Nieuw Amersfoort (Flatlands)

Flatlands was one of the original 6 towns settled in what is today Kings County.

Named after the Dutch city of Amersfoort this area was settled as a farming community in 1636. Four men, Director General Van Twiller, Commissary Jacobus Van Corlaer, Andries Hudde and Wolphert Gerretse (Gerritsen), secured lands from the local Canarsee Native American tribal chiefs, Penhawitz and Kakapeteyno that would eventually become the Town of Flatlands. Andreas Hudde and Wolphert Gerretse bought 15,000 acres of land that was one of three ‘flats’ centered around what is now the intersection of Kings Highway and Flatbush Avenue, the area of present-day Marine Park.

Wolphert Gerretse named the bouwerie (farm) he established Achtervelt. Crops that would typically be grown in the area were beans, corn, marsh hay, squash, potato, beans and tobacco. Oysters and clams were also farmed and harvested from Jamaica Bay, surrounding marshes and basins.

Achtervelt soon began to take on the appearance of a town. Over the next twenty years more settlers arrived in the area and continued to enter into contracts with the Canarsee. Nieuw Amersfoort was considered a town by 1647.

The boundaries for Nieuw Amersfoort have never fully been confirmed. It appears that the town property boundaries shifted over time. A palisade or fence surrounded the town to separate the Native American and Dutch planting fields as stated in the land sale agreement.

A village town began to form at the crossroads of what would be come Flatbush Avenue and Kings Highway. The north-south road (Flatbush Avenue) led directly to the more formally established town of Midwout.

Although the population was increasing, there was not a clearly defined pattern to the layout of the town of Flatlands. Flatlands was haphazardly laid out to best fit the needs of its small farming population, with houses located adjacent to waterways.

The Town of Flatlands was one of the central growing areas in Kings County beginning in the mid-seventeenth century. One of the two local mills, Gerritsen’s Mill[1], was constructed in the mid 1600s.

A small, but steady population growth between the middle of the seventeenth and the end of the eighteenth centuries signaled a lifestyle that indicated a successful, stable environment and community. In 1698, the population of the area was approximately 256 residents, mostly comprised of Dutch settlers and enslaved persons.

As the population of landowners increased, so did the number of enslaved persons. The large amount of farming done in the area, and most of the Dutch towns, was accomplished with the aid of slave labor. According to Vanderbilt’s The Social History of Flatbush most of the enslaved Africans in the towns were “somewhat” educated in that they could speak both Dutch and English. She further claims that the treatment of these persons was more akin to indentured servitude.

Throughout the eighteenth century Flatlands continued a slow, but steady growth in population. Life during the eighteenth century was peaceful until the arrival of the British and Hessian soldiers in the early 1770s. The area of Flatbush and Flatlands was used as a staging ground for the Crown’s troops leading up to the Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island). A large number of town folk from both Flatlands and Flatbush fled the area, to Queens, New York. Much of the local population supported Independence and did not return until after the troops had marched on.

Until the end of the eighteenth century both Dutch and English were taught and used in the local schools and churches. From the nineteenth century onwards, only English was taught in schools, but many still spoke Dutch in their homes. According to oral tradition/history, some still spoke Dutch in Flatlands at the turn of the twentieth century; a testament to the retention of Dutch cultural identity and heritage.

[1] Though technically in the town of Gravesend, it was on the town border, was established by a Nieuw Amersfoort resident and served many of its farms. The mill continued to operate until the turn of the twentieth century when lightning destroyed it.