Mapping the New World: Dutch Maps of the Colonies

by Rebecca Furer for Teach It


Historical Background

In 1614 Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed along the Connecticut coast and up the Versche (Fresh) River—the Dutch name for the Connecticut River—as far as what is now Hartford. In 1633 the Dutch established a fortified trading post there. It was called the Huys de Hope—the House of Hope. For decades there was conflict between the Dutch in New Netherland and the English who came to settle in the same area. In 1650, the Dutch finally gave up their lands in Connecticut to the English.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

How did the physical geography of New England affect how the colonies developed?


  • What resources were available in the different colonies and how were those resources used?
  • How did the colonists’ use of natural resources and establishment of permanent settlements affect the indigenous people of the region?
  • Why were the New England colonies focused on trade?
  • In what ways, and for whom, was America a land of opportunity during the 1600s?


Things you will need to teach this lesson:


Using the Library of Congress’s Primary Source Analysis process (download Teacher’s Guide), give students time to examine the first of the two maps, and ask them to OBSERVE, REFLECT, and QUESTION.

  1. Observe: Describe what you see. What do you notice first? What information does the map provide? What geographic elements are included? Which way is north/south/east/west, and how do you know? What places are shown on the map? Are there words on the map? Pictures? What are they?
  2. Reflect: Why do you think this map was made? What do you think was important to the people who made this map? Does the map give us any clues about the time in which it was made?
  3. Question: What does this map make you wonder?

Repeat with the later map and have students compare and contrast.

You may then choose to address some of the supporting questions (above) or focus on the questions that students have developed as part of their inquiry.


  • Using evidence from the historic maps, as well as additional information gathered through readings and classroom discussions, students will make their own map of Connecticut showing the natural resources that attracted European colonists to the area. Start with a blank outline map like this one. Have students draw in major rivers and hilly regions, and then add simple images for fish/shellfish, woods/timber, beavers (for fur), other native animals, farmland, etc. in appropriate areas of the map.
  • Using evidence from the historic maps, as well as additional information gathered through readings and classroom discussions, students will imagine that they are sailors on Adriaen Block’s ship, the Onrust, during its exploration of the Connecticut coast and the Fresh (Connecticut) River. They will write fictionalized letters home to a loved one in Amsterdam describing their experiences and observations.


Place to GO

Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket, CT

Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington, CT

Henry Whitfield State Museum (Connecticut’s oldest house, 1639), Guilford, CT

Buttolph-Williams House (1711), Wethersfield, CT

Hempsted Houses (1678 and 1759), New London, CT

Hyland House Museum (1713), Guilford, CT

Stanley-Whitman House (ca. 1720), Farmington, CT

Things To DO

Take a field trip! Great educational programs related to this activity and the early colonial period are available throughout the state. Here are just a few suggestions:

Websites to VISIT

Multimedia resources from the Library of Congress that support instruction about Colonial and Early America

Geography Awareness Week, a program of National Geographic Timeline: Settlement of the Colony of Connecticut

Library of Congress: Teacher’s Guides and Analysis Tool – Analyzing Maps

Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division: Download images of the map Novi Belgii Novæque Angliæ

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library: Download a printable version of the map Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova

Articles to READ

Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center: Tribal History