Starting on 1 April, Rijksmuseum in collaboration with the Dutch archives service Nationaal Archief will exhibit various documents related to the establishment of the Dutch colony New Netherland and the trading post New Amsterdam – which later became New York City – at the beginning of the 17th century. One of the highlights of the exhibition Return to Manhattan (Weerzien met Manhattan) is undoubtedly Nationaal Archief’s Schaghenbrief letter from 1626. One of the earliest documents to mention the purchase of Manhattan, the island on which New Netherland was established, the Schaghenbrief letter is not only evidence of the agreement concluded between the local population and the Dutch in 1626, but also of the first children born to the pioneers in the Dutch colony. Henry Hudson’s discovery of Manhattan Island 400 years ago, as an explorer working for the Dutch East India Company (VOC), will be celebrated this year.
In April 1609, the explorer Henry Hudson and a crew of 20 set sail from Amsterdam aboard the ship De Halve Maen on a mission for the Dutch East India Company to search for a quick passage to the Orient. Five months later, he sailed past Manhattan Island on the river which would later be named after him. While he did not find a passage through America, he did discover a fertile region on its east coast where ships could safely drop anchor. In 1625, the trading post New Amsterdam on Manhattan was chosen as the main site of the Dutch colony. A year later, the Dutch purchased the island.
The actual purchase contract for Manhattan Island no longer exists. While the Schaghenbrief is often considered to be the purchase contract, this is in fact not the case. Pieter Schaghen was a representative of the States General. His letter is an account of the arrival of the ship Wapen van Amsterdam, which had just arrived back from New Netherland with the good news from shipmaster Adriaen Joris Thienpont that a piece of land called Manhattan had been purchased for goods ‘valued at 60 guilders…’. The letter is the only evidence of this historical event. More information about the Schaghenbrief letter and the role of the Dutch who laid the foundations for the establishment of New Amsterdam are available online (www.nationaalarchief.nl).
The exhibition also includes the oldest map to show Manhattan as an island (1614) and the famous cityscape of New Amsterdam by Johannes Vingboons from circa 1665. In addition to these unique historical documents from Nationaal Archief, two 17th-century prints of an indigenous man and woman by Wenceslaus Hollar will be on display, as well as part of the famous Blaeu Atlas from the collection of the Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap (Royal Antiquarian Society).