MAAP | Mapping the African American Past

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Kenneth Jackson discusses Fort Amsterdam
Columbia University History Professor Kenneth Jackson describes Fort Amsterdam and colonial New York.
Then
Now

This picture shows Fort Amsterdam, and the Dutch Church built within it, behind a row of houses. On the shore you can see the company's weighing beam and a tall crane used to unload cargo.

View of New Amsterdam

The site of Fort Amsterdam, once used as a refuge for white settlers from Native Americans, is now occupied by the Museum of the American Indian.

Current view of the Fort Amsterdam site

Fort Amsterdam

Fort Amsterdam was designed to be a state-of-the-art diamond-shaped fort, built of stone and bristling with cannon. The designer warned against building it in haste. However, in 1625, the town was in desperate need of houses, so a much simpler fort was planned. It would be roughly a square of four simple brick walls, mounded over with dirt.

To build the fort, Peter Minuit needed laborers, and in 1626 he got just what he needed. The Dutch West India Company sent the first African “bondsmen” to New Amsterdam. Some of their names described their origins: Antony Congo, Paulo d’Angola, Pieter San Tomé, Anthony the Portuguese, Jan Fort Orange. Many of the men had been captured from Spanish or Portuguese ships. They were experienced seamen who already understood some European languages, religions, and laws.

For 10 years the men worked to build the fort. They dug up tree stumps, hauled dirt, mounded it up over the fort walls, and battered it down firmly. Finally, the Africans covered the earthen walls of the fort with sod. But as soon as it was finished, the fort began to crumble. The settlers didn’t usually fence their animals, so goats, sheep, and cattle strayed onto the weedy slopes to graze. Pigs went there to dig or rout in the dirt walls. In the words of one settler, the fort soon looked “like a molehill or a tottering wall.” But the Africans were busy elsewhere. They had to dig ditches, clear land, plant and harvest crops, build houses, roads, and bridges, and load the Company’s ships with thousands of pelts of beaver, mink, otter, and wildcat.

This entry contributed by Curriculum Concepts International

Related Media


Video
Columbia University History Professor Kenneth Jackson describes Fort Amsterdam and colonial New York.

Images
The site of Fort Amsterdam, once used as a refuge for white settlers from Native Americans, is now occupied by the Museum of the American Indian.
This picture of Fort Amsterdam the village of New York depicts sailboats and rowboats around the fort.
This picture shows Fort Amsterdam, and the Dutch Church built within it, behind a row of houses. On the shore you can see the company weighing beam and a tall crane used to unload cargo.



Produced by CCNMTL, Chase, Teachers College, and CCI