The popular narrative of New Amsterdam often concludes this way: In 1664, the English arrived and forever after it was New York. The English won, the Dutch lost, end of story. But once again, the history is more complicated. Initially, the Dutch were reluctant to go to war with the English over their lost colony; however, the capture of New Netherland was part of a series of hostilities leading to the start of the Second Anglo-Dutch War in early 1665. The war lasted for over two years. The Dutch won the war, but with the Treaty of Breda in 1667 they allowed the English to keep New Netherland, opting instead to retain the (then more valuable) tropical colonies of Suriname, with its sugar plantations in what is now known as South America, and Run, an Indonesian island of incredible value as the source of the nutmeg tree.
The peace never sat easy with either side, and hostilities resumed in 1672 with the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The war was mostly fought in Europe and the East Indies, but in 1673, a fleet led by Cornelis Evertsen and Jacob Benckes from the Dutch state of Zeeland took upon themselves an audacious plan to recapture New York/New Amsterdam. They sailed into New York Harbor with eight warships and opened fire on the fort. Troops landed, shots rang out. This time the English were unprepared and soon surrendered. Once again the City was under Dutch control. The language of the court minutes switched back to Dutch and the "Council of War" rechristened the city New Orange, for their patron Prince William of Orange. The Council also reverted to the Schout (Sheriff), Burgomasters, and Schepens form of government, and Evertsen and Benckes appointed Captain Anthony Colve as temporary military governor, before taking off with their fleet.
For eighteen months, Colve governed the colony during a time of war, so defending the City was a primary concern from the start. The state of the City's works in 1673 is hard to establish, as the court record book from October 1672 to August 1673 is missing, perhaps taken back to England by Governor Francis Lovelace. Lovelace had been governor from 1668 to 1673, but upon his return to England, the Duke of York put him in the Tower of London for his lackluster defense of New York. We can infer that the Wall had not been one of Lovelace’s chief priorities, because one of Colve’s first acts was to appoint an engineer in charge of the fortifications and to take stones from the house of “an Englishman in other countries and now confiscated” to be "given to the City works in compensation for the stone heretofore taken by the English government from the City's works." Colve seized and destroyed many homes that had been built too close to the fortifications, those of both Dutch and English citizens, but the specific Englishman referred to here may have been none other than Governor Lovelace.
Perhaps these stones would become part of what was to be the most prominent feature of the Wall—two massive stone bastions the Dutch named Hollandia and Zeelandia after the ships that carried their invasion force. In late 1673 and early 1674 there was a flurry of activity to improve City defenses. During this time, every inhabitant was required to take shifts working on the fortifications or marching on patrol (the role of women, if any, is not mentioned, but "inhabitants" probably meant just men). Although construction of the bastions certainly took place during this period it is hard to say precisely when they were started. Ten years prior, in February 1664, the last plans for the Wall made by the former Dutch government called for "a strong stone wall with two bastions." The Nicolls Plan of 1665 (see previous post) shows two bastions on the Wall, which may be of stone, but these are not the massive bastions shown and described in the 1695 Miller Plan.
On the North side are two large stone Points & therein about 8 Guns some mounted & some unmounted. On the Northwest Angle is a Blockhouse & on the West side 2 Horneworks which are furnished with some Guns 6 or 7 in number, this side buts upon Hudson's River, has a bank in some places 20 fadom high from the water by reason whereof & a stockade strengthned with a banke of Earth on the Inside (which last is also on the North side to the landward) it is not Easily Assailable.
-John Miller, New York Considered and Improved, 1695
The Miller Plan (and the more stylish Franquelin Plan of 1693) shows that by the 1690s, the dream of the Dutch in 1664 had finally become a reality. New York now truly resembled the walled cities of Holland. The docks were fortified and well-protected with a seawall, a number of gun emplacements encircled the city, and the bastions on the northern wall were impressive structures. There is no guide as to scale on the Miller or Franquelin Plans, but the bastions are shown with thick stone walls, and were apparently large enough to contain a bunkhouse and several cannons. Using the size of the surrounding streets and houses for scale, they may well have been more than 50 feet wide and 60 feet deep.
