The Roots
New York Communities
Community Historian
[December 2014]

People began coming together in most places that would become communities in eastern New York during the New Netherland era. Except for the more substantial concentrations of European settlers most notably on Manhattan and then at Beverwyck/Rensselaerswyck, practically these settlement nodes would begin to grow and develop over the remainder of the century when the American born offspring of the New Netherland Dutch joined with a steady stream of diverse newcomers to produce a settler population who were more committed to their common New World interests than to any of their varied European pasts.

By the late 1600s, a number of these places had enough actual residents to be called communities. These were located on Manhattan and its hinterland - Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, at landings up the Hudson River as far as Albany, out the Mohawk to Schenectady, and on eastern Long Island.

Focused community study in New York can begin when those population centers began to generate information about the essential elements of their lives while external interests on all sides began to note and record their specific activities. At the root of most of the New York communities are the lives of the pioneers who first committed to these settlements during the New Netherland era. The lives of these founders and the paths taken by their offspring are of fundamental importance to the success of virtually all early New York communities.

New York provincial censuses taken in 1697 and over the next half decade provide baseline lists of the mainline residents of more than a dozen permanent communities. At the same time, community-based records of their political, social, and economic entities (aka government/legal-religion-business) identified most of those people and began to comprehensively articulate specific elements of their lives.

After kinship, community is the most basic element of society. Communities are composed of people with something in common. Understanding each member of the community is an efficient and balanced way to comprehend what makes a community work. Thus the path and ultimate destinations of the pioneers who came to America during the New Netherland era provides a social foundation on which to reconstruct and represent community life.



A historical community is defined here as a living place for a substantial number of people with something in common. Implied here is that a community is developmental and evolves in form, function, and character over time (either in years or generations). The community is sustained by its dynamic community economy which typically relies on ties/relationships to entities beyond the community itself.

Maps: These places were represented in numerous graphical incarnations most notably of the so-called "Antique Map" created/produced by Visscher and dated as early as 1655.

Population: For the seventeenth century, several hundred people living in close proximity, engaged in production, service, and business activities, and whose lives were bound together by common interests would be a viable base population for community life. Gender balance and the existence of a substantial number of children and other dependents distinguishes communities from outposts. Of note here is that the small population of the entire colony at about 9,000 settlers in 1664 and just 18,000 by the end of the century mitigates against community life in all but the most obvious locales listed above.

Community Historian: I have been studying, thinking, and writing about people in historical communities for several decades. My long term work on the People of Colonial Albany is the embodiment of that initiative.
      I have been working on this piece on Communities and New Netherland during 2014 in conjunction with the New Netherland Institute. Like all of my current work, this topical exposition is very much in-progress.

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first posted: 1/1/14; last considered 11/30/14