December 2009

Before New York There Was New Netherland


The panel. 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?"

The audience.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.

Sinterklaas at the Van Wickle House


On Sunday December 6th Saint Nicholas made his entrance at the Van Wickle House in Somerset, New Jersey. The historic house is maintained by the Meadows Foundations which has organized a Sinterklaas event at the house for decades.

Inside the Van Wickle House Dutch provincial flags and Dutch artwork were on display and traditional food including almond pastry and speculaas from the Holland-America Bakery was on sale. Outside, a beautiful Dutch street organ, the Violanta, played Sinterklaas songs. Johanna Vander Heyden is the driving force behind the Violanta street organ and created the Zwarte Piet costumes.

Before Sinterklaas arrived there was Dutch dancing, klompen dansen, with dancers in beautiful traditional Dutch costumes.

Sinterklaas arrived on a white horse and was accompanied by his helpers, Zwarte Pieten. Dr. Bruce Hamilton, the Chair of the Van Wickle House, welcomed Sinterklaas who sat down outside the House. Children offered drawings to Saint Nick and received sweets in return.

We wrote about the Van Wickle house a few months ago.

BrooklynBridgeBreukelen breakfast at Nyenrode University


Russell Shorto at the American breakfast for BrooklynBridgeBreukelen.From our correspondent in the Netherlands, Jaap Bosman.

BrooklynBridgeBreukelen is an organization aimed at re-establishing the connection between Brooklyn, New York and Breukelen, the Dutch city that gave it its name. The connection between the two towns was the theme of various festivities in 2009, and last week an American breakfast in Breukelen was held in honor of the end of the BrooklynBridgeBreukelen year. Russell Shorto was the main speaker in the Koetshuis of Nyenrode University.

The acting mayor of Breukelen, Ger Mik, said in his introduction that a new foundation will keep the connections between Breukelen and Brooklyn alive even after the BrooklynBridgeBreukelen year.

Did the Dutch invent the American way of life?

Russell Shorto is the author of "New Amsterdam, Island at the Center of the World" and "Descartes' Bones. A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason" (both books are available in Dutch). Mr Shorto explained the large Dutch influence on the American way of life.

Mr Shorto: "the Netherlands were a very special country. In 1600 in London you would only find English people, in Paris French people, but in the towns of the Netherlands you could find all kinds of people". The inhabitants of these multicultural towns learned to accept and tolerate each other and when the Dutch started a small trading post in the New World in this way of life was exported to Nieuw Amsterdam. In 1640 the West Indische Compagnie no longer monopolized the trade in Nieuw Nederland and free trade flowered in Nieuw Amsterdam, as it did in Holland. From that time Nieuw Amsterdam grew as a trade center.

Most new immigrants arrived in New York and there they learned this 'Dutch way of life' and considered it to be the real American way of living. They spread this way of living throughout the US. That is why the Dutch had so much influence on the American way of life.

Mr. Shorto said that the ties between the USA and the Netherlands are still surprisingly strong: "Germany is at the other side of the border, Germany is close by, but between the USA and the Netherlands is a big Atlantic ocean and yet I feel that the Dutch are more close to the US than to Germany".

Around 50 guests attended the event in the main room of the Koetshuis where scrambled eggs, pancakes, fruit salad, and muffins made for an American breakfast. The Koetshuis is one of the buildings of the castle that houses Nyenrode Business University, built in 1275 by Gerard Splinter van Ruwiel. Breukelen is a village of nearly 10,000 inhabitants near the river Vecht, between Utrecht and Amsterdam.

Breukelen is not the only Dutch city that gave its name to an American place. The names Harlem, New Utrecht and New Amersfoort all originate in the Netherlands and are now parts of New York City.

Holland Society in Amsterdam


Photograph of Donald Westerveld by Geert Snoeijer.From our correspondent in the Netherlands, Jaap Bosman.

In honor of this year's Henry Hudson 400 celebration a series of portraits of the Trustees of the Holland Society of New York will be on display at Amsterdam City Hall. The exposition by Dutch photographer Geert Snoeijer will open on December 14, 2009.

The Holland Society of New York was founded in 1885 and typical last names of its members are Van Pelt, Ten Eyck, Beeckman, Westervelt, Bogarde and VanDerbeek. The goal of the organization is "to perpetuate the memory and foster and promote the principles of the Dutch ancestors of its members". Portraits at the exhibition include those of Walton VanWinkle, Samuel van Allen and Dr. Andrew Hendricks.

Opening on December 14

After the official welcome by Carolien Gehrels, alderman for Arts and Culture in Amsterdam, Martine Gosselink, head of the History Department of the Rijksmuseum will provide an historical outline. There will be a special musical performance by Renske Taminiau.

Geert Snoeijer was born in IJsselmuiden in 1968. He was a lawyer in Brussels and in Amsterdam after which he studied at the Amsterdam Centre for Photography. The Amsterdam City Hall is near the Waterlooplein and next to the Stopera or The Amsterdam Music Theater.

Dutch in will attend the opening; look forward to our exclusive interview with the artist!

The Holland Society of New York, exhibition by Geert Snoeijer
December 14, 2009 through January 11, 2010 in Amsterdam City Hall/Stopera
January 11, 2010 through end of February, World Trade Center Amsterdam

Saint Nicholas visits Brooklyn, NY


On Sunday afternoon Saint Nicholas visited the Lefferts Historic House in Brooklyn, NY. Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas in Dutch, is a traditional winter holiday figure in the Netherlands. The Lefferts House which we visited earlier is a Dutch-American house and his visit was part of the display "Winter on a Flatbush Farm".

St. Nick made his entrance riding on a brown horse followed by a crowd of excited children, a little later then the scheduled 3.00 pm.

There were at least 3 Dutch families with small children attending. A mother said she was disappointed with this rendition of Saint Nick as the costume was not very elaborate. "And 15 minutes ago I saw them carrying his costume through the crowd, so everybody could see it!". However, Dutch and American children alike were duly impressed by Sinterklaas. Kids received chocolate gold coins and mandarins.

The tradition of a St. Nicholas visiting the Lefferts House goes back at least 20 years. "And we always get a couple of expat-families who visit", said Mr. Billy Holliday, the Director of the Lefferts Historic House. The traditional Saint Nicholas date is December 6th or the evening of the 5th, and most Sinterklaas events in the US and the Netherlands are held next weekend. Mr. Holliday explained that in the past the House was closed in December and though that's no longer the case, the event is still held the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Saint Nicholas stayed for about an hour. Children had the opportunity to pet his horse and feed it carrots. There were also demonstration of how to make candles and how to make sauerkraut. Inside a lady was spinning flax, and to the delight of this correspondent outside fresh "oliekoecks" or "oliebollen" were served.