A HISTORY OF NEW AMSTERDAM
“About 1733, the name New Amsterdam was given to a little village, which sprang up around Fort Nassau several miles up the Berbice River. In 1785 it was decided to abandon Fort Nassau and Remove to the neighbourhood of Fort St. Andries lower down the river at the confluence of the Berbice River and its tributary the Canje River which is now the site of present day New Amsterdam. This position was obviously selected that the town may be the Natural outlet and interpot for a very extensive and productive Hinterland. It was a good vision and fortune that a place of Strategic importance should also be of equal commercial Significance. Thus began our Town.”
The original Nieuw Amsterdam grew up being Fort Nassau some fifty-five (55) miles up the Berbice River during the first half of the 18th Century. It was a small township with buildings mostly strung out parallel to the river Bank. The inhabitants of the Town were required to pay a fixed sum annually to the Dutch Reformed Church and the Hospital, and were required to keep the public paths and the dividing land between their lots free of bushes and grass.
At some point after 1784, the Dutch decided to move the seat of Government downstream to the confluence of the Berbice and Canje Rivers, and the town of New Amsterdam was born. This site was obviously selected because it provided a natural outlet and entrepot for a very extensive and productive hinterland. The name New Amsterdam was chosen because most of the shareholders were from the province of New Amsterdam in Holland. The first Ordinance on record relating to this new town was dated 11th January, 1791. Under the terms of this Ordinance, Lots were to be given out along the River front, each owner being required to empolder his land and provide drainage.
Dr. George Pinckards – in a “Letter from Guyana” description of New Amsterdam, about 1806, indicated that at the end of the Town, close to the Canje Creek was the imposing edifice of Government Housing which was built of brick in the ‘European Style’. Along the [stet] covered with troolie or plantain leaves, other with shingles.
In 1812 a Commissary was appointed to plan and carry out the construction of the roads and bridges and work out a proper drainage system. A special Department of Works, the Winkel Department, was set up to deal with all repair works required by the residents. The workmen were originally slaves who were housed in one of the older parts of New Amsterdam. They were given their freedom in 1831, three (3) years before slavery was abolished throughout the British West Indies. The newly freed slaves were allowed to keep their houses in Winkel Village and in 1890 their descendants petitioned the Combined Court of British Guiana for the grant land on which the houses stood. This land passed into ownership of Winkel heirs. Winkel has been preserved as a ward of the Town.
In May 1825, an Ordinance was enacted to establish a Board of Management for the Town. There were two subsequent Ordinance, one in October 1825 and the other in September 1830. In 1838, a “Board of Police” was established and this was responsible for the Town’s affairs until 1844 when a “Board of Superintendence” was established. During this period the following came into being: –
- The Town Hall of the Tudor architecture with a tower approximately 75 feet.
- The New Amsterdam Market sited below the Town Hall occupying an area of 26,400 sq. ft.
- The Supreme Court which was housed in the Colony House.
- The Canje Swing Bridge built by an English Engineer.
- The Mission Chapel Church and School.
- All Saints Scots Church and School.
- The Water Work.
- Introduction of Electricity.
- The Botanic Gardens.
The Presidents of the Board of Superintendence were as follows:
1880 – Sir Henry Katz Davson
1882 – Robert Samuel
1885 – W.F. Bridges
1886 – A.J.P. Wainwright
1889 – Neil Ross Mc Kinnon, K.C.
The Board of Superintendance functioned until September 1, 1891 when legislation was enacted to incorporate the Town into a Municipality. The membership of the Council was drawn from the defunct Board of Superintendence and Mr. Neil Ross McKinnon, K.C., who was President of this Board, became the Town’s first Mayor.
The first Council composed all the members of the former Board of Superintendence were: -
Neil Ross McKinnon, K.C. – Mayor
John Downer – Senior Councillor
Clement Phillip Gaskin – Councillor
Isaac Edward Adrian Patoir – Councillor
Hanoel de Mendonca – Councillor
Henry Rynveldt – Councillor
Bruce Harvey Stephens – Councillor
With Officers of the Council being: Town Superintendent, Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, Clerk of the Market, and the Sanitary Inspector.
“Neil Ross McKinnon framed the Town Council Ordinance and was also the financial representative for New Amsterdam for a number of years. He took a deep interest in the welfare of his constituents and was one of the sons of New Amsterdam of whom the citizens were very proud.” During the following years, his successors continued to consolidate and develop the Town by putting various infrastructural works in place.
Religion, too, has had a tremendous influence on our way of life. Christian work in Berbice started with the Lutherans who built the first Church in New Amsterdam in 1803, this religious body was also credited with the establishment of the Geneva Academy, which was the first industrial school in the colony. The next Christian Movement centered around the Anglicans. Anglican work in New Amsterdam began in 1811, and at first their services were held on alternate Sundays in the Lutheran Church and after in the Colony church (Scots Church, Vryheid Street). After this Scots Church was erected in 1820 with help from the Public Treasury. Eventually the Anglicans acquired their own building 1838. About 1848 the Methodists started evangelism in New Amsterdam.
Seven years after the Anglicans arrived in New Amsterdam, Rev. John Wray, an Englishman, used his personal funds to purchase a part of Lot 12 Chapel Street for the erection of the Mission Chapel Congregational Church. Before the construction of this building, services were conducted under a tamarind tree, which was close by the proposed Church site.
In 1911 the Independent Congregational Church was established after a rift between Reverend Robert T. Frank and the Congregational Union. This Church was renamed Frank Memorial Church after the death of Reverend Robert T. Frank.
Another major Christian denomination which was established was the Roman Catholic Church. Today we have several other religious organizations like the Episcopal, Bahai, Muslim, Hindu and Hare Krishna. All these religions and churches have equal status in law.
