The pioneers of New Netherland and New Sweden


Where is the cradle of the United States of America? Anyone would spontaneously answer New England, considering all the wide-spread stories on the Mayflower and the Pilgrim Fathers, the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Ride. But the American dream of a huge melting pot on American soil, where various nations from all over the world could live a better life together, was not born at all in New England but in another European colony, namely New Netherland, founded in 1624 by a vanguard of French-speaking Walloons and Huguenots, sent across the ocean by the Dutch.


In the 17th century, the Dutch were much more tolerant than any other nation in both Europe and America. They did not persecute the Roman Catholics in their country, and they welcomed on their soil all sorts of refugees, namely Calvinists from France, Wallonia, Germany and England, Anabaptists from Germany, and both Spanish and German Jews who met for the first time in the Netherlands. The English Calvinists, called Puritans, who were allowed to pray in the Walloons’ church in Leyden, in the province of Holland, did not appreciate their Dutch hosts’ broad-mindedness. They finally left the Netherlands, in order to sail to America on the Mayflower in 1620.


The first Europeans who settled for good in North America were the Spaniards, who founded Saint Augustine in Florida in 1565. The second wave of European settlers started with the French in Acadia, in 1604, then the English in Virginia, in 1607, the Dutch in New Netherland, in 1624, and finally the Swedes in New Sweden, in 1638. The four nations of the second wave colonized North America in different ways. The French wanted to create an ideal France there. Their colonies, Acadia, Canada and Louisiana, were designed to be sanctuaries of the Roman Catholic faith. The English intended to do the same in Virginia, with their Anglican settlers, but they finally let all their religious minorities found their own colonies in America, such as the Puritans in New England and the Catholics in Maryland. English colonies became mere outlets where dissenters in Britain could be expelled. The Swedes were all Lutherans. They used their own colony in America as a purgatory for Finnish and Swedish convicts.


The Dutch did not bother about religion. Their main concern was money. Therefore, they sent to New Netherland merchants from Holland and welcomed in their colony hard workers from France, Wallonia, Flanders, Britain, Germany and Scandinavia, who were either Calvinists or Lutherans, as well as the first Jews in North America. They brought African slaves too, selling them in both New England and Virginia, but they went to church with them and were the very first Europeans, in North America, who started to free some of them, with their wives and children, as soon as 1644.


The American melting pot started in New Netherland. The Dutch helped the Swedes to found New Sweden in 1638. The first governor of the Swedish colony was in fact Pierre Minuit, a Walloon born in Germany who had been the third governor of New Netherland from 1626 to 1631. The Dutch finally took possession of New Sweden in 1655, allowing the Swedes and Finns there to keep their Lutheran faith. In 1664, the English finally conquered New Netherland and New Sweden. The Dutch tolerance and melting pot were maintained anyway in North America, thanks to the Quakers who founded Pennsylvania in 1682, on former Dutch and Swedish territories.


The American Declaration of Independence, in 1776, was inspired by the Dutch and their own Declaration in 1581. The numerous families descending from the original settlers of New Netherland and New Sweden did not feel British at all, and therefore they supported the American patriots. The first American capital was in Philadelphia, in the former Swedish colony. The economic and financial capital of the world is in New York City, in the former Dutch colony, where the Statue of Liberty stands at the gateway to the United States. This country owes much to its non British settlers.