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Monday, January 1, 2024

January 1, 2024: 2024 Anniversaries: New Netherland in 1674

[As I’ve done for each of the last few years, this week I’ll start 2024 by AmericanStudying a few anniversaries for the new year. Leading up to a special post on the 200th anniversary of a frustratingly familiar election.]

On two important legacies that endured when New Netherland became a permanent part of Anglo America with the 1674 Treaty of Westminster.

1674 was only the final moment in a decade-long back and forth between the English and the Dutch over who would take control of the mid-atlantic region known as New Netherland. In 1664, at the outset of the continental as well as transatlantic conflict that became known as the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667), the English gained control of Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island and thus of New Amsterdam, the de facto capital of New Netherland. But the Dutch held onto much of the rest of the region at that time, and when the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674) began a few years later, the Dutch retook the fort and island as well. It was only at the culmination of that latter conflict with the Treaty of Westminster that the Dutch permanently ceded not just Manhattan Island/New Amsterdam but the entirety of their New Netherland colony to the English, essentially trading it for the South American colony of Suriname.

As usual when a place officially changes hands from one national entity to another, however, a great deal of the existing community of New Netherland remained after the handover. One of the most defining elements of New Netherland society was its striking level of diversity, particularly religious diversity due to the Dutch Republic’s overarching policy (from the 1579 Union of Utrecht) that “everyone shall remain free in religion and that no one may be persecuted or investigated because of religion.” That meant for example that New Netherland had a sizeable Jewish community, which was granted full residential rights in 1655. But the community, like the Dutch colonies throughout the Western Hemisphere, was also notably diverse in terms of both nationality and ethnicity: on the first note, the term “New Netherland Dutch” referred to immigrants from a variety of European cultures; while on the second, New Netherland included a significant refugee population from Brazil as well as sizeable Native American and African communities among others. The diversity of modern Manhattan is truly a legacy of its New Amsterdam roots.

The policy of religious freedom didn’t just help create that foundational diversity, though—it also reflected a broader culture of tolerance (in the Dutch Republic overall, but certainly extended to its colonies as well) that was at least somewhat unique among European colonies in the Americas and served as an inspiration for future U.S. ideals. The Dutch Republic’s Constitution, which guaranteed such liberties as well as citizenship to most of its residents, was cited by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers No. 20 as a direct influence on the proposed U.S. Constitution. Likewise, the 1581 Act of Adjuration through which the Dutch Republic declared its independence from Spain was similar enough to the American Declaration of Independence that John Adams later declared, “the origins of the two Republics are so much alike that the history of one seems but a transcript from that of the other.” All ways that New Netherland remained very much part of the evolving United States long after the 1674 handover.

Next anniversary tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

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