The Electric Lighting Order of 1900 gave the Electricity Undertaking legal status as an entity owned and controlled by the New Amsterdam Town Council. As a utility, the Council was able to satisfy its citizenry with an essential service while at the same time earning a fair amount of revenue, which was ploughed back into other capital works of the Town, and to keep the levying of rates at a minimum. However, due to a world crisis in October 1973 interims of the availability and sudden rise in the price of fuel oil and subsequently on spare parts and services, it became uneconomical for Power Stations within close proximity to operate independently. Consequently, in keeping with the economic policy of the Government, the New Amsterdam Power System was absorbed into the larger system of that of the Guyana Electricity Corporation on the 1st September, 1979.
New Amsterdam had been the center of culture and music also. Some of the outstanding personalities in this field are Edith Pieters, Norma Romalho, Joyce Ferdinand-Lalljee, Moses Telford and Rosemary Ramdeholl – to name a few. There were also the highly acclaimed ‘Lads and Lassies’ and ‘New Amsterdam Music Society’, Choirs trained by Miss Edith Pieters and Mrs. Ruby McGregor, respectively. Other outstanding musicians include Sammy Nicholas, Millicent Joseph and Edith Ferdinand. Today, however, the best choirs are to be found in churches like (the) Adventists, the Salvation Army and Grace Temple.
Pop music was provided by Bands like the ‘Living Ends’ and ‘S.T. Groovers’. There were also the exciting ‘Soul Riot’ Concerts and ‘Viking Choir’ with a repertoire of classes and calypsos. Names like Chuck Gerrard and Errol Wong (Wongie) must go down to posterity.
The citizens of New Amsterdam were also entertained at open-air concerts at the Old Band Stand at Esplanade Ground. Major Henwood and the B.G. Police Force Band and Randolph Bennett and his boys were regular there, especially on moonlight nights.
Today, although this Band Stand still stands there, the area is earmarked for recreational facilities and a Botanical Gardens. In the early 90’s, the Mayor and Town Council and the Rotary Club of New Amsterdam have been working together to develop Esplanade. But in the late 90’s the Mayor of New Amsterdam along with his Council have decided to work assiduously to develop the ground. The area now houses a Kiddies Corner that was sponsored by Courts Guyana Ltd. The ground had been renamed the Esplanade Recreational Park and Botanical Gardens. It has a pavilion in a corner overlooking what is now called the Midland Ball Field on the basis of a twinning between the City of Midland, Texas, USA and the New Amsterdam Town Council – 1998-1999.
Various organizations too influenced the ways of life of young New Amsterdamers. The Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., Girls Guides, Boys Scouts, the Red Cross Society, the Catholic Men’s Club, the New Amsterdam Community Council, the New Amsterdam Dramatic Society, and the Berbice Branch of the B.G. Extra Mural Association, U.W.I., all helped to create a tremendous impact on the development of the youths of the Town. The British Council was here for a while and treated the town folks to film shows and recorded music. The New Amsterdam Branch of the Public Free Library was established in 1953, with Miss Edith Pieters as Librarian-in-Charge.
Great importance was attached to the education of our citizens. The work of outstanding teachers like J.Z. Peters, J.A. Ralph, Arthur Thomas, Robert Charles, Miss Austin, C.B. Giddings, A.E. Crawford, Doris Cooper, Sonny Rodway, Harold Scarder, John N. Rollings, and J. N. Harper must be recorded in any history of New Amsterdam. As a result of our high educational standards and dedicated teachers at the Primary and Secondary levels, we have been able to produce outstanding sons and daughters like Mrs. Viola Burnham, Gavin Kennard, Sir Shridat Ramphal, Dr. Ewart Thomas, W.O.R. Kendall, the Luckhoos, J.O.B. Haynes, Edgar Mittelholzer, Jan Carew, Charles Fung-A-Fat, Clifford Baburam, the Hanomans, Joseph Eleazer, P.A. Cummings, and many others.
In the commercial sector firms like Diyaljee’s, the Ganpatsinghs, E.A. Chapman, Rohlehrs, Carews, Hanomans, Hughes, Chois, S. Davsons and Sons, and S.G. Wreford and Company have contributed to the economic development of the Town and its environs.
In the field of building and construction there were private individuals like the elder Chapman who built the New Amsterdam Stelling, S.G. Wiltshire, Charlie Hancock and Lyndon La Bennett. A living testimonial of Charlie Hancock’s work is the Horse Shoe Table, which adorns the Council Chamber of this town. The chairs around the table, however, were made by the Lutheran Church, which at one time operated a Woodwork Center. At the other end of the spectrum there were firms like H.C. Alphonso and Sons and Nabbi Brothers who undertook major construction works in the Town. New Amsterdam has had a very colorful past.
Today, the Mayor and Town Council are appealing for total cooperation and support of the entire community. Let us therefore put our hearts, hands and heads together to develop our Town and so justify our place of importance in History.
Who never to himself hath said,
“This is my own, me native land.”
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand?”
We issue a call for all surviving former citizens of this Town – Guyana and abroad – to return to contribute – in whatever capacity they choose or are qualified in – to the urgent need for the up-grading and growth of their Town.
************“TOGETHER WE BUILD OUR TOWN”
New Amsterdam is located about five miles from the mouth of the Berbice River on its eastern bank and is situated at the confluence of the Berbice and Canje Rivers. And it is connected by a national highway to Rose Hall, Corriverton and Crabwood Creek.
New Amsterdam, covering about 13.7 square kilometers in area with an estimated population of approximately 35,000. The Town is bounded – North of Canje Bridge; South of Doe Park; West of the Berbice River and East of Caracas (Angoy’s Avenue).
Credits: Mayor and Town Council of New Amsterdam, Berbice, Guyana; September, 2010