Posted by: history591twenty3 | April 2, 2010

The Island at the Center of the World
The Dutch, a very adventurous group of people, settled the wildness and established New Amsterdam in the New World. The English, the winner, only retold the story of New Amsterdam through the eyes of the English. History forgets the Dutch contribution to the English colony and later the United States society. The Dutch ruled New Amsterdam as a progressive, tolerant, and economically motivated colony. The Dutch also brought democratic ideas to the colony and later these ideas developed as part of the United States culture.
The Dutch colony established in the 17th century became a mixture of religions, “each person shall remain free, especially in his religion, and that no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of their religion.” (96) A utopia for the many people who arrived in New Amsterdam. “Melting pot” diversity existed in New Amsterdam, with 18 spoken languages proving the colony accepted all to the colony. (304) The Dutch learned forcing people to obey a certain religion resulted in social unrest and bad business. The key point for the Dutch concerned business. The community of New Amsterdam is important because the society created there contributed significantly to the broader development of America, particularly in its “tolerance, openness, and free trade” (p. 6). The Dutch West India Company’s existed to make money and if it meant religious tolerance to get a better trade agreement then they tolerated religious freedom in the colony of New Amsterdam.
The city of New Amsterdam included slavery but very different than the English version. The slaves in New Amsterdam could gain his freedom, “…worked for their freedom or were employed as freedmen from the outset”(83) and slaves worked for wages. Free blacks had the rights to own property and access to the court system. Many blacks often won suits against Europeans for damages and other wrongs. Slave testimony was accepted in court; a very different views than from the English colony no rights for the slave.
A major contribution from the Dutch concerned the district attorney. The first district attorney in the Americas, Adriaen Van der Donck a graduate from Leiden University with a degree in Roman-Dutch law, established the foundation for the need of a district attorney. (94) The first public prosecution occurred in New Amsterdam. “…the Dutch system of public prosecution was maintained where it had been firmly established by then and that historical records demonstrated that the ‘Schout’ was established within fives of the 13 original colonies…” (314) Van der Donck’s lobbying on its behalf in The Hague, New Amsterdam was chartered as a town, with greater rights and privileges than many towns in Europe. This civic organization led to public works programs, including a stockade (built on what is now called Wall Street) to protect the colony from the Indians and the English. (209-213) Van der Donck a man that history forgot incorporated the first written declaration against tyranny and he organized petitions to remove Peter Stuyvesant as corporate governor and the idea of self-representation. A man whose dreams become reality but he never knows the full impact his dream woven into American society.
The man that arrives on December 25 with gifts originally comes from the Dutch. The tradition of leaving treats for the children started in the Netherland and the tradition continued in the New World. The other children from other groups (English, French, German, Swedish) wanted this tradition. “…pressure was brought to bear on parents, and the Dutch tradition was adopted…” (270) The traditions continue today but with gifts instead of treats. Cookies, one of the treats, originally started from a grain shortage, the bakers used less flour and started a new fad. (270) A wonderful tradition born to the United States from the Dutch continues in the world. The English, the Puritans, would likely not approve of Santa Claus and no celebrations today. Lucky for the children of all ages the Dutch tradition continues today all over the world.
The Dutch keep good records of the colony. The records included wills, deeds, correspondence, etc. proving the Dutch neat and well organized.
The soldiers found what they were looking for: rows of bulky leather-bound volumes, forty-eight in all, numbered consecutively on their spines, A to Z and then AA through PP. Wills, deeds, minutes, correspondence, complaints, petitions, confrontations, agreements—it was all here, meticulously maintained, year by year, day by day, the story of America’s first mixed society. (300)
The records the Dutch kept appeared lost in history. The translation appeared to take over 300 years, first finding the records and getting a translator to prove the worth of the records. The English kept this part of history well hidden.
The Dutch proved the worth of a colony and its people. The first district attorney in the New World and later the English continued this process. The framework of the “melting pot” accepting all to come to the colony helped the Dutch with trade and inviting other people to the colony to flourish. Religious freedom, an unheard concept by the English Puritans, continued to prosper in the Dutch colony and later a cornerstone for the United States helped the founding fathers to established a “melting pot” for all people and religious beliefs.
Van der Donck an unsung hero for the Dutch as well as for the United States. He arrived in the New World ready to test his ideas of freedom and the proper way of acquiring the freedom by legal means. He fought till the end of his life always active in the rights of others. His dream in the end endured compare to other 17th century thinkers and part of the United States legal system.
The freedom to African slaves and freedmen in the Dutch colony and later the freedom of African Americans in the United States proved the progressiveness of the Dutch colony. The Dutch ideas continue to influence the United States. With all the Dutch contribution to the United States, we are finally able to give the Dutch the credit they well deserve.

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