If these were built by the Dutch in 1673 or 1674, they were never put to use: Once again the war was mostly fought overseas, and The Treaty of Westminster in 1674 transferred the colony back to the English, allowing the Dutch to keep their sugar and spice colonies. When word of the treaty reached Governor Colve, he thanked members of the Court for their service, discharged them from their oath of loyalty, and surrendered the Province of New Netherland on November 11, 1674 to Major Edmund Andrews. This is the last recorded deed in the Records of New Amsterdam at the NYC Municipal Archives.
What became of the Wall?
So, why do we care? Why spend five blog posts on the history of this wall? Well, it is partly because a century later, on the street that ran along the Wall, the street that the Dutch called Het Cingel and the English called Wall Street, a group of merchants started to meet under a buttonwood tree to trade securities. Wall Street would become one of the most important and iconic streets in the world. The myths surrounding the history of Wall Street and even its name show that to truly understand the history of New Amsterdam, you have to understand Amsterdam and the history of the Dutch. And to understand the history of America, you have to understand the history of New Amsterdam, because the Dutch never really left, and their influence is felt to this day.
And the Wall? The English council minutes record frequent attempts to keep the palisades in a state of repair, sometimes raising taxes to do so, but soon the City outgrew a wall built to protect a much smaller town. At the same time, the City Hall, the old Dutch Stadt Huys, fell into disrepair and was deemed so hazardous that in 1697 the Council decamped to the Lovelace Tavern next door (yes, that Lovelace) while a new City Hall could be built. On August 18, 1699, in the New York Common Council, a Petition was presented to the Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief of the Province of New York:
That the former line of fortifications that did range along the Wall Street from the East to the North River together with the Bastions that were thereon Erected are fallen to decay... and the City purposing with all speed to build a new City Hall at the end of one of the principle streets.... [we] humbly pray that... the same fortifications may be demolished... and that the stones of the said Bastions... may be appropriated to the building [of] the said City Hall.
This second City Hall (or third if you count the Lovelace Tavern), built in 1700, became the seat of British Government in New York. It would be here where John Peter Zenger was imprisoned and acquitted of libel in 1735, setting the stage for freedom of the press; here where in 1765 a protest against the Stamp Act spread revolutionary fires; and here where in 1789 the first Congress met to draft the Bill of Rights, and where George Washington first stood to take the oath of office as President. A central premise of Russell Shorto's book, The Island at the Center of the World, is that the Dutch, with their ideas of religious and cultural tolerance, and their belief that citizens had an active role in government, influenced America in ways that shaped it forever. What better metaphor for this is a wall built by the Dutch to repel the English, with its second life as the literal foundation of a new American government?
Where are the stones from that wall now? Well, it is hard to say. Federal Hall (as it was renamed) was torn down in 1812 when the present City Hall was completed. The street next to it was widened, new buildings went up, and in 1842 the present Federal Hall was built. In 2006, deep in the sub-basement, some old foundation stones were uncovered; the National Park Service hoped they were part of the old wall, but archaeologists were doubtful. Maybe they were part of the bastions at one time, but they seem to be in the wrong place, and no one really knows. But other parts of the wall may still exist. In 1751, workers in nearby Trinity Churchyard discovered part of a wall, which was probably from the tower near the Oyster Pasty Mount, the western defenses shown in the Miller Plan. (Bonus history: the name Oyster Pasty probably indicates that this hill was the site of an oyster midden, the massive shell dumps left by native peoples that once lined the New York shorelines.)
As incredible as it seems, there may even still be remains of the old wooden palisades beneath the streets of New York. In the 1970s, archaeologists uncovered part of a stockade wall built by General Stuyvesant in 1657 around Kingston, New York, 100 miles north of lower Manhattan. The new scholarship surrounding New Amsterdam, with digitization and translation projects both in New York and Amsterdam, is revealing new information about the colony, and the Wall is no exception. Maybe beneath Wall or Pearl Streets, or in the Trinity Churchyard, places that have not yet had skyscraper basements dug to the bedrock, old New Amsterdam still sits, waiting.
As always, a thanks to Dennis Maika for keeping me historically on track, and a special thanks to Joan Geismar for her archaeological insight into the fate of the Wall.
Visit newamsterdamstories.archives.nyc to learn more.