1. Introduce the Dutch colony and diversity in colonial America.
Remind students that the United States is one of the most diverse nations in the world. People have immigrated to the United States from countries around the globe for many centuries. Explain to students that they will investigate the role of the Dutch in bringing diversity to the early colonies in the present-day United States from Europe and elsewhere. Display for students the illustration of Manhattan Before Development. Read aloud the caption. Then show students the New York 1-Page Map and explain that much of this region was referred to as New Netherland in the seventeenth century, due to the colonial presence of the Dutch people there. The main city of this Dutch colony was New Amsterdam, now known as New York, but originally named after the capital city of the Netherlands, called Amsterdam. Display the map of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary to offer students more geographical context of present-day New York in relation to other geographic features introduced in this activity, like the Hudson River.

2. Have students watch three video excerpts and take notes.
Tell students that they will watch three video excerpts. Ask them to take notes as they watch on the geography and culture of the Netherlands, as well as the geography of New Netherland, and any information on the people who migrated to the Netherlands before making the trip across the Atlantic Ocean to the New Netherland colony. Show students two excerpts from the video Dutch New York: “The Dutch Golden Age” (4:45-7:18) and “Settling New Netherland 1624” (13:33-15:30). Then show students the video “Old and New Netherland.” Have a whole-class discussion about what students noted. Key information that students should note includes:

  • The Netherlands is a European country on a delta draining into the North Sea.
  • New Netherland included land from the Connecticut River to the Delaware River, and up the Hudson River to Albany.
  • The settlers of New Netherland included Dutch, Germans, Africans, English, Norwegians, Swedes, and Walloons from France.
  • The Dutch were known for being a tolerant people, and exhibited values of a modern, secular society.

3. Have students map the movement of settlers from their homelands to the Netherlands to New Netherland.
Distribute copies of the worksheet Diversity in Old and New Netherland. Use the route of Africans shown on the map as a model. Explain that the first Africans to reach New Netherland were probably captured by the Dutch from a Spanish or Portuguese ship. Their exact route to New Netherland is not known, but is approximated in this map. Have students use their notes from the videos to complete the map independently. Ask students to write the names of each nationality or ethnic group on the correct lines and draw routes to show their migration to the Netherlands and on to New Netherland.

4. Discuss how the geography of the old Netherlands led to New Netherland’s diversity.
Write the questions below on the board and have students look at their maps and the Netherlands 1-Page Map for geographic clues to the answers:

  • What specific geographic features led the old Netherlands to become diverse? (The Rhine, the Maas, and the Schelde Rivers flow down from Germany, France, and Belgium, bringing diverse peoples to the Netherlands.)
  • How did location help diversity to travel across the Atlantic from old Netherland to New Netherland via the Dutch? (The Netherlands’ location on the North Sea gave Dutch ships access to the Atlantic Ocean and the New Netherland colony.)

5. Have students make inferences.
Ask students to make inferences about how this diversity affected the Dutch colony of New Netherlands and explain why they think so. Encourage students to support their inferences with facts from the videos.

Extending the Learning

Explain to students that river deltas, such as the Rhine River delta in the Netherlands, are often important sites of culture, agriculture, and economy due to the fertile nature of delta soils. Have students use the MapMaker Interactive or a wall map of the world to plot some of the world's major river deltas, including: Mississippi, Nile, Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, Niger, and Volga. Then have small groups research and present information about the human, cultural, and physical geography of deltas.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • locate the Netherlands on a map
  • locate New Netherland and the area of the Dutch colony on a map
  • describe cultural and geographic factors that led to diversity in the Netherlands
  • describe and map the diversity of settlers in the New Netherland colony in America

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning
  • Multimedia instruction
  • Visual instruction

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 1:  How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information
  • Standard 9:  The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface

National Standards for History

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Wall map of the world

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector, Speakers
  • Plug-Ins: Flash

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction

Background Information

The heritage of the United States includes an influential 17th century Dutch colony. Dutch history in America is only now being rediscovered as historians translate thousands of documents from 17th century Dutch to English. What those documents reveal is that the diversity of the United States today has origins in a Dutch past.

Prior Knowledge

  • None



people and land separated by distance or culture from the government that controls them.


the flat, low-lying plain that sometimes forms at the mouth of a river from deposits of sediments.




mouth of a river where the river's current meets the sea's tide.

ethnic group

people sharing genetic characteristics, culture, language, religion or history.


a person's native country or region.

Hudson River

large waterway that flows in the U.S. state of New York.


process of moving to a new country or region with the intention of staying and living there.


movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

New Amsterdam

(1626-1664) Dutch settlement on Manhattan Island, renamed New York by the British.


not having to do with religion or spirituality.


person who migrates and establishes a residence in a largely unpopulated area.