The Dutch contribution to early America
0 comment Friday, July 18, 2014 |
As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I came across an old article in a book, reprinted from a turn-of-the-20th century Harper's Magazine, called The Dutch Influence in New England.
I found the article eye-opening, in that quite honestly I had not been aware of the considerable influence exerted by the Dutch on our early New England colonies. Of course I was aware that the Pilgrims who founded the Plymouth Colony had sojourned in Holland before coming here on the Mayflower. But the Dutch influence seems to have been substantial in many areas of life.
I will only excerpt the article; it's too lengthy for a blog entry, and those who are interested might seek out the book, titled New England, originally published in 1990 by Octopus Books, Ltd. in London.
The writer of the article (who is not credited by name) begins by describing the English Separatists who took refuge in the Netherlands, in the city of Leyden. They were mostly tradesmen and craftsmen, having little in common with the more prosperous English residents of Leyden at that time:
''The Separatists were therefore thrown all the more closely with their Dutch fellow Calvinists of like social rank. Not only were their leaders facile in speaking and reading the Dutch vernacular, but probably one-half of the Plymouth settlers were born in Leyden, and picked up Dutch just as the offspring of aliens among us imbibe American English.''
In a letter from Plymouth years later, Governor Bradford wrote to the Dutch at New Amsterdam:
" 'Now, forasmuch as this [alliance between England and Holland against Spain, their common foe] is sufficient to unite us together in love and good neighbourhood in all our dealings; yet are many of us tied by the good and courteous entreaty which we have found in your country, having lived there many years with freedom and good content, as many of our friends do to this day; for which we are bound to be thankful, and our children after us, and shall never forget the same, but heartily desire your good and prosperity as our own forever.'
Still again, Bradford wrote from Plymouth, October 1, 1627. 'Acknowledging ourselves tied in a strict obligation unto your country and state for the good entertainment and free liberty which we had, and our brethren and countrymen yet there have and do enjoy, under your most honorable Lords and States.'
Nowhere on the map of the United States does one find the names of Scrooby, Bawtry, or Austerfield, but at Plymouth the oldest thoroughfare is appropriately named Leyden Street.
Here...were many proofs that the first settlers of New England had come directly, not from Great Britain, but from Holland. Some of the tangible evidences were Dutch seeds, books, provisions -- food for body and mind -- Dutch ovens, cradles, furniture, tools, and hardware of all sorts, especially of the Delft sort (such as saved the Mayflower from going to pieces during a storm at sea as Bradford tells) military gear and equipment, clothing, books printed on Dutch presses, spinning-wheels, and kitchen implements.
These were things seen and temporal, capable of preservation in a museum. In addition there were realities not tangible, but as traceable as water-marks in paper. Distinctively Dutch influences in the primal basic life of New England are clear to the unprejudiced student."
The writer focuses on Dutch influence in the daily life, in the social and political sphere as well as in the practical arts.
Wherever the Dutch farmers in America who refused to live under the semi-feudal patroons made their settlements they discarded the artificial and un-Netherlandish system of patroons and manors, and followed the ancestral and familial methods of commonage in land, representation in government, and democratic ideas and instincts in freedom inherited for ages."
The article refers to a book by Ubbo Emmius, "History of Friesland', about that ''ultra-democratic'' Dutch province.
Page after page of this book, with its account of the elections after prayer, and of written ballots, of magistrates and select-men. reads like descriptions of early New England town meetings."
The Massachusetts Pilgrims and Puritans, as well as Connecticut settlers whose leaders had lived in Holland, laid out their lands Frisian-style and "...they also built their houses with stockades, gates, 'a trench six foote long and two foote broad', with common forest, pasture, and arable land, with common fence, common herd or swine, daily assembled and led out at sound of horn, tended by day and led back by night."
The article describes in some detail how the Dutch excelled, surpassing most European peoples, in inventiveness in horticulture and agriculture. They were the first to introduce the 'Oriental fruits and flowers, grains and plants that are now commonplace'. They invented the ''forcing-bed, hot-house, winnowing fan, the plough in modern form.'' They introduced most garden vegetables into New England and the Atlantic colonies. They taught rotation of crops. They also, as most of us know, excelled in land reclamation, building superior dikes and drainage. They used the best farming tools, and their methods slowly spread among the English settlers. The Dutch also adapted more quickly to the cold climate of the Northeastern colonies; their sleighs enabled them to travel more easily during the long winters.
The Dutch, like the Puritans, were Calvinists, and Calvinism always breeds cleanliness and democracy, as surely as it never breeds poverty or arbitrary government."
In personal habits, the Dutch were known for their cleanliness, and their generous use of soap and starch, both of which they made very cheaply. They invented the use of starch for clothing.
Many of the domestic accoutrements and customs came from the Dutch:
In the evolution of post and frame, enclosed and canopied bed, bolster, and the modern pillow covered with removable case, and the bolster cased and not merely tucked under the sheet, the invention of the thimble, in the perfection and multiplication of spinning-wheels for the domestic treatment of yarn, and of home machinery for the preparation of flax into linen, and of the blending of the two into linsey-woolsey, the Dutch were the inventors, and the English, on either side of the Atlantic, the borrowers."
The English language in America was also influenced by the Dutch:
Whenever we utter the words anchor, caboose, ballast, school (of fish), sloop, stoker, stove, doily, brandy, duffel, cambric, easel, landscape, boss, stoop, 'forlorn hope', body-guard, scow, Santa Claus, blickey (tin), and a host of words in art, music, seamanship, handicraft, war, exploration, and the lines of human achievement most followed in the 17th century, we are but mispronouncing, more or less fluently, Dutch words. These words are the labels of things borrowed, from the little country which, after England, had most to do with the making of the American republic.
From the first fight and flight of the Indians before the prowess of Miles Standish to this day, the military spirit has never waned among the brave New Englanders. Yet, apart from the ancestral fighting spirit of these English colonists, it must not be forgotten that the school in which they were trained was the Dutch army, and the republican War of Independence in the Low Countries.
In the development of legal science, we have heard some of the brilliant lawyers of Massachusetts confess the great indebtedness of the law that rules us to Grotius and the great Dutch jurists whose names are more famous than familiar. The ancestral drops of 'Nederlandisch bloet' in Oliver Wendell Holmes, Washington Allston, and a host of the bluest-blooded New Englanders, whose names, as the records in the Netherlands show, were Dutch before they were English, hint at a force in letters and art still unspent.
Indeed, 'ye laudable customs of ye Low Countries' was confederacy of states, by revolutionary war, by declaration of independence, written constitution, and red, white, and blue flag.
In the evolution of that noble type of man and very agreeable person, the modern New Englander, there have been many potent influences. Not the least of the factors moulding him has been the influence of Dutch precedent, contact, and example.
Nevertheless, of the energies which have made and are making the typical composite American, those contributed by the Dutch were among the first and the most lasting. Arising at Holland's heroic age, they acted upon a people in their formative period. If Faith, Morality, Freedom, Law, and Education as symbolized in the granite statutes of the national monument in Plymouth, be the leading characteristics of New England civilization, then there is equal debt to their exemplars on both sides of the North Sea."

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