The Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York participated in the 5 Dutch Days by presenting its annual Stephen Kaye Memorial Program entitled: Before New York There Was New Netherland, Our Dutch Heritage 1609-2009. The event was held on November 13th at the New York City Bar and featured a round table discussion with writers and scholars Russell Shorto, Dr. Charles Gehring and Jean Zimmerman.
“What’s the fuzz about the Dutch?”
The evening started with a reception in a stately hall at the New York Bar, in the heart of Manhattan on West 44th Street. There were bitterballen, Dutch snacks, and Dutch beer. According to the organization, close to 400 people were in attendance, many participating because of the 5 Dutch Days, and many more from the legal and educational community who are members of the host Society.
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Fanfare, presented by The Society of Daughters of Holland Dames, alerted everyone to the beginning of the program and played the national anthem. The official program began with a welcome by New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. The evening was sponsored by the firm of Proskauer Rose LLP in combination with the Holland Society of New York.
Hon. Albert Rosenblatt provided an introduction to the evening’s program, and gave a geopolitical background of the Dutch colony in the 1600’s. “Henry Hudson sailed onto the river now carrying his name and like many others, decades later, got stuck in Albany”.
There was a reading by Henry Miller of the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance, a plea for religious freedom. This document, which is now in the collection of the New York State Archives makes the case that liberty extends to all. Mr. Miller’s rendition in his rich baritone voice was quite impressive.
Round table discussion
The main program of the evening was a round table discussion with Dr. Charles Gehring, Russel Shorto and Jean Zimmerman on the importance of New York’s Dutch heritage in shaping its democratic process. Russell Shorto is the author of The Island at the Center of the World, the best-selling book whose title gives rise to the South Street Seaport Museum exhibit’s name; Dr. Charles Gehring, noted director of the New Netherland Project at the New York State Library, where the archives of the Dutch colony centered on Manhattan are being translated and Jean Zimmerman, author of The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty.
The discussion was moderated by former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt. Chief Judge Kaye posed the main question: “Tonight we even had fanfare. What’s the fuzz about the Dutch?”
Russell Shorto: “The influence of the early colonists on American society was profound. In New Netherland, tolerance was a glue to keep society together. Combined with capitalism and lots of minorities this set the tone for the future culture of the US”. Dr. Charles Gehring added: “Only 50% of the immigrants in New Netherlands were ethnic Dutch. It was a true multi ethnic society — this is unique to New Netherlands. The English and French were groups with a single ethnicity. New Netherland included immigrations from Croatia to Lithania to Scandinavia.”
Jean Zimmerman spoke on the role of women in the colonies. She writes of Margaret Hardenbroeck who, in a man’s world, rose to become a tycoon in New Netherland. Mrs. Zimmerman points out that Dutch law offered women “a measure of invincibility.” She notes that Holland’s legal system, transported to these shores and lost after the British takeover in 1664, “was fairer to women than any other in Europe. The Dutch were very open to have women in different positions in society. Dutch men saw women as successful and dominant and accepted that.”
It was an interesting discussion, brought with humor at times. Dr. Gehring: “Buying Manhattan from the Indians for a pittance? It’s a romantic story. The numbers that circulate have not even adjusted for inflation”. Chief Judge Kaye quickly added: “like judges’ salaries!”.
Marilyn Marcus, Executive Director of the Society, declared the program a great success, and noted that the Society was deeply honored to participate in this remarkable quadricentennial celebration of Dutch-American heritage.
A publication written by Frances Murray, the Chief Legal Reference Attorney of the NY State Court of Appeals accompanied the event. “A Legal History of New Netherlands” is available on-line.