In September 1609, Henry Hudson and his crew, sailing for the Dutch East India Company, entered what is now New York Harbor and began traveling up the river that would later bear his name. The company had asked Hudson to find a northern route between Europe and Asia to give them an advantage over competitors. While the river did not provide a route to Asia, Hudson took notice of the region’s riches: lush natural resources, a protected harbor on the Atlantic, and an abundance of beavers, whose fur was valuable in Europe.
Hudson’s report of his discovery inspired settlement of the colony New Netherland. Over the next six decades, New Netherland grew to include parts of present-day New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The colony started as a series of fur trading forts along the Hudson River (then called the North River), specializing in trade with Native Americans for beaver furs. The fur trade served the interests of Dutch merchants, who ultimately unified as the West India Company (founded 1621).
Between the 1620s and 1660s, the colony grew as a result of a number of influential leaders and initiatives. In 1626, colony director Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan from Native Americans and built Fort Amsterdam, later surrounded by the city of New Amsterdam, on its southern tip. In 1629, the West India Company established a system of land distribution to encourage settlement in the colony. In the 1640s, director Willem Kieft expanded the southern and eastern boundaries of the colony, but came into conflict with neighboring Europeans, Native American allies, and the residents of the colony. The last director of New Netherland was Peter Stuyvesant. Under Stuyvesant, the colony’s multicultural population—diverse European ethnic and religious groups, Africans, and Native Americans—grew. The colony flourished between 1647 and 1664. After years of tension between New Netherlanders and New England settlers, however, British forces sailed to New Amsterdam in 1664 and demanded surrender. With no military resources to defend the colony, Stuyvesant was forced to hand it over and it was renamed New York.