I have become rather acquainted with the people of New Netherland and if I were to meet one of them, I would be able to discuss their community leaders, understand their occupations and government, recognize a lot of their names, know who many of their family members were, the names of their towns and even the exact street some of them lived on. I have come to understand and respect the early people of New Netherland and consider many of them to be my friends; even making the effort to know how to properly pronounce their Dutch names.
Before I sound like I am too fanatical, let me share a favorite quote by the historian David McCullough: “Because you were born into this particular era doesn’t mean it has to be the limit of your experience. Move about in time, go places. Why restrict your circle of acquaintances to only those who occupy the same stage we call the present?” (McCullough, 223).
I recently enjoyed a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was a wonderful read and the entire book consisted of letters between people in London and the Island of Guernsey just after World War II. Juliet, an author who lived in London was writing a book about the value of reading and began corresponding with people from Guernsey who, while under German Occupation, “accidently” started a literary club. The differences between London and Guernsey are so diverse that Juliet is soon obsessed with receiving letters each day to learn more of the people and their lives on this island. Though she had never met them or known them previous to their correspondence, she feels as if she knows these people well and cannot wait each day to hear more from them. In a letter to her book editor, Juliet admits, “The truth is, I am living more in Guernsey than I am in London at the moment – I pretend work with one ear cocked for the sound of the post dropping in the box, and when I hear it, I scramble down the stairs, breathless for the next piece of the story” (Shafer and Barrows, 93-94). I can relate to this feeling, as I too cannot wait each day to see what new bit of information I will find about my friends in New Netherland.
One day I want to visit New York because previous to being New York, it was New Netherland. I know the shape of the land and the rivers of the area quite well, I know the tribes that use to reside there and even have current addresses of where many buildings in New Netherland once stood. I must admit though, that I will probably be a bit disappointed once I get there because in my mind’s eye, there are no tall buildings or endless traffic. Instead there are quiet bays with sloops lazily resting in them and there are Natives walking dusty roads with furs on their backs and wampum strung from their belts. In my thoughts there are no streets crammed with business and cafes, only large fields filled with an assortment of crops and small kitchen gardens near quaint Dutch homes. To me there are no crosswalks or taxis honking nosily, instead the single sound of a bell ringing to announce the arrival of freshly baked bread on market day.
David McCullough, Brave Companions (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, (New York: Random House, 2009).