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September 3, 2009

Four hundred years ago today
Posted by Patrick at 06:23 AM *

From Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World:

And so they continued north: misty mornings, bloody sunsets, a stretch of coast like a long smooth cut; surf eternally pounding the belt of sand; wild silence beyond. They were aware that they were shouldering a new world, impossibly dark, utterly unknown, of imponderable dimension, and with no clear means of access.

And then they felt something happening. Rounding a hooked point, they were startled at what they perceived to be three rivers; cliffs rose up—the land “very pleasant and high, and bold to fall withal.” They were in the outer reaches of New York Harbor, riding along the coast of Staten Island. Fish streamed thickly around them: salmon, mullet, wraith-like rays. They anchored and went ashore, marveling at primordial oaks and “an abundance of blue plums.”

Then, just like that, people appeared. They came at them frankly, dressed in skins, peaceable, and with an air of dignity, offering corn bread and green tobacco. In 1801 the Moravian missionary John Heckewelder interviewed a Long Island Indian and published an account of Hudson’s arrival from the Indian perspective. The story, supposedly handed down through generations of Delaware Indians, gibes with the account by Hudson’s mate Robert Juet of the first encounter: peaceable, wary, curious. The Indian told of sighting “a large house of various colors” floating on the water (Dutch ships were indeed vividly painted with geometric motifs). As in Juet’s version, the Indian story has the first meeting taking place on land, with several of the visitors, including their leader, rowing ashore. The Indian story adds that the leader of all the newcomers is dressed in “a red coat all glittering with gold lace”—a nice and by no means incongruous addition to the portrait of Hudson.

Out came the products. Hemp, dried currants, oysters, beans. Knives, hatchets, and beads. Over the next three days, as the ship explored an intricate mesh of islands, bays, and rivers, making the rounds of Brooklyn, Staten Island, and coastal New Jersey, there would be two violent encounters with Indians, which Juet claims were iniated by the Indians. People died. It’s ironic that immediately upon entering the watery perimeter of what would become New York City, these two things would take place: trade and violence.

Hudson then sailed his small, three-masted wooden vessel ito the coliseum-like interior of the harbor—“a very good harbor for all windes.” From his perch on the high poop-deck, looking down on his crew, he gave the order to proceed upriver. His heart must have quickened as the vista unfolded before him. “The River is a mile broad; there is very high Land on both sides,” wrote Juet—as likely a channel into the other side of the world as one could hope for. Upriver, they encountered more natives: “a very loving people…and we were well taken care of.” Hudson went ashore with them, visiting their circular house made of bark. “The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon,” he wrote. He and his men noted more offerings from the locals: furs.

Then it ended. The river grew narrow and shallow: no ship could pass through; Asia did not lie over there. They turned south again: more skirmishes with the Indians of the southern reaches of the river. It’s not certain that Hudson was aware that the land they “rode quietly” past one rainy night was an island—in the first written record of the name, Juet refers to “the side of the river called Manna-hatta.” In any case, while Hudson dutifully noted the possibilities for trade—the grandness of the harbor and the river, the toehold they would provide onto the continent—his own gaze never left the horizon of his obsession. He headed for home, empty-handed.

Hudson entered New York Harbor on September 3, 1609. He sailed past Manhattan for the second and final time, on his way back to the open sea, on September 11.

Recommended to me by Jon Sobel, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America is one of the most interesting works of popular history I’ve read in some time. Shorto draws heavily on a trove of hitherto-obscure primary sources to elevate the story of New Amsterdam from half-remembered folktale to real history. While the English settlers in North America were still thundering at one another over finer and finer degrees of religious purity, the Dutch were planting the seeds of a city based on an unsentimental tolerance of difference and a single-minded devotion to trade. We live in that city today.

Comments on Four hundred years ago today:
#1 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 07:30 AM:

I loved this book when I read it a year ago.
As an ex-pat New Yorker, it made me want to return to NY again, soon, to breathe in that early history.

#2 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 09:07 AM:

A most excllent book; I found it slow going, because there was so much to absorb in even a couple of pages, but it was worth every bit of the slow journey through its pages.

Just because it's both Early New York, and worth every link that it can get, the text of the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657, wherein the town fathers of that Long Island community explain Governor Stuyvesant their position on religious tolerance in plain and simple terms (with scriptural references indentfiable by anyone who was familiar with the source).

