Life in New Amsterdam

(previous....Architecture of New Amsterdam)

Daily Life

Life in New Amsterdam, Empire State historyIf we are to gather our ideas of the early Dutch settlers from Washington Irving's Knickerbockers History of New York, the founders of the metropolis ate breakfast at sunrise , dined at eleven and at sunset went to bed. They ate potatoes, cabbages, asparagus and barley bread; had plenty of game and poultry for their table; delighted in clams, calling them clippers and in doughnuts, calling them olykoeks; drank much buttermilk and tea, and smoked moderately.


The hair of the women was "pomatumed back from their foreheads with a candle and covered with a cap of quilted calico." "Their petticoats of linsey-woolsey were striped with a variety of gorgeous dyes" and "scarce reached below the knee." Mynheer wore about his ample form a linsy-wolsey coat, the work of his good vrow (women), as was most of the clothing of the family. A hat very low in the crown and very broad in the brim sat upon his head; large brass buttons decked his coat and immense shining buckles set off his shoes; while his many pairs of galligaskins or breeches were drawn on one above another until they rendered him still more portly than nature intended.


Good natured as their habits showed them to be, the early Dutch of New York were likewise liberal in their views of religious liberty. New Netherlands gave a hearty welcome to peaceable comers of every religious belief with the same spirit in which Holland harbored the Puritans from England. The colony did not reach the high standard of perfect religious liberty, first known in Rhode Island; but it stood far in advance of the narrow policy of Massachusetts and Virginia.

There was a recognized religion of the government, that of the Dutch Reformed church; and Stuyvesant, who carried his military spirit into religion as well into politics tried to drive out the rival body, the Lutheran church, but he was rebuked by the West India company and saw the persecuted sect flourish. A few Quakers were banished but for most part, they were gladly received. Catholics, Protestants and Jews worshipped as they liked; and in the latter days of Dutch dominion there were said to be fourteen organized denominations in the province, more indeed than there were ministers.

The first minister, Everardus Bogardus, came with Van Twiuller. The salary of one of his brother ministers has been left on record as being one hundred and fifty beaver skins, lawful coin of the realm. The minister of New Netherland, or "domine" as he was called, while he was not the important officer that he was in the high austere Puritan settlements, was held by the jolly burghers in high esteem.


In the same ship with Dominie Bogardus came the pioneer school-master of New York State, Adam Roelandsen. Probably as the most of his calling did in those days, he added to his income by digging graves, ringing the church bell and leading the choir. The patroon act required a school teacher to be placed on each of the estates; and in general the state papers of the colony recognized the importance of education. But evidently the practice of the money-getting settlers did not keep pace with their theories. Still they took care that a school teacher should be found in every village; and in one case the tuition was announced as two beaver skins a year. In Stuyvesant's time a Latin school of some fame was established at New Amsterdam.

The Result of Dutch Customs

The results of Dutch customs can still be easily traced among the people of the first settled towns, where an ancestry running back to the first comers is often proudly claimed. To the Dutch we owe our Santa Claus and St Nicholas, colored eggs at Easter and the custom of New Year's calls so lately dying out.

To the Dutch we owe much that is substantial in the growth of the State; though often amid change and rapid progress we have lost sight of the source. To the Dutch we certainly owe above all else the principles of commercial integrity and of far-sighted business policy, which, brought from the old Amsterdam to the new, became the foundation of the greatness of New York State.

(continues...New York Timeline 1497-1664)