Monday, July 24, 2006

Going Dutch with the Puritans

I've finished reading "the Island". In 1664 as you all know the English wrested control of New Amsterdam, naming it New York in honor of King Charles II's brother Duke of York. Fort Orange, a successful trading post at the corner of Hudson and Mohawk Rivers is renamed Albany. New Netherlands, a formerly company town that attracted people of all trades and from parts of Europe, Africa and South America became a 'melting pot' thriving under West India Company Rule. Amsterdam was considering granting New Netherlands the actual city status with the same Dutch laws.

As a result of Anglo-Dutch trade wars (two out of three trade war between the two countries, actually), the English took over the city and renamed it New York, of course the city cannot be like the other English (and Puritan) like Hartford and Boston in areas then and now known as New England. The city's population was already active in government, people actually having impact on legislation and their invaluable skills (trading, cooking, servicing people, etc) couldn't be ignored. The English basically left the city running as it had before.

Few interesting tidbits

Cookies - derived from a Dutch word meaning shortbread was 'invented' during a grain shortage. The Director (good ol Stuy) imposed a ban on making grain so bakeries improvised and made short breads - cookies.

Boss from baas. From Europe coming out of feudalism, vassals and lords, merchantilism - social class didn't apply. You work, you work. A genuine American thing. People been bitching about their bosses since late 17th century.

District Attorney - a lawyer prosecuting on behalf of the city is as Dutch as it comes. The English liked it and continued it.

Bill of Rights - when the US Constitution were being ratified in the 13 colonies in 1780s, the legislators though English speaking, were mostly descended from the Dutch insisted that they would ratify on the condition that Bill of Rights were attached. Nice.

It's a great read though some spots were a bit dry. It's pleasing to see explanations making you react "oh so that's why". For example Wall Street originated because there was a wall fortifying the lower island from the Puritans (and yes, the Native American tribes - but the faraway ones mostly). The documents found in moldy state library in Albany is still being translated from 17th century Dutch (few scholars are proficient and modern Dutch speakers can't decipher it). Since 1970s, the rediscovery of Dutch history is slowly transforming American Colonial studies that it didn't start with the Mayflower.

Unfortunately, and not surprisingly the Puritan stamp remains - our legislative (federal) government is still deeply rooted in theocracy. The Dutch fostered tolerance of different religions and the English colonies were picky about Baptists and Lutherans. New York City is the only surviving semblance of some kind of Dutch tolerance. For example much as I'm not a fan of Bloomsberg but I have to admit he has a point about gay marriage. Though he's tolerant about same-sex marriages and if the state legislation makes gay marriage legit, he's all for it. So it's up to the state legislature and assembly to meet in Albany to hash it out. Some time ago, the court decision on gay marriage basically booted the decision back to Albany because nothing in the state constitution sanctioned same sex marriage.

And there's a Hustler club few blocks from my home on West End Highway. Lots of middle aged white men with big bellies, big cars and disposable incomes to spend. Not that much different when the first prostitute set foot in the city (her name is Griet Reyniers).

3 Comments:

Blogger Theo E. Korthals Altes said...

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8/04/2006 1:17 PM  
Blogger Mr. Sandman said...

Enjoyed your posts on Shorto's book (which is on my reading list!). Colonial Studies has diverged a great deal over the past few decades, with more scholars recognizing that Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower shouldn't be the beginning of American history; the English were preceded by others, especially the Spanish. If you enjoy history, Alan Taylor's _American Colonies: The Settling of North America_ is a pretty good synthesis of the colonial era.

8/16/2006 4:29 PM  
Blogger breenie said...

thanks, sandman!

8/20/2006 12:31 AM  

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