History of New Amsterdam
The town of New Amsterdam developed as a settlement beside Fort Nassau some 55 miles up the Berbice River. Around 1784, as a result of the fluctuating fortunes of Fort Nassau, the Dutch relocated the town to its present site at the confluence of the Berbice and Canje Rivers.
The name New Amsterdam was chosen because most of the colonists originated from the province of Amsterdam in Holland. Between 1785 – 1790, New Amsterdam was established as the seat of Government for Berbice. at that time the town was little more than a forest settlement, with a house there and a house there, no roads, no drains.
By the resolutions of an Ordinance dated 11 January 1791, plots of land were awarded to settlers along the river front. In 1776 George Pinkhard described the town as that of a wild country, only just opening into cultivation. It comprised an extent of wood and water, with small patches of land breaking into incipient tillage.
In May 1825 an Ordinance to establish a Board of Management for the town was passed. Subsequent ordinances in October 1825 and September 1838 resulted in the establishment of a ‘Board of Policy’ to be responsible for the affairs of the Town. In 1844 a Board of Superintendence was established for this purpose.
Under their guidance the town grew. The Board of Superintendence lasted until 1 September 1891, when legislation was enacted to incorporate the Town into a Municipality. The membership of this council consisted of members who had served on the Board of Superintendents and Mr. Neil Ross McKinnon, K.C., who was president of that Board, was appointed as the Town’s first Mayor.
Sites in New Amsterdam
All Saints Presbyterian (Scots) Church
The Anglicans later built their own church and the Scots were left with full control of the structure. The All Saints’ Presbyterian (Scots) Church is located on Princess Elizabeth Road, New Amsterdam, Berbice and is one of the oldest structures in New Amsterdam. In 1818, Governor Henry William Bentick was petitioned by members of the community for the erection of a colony Church in which the Dutch and the English congregations would worship. Fund were raised through private subscription and the church was completed by April 8, 1820. After the Dutch population started to decline, the Scots began using the church in their stead.
Mission Chapel Congregational Church
Mission Chapel Congregational Church was founded in 1815 by Reverend John Wray. The first Mission Chapel was destroyed by fire. A second church was rebuilt, but soon became inadequate for the fast growing congregation. The foundation stone for the third Mission Chapel located on Chapel Street, New Amsterdam, Berbice was laid in 1841. It was the first church in Guyana that did not have separate pews for Whites and Blacks.
The Ituni Masonic Temple on Ferry Street, New Amsterdam, is home to one of Guyana’s oldest fraternity, the Freemasons. This wooden structure built during the 19th century was chartered on December 29, 1896, and later consecrated on September 20, 1897. The Ituni Temple is noteworthy for its high tower with timber louvers and fine display of intricately designed fretwork.
New Amsterdam Town Hall
The New Amsterdam Town Hall is located on Strand Street, New Amsterdam, Berbice. It was constructed circa 1868, and houses the offices of the Town Council. The building is described as having Tudor influences, a typical example of Guyana’s timber architecture. Originally, the Town Hall had a tower 22.8 meters (75 feet) high with a widow’s walk however, the tower was demolished on June 10, 2012 for repairs.
All Saints Anglican Church
During the early 19th century the Anglicans (known as the Church of England) had no formal church building of their own. All Saints’ Anglican Church located at the corner of Main and Trinity Streets, New Amsterdam, Berbice was constructed by the end of 1837. Some of the building’s noteworthy features are the fixed timber louvers and Gothic stained glass windows of St. George.
Ebenezer Lutheran Church
The Ebenezer Lutheran Church is the oldest established religious Institution in Guyana and one of the oldest church bodies in South America. Some historians believed that Lutherans from the nearby Dutch Colony Surinam who had established their Lutheran Church in 1668 migrated to the Berbice area to spread their faith within the colony. Initially, Lutherans in the colony were scattered throughout the colony and usually met severe opposition from the Dutch Reform Church. Ebenezer Lutheran church is believed to have been established circa 1742, but did not gain much prominence until 1743.
On May 11, 1744, the Lutherans were permitted the freedom to openly practise their faith. The church received its first preacher from Amsterdam, Preacher Johan Kendrick, who arrived in the colony on October 15, 1752. His first church service was held on August 05, 1753 and sometime later the first church building was built. It was located on two plots of land in a small village near Fort Nassau called Nieuwe Amsterdam. The capital of Berbice was moved to New Amsterdam near Canje and Berbice Rivers in the 1790s. The church later moved to New Amsterdam to its current site, after the religious body was granted a plot of land on Strand Street and the first church to be built in New Amsterdam was completed in 1803. It is not clear how many times the church was rebuilt but in 1964, a wooden church was replaced with the current single-storey, concrete building.
State House (Governor House)
State House is on Strand Street, New Amsterdam, Berbice and was once the old Dafson’s Sugar Estate Manager’s residence during the period when Mr. Dafson owned Blairmont and other sugar estates. It was also the temporary residence for Governors during their visits to the colony. One distinctive element of this building is the bifurcated stairs, a typical feature of Guyana’s traditional colonial buildings.
Church of the Ascension
The Church of Ascension is located at Lot 20 Main and Pope Streets, New Amsterdam. Prior to 1836, the town (New Amsterdam) had no Catholic churches and a committee was appointed to raise funds for a church for the Catholics who were primarily of Dutch and Portuguese origins. A six metres (20 feet) by 15.2 metres (50 feet) church was built circa 1844 and called the Church of Ascension. It was extended in 1902 and consecrated by Rev. Compton Theodore Galton.
Two towers were erected by Father Gillet and arches were installed running from the door of the building to the sanctuary on both sides. In 1968, the church was rehabilitated; the towers were demolished and the front façade of the building was redesigned. In 1991, the building was again renovated and its main altar was demolished. The altar which was located on north eastern section of the church was also replaced.
The Canje Bridge at Fort Canje, Berbice was erected as a replacement for the Canje Swing Bridge. It was opened on February 23, 1978, by the then Minister of Works and Transport, Steve Naraine. Designed by American firm Raymond and Harris Corporation of New York, the bridge has a width of 10 metres (33 feet), a length of 527.9 metres (1,732 feet) and height of 12.1 metres (40 feet).
Fort Canje Mandir
The Fort Canje Mandir is located at the beginning of New Amsterdam within the vicinity of the Canje Bridge and the Canje River.Built from timber, the Fort Canje Mandir exhibits much fenestration, fretwork, coloured glass panes, front porch and central tower with spire. The style of the temple has been described as “colonial creole timber architecture”. One unique feature of this building is that at one time it accommodated the worship of the three main religions in Guyana; Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
Berbice High School
The Berbice High School is located at the junction of North and Princess Elizabeth Roads, New Amsterdam, Berbice. It was established for boys on September 5, 1916, on the lower flat at the residence of Reverend J.A. Scrimgeour. Due to the growing number of students a separate building was needed which was built in 1920 and became known as the ‘Boys Building’. The Canadian Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church of Canada later established a school for girls. These schools remained separate until 1941 when they became one as the Berbice High School. This school celebrated its centenary anniversary in September 2016.