 1639. From those early days, the birth of Africans has been recorded. However, the church considered that, to be baptized, any person had to be christian and free. As a result, these baptismal records only give us a very limited insight into the African population of New Amsterdam. But, it's a start.

Early baptisms of African and mixed blood individuals did not, however, strictly follow the "free" stipulation. A close examination of the < New Amsterdam Baptisms Project > abundantly shows this.

The first free Africans

The following list below gives us the names of the ten Africans, all "Company Slaves", who benefited from the 1644 ordinance of the Council of New Netherland (spelling may vary):

For the benefit of providing a framework to capture the genealogy of these immigrants, the initiators of this project decided to consider them as brothers. Since the tree that has grown using these men as it root has grown, it may soon be time to un-bind these non-blood related men from there false brother family relationships

Chronology of arrival

(Work in progress)

The following is a chronology of Africans in New Amsterdam and arrival for documented delivery of African slaves:

  • 1612 (Spring) : Juan Rodriguez was a mulatto sailor from the West Indies who arrived in the Hudson River Valley aboard the Dutch ship Jonge Tobias under Captain Mossel. He may have jumped ship, or he may have been sent ashore secretly by his captain to steer the profitable commerce in furs away from competing traders. In either case, he disappeared into the forest carrying a musket and a sword for protection and 80 hatchets and some knives as potential trading goods. Rodrigues emerged the following year, having learned enough of the local Indian language to make himself valuable to the first ship of the season. He was recruited as an interpreter and trader by the captain of the Fortuyn, despite the protests of Captain Mossel, who arrived several weeks later.
  • 1626 : 11 Africans arrive
  • 1628 : 3 women from Angola arrive (estimated total black population = 13)
  • 1630 : 20 men and 30 women arrive (captured by GWIC ships from a Portuguese slaver) (ESTBP = 63)
  • 1636 : 3 blacks arrive (=66) 33 women/33 men...
  • 1642 : a French privateer, La Garce, arrives with slaves
  • 1644 : Captain Jan de Vries brings his slave wife, Lare (Hilary) Criolyo from Brazil
  • 1646 : a cargo of slaves arrives from Brazil
  • 1652 : the slaver 'St Anthoni' (Spanish, captured by a Dutch privateer) brings in 20 men, 10 women, 2 more adults, 12 children
  • 1655 : the slaver 'Witte Paert' brings in slaves directly from the Bight of Guinea
  • 1659 : the slaver 'Sphera Mundi' brings 4 men and 1 woman from Curaçao
  • 1660 : the slaver 'Eyckenboom' brings in slaves
  • 1661 : the slaver 'New Netherland Indian' brings in two cargos, one with 36 slaves from Curaçao
  • 1664 : the slaver 'Musch' brings in 24 male, 15 female and 1 child slave
  • 1664 : the slaver 'Gideon' brings in 290 slaves, of which 115 men and 103 women (others unknown)

About adding profiles to this project

The initial profiles added to this project are the above eleven African immigrants. All additional profiles need to be original immigrants (not descendants born in America).

Historical perspective

The First Slave Auction at New Amsterdam in 1655

American illustrator Howard Pyle, illustrator of many historical and adventure stories for periodicals, created this depiction of a slave auction in New Amsterdam (later to be renamed New York).

New Amsterdam, a town on the tip of Manhattan Island within the Dutch colony of New Netherland, saw a sudden influx of African slave labor in 1655. The Dutch had been involved with the African slave trade for some time, having seized Portugal's Elmina Castle along the West African coast about two decades earlier. Soon after gaining control of the slave factory they were shipping 2,500 slaves across the Atlantic each year. Many of these slaves were sent to Brazil, another territory the Dutch had seized from Portugal. But this control of Brazil was short-lived.

The Dutch were still active participants in the slave trade when they lost control of Brazil in 1654. Now they directed their attention to the colony of New Netherland. The colony already had black slaves; these had generally come by way of the Caribbean Islands. In 1655, the first large shipment of slaves directly from Africa arrived at New Amsterdam.

In 1664 the English seized New Netherland, including the town of New Amsterdam. They renamed the colony New York. At the time there were roughly 500 Dutch-speaking blacks in the colony.

  1. The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto
  2. The Ramapo Mountain People by David Steven Cohen (1974)
  3. "Strange New Land: African Americans, 1617-1776" by Peter H. Wood (1996)
  4. Appendix to Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas
  5. Robert Swan, “Slaves and Slaveholding in Dutch New York"
  6. New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America by Susanah Shaw Romney UNC Press Books, Apr 28, 2014 - 336 pages

Land Grants

New York Historical Manuscripts

Other Sources

Karen Sivertsen's Babel On The Hudson: Community Formation in Dutch Manhattan