New York. Also known as the Capitol of the World, as Modern Gomorrah, as the Big Apple. With Times Square being the self-proclaimed Centre of the Universe. Amidst all this bigness, portraits of two seventeenth-century men from the tiny villages of Peperga and Koudum in the south of province Friesland, hang at the walls of respectively City Hall and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Met. Men from a period this Fun City was still known as New Amsterdam.
Before we disclose the names of the two men, we ask the questions of this post first: how come Dutchmen, i.e. people from region Holland in the Netherlands, (also) get the credits for things accomplished by Frisians? Or, if we put the focus on the Frisians: why are they not able to get the credits for things they have achieved? What skills do they lack that the Hollanders have? Lastly, the most sensitive question: what can Frisians learn from Hollanders?
Who has not heard of the Vliegende Hollander ‘Flying Dutchman’? Machinations are still working to cover up that the Flying Dutchman was, in fact, a Frisian. It was not the fictional character Willem van der Decken, but the historic seafarer Barend Fokke (also written as Barent Focke) from Friesland. He was a captain in the service of the illustrious Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie VOC (‘Dutch East India Company’), and managed to sail from Amsterdam to Batavia (today’s Jakarta, Indonesia) in a just a bit more than three months. In general, this journey took six to eight months. Therefore, people deducted: it must be that Fokke had sold his soul to the Devil. A later addition to the legend is that because of foul-weather the captain could not round the Cape of Good Hope of Africa and said:
“God or the Devil, I shall round the Cape. Even if it means I must sail the seas till the Day of Judgment!”
He threw the Bible overboard.
Another addition to the legend is that the Devil is on board the ship disguised as a black poodle. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, but slightly different. Anyway, remember from now on to talk about the Flying Frisian instead of the Flying Dutchman. Please do watch the movie Pirates of Caribbean again. Till 1808, when it was destroyed by the eternal enemy the British, there was even a statue of Fokke on an island in front of the city of Batavia.
The same incompetence of Frisians of getting the credits, is the case with the colony of Nieuw Nederlant ‘New Netherland’ in America in the seventh century, over the period 1609-1674.
The story is all too familiar. In the year 1609 the Englishman Henry Hudson, an expat hired by the VOC and captain of the ship the Halve Maen ‘Half-Moon’, discovered the island Manhattan and sailed up the River Hudson. He was actually hired by the VOC to find the Northeast passage to Asia through the Arctic Ocean, like the Frisian seafarer Willem Barendsz had tried not so long before in 1595, but who got stuck on Nova Zembla ‘Novaya Zemlya’ for the winter. However, Hudson ignored the instructions of the VOC, also because he had tried it himself already before without success, and sailed to the West to find a passage to Asia. Soon after Hudson’s trip, Dutch immigrants started to settle in the region.
In 1624 another expat working for the Republic, the German called Peter Minuit, bought the island ‘Manhattes’ from the so-called ‘savages’. The price was sixty guilders; the famous 24 USD best business deal ever in history. The purchase is documented in the Schaghenbrief ‘Schagen Letter’ of November 5, 1626. It was the Westfrisian Cornelis Jacobszoon Mey (also written May) from the town of Hoorn (or Schellinkhout?) who became the first governor of the New Netherland colony between 1624 and 1625. The so-called ‘savages’ were according to the Dutch the Manhatesen, who were a small band of 200 or 300 men and women under different chiefs. The Manhatese were probably a northern branch of the Lena’pe people, meaning ‘the people’ in their language. Concerning the translation of Manhattan ‘Manna Hatta’ opinions differ, but it could mean ‘hilly island’, ‘great island’ or simply ‘island’.
The Lena’pe did not sell the ground at all. Private ownership of land is not possible in the view of native American peoples. More likely the Lena’pe merely agreed with Minuit the Dutch could use Manhattan, in combination with forming more or less an alliance against hostile tribes. Thus the Lena’pe also continued to stay on the land. They often showed up and demanded food and drinks for days on end. And if the colonists did give it, they would threathen to slaughter their hogs, chickens and cows. In fact, in many areas on Manhattan island and the Noortrivier ‘North River’ (current River Hudson) up to the town of Beverwijck (current Albany) more or less continious presence of native tribes on the lands of the colonists was the reality. Even, if land was ‘bought’ and colonists did immediately established themselves on it, the native tribes demanded a second ‘sale’ a year later. In other words, in the eyes of the Lena’pe these transactions were temporarely permissions to stay on land that remained their territory, provided the Dutch would keep honor them with food, and provided they would help them in fights against hostile tribes. (Venema, 2003). It was in general a quite peaceful, intense co-existance between the Dutch settlers and native tribes during most of the time of the history of the New Netherland colony. Of course, apart from the Kieft’s Wars, which will be addressed further below.
