Empires and Revolutions: 1613–1825

Dutch New Amsterdam vs. the Spanish Empire
In the 1620s, New Amsterdam (soon to be New York) was a tiny Dutch village with an excellent harbor in the colony of New Netherland. The Dutch West India Company—a militarized private corporation—founded the port to trade in furs, pelts, and lumber. But New Amsterdam was also meant to serve as a base against Spain’s vast empire in the western hemisphere. The Dutch hated the Spanish, to whose monarch they were subject, and had long been in revolt.
In 1647, to bolster their North American outpost, the Dutch West India Companytransferred Peter Stuyvesant up to New Amsterdam from its Caribbean base of operations in Curaçao. Stuyvesant, who had assaulted the Spanish-held island of St. Martin (losing his leg in the process), now assumed the formal title, “Director-General of New Netherland, Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba.” 

British New York vs. the Spanish Empire
In 1664, the British took New Amsterdam from the Dutch and renamed it New York. The city thus became part of a new would-be empire.
Like the Dutch, the English sought to expand at the expense of the Spanish. Like the Dutch, the English were Protestants, and for most of their reign repressed Catholicism in New York. Like the Dutch, who had fought to liberate themselves from Spanish rule, the English developed a cultural antipathy to Spain, branding their rivals as barbarous, despotic, and cruel. And colonial New Yorkers, like colonial Nieuw Amsterdammers, absorbed the medley of Dutch and British fears and prejudices about the Spanish that became known as the “Black Legend.”

New York as a Hub of Caribbean Trade
Hampered by the limitations of its convoy system, vulnerable to weather and to attack by the privateers of rival empires, Spain could not adequately supply its American colonies with food and other necessities. So colonists in Spanish America turned to traders in the British empire to supply their needs. New Yorkers and colonists in other British seaport cities eagerly expanded their commerce. Selling fish, lumber, and flour to places such as Havana and Mexico City, traders returned with sugar, coffee, and badly needed silver coin.
By the 1740s, New Yorkers had established extensive trading networks with Spain’s mainland and Caribbean possessions, and those of the Dutch, French, and Portuguese as well, despite imperial efforts to keep colonial trade within their separate empires. This burgeoning commerce stimulated local production and agriculture and made New York into a significant Atlantic port city.

Spain Supports the American Revolution & New York Welcomes the Spanish
North Americans who fought for independence from 1763 to 1783 relied on battlefield aid, silver coin, and huge loans from both France and Spain. Spain funneled money and supplies through private merchants like Diego María de Gardoqui, of Gardoqui & Sons in Bilbao.
After the revolution, grateful for wartime support and recognition of a republican United States, New Yorkers found new tolerance for their former rival and began welcoming the Spanish themselves. George Washington invited Gardoqui to stand with him at Federal Hall during his inauguration as president in 1789. Even more startling, the city’s tiny Spanish-speaking community built New York’s first Catholic church—St. Peter’s on Barclay Street—aided by money and art from Spain and Mexico.   

Spanish American Patriots in New York
In 1784, at the very moment that Spain was establishing a New York presence, Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda arrived in town to seek backing from prominent citizens “for the liberty and independence of the entire Spanish-American Continent." He returned in 1806 to raise a military expedition to Venezuela. The mission failed but dampened neither Miranda’s commitment nor New Yorkers’ enthusiasm for the cause of independence to the south. Miranda died in a Spanish jail, but his determination inspired independence leaders such as the Argentinean José de San Martín and the Venezuelan Simón Bolívar.
The Spanish American wars for independence lasted fifteen terrible years, from 1810 to 1825. Unlike their northern neighbors, the rebels fought to win an entire continent. In the end, Spain lost all of its colonies except Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines. The year 2010 marks the bicentennial commemoration of Spanish American independence.