I come from two old New York City families, but not nearly as old as these 17th century views of the city when it was still the Dutch West India Company’s colony of Nieuw Amsterdam. Published in 1651, the image above is the earliest known view of Nieuw Amsterdam (or “New Amsterdam”), the settlement the Dutch colonists established at the southern tip of Manhattan Island in the early seventeenth century.
Appearing in the Beschrijvinghe van Virginia, Nieuw Nederlandt, Nieuw Engelandt, en d’eylanden Bermudes, Berbados en S. Christoffel, the engraving shows the fort and around thirty houses the Dutch West India Company built to establish its presence and trading interests in the area. On the river in front of the fort, several canoes with Native Americans are surrounded by a range of Dutch vessels, hinting at the colonists’ displacement of local populations to achieve their ambitions of territorial expansion. In 1664, the English took over the Dutch colony, naming it New York City after York, England.
The prints are part of the collection Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes assembled to illustrate his six-volume Iconography of Manhattan Island (published in installments between 1913 and 1928). Stokes donated the collection in its entirety to the Library’s Print Department in 1930.