Dutch Americans

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Dutch American Netherlands United States
FDR in 1933.jpgMartin Van Buren.jpgThomas Edison.jpg
Some notable Dutch Americans:
Franklin D. Roosevelt · Martin Van Buren · Thomas Edison
Regions with significant populations
Mainly the North-Western United States and the Atlantic Seaboard.
American English, occasionally Dutch.
Protestant, Roman Catholic, secularism
Related ethnic groups
Dutch people, Dutch Canadians, Dutch Brazilians, Afrikaners

A Dutch American is an inhabitant of the United States with full or partial Dutch ancestry.

The Dutch people were one of the earliest Europeans who made their way to the New World. In 1614 the first Dutch settlers arrived and founded a number of villages and a town called New Amsterdam on the East Coast, which would become the future world metropolis of New York. According to the 2000 United States Census, more than 5 million Americans claim total or partial Dutch heritage.[1] Today the majority of the Dutch Americans live in California, New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Dutch presence in North America

Early exploration

In 1602, Dutch government chartered the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC) with the mission of exploring a passage to the Indies and claiming any unchartered territories for the Dutch Republic.

The first Dutchmen to come to the America were explorers under the command of the English captain Henry Hudson (himself in Dutch service) who arrived in 1609 and mapped what is now known as the Hudson River on the ship De Halve Maen. Their initial goal was to find an alternative route to Asia, but they found good farmland and plenty of wildlife instead.

Main areas in which Dutch Americans can be found.

Oldest Dutch settlement

The earliest Dutch settlement was built around 1613, it consisted of a number of small huts built by the crew of the "Tijger" (Tiger) a Dutch ship under the command of Captain Adriaen Block which had caught fire while sailing on the Hudson in the winter of 1613. The ship was lost and Block and his crew established a camp ashore. In the spring Block and his men did some explorations along the coast of Long Island. Block Island still bears his name. Finally they were sighted by another Dutch ship and the settlement was abandoned.[2]

Seventeenth-century migration

In 1629 Dutch officials tried to expand the northern colony through a plan that promised "Liberties and Exemptions" to anyone who would ship fifty colonists to America at his own expense. Anyone who did this would be allowed to buy a stretch of land along the Hudson from the Dutch West India Company of about twelve miles, extending as far inland as the owner wanted. These landowners were called patroons and had complete jurisdiction over their domains as well as extensive trading privileges. They also received these rights in perpetuity. In this way, a form of feudalism, which had vanished in the Dutch Republic, was introduced in North America. The Patroonships were not a success; by 1635, the Dutch West India Company had bought back four of the five patroon ships originally registered in Amsterdam.

The Indians were, at this time, no longer consulted or offered/asked to sell their lands and the Dutch were confronted with a new phenomenon: Indian raids. As the local tribes had now realized that the Dutch were not simply visitors but people set to take over their land.

The Dutch realized that they had gone with the wrong approach as they offered great privileges to wealthy citizens instead of the poor ones. It was not until 1656 that the Dutch state abandoned its passivity and decided to actively support New Netherland. The Dutch state issued a proclamation which stated that "all mechanics and farmers who can prove their ability to earn a living here shall receive free passage for themselves, their wives and children".

The result of all this was an increase in population from an estimated 2,000 in 1648 to 10,000 in 1660. Although the New Netherland were Dutch, only about half the settlers were ethnically Dutch (the other half consisted mainly of Walloons and French Huguenots) and Manhattan grew increasingly multicultural. The rural areas, however, remained overwhelmingly Dutch for over two centuries. In 1664, the English seized the colony and renamed it New York. The Dutch briefly recaptured the colony, but during peace talks decided to trade it for Suriname in South America which was more profitable.

Eighteenth and nineteenth-century migration

In the hundred years of British rule that followed the change of ownership of New Netherland, Dutch immigration to America came to an almost complete standstill. The only major group of organized settlers after the British takeover were a colony of two hundred Dutchmen and women who founded what is now Germantown in 1683.

Most of these settlers were Quakers who had come over in response to the appeal of William Penn. Penn, a Dutch American himself, had paid three visits to the Netherlands, where he published several pamphlets. Germantown is now generally thought to be of German origin, but it remained almost exclusively Dutch until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Only then did German immigration gain momentum, and soon dominated the area.

During the early nineteenth century, large numbers of Dutch farmers, forced by high taxes and low wages, started immigrating to America. They mainly settled down in the Midwest, especially Michigan, Illinois and Iowa. In the 1840s, Calvinist immigrants desiring more religious freedom immigrated. Large numbers of Dutch people immigrated to form communities in Wisconsin beginning a pattern of emigration to northeast Wisconsin that would last until the early twentieth century.

