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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Happy Birthday New Amsterdam

Gezicht op Nieuw Amsterdam by Johannes Vingboons (1664), an early picture of Nieuw Amsterdam made in the year when it was conquered by the English under Richard Nicolls
The picture above is a version of the only known image of New Amsterdam before it became New York. This week marks this city's birthday—on February 2, 1653, New Amsterdam became the first chartered city in the New World.

The city charter came about because a group of citizens were trying to wrest control of the city away from the Dutch West India Company. As we write in Footprints in New York, soon after Director General Peter Stuyvesant took over he
appointed an advisory board of citizens—called the Nine Men—to help guide him. It was led by Adriaen van der Donck, the colony’s only lawyer. Van der Donck, sensing an opportunity to effect change in the colony, hijacked the group.... Under Van der Donck, the board prepared a petition for the Dutch parliament, outlining how the company was ruining the colony. Van der Donck personally sailed to The Hague to deliver it. 
For a brief moment, it seemed like the government might side with Van der Donck, but ultimately they decided that New Amsterdam was better off remaining in the company’s hands. As a consolation, parliament agreed to give the colony a small measure of self-rule. New Amsterdam would now have town magistrates, and to house this new government, the city tavern on Pearl Street—built during Kieft’s administration—was handed over to them. On February 2, 1653, New Amsterdam became an official city and the city tavern became the Stadt Huis (“city hall”).

The depiction from 1664 above (attributed to Johannes Vingboons) is based on a 1650 watercolor sketch of New Amsterdam, the earliest—and most vivid—depiction of the town (below). It was probably painted by Augustijn Heerman, one of the Nine Men, and was designed to show how terrible Manhattan had become under company rule. Though it is hard to see in this reproduction of the Heerman view, a sad windmill stands to the far left with just two working arms. Compare that to the Vingboons image at the top, where the windmill is complete. The building with the red roof at the far right of both images is the Stadt Huis. Today, no trace of the Stadt Huis remains; its approximate location is marked by a yellow brick outline in the pavement on the Pearl Street side of 85 Broad Street.

(For more on 85 Broad and the Stadt Huis, see James's Curbed article about early landmarks that were destroyed.)

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