Incidentally, the Schaghenbrief is considered the birth certificate of New York City. It was written by the Westfrisian Pieter Janszoon Schaghen from, indeed, the town of Schagen in region Westfriesland. He was a special administrator of the West-Indische Compagnie WIC (‘Dutch West India Company’). He wrote this letter to inform his WIC superiors in The Hague that the ship Wapen van Amsterdam ‘Arms of Amsterdam’ had returned from the West, including the contents it had brought back (i.e. over 8,000 skins of beavers, otters, minks, rats, and of wildcats, together with oak).
Colony New Netherland, a new province of the Dutch Republic, was quite a property. It extended roughly from present-day Albany, New York, in the north to Delaware Bay in the south, comprising all or parts of what became New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Roughly 700 kilometres of coast, stretching from peninsula Cape Cod, which itself was English, to peninsula Delmarva.
Republic of the Seven United Netherlands
The term Dutch Republic is an abbreviation of the official name Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden ‘Republic of the Seven United Netherlands’. The republics of this federation were in alphabetic order: Lordship of Friesland, Duchy of Guelders, Lordship of Groningen, County of Holland and West-Friesland, Lordship of Overijssel, Lordship of Utrecht, County of Zeeland. County of Drenthe was also part of the republic, the eighth Province, but had no voting right within the States General.
The Republic had five admiralties. An admiralty was responsible for the organisation of a naval fleet. These were: Amsterdam, De Maze (i.e. Rotterdam), Noorderkwartier (i.e. region West-Friesland/Westfriesland), Dokkum/Harlingen (Province Friesland) and Middelburg (Province Zeeland).
The settlements of the colony all received very Dutchy names. Like Haarlem (Harlem), Vlissingen (Flushing), Breukelen (Brooklyn; check also our blog post Attingahem Bridge for its surprising Frisian history), New Amstel (New Castle), the Bronx, Wall Street, Tappan Zee, Oester Eylant (Ellis Island), Bloemendaal (Bloomingdale), Bouwerij (Bowery), Conijne Eylant (Coney Island), Dutch Kills, ‘t Lange Eylant (Long Island), Staten Eylant (Staten Island), Kinderhook, Rensselaer, (East) Nassau, Nassau County, the Oranges, Beverwijck (Albany), Fort Oranje (Albany), Midwout, Swaanendael, Heemstede, Rustdorp, Rotterdam, Sprakers, Schuylkill River, Verplanck, Peekskill, Ossining, Yonkers, and of course New Amsterdam (New York). Just to name a few. Notice no settlement is named after a place name in province Friesland.
Moreover, the persons who profited from the colony, the colonial elite so to say, became famous names in America. It were the Van Burens, Vanderbilts, Van Cortlands, Schuylers, Van Rensselaers, Van Leers, and the Roosevelts. A lot of Dutch ‘van’ and again no Frisian name extension ‘-ga’, ‘-ma’ or ‘-stra’. (read our post How to recognize a Frisian by name).
We found a few exceptions to the rule. One is the place name Cape Henlopen in Delaware Bay. Named after the merchant Thijmen Jacobszoon Hinlopen from the little town Hindeloopen in province Friesland. An other is the place name Vriessendael at today’s Edgewater at the banks of the River Hudson. It was founded by the Westfrisian globetrotter and adventurer David Pieterszoon from the city of Hoorn in region Westfriesland. He is commonly known as David de Vries ‘David the Frisian’.
De Vries must have been a remarkable personality. He had been in the East before popping up in the West. On Staten Island he had established a farmstead. During his life in New Netherland he, for example, tried to help out the fairly incapable Governor Wouter van Twiller when a British merchant ship wanted to sail up the North River, now the River Hudson. Instead of telling the English trader to buzz off, Van Twiller ended up being dronk on board the ship with the captain. Eventually it was De Vries who prevented the ship breaching Dutch souvereignty. But De Vries is mostly remembered for his, albeit invain, efforts to prevent Governor Willem Kieft from making war with the native peoples, the Tappans, the Hackinsacks, the Wickquasgecks, and the Raritans. Governor Kieft had succeeded Van Twiller in 1638. The so-called Kieft’s Wars, from 1643 to 1645. All to the horror of not only De Vries, but to many inhabitants of the New Netherland colony, and even back in the Republic itself. In 1647 Kieft was fired.