Dutch (American) influence on America

  • During the American war of Independence the Dutch were active allies of the American rebels. From the island of Saint Eustatius they gave the Thirteen colonies one of the few opportunities to acquire arms. In 1778, British Lord Stormont claimed in parliament that "if Sint Eustatius had sunk into the sea three years before, the United Kingdom would already have dealt with George Washington".
  • The Dutch were the first to salute the flag, and therefore acknowledge the independence of, the United States on 16 November 1776.
  • In 1626, Peter Minuit obtained the island of Manhattan from the Indians in exchange for goods with a total value of 60 guilders ($24). He established the town of New Amsterdam, the future New York. The names of some other settlements that were established still exist today as boroughs of New York: Harlem (Haarlem) Brooklyn (Breukelen) and Staten Island (named after the Dutch parlement, the 'Staten Generaal') .
  • Three American presidents were of Dutch descent:
    • Martin van Buren, was the eighth President of the United States. He was a key organizer of the Democratic Party and the first president who was not of English, Irish, or Scottish descent. He is also the only president not to have spoken English as his first language, but rather grew up speaking Dutch.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, was the 26th President of the United States. Roosevelt is most famous for his personality; his energy, his vast range of interests and achievements, his model of masculinity, and his “cowboy” persona. In 1901, he became President after the assassination of President William McKinley. Roosevelt was a Progressive reformer who sought to move the Republican Party into the Progressive camp.
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the 32nd President of the United States. Elected to four terms in office, he served from 1933 to 1945, and is the only U.S. president to have served more than two terms. A central figure of the twentieth century, he has consistently been ranked as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents in scholarly surveys.

Dutch traditions

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The Dutch introduced their own folklore, most famously Sinterklaas (Similar to, but not the same as, "Santa Claus") and created their own as in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. [Wermuth 2001]

Dutch language in North America

The first Dutch settlers lived in small isolated communities, and as a consequence were barely exposed to English. As the Dutch lost their own colonies in North America to the British, the Dutch settlers increasingly were exposed to other immigrants and their languages and the Dutch language gradually started to disappear.

In 1764, Dr. Archibald Laidlie preached the first English sermon to the Dutch Reformed congregation in New York City. Ten years later English was introduced in the schools. In Kingston, Dutch was used in church as late as 1808. A few years before, a traveler had reported that on Long Island, in New York, along the North River, at Albany, Dutch was in general still the common language of most of the old people.

Francis Adrian van der Kemp, who had come to this country as a refugee in 1788, wrote that his wife was able to converse in Dutch with the wives of Alexander Hamilton and General George Clinton. In 1847, immigrants from the Netherlands were welcomed in Dutch by the Reverend Isaac Wyckoff upon their arrival in New York. Wyckoff himself was a descendant of one of the first settlers in Rensselaerwyck, who had learned to speak English at school.

Until recently many communities in New Jersey adhered to the tradition of a monthly church service in Dutch. As late as 1905, Dutch was still heard among the old people in the Ramapo Valley of that state. It was not until 1910 that Roseland Christian School in Chicago switched to an English curriculum from Dutch.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the Dutch language was hardly spoken in North America, with the exception of 1st generation Dutch immigrants. The marks of the Dutch language can still be seen. New York for example has many originally Dutch street and place names which range from Coney Island and Brooklyn to Wall Street and Broadway. There are also some words in American-English that are of Dutch origin, like "cookie" (koekje) and "boss" (baas)

Contact between other language also created various creoles with Dutch as a base. These include Jersey Dutch and Mohawk Dutch, both extinct now.

Dutch-American Heritage Day

As of 1991, November 16th is "Dutch-American Heritage Day". On November 16, 1776, a small American warship, the Andrew Doria, sailed into the harbour of the Dutch island of St. Eustatius in the West Indies. Only four months before, the United States had declared its independence from Great Britain. The American crew was delighted when the governor of the island, ordered that his fort's cannons be fired in a friendly salute. The first ever given by a foreign power to the flag of the United States, it was a risky and courageous act. Indeed, angered by Dutch trading and contraband with the rebellious colonies, the British seized the island a few years later. The Dutch recaptured the island in 1784.[3]

Dutch-American Friendship Day

April 19th is Dutch-American Friendship Day, which remembers the day in 1782 when John Adams, later to become the second president of the United States, was received by the States General in The Hague and recognized as Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America. It was also the day that the house he had purchased at Fluwelen Burgwal 18 in The Hague was to become the first American Embassy in the world.[4]

Dutch Heritage Festivals

Many of the Dutch heritage festivals that take place around the United States coincide with the blooming of tulips in a particular region. Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan, is the largest such festival with other notable gatherings such as the Pella Tulip Time in Pella, IA; the Tulip Festival in Orange City, IA; Dutch Days in Fulton, IL; Let's Go Dutch Days in Baldwin, WI; Holland Days in Lynden, WA; Holland Happening in Oak Harbor, WA; and the Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest in Woodburn, OR. See the Tulip Festival for a more complete article. A Dutch Festival is also held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, and a Holland Festival in Long Beach, CA. During late November and early December a Dutch Winterfest is held in Holland, MI, to coincide with the traditional arrival of Sinterklaas; the "Dutch Santa Claus."


