Administrative History

The government of New Netherland, as defined by the Dutch West India Company (WIC), consisted of the director of the colony assisted by a council, comprised of his commissary, secretary, schout (an appointed law enforcement officer with the combined duties of a sheriff and prosecuting attorney), and any skippers in port at the time. This body carried out all executive, legislative, and judicial functions of government, with the exception of matrimonial rites, settlement of estates including those of persons dying intestate, and administration of contracts.

Beginning in 1653, when New Amsterdam received its charter as a municipality, the council served as a court of appeal for New Amsterdam and other jurisdictions and concentrated on executive matters such as making appointments, issuing proclamations, passing ordinances, replying to petitions, and corresponding with governments of neighboring colonies.

Laws and ordinances enacted by the council in Manhattan were adhered to by all communities in New Netherland unless specific to one locality. By 1658 communities were required to post WIC ordinances in their jurisdictions and submit their own ordinances for approval by the council on Manhattan. The council on Manhattan had to submit its own ordinances to the WIC directors in Amsterdam for approval.