At Broadway and 240th Street you can find the only surviving house on Manhattan in Dutch colonial style. It is the farmhouse of William Dyckman. He himself was not a Dutch, but a German from Westphalia (although some say his family originated from Amsterdam). It was built in 1785. It is now a museum of the Dutch period on Manhattan.
The River Hudson valley was dotted with Dutch settlements and also home to two famous American legends, namely that of the Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow, and that of Rip van Winkle. The Dutch origin is an important element of both stories. Both have been written by Washington Irving (1783-1859). He is buried at Sleepy Hollow.
Other old houses in the Dutch colonial style are the Lott House and the Wyckoff farmhouse, both in Brooklyn and both built in/around 1652. But also the Flatlands Reformed Church, also in Brooklyn, built a year later in 1653.
The portraits in City Hall and the Met in New York City what we started this blog post with, are of government officials. The small villages Koudum and Peperga, as said, both in the south of province Friesland, only fourty kilometres apart as the crow flies.
Pieter Stuyvesant (1592-1672)
The one of village Peperga in City Hall is the portrait of Pieter Stuyvesant (see below), also Peter or Petrus Stuyvesant. Peperga, a small village, only fifteen kilometres as the crow flies away from the Zuyderzee ‘Southern Sea’, and thus connected with the wide world. The profession of his father, a minister, probably also gave Stuyvesant a broader look at the world. Following the footsteps of his father at first, Stuyvesant studied theology at the University of Franeker in province Friesland. A university with quite international prestige in Europe. He was not your typical obedient college kid. Known for both stealing from his landlady as well as having sex with her daughter, and for rough behaviour in bars in the port of Harlingen. Whether or not he smoked tobacco we do not know. The odds are he did.
His nickname was Peg Leg Pete, or Zilverbeen ‘silver leg’ in Dutch. This because of his sparkly wooden leg, full of frills and decorations. He lost his leg during a military naval campaign at the island of Saint Martin in 1644. Captain Ahab of the Caribbean. Although he stole from his landlady when he was young, Stuyvesant as governor was tough on colonists who cheated native tribes in business deals. The man who gave a damn for the noble and academic laws of Hugo Grotius or Descartes. The compagny’s law (i.e. the WIC) was the only natural law for him. He understood duty and station (Shorto, 2005).
Stuyvesant was by far the longest serving governor of the New Netherland colony. Stuyvesant was appointed by the WIC in 1646 and fulfilled this position for eighteen years. Normally governors only did the job for a couple of years. Albeit he did not achieve what his Westfrisian colleague Jan Pieterszoon Coen had achieved with the Dutch Indies in the East earlier that century, he still expanded and secured the young colony all this time. That was quite a challenge. The neighboring British and Swedish colonies were quite aggressive Pac-Men, whilst at the same time the Dutch colony was extensive and only sparsely populated. About 10,000 people in total. Defense was thus difficult. During his rule, in the year 1653, the settlement of New Amsterdam even received the status of city with its own council. The start of Spin City. Furthermore, it was Stuyvesant who founded Beverwijck in 1652, later to become the city of Albany. This was the area around Fort Oranje. Beverwijck, meaning ‘Beaver Trading Site’, refers to the main economic activity: the trade in beaver skins the Dutch bought from the native tribes (Venema, 2003).
On September 24, 1664 Stuyvesant surrendered to a British fleet. This was during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The citizens of the New Netherland colony refused to fight and take up arms, knowing they never stood a chance against the fleet and the British colonies to the north. They pressed Stuyvesant to negotiate a surrender. As we shall see further below, New Netherland was quite an obsession of King Charles II of England. The proces of surrender would be Stuyvesant’s last act as governor, but a decisive one.
