New York City, the Capitol of the World. Other names are Gotham, Modern Gomorrah, The Big Apple, Empire City and Bagdad-on-the-Subway. With Times Square being the self-proclaimed Centre of the Universe. Amidst all this grandeur and bigness, portraits of two seventeenth-century men from the small villages 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 insomniac Fun City was still known as Nieuw Amsterdam ‘New Amsterdam’.
Before disclosing the names of the two men, we present the questions of this blog post first: How come Dutchmen, i.e. the people from region Holland in the Netherlands, (also) receive 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 themselves have achieved? What skills do they lack 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 or Barend Fokkes) from Friesland. Indeed, the typical Dutch component ‘van‘ is no part of Barend’s surname. He was a captain in the service of the illustrious Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie VOC (‘Dutch East-India Company’), and managed to sail with the ship De Snobber ‘The Sweet Tooth’ from the Netherlands to Batavia, today’s Jakarta in 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 South 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. From then on he had to sail the seas for ever and may never call a port with his ship.
Another addition to the legend is that the Devil is on board the ship in the appearance of a black poodle. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, but slightly different. Poodles have been associated more often with evilness, restless souls and the Devil, like the saga in region Ostfriesland of Die beiden Pudel ‘The two poodles’ and the saga of Der Pudel vom Diekhof ‘The poodle from Diekhof’.
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. Anyway, remember from this day forward to speak of the Flying Frisian instead of the Flying Dutchman. With this knowledge, please do watch the movie Pirates of the Caribbean again.
More Frisians up in the (thin) air – A famous early-medieval Germanic legend is that of Wayland the Smith. The blacksmith who made wings and flew away from the island where he was kept captive. He too might have been from Frisia. Read our blog post Weladu the flying blacksmith to find out more. Yet another person of Frisian descent who carries the nickname Flying Dutchman, is astronaut Jack Lousma from Grand Rapids, USA. Check out our blog post More Flying Dutchmen and learn that even more astronauts of Frisian descent joined the ranks with Lousma in space. Lastly, the world famous Dutch gymnast on the high bar, Epke Zonderland, carries also the nickname Flying Dutchman. The first man to achieve the triple combo on the bar. He too is a Frisian.
The same incompetence of Frisians of getting the credits, is the case with the colony of Nieuw Nederlant ‘New Netherland’ in North 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 De Halve Maen ‘The Crescent Moon’, discovered the island of Manhattan and sailed up the River Hudson. He was actually hired by the VOC to find the Northeast Passage to Asia via the Arctic Ocean. Like the Frisian seafarer Willem Barendsz had tried several times not so long before, but who got stuck on Nova Zembla ‘Novaya Zemlya’ for the winter of 1595-1596. However, Hudson completely ignored the instructions of the Heeren XVII ‘Lords Seventeen’ of the VOC, also because he had tried it himself already not long before without success. Instead, he sailed to the West to find a passage there to Asia. Soon after Hudson’s trip, Dutch immigrants started to settle in the region.
In 1624 another expat working for the Dutch Republic, the German called Peter Minuit, bought the island ‘Manhattes’ from the so-called wilden ‘wildlings’ or ‘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 (his surname was 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 ‘wildlings’ were according to the Dutch called the Manhatesen, who were a small band of 200 or 300 men and women grouped together 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 land ownership is not possible in the view of native Americans. More likely the Lena’pe merely agreed with Minuit that the Dutch could use the land of Manhattan in terms of usufruct (‘use of fruit’), in combination with forming more or less an alliance against hostile native tribes. Consequently the Lena’pe continued to stay on the land too. They regularly showed up and expected food and accommodation from the settlers for days on end. If the colonists did not give it, they often threatened to slaughter the 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 continuous presence of native tribes on the lands of the colonists was the reality. Even, if land was ‘bought’ and the colonists did not immediately establish themselves on it to use it, the native tribes could demand a second ‘sale’ a year later. In other words, in the eyes of the Lena’pe these transactions were temporarily permissions to stay on land that remained their territory, provided the settlers would keep honor them with food and gifts, etc, and provided the settlers would help them in wars against hostile tribes (Venema 2003).
