Property of the Netherlands

April 8, 2009 at 3:14 pm Leave a comment

Explorer Adrian Block realizes Long Island is an island and claims it for his home country. As he launched his new ship, Adrian Block let the tide carry the Restless into New York Harbor. If he said something to his crew as they departed, it is not recorded in history. He could not wish away the realities of geography — their homes in the Netherlands were 3,600 miles away across the ocean.

Now a strong spring wind grabbed the sails and blew the ship into the narrow inlet on the east side of what is now Manhattan. This was the place the Dutch called Hellegat, today’s East River, and Block had no idea what was on the other side, or for that matter whether he could safely pass through. It’s very name — Hell Gate — indicated what the Dutch thought of it.

The tide roared through this narrow inlet like a cascading waterfall, making a fearsome racket, according to the mid-17th Century diary of an Englishman named Daniel Denton. No European had ever been through it.

“Block definitely had a problem,” said Charles Gehring, the director of the New Netherlands Project in Albany. “At that point, all he was thinking of was how to get home. To the crew’s joy, they made it through and discovered what they thought was an inland sea.”

He was the first European to sail into Long Island Sound. Proceeding east, he entered a large freshwater river he called the “Fresh River” — today’s Connecticut River — and then rounded the North Fork of Long Island and dropped anchor on the bay side of the South Fork. What is today Montauk Point, Block named Hoeck van de Visschers, or Point of the Fishers, evidently a reference to the Indian fishermen he encountered there. Once he saw the open ocean behind this point, Block knew what no other European knew — that the long, stout peninsula jutting out from the harbor was an island. He had now been completely around it, and he claimed it all for the Netherlands.

It is believed that Block’s men made a landing on Montauk Point. Just where never has been ascertained, nor has the length of their stay. The one document that could give answers — Block’s own journal — never has been found. But they were there, somewhere, perhaps waiting for a Dutch ship to pass by on the ocean side. Evidently one never came, because the Restless soon left and began to sail toward Cape Cod. Passing the high, rocky island east of Montauk Point — the same island Giovanni da Verrazano had seen and mapped — Block named it Adrian Blocks eylandt, or Block Island.

Off the New England coast, an unusual coincidence happened — the Restless crossed paths with another Dutch ship, the Fortune, captained by Block’s friend Hendrick Christiaenzen. Block got on the Fortune and continued across the ocean to the Netherlands. History does not tell us what happened to the Restless.

Gehring believes it may have stayed briefly in New York waters before being sailed home. “I believe it got to the Netherlands, but no record has ever been found of what happened to it,” he said. “It’s a tantalizing mystery.”

After Block returned to the Netherlands, his discoveries were recorded on a map, known as the “Adriaen Block Chart.” The original of the chart is in the Dutch National Archives. Copies are available at the Melville Library at the State University at Stony Brook.

According to David Allen, the map librarian at Stony Brook, Block’s chart depicts with remarkable accuracy the general outline of Long Island. Block’s Long Island features two narrow forks at its eastern end, and bays on its North Shore. The only name on the map is Nahican, evidently an Algonquian place name. It cannot be translated today. The name does not appear on any other maps of Long Island. A 1635 Dutch map, which Allen said was based on Block’s work, features the word Matouwacs across the south shore of Long Island. The meaning of that word is not known, either.

“Block was an instant celebrity in the Netherlands,” Gehring said. “You know he’s significant because he gets to have an island named after him. It’s `Adrian Block’s Island,’ his whole name. And it was a very important island. It’s right there at the end of Long Island, right where you’d want to be, the perfect place to trade in both directions, north and south.”

After his return, Block appeared before government officials, who after hearing his story declared the area he had surveyed Nieuw Nederlandt, New Netherland. A charter was issued to merchants to begin trading, and a settlement was envisioned on the island where Block had built the Restless. A new age in a new world had begun.

By Steve Wick

The New York Observer

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Entry filed under: Dive In, Maritime, Region. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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