The Articles of Captiulation that were agreed for the surrender of New Netherland attest to the bourgeois rights, liberties achieved by the Dutch since the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe ‘Act of Abjuration’ of 1581. In the Plakkaat it was stated that the people may free themselves from a ruler, if he no longer fullfills his duties and obligations toward the people. The Articles negotiated by Stuyvesant state among other that the Dutch in the colony shall enjoy the liberty of consciences, that they would be free to come and go whenever they liked, and that trade would be free. Also, the Articles state that the representative government institutions of the Manhattanites would stay the same, except for them to swear loyalty to the king of England from now on. With these negotiations, the British Empire was infected with the virus of bourgeois liberties for which, at the end, no vaccin was available and would spread into the United States that would emerge soon.
A year after the surrender, Stuyvesant returned to Holland. He was ordered to do so by the States General to answer why he had surrendered the colony without putting up a fight. Stuyvesant defended his case and pleaded to be allowed to return to his property in the New Netherland colony, to his estate the Grote Bouwerij/Bouwerie meaning ‘farm’, today known as the Bowery. He and his family had become Americans and America was his home (Shorto, 2005). At long last the States General allowed him to do so. He and his family retreated at the Bowery, which stretched from East River to 4th Avenue. People still greated him on the streets with ‘general’. On the Bowery Stuyvesant owned forty slaves (Hondius, 2017). Stuyvesant died at respectable age in the year 1672.
The Saint Mark’s Church in the Bowery, built on top of the chapel Stuyvesant had commissioned in 1660, is the oldest place of continuous religious worship. Stuyvesant is buried there. His tomb is built into the side of the church. Local legend has it, especially throughout the nineteenth century, the area of the church is being haunted by the ghost of Peg Leg Pete, the proud, stiff Frisian. You could hear him walk, his soul tormented still by the fact he had lost New Amsterdam to the English. He was remembered in history as the governor that was straightforward, stubburn and being authoritarian. Somehow never as the man who planted the individual freedoms and liberties on American soil and which were carried across the River Delaware in 1776. And Stuyvesant who did so through the delicate art of the possible, which required a frim hand too. In all this, he stood in a millenium-old tradition of Frisia. Read our blog posts Porcupines bore U.S. Bucks and Upstalsboom: why solidarity is not the core of a collective to understand this old tradition.
Jacob Benckes (1637-1677)
The other portrait (see above) is the one you can find in the Met. It is the portrait of the untold naval-hero Jacob Benckes, often written as Binckes or Binkes, from the village of Koudum. We will elaborate on his history extensively since its typical for the question of the blog post how Frisians always seem to succeed in not getting the credits.
Young Benckes was a seafarer and merchant in wood which he imported from Norway. Traditionally, the towns in the southwest of province Friesland traded a lot with Norway. His naval career at the Admiralty of Amsterdam started in 1660, among other with operations to escort merchant convoys to Norway and securing the River Elbe in the interest of Dutch merchant vessels. Captain Benckes is also very active in the heroic Raid on the Medway in June 1667. His fregat the Essen, which carried fifty stukken ‘canons’ and twenty-five marines, is part of the strike force on the river. It was one of England’s biggest military humiliation ever. Other prestigious, Frisian naval officers who took part in the raid were Enno Doedes Star from the village Osterhusen, and Hans Willem van Aylva from the village of Holwerd. World famous names, of course.
The Raid on the Medway was part of a daring strategy of the powerful regents, and brothers, Johan and Cornelis de Witt. To obtain the strongest position at the peace negotiations table in the city of Breda, that were going on for some time. The English had tried to do the same earlier by raiding the Frisian Wadden Sea island Terschelling on August 20, 1666. Alpha dog and a beta dog. The Treaty of Breda of 1667 meant the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In the treaty it was agreed that all territories conquered on each other on May 20, 1667 would be respected. That meant that the New Netherland colony belonged to England. The more lucrative properties Suriname, island Saba, island Sint Eustatius and island Tobago, Fort Cormantin, and all of the Banda Islands belonged to the Republic.
The peace of Breda was short-lived and five years later the Third Anglo-Dutch War started. The year 1672 is the so-called Rampjaar ‘Disaster Year’ of the Dutch Republic since not only a war with England broke out, but also one with France and one with the Habsburg Monarchy. Bit of an overkill for the Republic. Benckes is one of the captains during the Battle of Solebay on May 28, 1672. This time a sea battle against a huge, combined English and French fleet. Although heavily outnumbered, the Dutch were more or less victorious and left the ship the Royal James shot to pieces and burning behind. A prestigious warship with hundred stukken ‘canons’ and, moreover, the flagship of King Charles II. The king that graved for New Netherland.
