|Schenck house in Flatlands, from 1675|
Nieuw Amsterdam was founded by the Dutch around 1625. As early as 1609, the same year that the settlers of Jamestown almost starved to death, Henry Hudson was exploring the area we now know as New York for the Dutch East India Company. His report to the Dutch suggested that they might be able to sell fur from the area back in Europe.
Within ten years of Hudson, "New Netherland" was a collection of trading outposts in the area for the Dutch, mostly for business purposes. Fort Amsterdam was built on the tip of what is now Manhattan to protect Dutch interests. The four-sided fort was made at the top of what was then a hill in what is now Battery Park. Its walls were packed earth and rubble, with an outcropping on each side. Dutch slaves probably were used to build it.
To make things official, in 1626 Peter Minuit "bought" Manhattan from some Native Americans who weren't really in control of the island anyway.
When Roelof Schenck arrived in 1650, the famed Peter Stuyvesant had been in charge of the settlement for three years. Roelof and his siblings first settled across the river from Fort Amsterdam in Breuklyn. He would live in that village for about ten years before he finally married Neeltje Geretsen van Couwenhoven, the niece of a man who had been on the same ship on which he sailed to America.
Her father had been in the new world since 1630, living initially up the Hudson River around present day Albany. But by the time Neeltje was born in 1641, her father had moved south to what is now Long Island. When she married at the age of 19, she had never once set foot on her father's land in Europe.
After they were married, Roelof moved from Breuklyn to her village, later called Flatlands by the English. But in 1660, it was called Nieuw Amersfoort, after the city where Roelof and Neeltje's father were born in the Netherlands. Stuyvesant let the village run itself the next year, and Roelof was granted forty-six acres of land to farm.
By early 1664, he was a magistrate for the five Dutch towns of Long Island: Breuklyn (Brooklyn Heights), Nieuw Amersfoort (Flatlands), Midwout (Flatbush), New Utrecht, and Boswijck (Bushwick). Alas, the Dutch dream would end that year, as the English took control and renamed Nieuw Amsterdam "New York." Although Stuyvesant was prepared to fight, the English promise that they could retain "life, estate, and liberty" led him instead to sign a treaty submitting to the English king.
The Dutch, including Roelof, were allowed to keep their lands and freedom. They were also allowed the freedom of religion, and they continued to worship in the Dutch Reformed Church. Indeed, Roelof would continue to play a role in the leadership of the area, even though few more Dutch would come from that point on.