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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chapter 3 Colonization Begins in the Americas: The Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia Claim Land

Here's the 4th part of Chapter 3 and there is one more part to go!

Trade with the Spice Islands
The Netherlands, sometimes known as Holland, was a great trading country in the seventeenth century.  Dutch merchants had a thriving business with islands off the coast of Southeast Asia.  There they obtained spices such as cloves, pepper, and nutmeg.  As a result these islands were known as the Spice Islands.  Today they are called the Moluccas.  To reach the Spice Islands, Dutch ships used the long route around Africa and across the Indian Ocean.  The voyage to the Spice Islands and the return to the Netherlands took at least two years and was very costly.

After a time the merchants became dissatisfied with this long, expensive route.  They knew that Spanish, Portuguese, and French explorers were trying to find a shorter route by sailing west.  So the Dutch merchants hired an English sea captain named Henry Hudson to look for a shorter route.

Hudson's Explorations
Hudson first tried sailing northeast around northern Europe.  After two unsuccessful attempts he decided this was impossible.  Next he sailed west across the Atlantic in 1609.  In his ship, the Half Moon, he explored the Atlantic coast of what is now the United States.

Henry Hudson's Half Moon entered three bays along the coast.  Today they are known as New York Bay, Delaware Bay, and Chesapeake Bay.  He also sailed up the river that flows into New York Bay.  His ship got as far as present-day Albany before turning back.  Today this waterway is known as the Hudson River because of Henry Hudson's explorations.

Dutch Colonies in North America
Although Henry Hudson did not find the Northwest Passage, his explorations gave the Netherlands a claim to the land along the eastern coast of North America.  Taking advantage of this claim, a Dutch trading company started a colony near the mouth of the Hudson River, on Manhattan Island.  The company bought the island from Indians.  Dutch settlers built a fort there, calling it Fort Amsterdam.  Later it became know as New Amsterdam, after the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

The Dutch also built forts along the Connecticut and the Delaware rivers.  At the spot on the Hudson River that the Half Moon had reached in 1609, they built Fort Orange.  It became a center for trade with the Iroquois Indians.  The Dutch, however, were interested in more than trade.  New Amsterdam was made into a strong naval base.  Dutch warships sailed from New Amsterdam in search of Spanish vessels carrying gold and silver from America to Spain.

Settling farm families on the land was a lesser interest of the Dutch trading companies.  Like the French, the Dutch tried to promote settlement by giving away large grants of land.  The patroons, or owners of these large grants, were supposed to rent the land to settlers whose passage they paid to New Netherland.  This idea, known as the patroon system, failed because land was easy to obtain in North America.  Most people wanted to own land rather than to rent it.

Dutch Influence
Nevertheless the independent Dutch families that did settle on the land became some of the best farmers in America.  Their style of barns and farmhouses can still be seen in the Hudson River valley.  On Manhattan Island, Dutch merchants formed thriving business establishments.  Three American Presidents--Martin Van Buren, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt--had ancestors who came to the Dutch colony in America.

Some Dutch names still survive in the New York City area.  For example, the Bowery section was originally bouwerie, meaning "a Dutch farm."  The names Harlem and Brooklyn came from the Dutch towns Haarlem and Breucklen.  At Christmastime, Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, owes his appearance and name to Dutch customs brought to America.  Sauerkraut is a Dutch dish, and the Dutch were the first bowlers in America.

Sweden's Little Colony
On the Delaware River, near present-day Wilmington, a company chartered by the Swedish government started a colony in 1638.  It was a small colony with only a few hundred settlers.  However, they made--according to some historians--an important contribution to American frontier life.

The Swedish colonists came from a heavily forested region of northern Europe.  They were skilled in cutting down trees and using logs for various purposes.  Therefore, it is believed that Swedish colonists may have built the first log cabins in America.  Such wooden dwellings became so popular, especially on the frontier, that the log cabin is considered the typical dwelling of American pioneers.

The land settled by the Swedish colonists was part of the Dutch claims.  Still the Dutch in New Netherland left the little colony undisturbed until 1655.  But in that year a Dutch force commanded by Governor Stuyvesant came from New Amsterdam and easily overcame the feeble resistance of the Swedish colonists.

Russia in North America
At one time, Russia, too, had claims to land in North America.  Russia's claims came through the explorations of Vitus Bering in the waters between Siberia and Alaska.  Bering was from Denmark but served Russia's tsar, or ruler, as a sea captain.  In 1728 and again in 1741, Bering explored the land and the waters east of Siberia.  He discovered the passage between Alaska and Siberia that is today called the Bering Strait.  This is the region, you will recall, where a land bridge once existed and by which people came to America.

Bering's explorations revealed that Alaska was rich in furs, timber, and fish.  Wealthy Russians, like the French, wore furs for warmth and to be stylish.  Individuals and small companies traded in Alaskan furs until 1799.  In that year the tsar of Russia granted the Russian American Company the right to take charge of all Russian interests in North America.

The tsar required the company not only to trade in furs but also to promote settlement and to teach Christianity to the Indians.  Priests of the Russian Orthodox faith converted Indians to the Russian form of Christianity.  Today older Alaskan towns, such as Kodiak and Sitka, still contain Russian Orthodox churches.

Conflicting Claims
Not many Russians came to settle in Alaska.  But the Russian army and navy built outposts along the west coast of North America.  At one time Russians occupied a fort only 40 miles north of San Francisco, California.  This expansion of Russian claims alarmed Spanish officials.  It caused them to add more settlements and military bases in California.  Through these methods they hoped to halt the Russian advance down the west coast.

The west coast of North America was but one of the places where European powers had conflicting claims. Spain and France clashed over rival settlements in Florida and the Carolinas.  New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi, changed hands a number of times during the colonial period.

In fact nearly every part of what is now the United States was claimed by one or more European powers.  The exception is our fiftieth state, Hawaii.
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Come back tomorrow for the last part of chapter 3!

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