They were hectic times and Benckes was therefore almost full time at sea. Following the Battle of Solebay he was immediately sent on a secret mission to the West via the neutral port of Cadiz in Spain. Once in the Caribbean, Benckes had a rendezvous with a squadron of the Admiralty of Zeeland under command of Vice-Admiral Cornelis Evertsen. A squadron that ‘happened’ to be in the hood too, and they ‘happened’ to find each other quite easily. They combined their squadrons into a joint fleet of twenty-one ships. The biggest naval fleet the West had ever seen roaming its shores. After causing some serious havoc and plundering at the coast of Virginia, they recaptured in 1673 New Amsterdam and the New Netherland colony. That was just a year after Stuyvesant, its former governor, had died. The recapture of New Amsterdam only needed a short exchange of canon fire. Benckes and Evertsen marched on Broadway. We love to think this is the origin of the ticker-tape parade. New Amsterdam, renamed New York by the English after they had conquered it in 1644, was renamed once again. This time it was baptized New Orange. Anthonij Colve was installed as the new, and last, Dutch governor of the colony.
Nicolaes Bayart, a nephew of former Governor Stuyvesant, who lived in the colony when it was retaken by the Dutch, was appointed secretary of the War Council that temporarily governed the colony. It is thought that due to Bayart’s diligent and hard work many government reforms were implemented in a very short time. When a year later the colony was returned to England already, it was negotiated that the rights and freedoms of the citizens, and the governance by and large would be respected by the British. Just as Stuyvesant had done before in 1644. That turned out to be case in practice as well. New Yorkers can thank Bayart still for it.
Cradle of American Liberties
With New Netherland, the Dutch established a colony with settlements based on free trade, liberty, and the right to purchase personal wealth. The Dutch who successfully fought the first great bourgeois revolution in world history and founded a federation of republics. That was about a century before the French Revolution in 1789 (Leonard, 2020). The settlers in New Netherland came from everywhere and for all sorts of reasons. The colony attracted traders, merchants, prostitutes, slaves, former slaves, trappers, explorers, etc. It became a mix of Norwegians, Germans, Italians, Jews, Africans, Walloons, Bohemians, Munsees, Montauks, Mohawks, and, of course, Dutch. A colorful collection of losers and scalawags, inconsequential and meandering, waiting around for the wind of fate to blow them of the map (Shorto, 2005). The Dutch Republic back then -uniquely in Europe and the world- believed in an open market and in global competition. Also, relatively tolerance toward religion was part of Dutch society. One of their most famous philosophers Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), the first modern thinker and founder of the Age of Enlightenment, wrote in 1670:
“in a free state every man may think what he likes, and say what he thinks”.
This New-Netherland model had a lasting impact on the history of United States. Not only because of the similarity of being a federation of republics. Political freedom and representative government were inherited through the New Netherland colony, long before the Declaration of Independence, and long before the British did. Quite the opposite of the early British colonies founded by the religious rigid Pilgrims and Puritans, north of the New Netherland colony. It was New Netherland, not Boston, Plymouth, or Jamestown, that is the cradle of America’s liberties, the Bill of Rights, and the centre of open market and globalized economy. A belief that individual achievement matters more than birthright (Shorto, 2004).
An exception to all this positiveness was the settlement of Rensselaerswijck in the north of the colony, current city of Albany and capital of State New York. It was founded by the diamond merchant and shareholder of the WIC, Kiliaen Rensselaer from the village of Hasselt. He governed his settlement in a strict feudalistic way. Rensselaerswijck, by the way, was purchased from the Mahicans in the ‘1630s by a Frisian named Sebastiaen Janszoon Krol from the port of Harlingen, on behalf of Kiliaen Rensselaer. Krol was a lay minister and in 1631-1632 also in charge as commander of Fort Orange. During 1632 and 1633 Krol was also provisional governor of the New Netherland colony when Minuit was ordered to return to the Republic.
During the War of Independence between 1775-1783, the thirteen rebellious colonies were actively supported by the Dutch Republic in their fight against Britain. Especially with weapons smuggled to America via the Caribbean. The reprisals of the English were tough and economically it cost the Republic dearly.
