Director of New Netherland, 1633-1637
Wouter Van Twiller was born in Nieukirk, Holland on May 22, 1606, and became a clerk in the office of the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam. A relative of the powerful patroon Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, he made two voyages to New Netherland at the Company’s behest before he was appointed Director of the colony. He arrived at Fort Amsterdam on the Company’s ship De Soutberg (Salt Mountain) in 1633, attended by 104 soldiers wearing steel corsets, leather jackets, and carrying half-pikes and wheel-lock muskets.
When Van Twiller arrived in New Netherland, he found that New Amsterdam was little more than a trading post. In the early years of his Directorship, brick houses, quarters for the soldiers, and three new windmills were built and on the north side of the settlement, the Dutch West India Company’s bouwerie (farm) was cultivated to provide fresh food to the people of New Amsterdam. Trading vessels lay at anchor near the fort, and the smith, the cooper, the brewer and the joiner established stores nearby.
Van Twiller’s chief objective was to maintain and extend the commercial monopoly of the Company and, while he was a shrewd trader, he had no practical knowledge of government. Within a short time he became known for his indolence and rapacity, and often brought disgrace upon himself and his office through “drunkenness and lewd women.” When, in 1636, the Schout Lubbertus Van Dincklage criticized the Director’s management of the colony, Van Twiller forced him to return to Holland and refused to pay him the large arrears of salary owed to him. When Van Dincklage arrived in Amsterdam, he brought the Director’s conduct to the notice of the directors of the Dutch West India Company. Captain David Pieterszoon de Vries confirmed Van Dincklage’s allegations, and the Company removed Van Twiller from office in the summer of 1637.
During Van Twiller’s administration, New Netherland was beset by incursions from the English territories. Although settlers from New England took over the Connecticut Valley, Director Van Twiller successfully defended the Dutch territory in the Delaware Valley around Fort Nassau from attackers who came from the English Colony in Virginia. Thomas Hall was among the English captured.
When Van Twiller first came to New Netherland, he was a man without wealth and had only a small salary from the Dutch West India Company. During the brief term of his directorship, he became the wealthiest man in the colony, and remained in New Netherland for many years following his removal from office.
Wouter Van Twiller died in Holland in 1657.