It was in general a quite, relatively peaceful and intense co-existence between the Dutch settlers and native peoples 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. The Dutch were keen in buying beaver pelts, the native tribes keen in selling these to the Dutch. There was not half a day when there were no native tribesmen present in the settlements of the New Netherland colony. Although it was not allowed to accommodate natives tribesmen inside your own house, the Dutch built primitive bark houses on their property to accommodate their business partners when needed. These little houses had names like wilden huysje (‘little wildling’s house’) and hansioos huysje (‘Hans’ little house’). Despite native tribesmen being omnipresent, the two cultures remained separate. There are not many examples of interracial relationships and mixed-race offspring was probably limited, although several cases of admixture have been documented.
One thing that periodically did cause commotion were drunk native tribesmen. When drunk, often it led to outburst of violence, like molest, killing of livestock and damage of property, and occasionally to deaths on both sides. For this reason it was prohibited to sell alcoholic beverages to native people. Whereas drinking within Dutch culture reinforced ties of the group, for a native tribesmen it led to isolation of the individual from the group because of losing his self-control and temper. Illustrative is that the Maquas tribe, anticipating on their wars with the French, requested the Dutch authorities in 1659 not to sell any brandy to their tribesmen. Enforcing the regulations of not selling alcohol to tribesmen, was quite a challenge for the colonial authorities. If you take for example the village of Beverwijck (future city of Albany), it had about a 1,000 inhabitants and about thirteen taverns. For every seventy-five inhabitants, one gin joint.
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 that the ship the Wapen van Amsterdam ‘Arms of Amsterdam’ had returned from the West, including the contents it had brought back (i.e. over 8,000 pelts of beavers, otters, minks, rats(?), and of wildcats, together with some 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 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 early-medieval 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 (jonkheer, the estate of squire Van der Donck), and of course New Amsterdam (New York City). 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 speak, became famous names in America. It are the Van Burens, Vanderbilts, Lefferts, Van Nostrands, Van Cortlands, Schuylers, Van Rensselaers, Van Leers, Wyckhoffs, and the Roosevelts. A lot of Dutch ‘van’ surnames and again no typical Frisian surname 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 Cape May in Delaware Bay, named after the aforementioned Westfrisian Cornelis Jacobszoon Mey and who was the first governor of the New Netherland colony. Opposite of Cape May, on the southern side of the Delaware Bay, at the settlement of Swaanendael (current Lewes), the Dutch started with whaling around 1630 (Romm 2010). Commercial whaling in the Arctic had started twenty years earlier, led by England, the Dutch Republic and the free cities of Hamburg and Bremen. Read our post Happy Hunting Grounds in the Arctic. Another exception is the place name Cape Henlopen, also in Delaware Bay. Named after the merchant Thijmen Jacobszoon Hinlopen from the little town of Hindeloopen in province Friesland. Another example 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’.
This De Vries bloke 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 tried to help out the fairly incapable Governor Wouter van Twiller when a British merchant ship wanted to sail up the River Hudson. Instead of telling the English trader to buzz off, Van Twiller ended up being dronk and wasted on board the ship with the captain. Eventually it was De Vries who prevented the ship breaching Dutch sovereignty. But De Vries is mostly remembered for his, albeit in vain, 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. In 1633, De Vries made also an effort to restart commercial whaling in Delaware Bay. It became no succes.
At Broadway and 240th Street you can find the only surviving house on Manhattan island 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. The legend of the Headless Horseman reminds us of the saga of the headless knight of the port town of Marienhafe in region Ostfriesland. In fact, he is a former pirate carrying his head under his arm, and can be spotted around midnight a the tower of Marienhafe. Both American legends have been written by Washington Irving (1783-1859). He is buried at Sleepy Hollow.
Other old houses in New York 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 Wyckoff farmhouse, between Clarendon Rd and Ditmas Ave in East Flattbush, Brooklyn, is considered to be the oldest house of New York City. Originally the name was spelled as Wykhof. It was built by an East-Frisian, namely Pieter Claesen from near the town of Norden in the north of region Ostfriesland. Pieter Claesen came to New Netherland in 1632 when he was twelve years old. It was in 1652 when he bought a piece of land from the WIC in New Amersfoort also known as the Flatlands, and what would become Brooklyn.
