In 1524, the first white man, Giovanni da Verrazano, arrived in what is now New York State  by sailing into New York Harbor. However, due to a sudden “violent contrary wind [that] blew in from the sea and forced us to return to our ship,” Verrazano never set foot on New York.
In 1609, Samuel de Champlain sailed south from Canada to explore the lake that now bears his name. That same year, Englishman Henry Hudson made the first of two voyages aimed at finding a northwest passage to the Orient. Backed by the Dutch West India Company, he sailed into New York harbor and ventured halfway up the Hudson River before abandoning his quest and returning home.
The following year, he returned as captain of a British ship. This time he sailed into Hudson Bay, where the ship became icebound. Starving and doubting their captain’s navigational abilities, the crew mutinied. They cast Hudson, his son, and several others adrift in a small boat, never to be seen again.
Though unsuccessful in his search for a northwest passage, Hudson was instrumental in drawing Europeans to the New World. His reports described the area’s abundant natural resources—including a wealth of beaver and mink—and in 1624, a group of Dutch merchants established Fort Orange, New York’s first European settlement. Situated at present-day Albany , the fort served primarily as an outpost for the fur trade.
One year later, the Dutch established a similar outpost, Fort Amsterdam, at the foot of Manhattan Island . In 1626, Peter Minuit was appointed the colony’s first governor. Almost immediately, he purchased Manhattan Island from the Algonquins for trinkets worth about $24. The Algonquins considered it a good deal at the time. Having a different sense of ownership than did the Dutch, they thought they were selling only the right to use land, not the land itself.
Unlike the dour religious colonizers of New England, the Dutch traders proved to be a fun-loving bunch who had to be constantly reminded by their governors not to play tennis when they should be working and not to drink on Sunday when they should be listening to sermons. Both men and women smoked, and as one observer of the day noted, “All drink here from the moment they are able to lick a spoon.”
The last and most flamboyant of New Amsterdam’s Dutch governors was Peter Stuyvesant, in power from 1647 to 1664. Nicknamed “Old Peg Leg,” due to a leg lost in battle, Stuyvesant was an arrogant, quick-tempered man with a puritanical streak. He ordered the taverns closed on Sundays and tried to prevent a group of Portuguese Jews from settling in the colony—an action for which he was swiftly reprimanded by his bosses back in Amsterdam.
For all his failings, however, Stuyvesant was responsible for turning New Amsterdam into a semblance of a town. He straightened the streets, repaired the fences, and established a night watch. And he was one of the few Dutch colonists who wanted to fight off the English. The rest of the colony didn’t much care; the English, who had by this time established a strong presence in New England, had promised the New Amsterdam residents that if they surrendered, their lives would go on as before. That was just fine with the Dutch merchants. As long as they were making money, it made no difference to them who governed the colony.