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Friday, February 19, 2010

Giving New York Back to the English

New York has an overabundance of birthdays. Last year, the city celebrated its 400th anniversary, using Henry Hudson's arrival in New York harbor in 1609 as the starting point of the city's history. And -- as we talk about in Inside the Apple -- the date on the city's official seal has changed multiple times, from 1686 (the year of the first official English charter -- see illustration at right) to 1664 (the year of the English takeover of New Amsterdam) to 1625 (the year that the Dutch colonists began permanent settlement on Manhattan).

But today, February 19, might be a good day to celebrate, too; on this day in 1674, King Charles II signed the Treaty of Westminster, which ended the Third Anglo-Dutch War. While the Dutch and the English had been fighting on and off since the 1650s, this conflict had one crucial difference: in August 1673 the Dutch had seized New York, installed a new Dutch governor named Anthony Colve, and renamed the city "New Orange." Thus, by signing the Treaty of Westminster, Charles II was confirming once and for all that New York was an English colony -- but it didn't have to end up that way.

The New Orange chapter in the city's history is largely ignored. The Dutch had held the city for less than seven months when the peace treaty was signed and while it took them another few months to hand the reins of power back to the English, New Orange lasted for less than a year. However, the seeds of rebellion that were planted during that year of renewed Dutch self-rule had a profound effect on the development of the city over the next century. The ongoing conflict between the Dutch citizens and the English government would make New York develop in a way completely different than any other American colony.

With the signing of the Treaty of Westminster, the English regained control of New York and would not lose it again until the American Revolution. In exchange for giving the island back, the Dutch retained control of Suriname, an important sugar producing colony for them. But it's not inconceivable that if the political winds had been blowing differently, the Dutch might have ceded Suriname to the English and insisted on keeping New Orange for themselves. Imagine how different life would be today in New Orange!

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Read more about Dutch New Amsterdam and the English takeover
 Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City
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