I just finished re-reading (first go around was 2006 ) Russel Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World, which is as the subtitle explains, the epic story of Dutch Manhattan and the forgotten colony that shaped America.
As a result of the English takeover of the colony in 1664, we’ve all been fed the party line that America’s ideals, foundations and successes are all due to the hardy stock and moral superiority of our Pilgrim Fathers.
Shorto’s investigation, largely based on translations of Dutch 17th century documents reveals the actual truth.
The Dutch did not confine themselves to the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
Their colonies were spread from Delaware to what is now Hartford Connecticut.
Present day maps contain the Dutch or Anglicized Dutch names such as New Castle, Delaware, Cape May New Jersey, the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania, Rensselaer, and Brooklyn New York.
Words such as cookie, boss, cole slaw and Santa Claus exist in our vocabulary from Dutch origins.
More significant though was their concept of tolerance and acceptance that was most influential on building the American character.
The Dutch colonies were a result of private enterprise and designed to create profit for the Dutch West India Company.
This made Manhattan a commercial hub from the start and it attracted a diverse demographic, creating a culturally pluralistic, upwardly mobile and capitalistic society.
The Pilgrims who fled England to escape religious persecution quickly transformed their Plymouth bay and Massachusetts colonies into a theocracy equivalent to modern day Taliban. Refugees from there ended up in Dutch territory seeking freedom of religion.
The legal system in place was Dutch based and gave us the concept of public prosecutor, or district attorney.
It was the half Dutch, half English New York delegation to the Constitutional Convention that insisted on the Bill of Rights before they would ratify a document that limited the government’s infringement on personal freedom.
Bottom line — read the book.
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