The Dutch Are Returning to Celebrate With the City

September 28, 2008 at 6:49 pm Leave a comment

What do bowling, the Bowery, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, Stuyvesant Town, the Yankees, the Roosevelts and coleslaw have in common?

They are all part of New York’s Dutch heritage. You might have missed it, what with the continuing financial crisis and the parade of world leaders in town for the United Nations General Assembly, but Dutch officials, including the prime minister and the heir to the Dutch throne, were also in town last week to inaugurate the city’s 400th birthday celebration.

The party begins next year with the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s voyage up what became the eponymous river. It’s also 400 years since Champlain sailed down the lake that took his name. In addition, the bicentennial of Robert Fulton’s inaugural steamboat voyage in 1807 is being observed.

Given the perhaps never-to-be-settled debate over which year New York was actually founded, the celebration of Hudson’s voyage is likely to revive competing claims over which explorer arrived first.

Verrazano, an Italian sailing for the French, anchored off Brooklyn in 1524 and described a large lake that was probably Upper New York Bay. The Spanish dispatched Esteban Gómez, a navigator from Portugal. He arrived in New York Harbor on St. Anthony’s Day in 1526 and christened the river (later known as the Hudson) the San Antonio.

Since neither explorer discovered anything considered of great value, Europeans apparently decided that New York wasn’t a nice place to live, or to visit. Hudson — an Englishman hired by the Dutch — didn’t make it here until more than 80 years later, in 1609.

As a harbinger of the city’s emergence as a fashion capital, perhaps, Hudson’s first mate, Robert Juet, said of the natives: “They desire clothes.”

Juet also wrote that “the people of the country” seemed “very glad of our coming” and were “very civil.” But by the second day he was expressing mistrust, and on the third day, Sept. 4, he reported that five sailors on a scouting mission were “set upon” by two dozen natives in two canoes and that an Englishman, John Coleman, was killed with an arrow in his throat.

The 300th anniversary of Hudson’s arrival in September 1909 was a very big deal. Wilbur Wright flew from Governors Island and over the Hudson to Grant’s Tomb and back. A flotilla of hundreds of vessels included a replica of Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon, which, lamentably, sailed smack into a facsimile of Robert Fulton’s vessel, the Clermont.

Celebrators were cautioned about pickpockets. They were told that police officers had orders to arrest “elbowers.” And, in a warning that resonates today, they were urged to say something “if you see anyone acting in a suspicious manner.”

New York is still home to about 25,000 people who claim Dutch ancestry, but that is fewer than most other ethnic groups. Much of the Dutch legacy seems tied to the sponsorship of the New York City Marathon by ING, the Dutch financial group, to renewed interest in windmills to meet energy needs, and in surviving names derived from the Dutch, including Yankee and Roosevelt.

Next year, the Dutch intend to exhibit here for the first time evidence of the legendary sale of Manhattan Island for $24: Peter Schaghen’s 1626 letter announcing to the “High and Mighty Lords” of the West India Company that the settlers in Lower Manhattan were in good spirits; had borne some children; grew wheat, barley and other grain; and bought the roughly 22,000-acre island for 60 guilders worth of goods.

The Dutch also plan to open a pavilion in Rockefeller Center, which they hope to move eventually to tiny Peter Minuit Plaza at the Battery, and install street signs downtown with their original Dutch names.

More commemorations are planned by, among others, the city, the state’s Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission and the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy.

Last week, visiting Dutch officials planted a hickory sapling on Governors Island (which the Dutch first named Nooten Eylandt, or Nut Island, after the nut trees that grew there).

Today, the Netherlands is grappling with an issue that New Yorkers came to grips with 400 years ago: diversity.

Frans Timmermans, the Dutch minister for European affairs and international cultural policy, said there were slaves in early New Amsterdam and some anti-Semitism, but he recalled that Peter Stuyvesant resisted orders from Holland to get rid of, among others, the Swedes.

“What we now call tolerance was really indifference, as long as you behaved,” Mr. Timmermans said in an interview.

Today, an influx of Moroccans and Turks is changing the face of the Netherlands. In major cities, almost half the population is no longer of European origin.

“We still call people immigrants or foreigners in the third generation,” but New York “is the most successful immigrant society,” Mr. Timmermans said. “The day you step off the boat or plane you’re a New Yorker. That has to do with its history.”

By SAM ROBERTS

NY Times

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Entry filed under: Get Wet, Manhattan, Public Waterfront. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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