Russell Shorto brings back to life the lost Dutch beginnings of New York City and the surrounding areas in this masterfully researched account. Much of his information is based on the surviving records of the Dutch West India Company and the legal records of the colony. These papers were written in Old Dutch, a lost language to all but a very few scholars. They were lost and forgotten for many years, but since 1970 these papers have been in the process of being translated by a dedicated scholar. From these pages and other sources, Shorto gives us the account, as near as can be constructed, of the founding and development of New Amsterdam up to the British takeover of the colony.
He describes the first explorers and the visions they saw of the New York Harbor and Hudson River. He then goes on to describe the character and hardships endured by the first settlers, there dealings with the Indians and the British and Swedish colonies to the north and south. He describes the conflict within the Company, colonists, and the Dutch government back home. He follows the life-history of the few colonists we have sketchy records of and constructively speculates on what we don’t know or is only hinted at in the records.
Some interesting topics within the pages: The founding and management of Albany; the grants of lands and farms on Manhattan Island and surrounding areas; the touching romance of settlers looking for and finding a new life away from the poverty and limited opportunities at home; the conflict and tragedy of the natives; and the Dutch legacy which survives in New York and America today.
This account is full of fascinating characters, it is really a story about people—their cultural adjustments and failings, struggles and strengths. Neat insights are seen in the human natures that shaped and directed the development of the Eastern Seaboard and the growth of the unique and successful American culture. Because of fate and some blunders, the gifts of the Dutch to our political and cultural landscape are greatly under-appreciated. This book attempts to rectify that as much as currently possible, and does an excellent job.