How the Belgians founded New York

In order to avoid any confusion in this story, it is important to know that in the sixteenth century, the Netherlands covered a part of northern France and Lorraine, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the present Netherlands. Its inhabitants were called the Belgians, and the maps represented the country in the shape of a lion: the "Leo Belgicus".

Besides, numerous maps from the sixteenth century showed this territory under the name of Belgium. The latter failed into disuse for the benefit of the Netherlands and only reappeared in 1789 on the occasion of the first Belgian revolution. In 1831 Belgium became an independent country.

Today Belgium is a lot smaller and is divided into two big regions mostly based on the language they speak in that particular region. In the north, there is Flanders where they speak Flemish (Dutch) and in the south, there is the Walloon part where they speak French. Almost in the center and between the two parts is the region of the capital Brussels.

Let's continue with the story. In 1609, an English sailor named Henri Hudson discovered a great bay with a big river flowing into it from the mountains, at a latitude of forty-one degrees north and a longitude of seventy-four degrees west. Hudson had been entrusted by the Flemings Emmanuel Van Meteren, Judocus Hondius, and Petrus Plancius to discover a new passage to the land of Tartars and to China, on behalf of the East-Indies Company. The United East India Company was originally established as a chartered company in 1602 when the Dutch government granted it a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. It is often considered to have been the first multinational corporation in the world. While Henri Hudson was exploring the coasts of America on his ship, luck would have him discover, 85 years after Verrazzano, the territory of the future New York, together with the river who was going to be called after him.

From 1615, the region between Virginia and New England was equally named New Belgium, Novum Belgium, Novo Belgio, Nova Belgica, Novi Belgii, or New Holland.

Jessé de Forest, one of the future Walloon immigrants moved heaven and earth to obtain the right to emigrate with his own and other Walloon families to the New World. On February 5, 1621, Jessé de Forest sent a petition, written in French, to Sir Dudley Carleton, ambassador of his Majesty the King of England in The Hague.  He applied for permission to settle in Virginia with about fifty Walloon, French and Flemish families. Jessé asked to dispose over a territory of eight English miles radius. Known as the Round Robin, this document is now preserved in the British Public Record Office.

On August 11, 1621, the Virginia Company gave an agreement in principle but raised some restrictions. The worse one was her refusal to have the settlers dwell together in one autonomous colony. Jessé declined the proposition.

The foundation of the West India Company gave rise to the most clever plan in the Walloon’s mind. Proposing his services and those of his fellow countrymen to the Dutch Company, Jessé informed her that a group of families practicing various trades had the opportunity to emigrate to America, on behalf of the English. Arguing that those colonists should rather be secured for the West India Company, he wished a quick response,  adding that it was a take it or leave it to offer. The States of Holland, realizing the importance of such an opening for future colonization agreed with some restrictions.

A lot of Belgian family names got a Dutch camouflage, like Rapalje for Rapaille or Minnewit for Minuit. Other colonists were simply called by the name of the Dutch city they just left. The American historian Charles W. Baird, in his book “History of the Huguenot Emigration to America”, qualified this type of abuse as "Batavian disguise".

The settlers were also forbidden to weave wool or linen, make cloth, or any other textile, at the risk of being banished or prosecuted as perjurers. The secret aim was to protect the monopoly for the imports from Holland.

It is in May 1624 that the Nieu Nederlandt, a ship chartered by the West India Company, arrived in sight of Manhattan Island. The vessel carried about thirty Belgian families: most of them were Walloons accompanied by a few Flemings.

The passengers were soon dispersed: after being left on Nut Island (today Governor’s Island), eight men moved quickly to the lower part of Manhattan and erected there a fort - on the site of the present Battery Park. Four couples and eight men were sent to the Delaware River, where they also built a fort near the present town of Gloucester, New Jersey. Two families and six men were sent to the Fresh River (now Connecticut), where a small fort was built, on the site of the present city of Hartford. About eighteen families remained on the Nieu Nederlandt and proceeded up the Hudson. They finally landed near the present city of Albany, capital of the State of New York.

Several seals of this period remind us that the territories surrounding the future New York were called New Belgium. The first seal from 1623, bears a beaver - at the time, the trappers were almost the only ones to exploit the country -, encircled by the words "Sigillum Novi Belgii". The seal of the New-Amsterdam from 1654 mention "Sigillum Amstellodamensis in Novo Belgio".

In 1626, Pierre Minuit, one of the Walloon immigrants and governor of New Belgium, became famous for the purchase of Manhattan Island. He bought it from the Manhattan Indians in exchange for glittering beads and other trinkets. The total value was about sixty guilders or $ 24.

The trails of the Walloons and Flemish people in New York are numerous and often unknown: the Gowanus Bay, for instance, west of Brooklyn, is named after Owanus, the Latin translation of Ohain, a village in Walloon Brabant. The Wallabout Bay, north of Brooklyn, is a deformation of the Dutch Waal Bocht (Walloon Bay).

The name Hoboken, well-known district west of Manhattan, comes from a municipality near Antwerp, Flanders. Communipaw, in Jersey City,  is the contraction of the Community of Pauw. Michel De Pauw, a native of Ghent in Flanders, had also bought Staten Island from the Indians in 1630.

Jessé de Forest didn't stay long in New Belgium he left on reconnaissance for the coasts of Guyana in 1623 and died on the Oyapock Riverbank, the present borderline between Brazil and French Guyana, on October 22, 1624. His daughter Rachel, her husband Jean de la Montagne and their sons Isaac and Henri, and other family members joined New Belgium ten years later in the territories surrounding the future New York City

On May 20, 1924, for the tercentenary of the founding of New York, a monument was erected in honor of the Walloon settlers, on the site of Battery Park, in the southern part of Manhattan.

People may ask themselves why the real circumstances wrapping the foundation of New York remain, even today, almost unknown to the world and is even ignored in present Belgium. There is one reason that seems plausible: the founders of New York were the Walloons and the Flemish Protestants, Belgium being a mostly catholic country, and teaching in Belgium is been influenced by the Catholic Church, one may assume that the latter deliberately occulted this period of Belgian history.

As to Peter Stuyvesant, to whom some people absolutely wish to attribute the paternity of the founding of New York, he only arrived in 1647, that is twenty-three years after the landing of the first settlers... The Belgians.