The beginnings of the Reformed Church in America date to 1628. By 1740, it had 65 congregations in New York and New Jersey, served by ministers trained in Europe. Schools were few but to obtain their own ministers they formed "Queens College" (now Rutgers University) in 1766. In 1771, there were 34 ministers for over 100 churches. Until 1764, in at least three Dutch churches in New York City, all sermons were in Dutch; Theodore Roosevelt reports his grandfather's church used Dutch as late as 1810. Other churches with roots in Dutch immigration to the United States include the Christian Reformed Church, the Protestant Reformed Churches, the United Reformed Churches, the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations and the Free Reformed Church. Along with the Reformed churches, Roman Catholicism is the other major religion of Dutch Americans.


Between 1820 and 1900, 340,000 Dutch immigrated from the Netherlands to the United States of America. In the aftermath of World War II, several tens of thousands of Dutch immigrants joined them, mainly moving to California and Washington State. In several counties in Michigan and Iowa, Dutch Americans remain the largest ethnic group. Nowadays, most Dutch Americans (27%) live in California, followed by New York, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

According to the 2000 United States Census, more than 5 million Americans claim total or partial Dutch heritage. They are particularly concentrated around Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sioux City, Iowa, and Des Moines, Iowa. These areas are surrounded with towns and villages that were founded by Dutch settlers in the 19th century, such as Holland, Michigan and Zeeland, Michigan; Pella, Iowa, and Orange City, Iowa. Other Dutch enclaves include Lynden, Washington, Nederland, Texas; and places in New Jersey and California.

In California, the San Joaquin Delta had a major Dutch, Belgian and Frisian influence as settlers from those countries arrived since the 1850s after California had statehood. They drained away swamps and created artificial islands known as polders, constructed dikes to back away the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers flowing into the San Francisco Bay, also turned them into fertile farmlands and set up inland ports such as Stockton. Also their communities like Lathrop, Galt, Rio Vista and French Camp which were named for Belgians from Belgium are of both French (Walloon) or Dutch (Flemish) origin.

Not included among Dutch Americans are the Pennsylvania Dutch, a group of German Americans who settled in Pennsylvania in the colonial era and whose name is a corruption of the word "Deutsch", meaning "German".


Notes and references

  • Bratt, James H. Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture. Eerdmans, 1984.
  • Corwin, S. T. History of the Dutch Reformed Church in the United States (1895).
  • De Gerald, F. Jong The Dutch in America, 1609-1974. Twayne, 1975, short survey
  • Doezema, Linda Pegman. Dutch Americans: A Guide to Information Sources. Gale Research, 1979. Bivliography
  • Ganzevoort, Herman, and Mark Boekelman, eds. Dutch Immigration to North America. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1983.
  • Kim, Sung Bok. Landlord and Tenant in Colonial New York: Manorial Society, 1664-1775 (1987)
  • Kirk, Gordon W. The Promise of American Life: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth-Century Immigrant Community, Holland, Michigan, 1847-1894. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1978.
  • Kroes, Rob. The Persistence of Ethnicity: Dutch Calvinist Pioneers in Amsterdam, Montana. University of Illinois Press, 1992.
  • Kroes, Rob, and Henk-Otto Neuschafer, eds. The Dutch in North America: Their Immigration and Cultural Continuity. Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1991.
  • Kromminga, John. The Christian Reformed Church: A Study in Orthodoxy. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1949.
  • Adrian C. Leiby; The Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley: The Jersey Dutch and the Neutral Ground, 1775-1783 Rutgers University Press. 1962.
  • Lucas, Henry. Netherlanders in America: Dutch Immigration to the United States and Canada, 1789-1950. University of Michigan Press, 1955.
  • Nissenson, S. G. The Patroon's Domain 1937
  • Schreuder, Yda. Dutch Catholic Immigrant Settlement in Wisconsin, 1850-1905. New York: Garland, 1989.
  • Swierenga, Robert P. The Forerunners: Dutch Jewry in the North American Diaspora. Wayne State University Press, 1994.
  • Swierenga, Robert P. ed. The Dutch in America: Immigration, Settlement, and Cultural Change. Rutgers University Press, 1985.
  • Swierenga, Robert P., "FAITH AND FAMILY --Dutch Immigration and Settlement in the United States, 1820–1920" (Ellis Island Series.) New York: Holmes and Meyer. 2000.
  • Taylor, Lawrence J. Dutchmen on the Bay: The Ethnohistory of a Contractual Community. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.
  • Thernstrom, Stephan, ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. Harvard University Press, 1980.
  • Van Jacob Hinte. Netherlanders in America: A Study of Emigration and Settlement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries of the of America. Ed. Robert P. Swierenga . Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985. translation of a 1928 Dutch-language book
  • Thomas S. Wermuth. Rip Van Winkle's Neighbors: The Transformation of Rural Society in the Hudson River Valley (2001)
  • Carl Wittke, We Who Built America: The Saga of the Immigrant (1939), ch 2, 11
  • Milwaukee Sentinel, July 15, 1898 article on Little Chute, Wisconsin
Primary sources
  • Herbert J. Brinks, Dutch American Voices: Letters from the United States, 1850-1930 (1995)
  • Lucas, Henry, ed. Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writings. 2 vols. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1955.