New York Before New YorkSpecial installation explores a rare map and what it reveals about the lives of settlers, Indigenous people, and enslaved Africans of New Amsterdam

New York, NY (January 30, 2024)—This March, the New-York Historical Society presents New York Before New York: The Castello Plan of New Amsterdam, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Dutch founding of a colony that would give rise to New York City. On view March 15 through July 14, 2024, the special installation is organized around the Castello Plan, a map depicting New Amsterdam at the peak of its settlement circa 1660, just before the English took control. Through documents and objects, the installation explores how settlers, Indigenous people, and enslaved Africans experienced the world illustrated in the Castello Plan. 

“We’re very excited to share this rare glimpse into life in New Amsterdam as we mark the 400th anniversary of the city with our visitors,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “The Castello Plan, along with documents, coins, maps, and even a piece of the Dutch canal, will help visitors envision how New Amsterdam was a place of dynamism and opportunity as well as enslavement and hardship.”

“Having the historic Castello Plan visit modern-day New York City from its home in Florence, Italy, gives New Yorkers the opportunity to experience the rich history of their home town through the lens of those people who 400 years ago began this magnificent experiment in multi-cultural, big-city living, including the Indigenous, the African American, the Dutch and others, all of whom made up the vibrant and diverse tapestry that was New Amsterdam, and remains to this day as New York City,” said Ahmed Dadou, Consul General of the Netherlands in New York.

While modest in size, the Castello Plan provides a remarkable, rare glimpse of everyday life in New Amsterdam, revealing a small but complex city at the southern tip of the island then known as Mannahatta. The Castello Plan was painted in Amsterdam by artist Johannes Vingboons, based on a surveyor’s plan commissioned by New Amsterdam’s leaders. It was sold to the Archduke of Tuscany, who hung it in the Villa di Castello in Florence, hence the name. The Castello Plan shows the city at its height and extraordinary details, including gardens, docks, canals, and a windmill. The 1,500 inhabitants lived in about 300 houses. Thanks to an accompanying census, the names of the owners of each home are known.

In 1626, Peter Minuit, director of the colony of New Netherland, purportedly acquired the island that would eventually be known as Manhattan from a local tribe—probably ancestors of the people known today as Lenape, Munsee, or Delaware. The Native people didn’t consider it a purchase, as they didn’t share the European concept of property transfer; to them, it was a land-use agreement, which needed to be renewed and affirmed on a regular basis. When word of the land transfer reached Europe, a Dutch government official, Pieter Schagen, wrote a letter discussing the “purchase” of the island. This letter, on loan from the Hague in the Netherlands, is on view in the installation. In it, Schagen notes that “our people…have purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders.” While the amount of goods represented a symbol of alliance, a 19th-century historian converted the 60 guilders into dollars, and thus was born the myth that the Dutch bought Manhattan for $24. The letter is the only record that exists of that “purchase,” which was then followed by hundreds of other purchases, treaties, and deceptions by which Europeans slowly took the continent of North America from its Native inhabitants.

Most surviving artifacts from New Amsterdam relate to European settlers, but in 1984, archaeologists found a collection of objects outside of the home of Cornelis Van Tienhoven, Peter Stuyvesant’s secretary, on present-day Pearl Street: a mpungu thought to be created circa 1660 by an enslaved person. Mpungu means “to stick together” and refers to a gathering of objects that in central African culture were invested with healing powers. This collection, featuring bone and shell fragments, marbles, nails, pieces of pipe stems and bowls, glass beads, a copper thimble, and other items, was found in a basket buried in the ground, covered with a Dutch plate. It is an example of how Africans in New Amsterdam sustained their cultural practices in the face of adversity.

Accompanying the exhibition is a digital, 3D version of the Castello Plan. Created in partnership with the New Amsterdam History Center, the interactive map gives visitors the chance to explore select locations depicted on the Castello Plan, including the original City Hall, a house where enslaved Africans lived, and the trail created by the Lenape that would later become Broadway.

New York Before New York: The Castello Plan of New Amsterdam is curated by Russell Shorto, director of the New Amsterdam Project at New-York Historical. The New Amsterdam Project explores New York’s origins and connects critical themes from that formative period—tolerance, free trade, race, and colonialism—to the world today. Additional scholarship and assistance was provided by Dr. Joseph Diamond, Dr. Charles Gehring, Dr. Joel Grossman, Dr. Deborah Hamer, Dr. Andrew Lipman, Dr. Michael Lucas, Dr. Nicole Mahoney, Dr. Dennis Maika, Dr. Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz, Brent Stonefish, F. Len Tantillo, Dr. Chelsea Teale, Laura Ten Eyck, Dylan Yates, the New Netherland Institute, and the New Netherland Research Center at the New York State Office of Cultural Education.


On March 20, scholars—Deborah Hamer, director of the New Netherland Institute; Nicole Maskiell, associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina; and Robert Odawi Porter (Seneca Nation), New-York Historical trustee and former president of the Seneca Nation of Indians—join moderator Russell Shorto to discuss the founding of the Dutch colony of New Netherland and its dichotomy of pluralism and inequality.

Later in the spring, a two-day conference focused on slavery in New Netherland and the Dutch Atlantic world will take place at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (May 3) and New-York Historical (May 4). Academic scholars, researchers, public historians, archivists, and librarians from the Netherlands and the United States convene to weigh the history and legacy of slavery, the slave trade, and colonialism in New Netherland, the Netherlands, and the Americas.

Major support for New York Before New York: The Castello Plan of New Amsterdam is provided by the David Berg Foundation. The New-York Historical Society is a Holland Dames Grant Recipient. This program is supported as part of the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, and has received funding through a NY400 grant from the Netherland-America Foundation.

Philanthropic support for New Amsterdam 400 is provided by New York Life. Lead support is also provided by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. Major support is provided by Jeffrey Bewkes and Citco. Additional support is provided by Alex Roepers.

Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.

About the New-York Historical Society

About the New-York Historical Society
Experience 400 years of history through groundbreaking exhibitions, immersive films, and thought-provoking conversations among renowned historians and public figures at the New-York Historical Society, New York’s first museum. A great destination for history since 1804, the Museum and the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library convey the stories of the city and nation’s diverse populations, expanding our understanding of who we are as Americans and how we came to be. Ever-rising to the challenge of bringing little or unknown histories to light, New-York Historical will soon inaugurate a new wing housing its Academy for American Democracy as well as the American LGBTQ+ Museum. These latest efforts to help forge the future by documenting the past join New-York Historical’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Center for Women’s History. Digital exhibitions, apps, and our For the Ages podcast make it possible for visitors everywhere to dive more deeply into history. Connect with us at or at @nyhistory on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Tumblr.

About FUTURE 400
FUTURE 400, an initiative of the Netherlands Consulate General of New York, endeavors to honor 400 years of Dutch-New York history with honesty and integrity, creating space for others who share this common heritage to voice their feelings and experiences at this monumental moment. Partners from cultural to commercial fields, from the New York area to the Netherlands will come together to create new work and new opportunities that will continue to write the next chapter of our shared story, our collective…FUTURE 400.

Image credit: Jacques Cortelyou (ca. 1625–1693), surveyor, Johannes Vingboons (1616–1670), artist, Afbeeldinge van de Stadt Amsterdam in Nieuw Neederlandt (Picture of the City of Amsterdam in New Netherland), 1660. Florence, The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, ms. Carte di Castello 18

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