Wednesday, September 8, 2021

What I'm Reading: September, 2021

While working on my family tree yesterday, I discovered that a branch that I thought was mostly German turned out to be filled with Dutch relatives – and I was reminded of a question that came up in my recent lecture series on America's Gilded Age.  There was some suprise that so many of the wealthy and influential family in New York City during the Gilded Age had Dutch names.  Roosevelt.  Van Rensselaer.  Vanderbilt.  Van Cortland.  A reminder of New York's history as New Amsterdam  in the colony of New Netherlands which pre-dated the Pilgrims.  

At the time I mentioned knowing a couple of worthwhile books related to the New Amsterdam colony, but my memory not being what it used to be I needed to check on the titles.  Uncharacteristically, I forgot to do so.  

In the spirit of better late than never - 

Martin Van Buren grew up in
Kinderhook, NY, speaking
only Dutch, becoming the only
US president not to have spoken
English as a first language.
The Island at the Center of the World:  The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America by Russell Shorto tells the story of New Netherlands drawing on somewhat recently re-discovered Dutch colonial records.  Not including Native Americans, the colonial population was 8,000 to 9,000 at the time of transfer to England - although many of them were not of Dutch ancestry as New Netherland was never a homogeneous society.

The Women of the House:  How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune and a Dynasty by Jean Zimmerman weaves the history of New Netherlands through the life of Margaret Hardenbroeck de Vries Philipse (c. 1637 - c. 1691).  She inherited great wealth from her first husband after his early death, and later married another merchant and landowner.    Because she married her second husband in 1662 under Dutch law which unlike British law permitted women to maintain their legal identity and do business in their own name.  This allowed her to become a prominent and wealthy shipowner and merchant.  
In 1664, however, the British seized control of New Amsterdam and under the new laws of the British many of her rights were taken away.  Though an accomplished businesswoman and merchant, as a woman she was no longer considered legally independent. She was unable to purchase goods under her own authority or act as legal agent. In addition, all the profits that had been made by her thriving businesses were now legally her husband's.  But her husband was no fool, and Margaret continued to run the businesses, and her husband was able to expand his holdings and become one of the wealthiest men in New York (although the Philipses' top cargo was slaves, and they became one of the biggest slave traders in the northern American colonies). 

What I'm Reading: September, 2021

While working on my family tree yesterday, I discovered that a branch that I thought was mostly German turned out to be filled with Dutch re...