Before Long Island, we were ‘t Lange Eylandt


For an area with as much history as Long Island, many of us tend to focus on the big events and names.

The Roosevelts. Washington’s spy ring. Billy Joel.

But an important — if overlooked — part of our history is the early Dutch settlement of the area.

Beneath Long Island’s modern landscape — with its bustling cities, quaint towns and scenic shores — lies a rich tapestry of history woven by the earliest European settlers. To comprehend the essence of Long Island — and, in many ways, all of New York today — we must understand its past, tracing back to the pivotal era of Dutch colonial settlement.

The roots of much Long Island’s identity — its culture, its governance, and even its place names — find their origins in the footsteps of Dutch explorers and settlers who arrived on its shores in the early 17th century.

The Dutch East India Company commissioned Henry Hudson to explore the uncharted waters of the New World in 1609. Hudson’s voyage led him to the shores of Long Island, where he navigated the waters of what is now known as the Hudson River.

This encounter marked the dawn of Dutch interest in the region, culminating in the establishment of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island.

However, it was not until the 1630s that the Dutch began to establish footholds on Long Island itself, with individual families acquiring land and laying the groundwork for settlements such as Southold and Southampton.

The significance of these early Dutch settlements cannot be overstated. They served as the foundation upon which Long Island’s communities were built, shaping its social, economic, and political landscape for centuries to come.

The Dutch settlers brought with them not only their language and customs, but also their expertise in agriculture, commerce and governance. Through their toil and perseverance, they transformed the untamed wilderness into thriving villages and towns, leaving an indelible mark on the island’s character.

It was also thanks to the Dutch that the first Jewish people arrived in what would become New York. Solomon Pietersen and Jacob Barsimson were the first Dutch Jews to come to America in 1654, followed later that year by 23 Jewish refugees fleeing Portuguese persecution in Brazil.

These early settlers were the nucleus of what became New York state’s Jewish population, which now numbers more than 2 million.

The Dutch presence on Long Island was not without its challenges. The region became a contested territory, with rival claims from both Dutch and English authorities, as well as conflicts with Indigenous tribes.

The struggle for dominance played out in conflicts and negotiations, shaping the boundaries and allegiances of the burgeoning colonies, which still determine the borders between Nassau and Suffolk counties to this day.

Yet, despite these tensions, the Dutch settlers persevered, carving out a distinct identity for themselves within the diverse tapestry of early American society which lasted into the 1800s.

The legacy of the Dutch settlement on Long Island is evident in its place names, its architecture, and its cultural heritage. From the quaint villages of Astoria and Ravenswood, to the bustling streets of Queens Bridge Plaza, traces of Dutch influence are woven into the fabric of everyday life.

Long Island itself was named by the Dutch, who were the first to refer to the landmass as ‘t Lange Eylandt.

Nassau County was named after the royal house of Nassau — also known as the House of Orange — which continues to rule the Netherlands to this day.

Many of Long Island and New York’s prominent early families trace their genealogy to the early Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam and ‘t Lange Eylandt. The Roosevelts — originally spelled Rosenvelt — came to New Amsterdam between 1638 and 1649, and would build their fortune through their properties across Long Island and in upstate New York, while the Vanderbilts came to the area in 1650.

To truly understand Long Island’s past and present, it is essential to explore the rich history of its Dutch settlers. Their story is not just a chapter in the annals of American history, but a living testament to the enduring legacy of exploration, settlement and adaptation.

As we reflect on the journey of those early pioneers, we gain insight into the forces that have shaped Long Island into the vibrant and dynamic region it is today.

In commemorating the legacy of the Dutch settlement, we honor the resilience and ingenuity of those who laid the foundation for our communities. While not perfect people by any means, theirs is a story of courage, perseverance and collaboration, reminding us of the enduring power of diversity and cooperation in shaping the course of history.

As we look to the future, we need to draw inspiration from the past, embracing the spirit of discovery and exploration that defines the legacy of the Dutch settlement on Long Island.

Will Sheeline is a senior reporter covering Glen Cove, Glen Head, Oyster Bay and Sea Cliff.