After seven centuries of Islamic occupation, Spain finally drove the Muslims out in 1492. Culturally caught in the middle between Christians and Muslims, King Ferdinand ordered Jews to convert or leave. Some Jews fled to Portugal, then to the Holland – Europe’s center of religious toleration.
In the next century, Holland prospered tremendously, with its largest city of Amsterdam becoming the wealthiest city in the world. Holland, also called “The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands,” was one of the few nations with no king. It experienced a Golden Age from 1568 until the era of Napoleon in the early 1800s. From 1575 on, Holland’s University of Leiden was a center of the study of Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac, with a Jewish rabbi as a professor. The Pilgrims lived in Leiden before sailing to Massachusetts, and identified themselves with the ancient Hebrew republic.
Medieval Europe forbade paying interest. It was called the sin of “usury.” After the Reformation, Amsterdam was where some of the first corporations were started, such as the Dutch East India Company. Individuals could invest in an expedition of ships going around the world for spices and when the ships returned, interest or “dividends” were paid from the profit.
If an individual wanted to sell his piece of ownership, he could at the first Amsterdam Stock Exchange. Individual investors had limited liability, only risking the amount they invested. In case the ships sank or were captured by Muslim Barbary pirates, the Dutch invented insurance companies. Amsterdam, Netherlands, became Europe’s leader in shipping, banking, insurance and commerce.
As Dutch Calvinism prohibited religious painting in churches, Dutch artists developed a variety of other genres, such as informal portraits, still life, peasant life, flowers, landscapes, townscapes, animals, and maritime paintings. Vermeer, Frans Hals and Rembrandt painted masterpieces in Amsterdam.
The Dutch captured Goa, India, from the Portuguese and opened trade with Japan, Jakarta, Mauritius and the Indonesian Spice Island of Maluku. The Dutch sighted Fiji and Australia, and colonized: the Pacific islands of Tasmania and New Zealand; the Caribbean Islands of Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Sint Maarten; the South American settlements of Guyana, Recife and Suriname; South Africa; and the North American colony of New Netherlands, which included parts of present day Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York.
On May 6, 1626, Peter Minuit, Dutch Governor of the New Netherlands Province, gave 60 guilders of brass buttons, scarlet cloth and trade goods to the Manhattan Indian Tribe in exchange for Manhattan Island.
The Articles for the New Netherlands’ Colony, issued by the Chamber of Amsterdam, 1624, stated: “They shall within their territory practice no other form of divine worship than that of the Reformed religion … and thus by their Christian life and conduct seek to draw the Indians and other blind people to the knowledge of God and His word, without, however, persecuting any on account of his faith, but leaving each one the use of his conscience.”
In 1628, Rev. Jonas Michaelius organized the first Dutch Reformed Church in the Colony of New Amsterdam, considered one of the oldest continuous congregations in America.
After the British took control, King William III granted a Charter to the Church in 1696: “William the third, By the grace of God, King of England. … Our said loving subjects … to preserve to them and their successors that liberty of worshiping God according to the constitutions and directions of the Reformed Churches in Holland … have therefore thought fit … that no person in communion of the said reformed protestant Dutch Church, within our said City of New York … shall be any ways molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any difference in opinion in matters of the Protestant religion …that all … persons in Communion of the said reformed protestant Dutch Church may … freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences in matters of the Protestant religious concernments … not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaness. …
“Mr. Henricus Selyns, the present Minister of the said reformed protestant Dutch Church … since the … dedication of the said Church to the service of God … the instruction of the members of the said reformed protestant Dutch Church inhabiting within Our said City of New York, in the Christian faith according to the constitutions and directions aforesaid.”
The congregation met in several buildings over the centuries, including the imposing St. Nicholas Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church at Fifth Avenue and Forty-eighth Street, attended by President Theodore Roosevelt. The congregation continues at the Marble Collegiate Church.
New Netherlands’ original Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions, June 1, 1629, stated: “Patroons and colonists shall in particular, and in the speediest manner, endeavor to find out ways and means whereby they may support a Minister and Schoolmaster, that thus the service of God and zeal for religion may not grow cool and be neglected among them, and they shall, for the first, procure a Comforter of the sick there.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt told the Detroit Jewish Chronicle, March 7, 1935: “All I know about the origin of the Roosevelt family in this country is that all branches bearing the name are apparently descended from Claes Martenssen Van Roosevelt, who came from Holland sometime before 1648.”
The Dutch set up a New Amsterdam Stock Exchange along the wall of their fort. After a series of Anglo-Dutch Wars in which British Admiral William Penn helped defeat the Dutch Navy, the city of New Amsterdam was taken over by the British and renamed New York City. The New Amsterdam Stock Exchange then became the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.
In 1665, New York’s Colonial Legislature stated: “Whereas, The public worship of God is much discredited for want of … able ministers to instruct the people in the true religion, it is ordered that a church shall be built in each parish capable of holding 200 persons; that ministers of every church shall preach every Sunday, and pray for the king, queen, the Duke of York, and the royal family. … Sunday is not to be profaned.”
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