Jaap Jacobs. New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America. Atlantic World: Brill, 2005. xix + 559 pp. $179.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-12906-1.
Reviewed by Holly Rine (Department of History, Le Moyne College)
Published on H-Atlantic (July, 2006)
Righting the History of New Netherland
In 1999, Joyce Goodfriend published her article "Writing/Righting Dutch Colonial History," in which she called for the rehabilitation of colonial Dutch history in North America and praised the steps that had thus far been taken to do so. Goodfriend explained that because the existence of New Netherland spanned only the decades between the 1620s and the 1660s, and because the Dutch Republic made no real effort to defend or repopulate New Netherland, an Anglocentric approach to its history had come to predominate. This had reduced the Dutch history of the areas that once comprised New Netherland to a mere footnote, "instead of portraying them as actors in a drama of empire." In New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America, Jaap Jacobs provides the clearest answer to Goodfriend's call to both write and right Dutch Colonial History. Jacobs's work offers the most comprehensive analysis of the uniqueness and significance of the relatively short-lived and often overlooked Dutch colony.
Jacobs's book is based on his 1999 book Een zegenrijk gewest. Nieuw-Nederland in de zeventiende eeuw, published by the Amsterdam publishing house, Prometheus/Bert Bakker. Although this earlier work has been revised and translated to its current form for the Atlantic World series, Jacobs explains that he does not view this as a study of the Dutch Atlantic, "but of the Dutch in New Netherland and their relations with the Dutch Republic" (p. 4). Jacobs argues that such a focus becomes necessary because the colony could only have existed through its ties with the Dutch Republic. Therefore he states that his "central question is how and to what extent culture was transplanted from the Dutch Republic to New Netherland and what factors were of influence on the colonial culture" (p. 4). To answer this question he limits his geographic focus to Manhattan, and the Dutch presence along the Hudson River and on Long Island. Although New Netherland's existence was so brief, from 1624-64, Jacobs nevertheless limits his chronological emphasis to the period after 1650, primarily because it was after 1650 that the colony experienced its greatest growth.
Jacobs argues that the focus on the transfer of culture from the Dutch Republic to New Netherland after 1650 is significant because New Netherland was unique among the Dutch colonies of the early-seventeenth century. While New Netherland started as a trading post it developed into a settlement colony whose population was greater than what was needed to support trade. Furthermore, this settlement colony's development was not influenced by any prior European influence. Therefore, New Netherland serves as a unique laboratory to investigate how Dutch culture transferred and developed in a colonial setting.
In order to explore the transfer of culture from the Dutch Republic to New Netherland, in chapter 1 Jacobs offers a comparison between New Netherland and the Dutch Republic that focuses on the differences between the two in terms of climate, geography, flora, fauna, and, the largest difference between the two, the presence of Indians in New Netherland. It was in this unique landscape that the Dutch West India Company set up its trading colony and it is on this aspect of the colony that so many of its previous historians have focused. However, as Jacobs argues in chapter 2, it was the peopling of New Netherland that would allow the colony to develop into a settlement colony and thereby attain its true significance in the Dutch Atlantic world. The chapters that follow focus on the development of a system of government, the continuation of trade, the formation of religious institutions, the stratification of the society, and on the persistence of daily activity and ritual.
In illustrating the relationship between the Dutch Republic and New Netherland in the transfer of culture, Jacobs does his best work and offers his biggest contribution in analyzing the development of New Netherland's government and the formation of its religious institutions. New Netherland's transition from trading post to settlement colony forced its residents to develop a form of government suitable to the situation. For example, when the Dutch West India Company lost its monopoly on the fur trade in 1640, it no longer served as a commercial institution but as a government. With its growing emphasis on the tasks of governance, the DWIC necessarily devoted more time and energy to developing a settlement colony (pp. 132-133). Furthermore, New Netherland's local communities began to follow their own separate paths. After 1640, for example, small benches of justice were established in several New Netherland communities, thereby allowing them greater autonomy (p 152). This transformation was far from smooth with conflicts between colonists and local Indian populations, as well as conflicts between the DWIC and local authorities. These conflicts, however, were dealt with according to the traditions and within the context of administration in the Dutch Republic. Jacobs thereby concludes that instead of being fractious and ineffective, as many historians have viewed the New Netherland political system, it was as effective as that of the Dutch Republic, on which it was based.
Jacobs's work on the development of religious institutions illustrates quite clearly and convincingly the continuation of policies and traditions from the Dutch Republic as New Netherland continued to transform from a trade to a settlement colony. He effectively demonstrates how, after the colony's transition to a settlement colony, ecclesiastical and government officials on both sides of the Atlantic worked together to prevent disagreement or destabilization due to religious disputes. Starting in 1649, for example, the Lutherans of New Netherland actively began to pursue attaining a minister for the growing Lutheran population. Jacobs's analysis of the pertinent evidence from interested parties in both North America and Europe illustrates how the traditions and framework of church and state relations in the Dutch Republic led to the conclusion that while Lutheran attempts to gain freedom of public worship would be quashed, as long as there was no threat to peace and order in the colony, Lutherans' right to freedom of conscience would be upheld (pp. 295-305).
What has truly allowed Jacobs to right the history of New Netherland is not only his focus on the settlement period of the colony and its relationship with the Dutch Republic, but also his uncovering of new sources in the Netherlands as well as his correction of faulty translations of sources that historians have been utilizing to write the colony's history. Many historians of North America's seventeenth-century history have benefited from the great contributions of Charles Gehring's translation work with the New Netherland Project. However, many have also had to rely on nineteenth-century translations of documents that have proved less than dependable. Jacobs notes that these works, particularly Edward T. Corwin's Ecclesiastical Records (1901-16), are unsatisfactory (p. 496).
Jacobs provides an exhaustively researched and clearly presented analysis of the significance of New Netherland within the context of the Dutch Atlantic Empire and has much to offer scholars of the seventeenth-century Atlantic World. However, non-specialists may find the amount of detail a bit overwhelming, despite Jacobs's inclusion of a glossary, maps, and illustrations. Yet, this criticism is minor compared to the service that Jaap Jacobs has provided in answering Joyce Goodfriend's call to reinvigorate Dutch colonial history for the North American context and bring it to greater prominence in current historiography.
. Joyce Goodfriend, "Writing/Righting Dutch Colonial History", New York History 80 (January 1999): p. 6.
. Jacobs is not the first to investigate the transference of Dutch culture into New Netherland. Interested readers might also look at Donna Merwick, Possessing Albany, 1630-1710: The Dutch and English Experiences (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Of course here Merwick explores not only the transfer of Dutch culture into what would become the city of Albany, but also how that initial Dutch experience then influenced the development of English culture upon that town.
. Jacobs specifically cites Robert Ritchie, The Duke's Province: A Study of New York Politics and Society, 1664-1691 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1977). Ritchie contends that New Netherland's institutions were weak, while those of the English colonies were much more advanced.
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Holly Rine. Review of Jacobs, Jaap, New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth-Century America.
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