From New to Old (Amsterdam, That Is)

March 14, 2009 at 1:11 am Leave a comment

 Before this city was New York, it was New Amsterdam. So to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Dutch exploration of the New World, New York is sending a contingent to Old Amsterdam as part of a series of cultural exchanges between the two cities over the next year.

Other tributes include a likeness of the Statue of Liberty made out of 51,000 tulips, and the lending of the famous 1626 letter that lists the “purchase” of Manhattan for 60 guilders. (The Indians thought they were just giving land-use rights.)

The contingent, which leaves Monday, will include Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president; Representative Maurice Hinchey from Hurley, and Joan K. Davidson, chairwoman of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission. (“It’s a mouthful,” she admitted.) They will, among other things, go to the Keukenhof Gardens on Tuesday when the tulip Statue of Liberty will be unveiled by Queen Beatrix.
One of main goals of the Quadricentennial Commission is to commemorate Henry Hudson’s 1609 journey from Amsterdam Harbor, which set out in search of a shorter trading route to Asia. Instead, he ended up at what is now New York, back when it was full of lush forests, expansive wetlands and rich wildlife.

The Dutch government is also playing an active role in the celebration. And in September, the South Street Seaport will display the Schaghen Letter, which mentions the purchase of what is now Manhattan by the Dutch for the equivalent of 60 guilders.

“It’s, in a way, the birth certificate of New York,” said Gajus Scheltema, the consul general of the Netherlands. That being said, the purchase is mentioned only in passing in the letter, he said: “It’s basically about something else. The focus on the letter is about the beaver skins and furs.”

The exhibit will also include other rare documents, maps and books on loan from the Dutch government, including the first maps ever drawn of New Nederland; a sketch from the diary of Arnoldus Buchelius, a Dutch advocate of religious freedom; the charter of the Dutch West India Company; and other commercial documents.

The British first claimed control of the settlement in 1664 and again in 1674 (when the Dutch got Surinam in return) and permanently renamed it New York. Now the dominant language here is English, and Americans have long identified with Britain, but New York’s connections to the Dutch run long and deep from those first 50 years. They can be seen in the names of streets (Amsterdam Avenue), neighborhoods (Harlem, named after the the Dutch city Haarlem) and high schools (Stuyvesant High School, after Peter Stuyvesant).

But one essential Dutch imprint is not in left in name at all, but in a philosophical approach: the vision of this juncture of rivers and the Atlantic Ocean as a place that promoted diversity and tolerance. Religious tolerance was posited a legal right by explicit orders in 1624 that “everyone shall remain free in religion and that no one may be persecuted or investigated because of religion.”

Early settlers included a number seeking both freedom and opportunity: Jewish refugees from Brazil, Quakers, freed African slaves and entrepreneurs from Morocco. At its height, half of New Amsterdam’s population was non-Dutch. One visitor in 1643 observed that 18 languages were spoken and a wide number of religions existed side by side.

“We believed that back in the Netherlands in the 17th century that an economy, an entrepreneurial society was better served as an inclusive society, a tolerant one than an exclusive one,” Mr. Scheltema said.

It is an argument made by the city’s leaders now as then.

By Jennifer 8. Lee
New York Times

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Entry filed under: Get Wet, Manhattan, Maritime. Tags: , , , .

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