Finally. The portraits in City Hall and the Met in New York City what we started this blog post with. They are of government officials. From the small villages Koudum and Peperga, as said, both in the south of province Friesland, only forty kilometres apart from each other as the crow flies.
Pieter Stuyvesant (1592-1672)
The one of village Peperga in City Hall is the portrait of Pieter Stuyvesant (see image below), also called 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 those days. 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 behavior in taverns in the port of Harlingen. Whether or not he smoked tobacco we do not know. Maybe he had one of those fancy Gouda smoking pipes, that just had become fashionable.
His nickname was Peg Leg Pete, or Zilverbeen ‘silver leg’ in Dutch. This because of his sparkly wooden leg, covered with 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. Had the New Yorker writer Herman Melville, of Dutch origin, one-legged Stuyvesant in mind when creating this character Ahab? Although Stuyvesant stole from his landlady when he was young, Stuyvesant as a governor was tough on colonists who cheated native tribe members in business deals. He is being described as the man who gave a damn for the noble and academic laws of Hugo Grotius or Descartes. The company’s law (i.e. WIC) was the only natural law for him, and he understood duty and station (Shorto 2005).
Stuyvesant was by far the longest serving governor of the New Netherland colony and made a real mark. 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 by the way. The neighboring British colonies to the north and Swedish colonies to the south 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. Hence the defense was difficult. During Stuyvesant’s 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 the settlement of 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 pelts the Dutch bought from the native tribes (Venema 2003).
On September 24, 1664 Stuyvesant surrendered to a British fleet of 300 soldiers. 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 in world history.
The Articles of Capitulation which were agreed for the surrender of New Netherland attest to the bourgeois rights and liberties achieved by the Dutch people since the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe ‘Act of Abjuration’ of 1581. The declaration of independence of the Dutch Republic. In the Plakkaat it was stated that the people may free themselves from a ruler, if he no longer fulfills his duties and obligations toward the people. The Articles, negotiated under supervision of 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 it would spread into the United States soon to emerge. What we call a serious butterfly effect.
A year after the surrender, Stuyvesant returned to patria, to Holland. He was ordered to do so by the States General of the Republic 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. Back to his estate the 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 greeted him on the streets of New York with ‘general’. On the Bowery Stuyvesant owned forty slaves (Hondius 2017). Stuyvesant died at an respectable age in the year 1672.
The Saint Mark’s Church in the Bowery, built on top of a chapel Stuyvesant had commissioned back in 1660, is the oldest place of continuous religious worship on Manhattan. 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. Bit similar to the sagas surrounding the pirate and privateer Klaus Störtebeker who haunts the old tower of the port of Marienhafe in Ostfriesland. Around midnight, you can hear his footsteps too.
Stuyvesant was remembered in history as the governor that was straightforward, stubborn and being authoritarian. Somehow never as the man who planted the individual freedoms and liberties firmly on American soil, and which subsequently were carried across the River Delaware in 1776 by George Washington. And Stuyvesant did so through the delicate art of the possible, which required a firm hand too. Especially in a fragile and delicate situation of this far remote colony. In all this freedom of trade, individuality and representation of government, Stuyvesant stood in a millennium-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 image 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 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 ‘cannons’ 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. A strategy 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, but this time the Dutch won. The Treaty of Breda of 1667, which was very favorable for the Dutch, 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, in fact, 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 beaver-pelt trade in the New Netherland colony was already in decline from around the ‘1660s.
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, even for the young 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 ‘cannons’ 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, and they ‘happened’ to find each other quite easily. They combined their squadrons into a joint fleet of twenty-one ships. The biggest military 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 of age on his estate in the Bowery. The recapture of New Amsterdam only needed a short exchange of cannon 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 1664, 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 1664 with the Articles of Capitulation. That turned out to be case in practice as well. New Yorkers can thank Nicolaes Bayart still for it.