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 10:09 AM:

Shorter Flushing Remonstrance:

Dude. You want us to persecute these Quakers.
God doesn't.
You're Director-General of a little trading port.
God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We're going with God on this one. HTH.
Apropros only slightly of this, I was boggled to discover that there are still Remonstrants. 47 congregations of them. In the Netherlands, naturally. It's like discovering surviving Muggletonians.

#4 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 10:46 AM:

Damn. Homesick morning.

#5 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 11:08 AM:

Very cool, thanks for posting this bit. Haven't much read on NY history, so a lot is new to me.

The Flushing Remonstrance, and Shorter version of same, are great.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 11:25 AM:

Oh, beautiful. In the text of the Remonstrance of the Inhabitants of the Town of Flushing to Governor Stuyvesant, there's a twinned set of opposed terms that demonstrate their own etymology:

...that they are destructive unto Magistracy and Ministerye, that cannot bee, for the Magistrate hath his sword in his hand and the Minister hath the sword in his hand, as witnesse those two great examples, which all Magistrates and Ministers are to follow, Moses and Christ...
It's the answer to one of my favorite trick questions in English, that the opposite of magister or magistrate is minister.

#7 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 11:49 AM:

Speaking of Manna Hatta, have folks seen The MannaHatta Project? (If you want to go directly to the map that lets you pick a block in NYC and move the slider until you see what it looked like in 1609, and learn about the topography and animals, skip to this link.

#8 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 11:55 AM:

Also: Flushing Remonstrance. Cool! This bit

"The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, "

makes me think of the book JEWISH PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, which goes into detail about such things and how they affected the colonization of the New World. (Also, I gotta love a book with chapters about a pirate rabbi.)

#9 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 12:13 PM:

Damn. I went to Flushing High for a year or so and passed the Quaker meeting house any number of times and never knew about the Flushing Remonstrance! (To be fair, I think New York City history was taught in 7th or an earlier grade.)

Way cool.

#10 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 12:24 PM:

I just took the Staten Island Ferry there and back for fun two days ago ... I was just thinking about how different things looked when Henry Hudson first sailed through there.

#11 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 12:30 PM:

Seeing "... it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." in the Remonstance, and realizing it's a Biblical reference (Hebrews 10:31) finally explained the ending of Robert Chambers' "In the Court of the Dragon" to me.

#12 ::: jim ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 12:42 PM:

When we lived in New York, we used to walk along beside Mr. Hudson's River. It was very soothing.

Just one quibble. 3 September 1609 is Old Style. So, though 400 3 Septembers have come and gone since Hudson entered New York Harbour, the Earth hasn't quite made 400 circuits of the Sun since then. In fact, Hudson left New York Harbour close to the equinox.

#13 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 12:51 PM:

No matter how one decides to handle that one, somebody will always quibble in the other direction. :-)

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 01:46 PM:

So which calendar were the Dutch using in 1609?

Ah, it's tricky one. Some Dutch provinces started pretty early, including the Staten-Generaal, in 1582/83. The more northern Provinves held out until 1700.

But it seems very likely that Hudson would have kept calendar in sync with the Dutch who employed him, which was likely the new Gregorian calendar. Though if you could compare the sailing date in the log with some Dutch record?

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 02:31 PM:

This is the date for which the Oranges have come over on a state visit.

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 03:02 PM:

PNH @0:
While the English settlers in North America were still thundering at one another over finer and finer degrees of religious purity, the Dutch were planting the seeds of a city based on an unsentimental tolerance of difference and a single-minded devotion to trade.

Huh. This bounces interestingly off of a discussion I had with a colleague the other week about a passage in Chapter 11 of Gulliver's Travels. It takes place while he's masquerading as a Dutchman in Japan.

To this I added another petition, "that for the sake of my patron the king of Luggnagg, his majesty would condescend to excuse my performing the ceremony imposed on my countrymen, of trampling upon the crucifix: because I had been thrown into his kingdom by my misfortunes, without any intention of trading."
When this latter petition was interpreted to the Emperor, he seemed a little surprised; and said, "he believed I was the first of my countrymen who ever made any scruple in this point; and that he began to doubt, whether I was a real Hollander, or not; but rather suspected I must be a Christian."

The question was about the last bit, setting "Hollander" in opposition to "Christian." Was it part of the British tradition of speaking ill of the Dutch that brought us "Dutch courage?" (Not that anyone here who knows of them seems to be bothered by these figures of speech; they're considered the natural product of long-running international rivalry and cheerfully shrugged off.)

