I'll Take (Dutch) Manhattan

A scholar's trove shows even old New York was once New Amsterdam. Party on!

Shorto acknowledges his debt to the work of Gehring, who says the documents "went through many harrowing experiences over the years," such as being shipped back and forth between Boston and New York, surviving two fires, and outlasting the Revolutionary War by being stowed aboard two British warships. What's left is hard to translate, he says, being written in an archaic Dutch and requiring much research to place the documents in their proper context. Gehring says that approximately 60 percent of the translation work is done, and that "the documents that remain to be translated are some of the most badly damaged." With grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and additional money provided by the Friends of New Netherland, Gehring hopes to finish translating in order to tell the colony's "marginalized and minimized" history.

Distinguishing between the parts of our American DNA that are British and Dutch matters, Shorto argues. "Put elements of the two together—seventeenth-century Dutch tolerance and free-trade principles and eighteenth-century English ideas about self-government—and you have a recipe for a new kind of society." Plus, it's nice to know that so much of what's frustrating about modern American society—its lingering puritanism—can be blamed on those intolerant theocrats who founded the English colonies, and who, with their city-upon-a-hill exceptionalism leading to ideas like our manifest destiny, left a newly open society with the machinery to close minds. You can have straitlaced Massachusetts with its Salem witch trials and 2 a.m. bar closing time; I'll take Dutch Manhattan any day.

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