According to The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide, “the last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79” (Adams 1996). Indeed, New Yorkers owe Stuyvesant, Benckes and Bayart big time.
Cradle of American Liberties
With the New Netherland colony, 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 (Leonard 2020). That was about two centuries before the French Revolution in 1789. 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). It mirrors the demographic situation in the Republic and especially that of Amsterdam, where around 1650 half of the population had not been born in the city itself (Venema 2003). The Dutch Republic back then -uniquely in Europe and the world- believed in an open market and in global competition. Also, relative 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 both 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 center 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, now part of current city of Albany, capital of New York State. 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 Governor Minuit was ordered to return to the Republic.
During the War of Independence between 1775-1783, the thirteen rebellious colonies (including the former Dutch colony) 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 than Province Friesland, and had recognized the independence of America on February 6, 1778 already. Unofficially, big however, the Dutch Republic had recognized the Republic of the United States on November 16, 1776. That was when the Dutch cordially greeted the American ship Andrew Doria from Saint Eustatius with eleven gunshots. An act that already infuriated proud Britain.
Back to the joint naval 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, formal 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. Benckes was forgotten. Illustrative is the strophe of the nineteenth-century Dutch 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 again, 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 part of William III. He had ambitions to marry his first cousin Mary II, who was a niece of King Charles II. Giving New Netherland back 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 on a mission 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, province Zeeland) is sent to the Mediterranean, and Admiral Maarten Tromp (from Den Briel, province Holland) is sent to the Baltic Sea. So, a Frisian, a Hollander and a Zeelander (‘Zeeuw’), i.e. the coastal provinces of the Republic, 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 of other provinces, 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 the year 1656 under the command of Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam. Obdam was admiral of the States of Holland and West-Friesland, and also known under his British less hailed alias Foggy (‘slow’) Opdam. This is what Hiddes said:
“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 Foe (pseudonym 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 modeled 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 that 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 victors”. 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 credits that really mattered: of establishing the basis for the freedoms and liberties of Manhattan and of America as such. True, he got his own cigarette brand centuries later. Instead, these liberty credits often go to a southerner and lawman Adriaen van der Donck under the argument Stuyvesant was a boy from the countryside (Shorto 2004), which he evidently was not, as explained earlier in this post. Indeed, Van der Donck has the ‘van‘ in his surname which Stuyvesant does not have.
Concerning the Frisians in general, only some landmarks at the edge of the world, and 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) and the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, as well as the Barents Sea near Novaya Zemlya and Frisches Haff in Russia. Neither should we forget the Gemma Frisius and David Fabricius impact craters on the moon, nor the Oort Cloud in deep space. All together, mostly places you do not want to visit. Read our posts Sailors escaped from Cyclops and Happy Hunting Grounds in the Arctic for more stories about Frisians in the Arctic.
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.
We leave Churchill behind and finish this post with a flattering remark from the American statesman John Adams (1735-1826). Adams was one of the founding fathers of the United States and the second President. Adams also played an important role in designing the Declaration of Independence of Thomas Jeffersen. And, it was also Adams, in charge of getting the Dutch Republic, including Province Friesland, to recognize the independence of the States, who said that the Frisians were famous for their spirit of freedom.
Note 1 – 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 2 – 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 3 – From the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide of Douglas Adam:
Tips for aliens in New York
Land anywhere, Central Park, anywhere. No one will care or indeed even notice.
Surviving: get a job as a cabdriver immediately. A cabdriver’s job is to drive people anywhere they want to go in big yellow machines called taxis. Don’t worry if you don’t know how the machine works and you can’t speak the language, don’t understand the geography or indeed the basic physics of the area, and have large green antennae growing out of your head. Believe me, this is the best way of staying inconspicious.
If your body is really weird, try showing it to people in the streets for money.
Amphibious life forms from any of the worlds in the Swulling, Noxios, or Nausalia systems will particularly enjoy the East River, which is said to be richer in those lovely life-giving nutrients than the finest and most virulent laboratory slime yet achieved.
Having fun: this is the big section. It is impossible to have more fun without electrocuting your pleasure center….
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