The conclusion, after her husband and a few friends (who kicked off this discussion; I was peripheral at best) did some research, was that it was true. We have an account by Engelbert Kaempfer, a German who lived in Japan from 1690 - 1692 as physician to the Dutch embassy.

"the Jefumi. . . is, in the strictest sense, the figure-treading, because they trample over the Image of our Blessed Saviour extended on the cross, and that of his holy Mother, or some other Saint, as a convincing and unquestionable proof, that they for ever renounce Christ and his Religion. . . . The Images are about a foot long, cast in brass, and kept in a particular box made for this purpose" (Histort, II, 121).

Now, it's not as straightforward as it sounds. The Japanese closed themselves off from most foreign contact during the Edo period (1603 - 1868), to a large extent to keep Spanish and Portugese missionaries out. But those missionaries were Catholic, of course, while the Dutch were primarily Calvinist.

So although the Dutch were certainly willing to be single-mindedly devoted to trade rather than evangelism, I suspect the were also fine with trampling on Popish ornamentation such as a crucifix (rather than a plain cross), or the idolatrous image of Mary or the saints.


#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 04:31 PM:

Well, "On this date 400 years ago..." would avoid criticism from any of the calendar pedants out there.

#19 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 04:42 PM:

It’s ironic that immediately upon entering the watery perimeter of what would become New York City, these two things would take place: trade and violence.

Is Shorto invoking Alanis Morissette-style irony here? Because it doesn't seem at all ironic to me.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 05:03 PM:

Indeed it set the pattern for NYC for the next four centuries, didn't it Avram?

#21 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 06:08 PM:

I'm still trudging through Gotham (too big to carry on subway or read comfortably anywhere but a table or desk), but it's surprising how many times the English and Dutch traded the colony back and forth, and how resolutely calm almost everyone was about it.

Also, how far back Teamster strikes really go, and how important they always were.

#22 ::: Chris Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 06:15 PM:

From the cited Flushing Remonstrance: " . . . but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them." As a Quaker myself, that's actually a nearly direct quote from George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. Which makes it an interestingly subversive statement.

#23 ::: 'As You Know' Bob ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 08:42 PM:

I seem to recall that as part of the anniversary celebrations, Russell Shorto will be leading a walking tour of old New Amsterdam.

#24 ::: 'As You Know' Bob ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 08:54 PM:

Found it. which leads to

Ah, here we are:

"Walking Tour - The New Amsterdam Trail:

Commemorate the 400th anniversary of explorer Henry Hudson's voyage for the Dutch to New York and the future settlement of New Amsterdam, with this new 90-minute audio walking tour of important sites in 17th-century Lower Manhattan."

The tour with a National Park ranger was $10; but coming up, there's a

"Special 1-day event on 9/13 at 9:30am. Price: $35. Tour & exhibit with Russell Shorto, bestselling author of The Island at the Center of the World"
#25 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 09:43 AM:

elise @ 8: Also, I gotta love a book with chapters about a pirate rabbi.

STANLEY: Tell me, have you ever known what it is to be a minion?

PIRATES: (disgusted) Oy gevalt!

RABBI: Here we are again!

STANLEY. I ask you, have you ever known what it is to be a minion?

RABBI: We are a minyan!

STANLEY: Pardon me, are you not the leader of these men?

RABBI: Of course.

STANLEY: Then surely you are no minion.

RABBI: I tell you again, we are a minyan.

PIRATES: Minyan, minyan, minyan.

#26 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 01:45 PM:

"Old pirates, yes, they rabbis," ...isn't that how Marley's "Redemption Song" goes?

#27 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 06:52 PM:

The other thing I like about the Flushing Remonstrance is that it doesn't just say "we are following God rather than the laws of man," it says "we are exercising our rights as Dutch citizens. You are overstepping your authority here." [I'm working from memory here, and it's been a few years, so don't expect to find that word-for-word.]

The bit about Gulliver's Travels reminds me of the Christian medallions made by the Japanese government specifically so they could force people to trample them as a sign of renouncing Christianity. IIRC, a very few were not used for their intended purpose and are thus extremely rare collectibles.

#28 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 08:49 PM:

Margaret Atwood explains why she chose Harvard College as the epicenter of the Christian theocracy that rules America in "The Handmaid's Tale." Nations build history like the Aztecs built their oldest, biggest pyramids, she says. If you dig deep enough, you find the little pyramid that started it all. In America, that buried pyramid is a Puritan theocracy.

Except in New York City. Trade, tolerance, and violence from day one.