It goes without saying, diplomats of the American colonies tried to persuade countries to officially recognize the independence of the United States of America. Province Friesland was the first state within the Dutch Republic to vote for recognition. That was on February 26, 1782. On April 19, 1782, the Dutch Republic recognized the independence, and was the second in the world to do so. The Kingdom of France was quicker and had recognized the independence of America on February 6, 1778 already. Unofficially, however, the Dutch Republic had recognized the Republic of the United States already on November 16, 1776. That was when the Dutch cordially greeted the American ship Andrew Doria from Saint Estatius with eleven gunshots. An act that already infuriated proud Britain.
Back to the joint venture in the West of Benckes and Evertsen. When the Amsterdam and Zeeland squadrons returned to the Republic, the conquered flags of the English were handed over by Benckes to Amsterdam. Not by Evertsen to the Admiralty of Zeeland. Hence a clear signal the whole operation in the Americas was authorized by the States of Province Holland and West-Friesland, and it was this Province that was leading the whole thing. Nevertheless, in the centuries to come it was Evertsen who got the credits for recapturing New Amsterdam and Benckes was forgotten. Illustrative is the strophe of the nineteenth-century poet Potgieter: “Die Evertsen een eerkrans vlechte!” (‘Which braided a wreath for Evertsen’). No mention whatsoever of Benckes.
With the Treaty of Westminster of 1674, that marked the end of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the New Netherland colony was returned to England. There is much speculation about the naval operation of the combined operation of Vice-Admiral Evertsen and Commodore Benckes in the West. It is suggested much was secretly orchestrated by Stadtholder William III. The Prince of Orange happened to be one of the main shareholders of the WIC, a company that was facing bankruptcy at the time. A company, by the way, that was responsible for the transport of an estimated 300,000 slaves from Africa, which was about half of the total Dutch transatlantic slave trade. Time to make a profit William, might have thought. Or was it to create leverage in the war against England, knowing New Netherland was precious to King Charles II?
But maybe there were even other interests involved which were more viciously on the side of William III. He had ambitions to marry his first cousin Mary II, who was a niece of King Charles II. Giving New Netherland to King Charles II as a kind of wedding gift, could contribute to get this marriage deal done. Not long after the Third Anglo-Dutch War had ended, William and Mary indeed married in 1677. The restitution of the New Netherland colony to England was explicitly approved by Stadtholder William III. One of the five negotiators sent by the Republic to negotiate the Treaty of Westminster was a Frisian by the way, Willem van Haren from region ‘t Bildt.
In 1675 Commodore Benckes is sent to assist the King of Denmark in his conflict with the King of Sweden, with the purpose to secure the Sound for Dutch trade. After this mission he is instructed in 1676 to go to the West again. At the same time, Admiral Michiel de Ruyter (from Vlissingen) is sent to the Mediterranean, and Admiral Maarten Tromp (from Den Briel) is sent to the Baltic Sea. So, a Frisian, a Dutchman/Hollander and a Zeelander (‘Zeeuw’) were the three naval officers ruling the waves of the silver seas and determined to make life difficult for the French. Benckes was tasked to conquer French Guiana and to colonize the island of Tobago. He succeeded in both. However, in February 1677 the French attacked with a big fleet Fort Sterrenschans on Tobago, which was still under construction. Benckes was able to stand his ground despite many loses and much destruction. The French sent immediately a new fleet to the West, whilst the Republic was slow with decision making. Military reinforcements arrived too late to help out Benckes. Benckes was stuck on the island, isolated. December that same year a second battle took place during which Benckes was killed. The battle of Tobago was one of the heaviest, overseas colonial battles. Tens of man-o-wars were destroyed, and it took more than 2,000 lives.
Benckes never lived to tell to be promoted to rear admiral. When he died at Tobago he was quite young, namely forty years. Officers, when promoted to rear admiral, were in general of older of age. Secondly, he was in the service of the Admiralty of Amsterdam, and he did not descend from the Amsterdam or Holland patricians. Admirals were often selected from influential families. Instead, Benckes was a relatively modest merchant from province Friesland. Perhaps, if he had worked for the Admiralty of Friesland instead of Amsterdam he would have had better chances for quicker promotion. Although, the States General of the Republic always had a say in appointing admirals, except for the Admiralty of Zeeland that was more independent in its human resource policy.
