posted on Apr, 23 2003 @ 07:05 PM
For most of its life, New Amsterdam had fewer than 1,000 residents, but its influence would far outstrip its size. This was the first and most
important multicultural base in colonial America. While Boston and, later, Philadelphia, developed along distinctly English lines, New Amsterdam was
pluralistic from the beginning. In 1643, when barely 500 people called it home, director Willem Kieft told a visiting Jesuit priest that 18 languages
were spoken. In fact, according to some estimates this “Dutch” city was never more than 50 percent Dutch in its population. The other major groups
included Germans, English, Africans, Scandinavians, French, and Jewish. From this tiny mix of peoples would come the structure of New York City.
Fifteen streets or so, depending on how you count them: that was the capital of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. At its southern end, Manhattan
Island tapered to a smoothed point, rather like a sock, with the toes sticking out toward the harbor. Once the decision was made to make it the
capital, other features of the town fell into place. The position of the fort at the end of the island naturally meant that the town would develop
around it, the streets radiating northward from it and from the East River frontage. The presence of a small inlet cutting through the developing grid
didn’t deter the inhabitants. They decided it was a “gracht”—a canal—and built pretty little bridges over it, as in Holland.
The so-called Castello Plan—a map drawn up in 1660—gives an excellent picture of what New Amsterdam was like at its height, just four years before the
English took over and renamed it New York. Most of the individual houses indicated on the map can be identified with their owners. Other major
features—the fort, gardens, windmill, the small pier—are easily recognized.