Even before Samuel de Champlain’s explorations along the lake he named after himself, or Henry Hudson’s 1609 foray up the river that bears his name, the Champlain Valley and upper Hudson were frontiers with shifting boundaries. French, English, and Dutch interests sought to establish a presence in a territory already populated by Native American nations who had been there for generations. The major players in the Hudson-Champlain corridor were the Dutch and English. The French made forays through the area as traders and, during the French & Indian wars, as raiders.
The Dutch established a fur-trading outpost at Fort Orange (Albany) in 1624. The settlement around the fort was called “Beverwyck”: Beaver District. Laden with beaver and otter pelts, local Mohicans, Mohawks and members of tribes from as far north as Canada, were welcomed into the settlement to trade for iron implements, textiles, and beads. Fur was a valuable commodity in northern Europe, where furs were processed into felt and clothing. By cornering the trade in pelts, the Dutch ensured that Holland would be the mercantile capital of Northern Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The New England Colonies of coastal North America coexisted alongside New Netherland for the early decades of the seventeenth century. Many English lived in New Netherland and enjoyed the relatively more open society under Dutch rule. Holland did a brisk trade directly with the New England colonies.
Disputes over control of the seas and trade policies resulted in a battle for North America. The English claimed New Netherland on the basis of earlier English exploration. English King Charles II gave his brother James, Duke of York, title to all lands between the Delaware River and the Connecticut—land already claimed and populated by the Dutch as New Netherland. The English prevailed in the ensuing conflict. After 1664, New Netherland became New York; Beverwyck, the settlement around Fort Orange, was renamed Albany; and the Dutch were dispossessed of their North American colony. Despite the loss, the Dutch presence remained strong in New York. Dutch architecture, place names, and cultural characteristics helped define the Hudson Valley region for more than two centuries.