A vacancy Benckes might have hoped for in due time, is the kind that Admiral Tjerk Hiddes (from the village of Sexbierum in province Friesland) left behind in the year 1666. He is commonly known as Tjerk Hiddes de Vries, the Frisian, since his Frisian name was unpronounceable for Dutchmen. In 1666 Hiddes was killed during the Four Day’s Battle against England. Hiddes is also remembered for his statement after the disastrous Battle of Lowestoft in 1656 under the command of Admiral Jacob van Wassenaar Obdam, or under his British alias Foggy (‘slow’) Opdam:
“Vooreerst heeft God Almachtigh ons opperhooft de kennis ontnomen of noyt gegeven.”First of all God Almighty has taken away from our chief the knowledge or never had given it.
Other (vice-) admirals from province Friesland, region Ostfriesland and region West-Friesland were: Hans Willem van Aylva (from Holwerd), Rudolf Coenders (from Harlingen), Pieter Florisse (from Monnickendam?), Jan Corneliszoon Meppel (from Hoorn), Christoffel Middaghten (from Sexbierum), Volckert Adriaanszoon Schram (from Enkhuizen), Hidde Sjoerds (from Sexbierum), Enno Doedes Star (from Osterhusen), Auke Stellingwerf (from Harlingen), and David Vlugh (from Enkhuizen). Well, who does not know them.
Lastly, there is the case of Robinson Kreutznaer, or better known as Robinson Crusoe. The castaway on a deserted island with his cannibal-slave named Friday. A story written by Daniel Defoe in 1719. Since Defoe said his story was all true, the question arises, who was this Robinson? Here in general the credits are being awarded to a Scot named Alexander Selkirk, notwithstanding the Dutch-sounding last name Kreutznaer. Selkirk was a castaway on an island before the coast of modern Chile. Nothing is less true of this theory. It were the events of Benckes and his isolated stay on the island Tobago around which the story and character of Robinson Crusoe was modelled by Defoe (De Vries, 2020). From the northern side of the island Robinson Crusoe could see the island Trinidad, as it is written by Defoe. That is not the coast of Chile, we are afraid.
The story of Robinson Crusoe is, in fact, an ode to superior England with island Tobago being Great Britain. France and Germany are represented by the cannibals who harass island Britain. The Dutch Republic is the enslaved cannibal named Friday. The father of Friday is Spain, out of which the Dutch Republic was born, indeed. There are many more hints giving away Benckes’ adventure on island Tobago was the basis of the story. Yet again, this Frisian did not get the credits for it. These still go, as said, to the Scotsman Selkirk.
It is like what Winston Churchill once said: “history is written by the victorious”. In this blog post repeatedly Frisians appear, but mostly as a government representative, like clerks, negotiators, administration and naval officers. They were the (ignorant?) instruments, it seems, of the powerful. Of William of Orange for example. Of victorious Province Holland. Even Stuyvesant did not get the real credits that matter, of establishing the basis for the freedoms and liberties of Manhattan and America as such. True, he got his own cigarette brand centuries later. Instead, the credits often go to a southerner and lawman Adriaen van der Donck. He has the ‘van‘ which Stuyvesant does not have.
For the Frisians in general, only some landmarks at the edge of the world, or even beyond, have been named after them. Find them on the barren Norwegian archipelago of Spitsbergen in the Arctic Ocean (i.e. Ny-Friesland, Barentsøya and Barentszburg), as well as the Barents Sea near Novaya Zemlya, and Frisches Haff, Russia. And, we must not forget the Gemma Frisius impact crater on the moon and the Oort Cloud in the galaxy. All together mostly places you do not want to visit.
The question remains, how come the goody-goody Frisians lack the skills to receive the credits, so badly? Their inability to claim success. Or is it that they are simply indifferent to success and glory? We welcome any ideas on this typical trait.
Note – If interested in how the Dutch tradition of free market and capitalism have evolved, read our blog post Porcupines bore US bucks. It becomes tedious, but yet again another piece of history the Frisians failed to receive the credits for.
Note – The cigarette brand Stuyvesant is founded by the company Reemtsma with the slogan ‘Der Duft der großen weiten Welt‘ (The perfume of the great wide world). Also this was taken from Stuyvesant from the British, namely by the British American Tobacco plc. Reemtsma is a family business originating from Region Ostfriesland in Germany, today located in the city of Hamburg.
Note – Suggested music Counting Crows, Mr. Jones (2009)
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