#29 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 09:42 PM:

abi@16: what a fascinating digression! I remember finding out about the trampling in one of the few bits of the televised Shogun I watched, but not that there was a division in the practice; I expect that there were Dutch religious fanatics as well (as shown by the need for the Remonstrance), but am not surprised that others were more worldly in orientation.

BSD@21: as opposed to, say, Berwick, where our brief tour (we drove from Perth to Darlington in one day) found over a dozen exchanges in a century, none of them peaceful. Perhaps the Dutch/British trades were made easier by the fact that nobody had centuries of living there in their ancestry?

Joel@25: the only reason you don't owe me a new keyboard is that I decided to have my digestif after I finished.

Evan@28: that's about what I'd expect from the talking-squid lady; the most prejudiced of today's churches take their roots from elsewhere, while the Puritans are (IIRC) most directly ancestors to UCC.

#30 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 10:04 PM:

CHip @29

Talking squid lady!! I love it.

#31 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 12:03 AM:

Joel @ 25: WIN. That is all.

I love this book. I own it in a review copy— one of the benefits of working at a particular bookstore. You got to pick out books as kudos— and for some reason, nobody else went for the history books.

I particularly love how the translator got his job. "You wouldn't happen to know any experts in seventeenth-century Dutch, would you?" "Um... yes."

#32 ::: Dr Paisley ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 12:58 AM:

The story, supposedly handed down through generations of Delaware Indians, gibes with the account by Hudson’s mate Robert Juet

Whence comes, O Fluorsphere, this conflation of jibe, gibe and (in some instances) jive? Wondering if anyone out there has insight in this linguistic creep (not a euphemism).

#33 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 02:12 AM:

Dr. Paisley: I've wondered about this too. I think 'jibe' gets other words substituted for it because it's a metaphoric usage of a older sailing term, which makes it pretty darn obscure to most moderns. 'Jive' makes no sense when substituted for 'jibe' but it's a more common word and sounds similar; I think I see that substitution more often than the correct usage.

I've never seen 'gibe' substituted for 'jibe' before; I would have expected that someone who didn't know 'jibe' wouldn't know 'gibe' either, as it's fairly uncommon and verging on obsolete.

#34 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 06:35 PM:

Today's WashPost (okay, Sports section) has "deep-seeded animosity" for a UK soccer thing. I've always seen that as "deep-seated animosity."

#35 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 08:33 PM:

*doubletake* I'd assumed the title referred to 'On first looking into Galileo's telescope'. Kept reading, expecting a "…meanwhile, in Italy…" – Nup. *resets assumptions*

#36 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 08:35 PM:

CHip @29, "we drove from Perth [WA] to Darlington [NSW] in one day" – a distance of approximately 3287 km (about 2042 miles). Detouring via Berwick (Vic) takes it to 3455 km (2147 miles). Is this a record?

Marilee #34, now, if it were tennis

#37 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2009, 09:35 PM:

Epacris: how do people drive in the wilds of Australia? I know someone who was pulled over for doing >100mph in west Texas (and was ticketed for rather less); with 2 drivers, 2100 miles in a day seems possible even on two-lane roads (e.g, the road from Barstow AZ to the Boulder Dam). Ah, the Nullarbor Plain, with the world's longest section of straight railroad track (180 miles, said Smithsonian); Chalker claimed that a couple of fans who drove to Aussiecon 2 (Melbourne VIC) from Perth WA sold their car for plane tickets rather than drive back, but I was never sure when he was constraining himself to the truth.

#38 ::: odaiwai ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2009, 01:03 PM:

CHip @#37, I think the point was that in Aus terms, and assuming a full 24 hours to drive that distance, it's an average of 85 mph. The distance is almost the same as driving from Chicago to San Francisco in one day.

For Europeans, it's about the distance from London to Damascus (2200 miles).

#39 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 11:27 AM:

One might also note that for the first ~third of the journey, from Perth to the state border, the speed limit never rises above 110 kmh: about 70 mph. I'm not certain what the upper limit is in the other states involved, but I believe it's much the same.

And the Nullarbor Plain does have traffic cops, and I'm sure they'd be *overjoyed* to have somebody blow past at 140 kmh...

#40 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2009, 12:13 PM:

29 et seq: almost certainly the original Perth, in Scotland, and the original Darlington, in England, via Berwick-upon-Tweed, in England or Scotland or neither depending on what year it is, and still the subject of semiserious Scottish irredentism.

#41 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2009, 01:26 AM:


Well, yes. Almost certainly. But where's the fun in that?

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