Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NYC celebrating 400 years since the Dutch established New Amsterdam

New York, NY
Originally uploaded by Richard-
NEW YORK -(The Wasington Post) - Think of the immigrants of New York City, and you might imagine the Jews of Eastern Europe, the Irish and Italians, maybe the Dominicans, the Bangladeshis, the Senegalese.

Not so much the Dutch.

But 400 years ago this month, Henry Hudson sailed on a Dutch ship into what became New York Harbor, a journey that inspired traders from the Netherlands to become the first immigrants to New York and establish a tolerant, motley Dutch settlement called New Amsterdam.

The Dutch are celebrating the anniversary this year with a $10 million series of festivities in New York, and this week they are presenting events cultural, gustatory, athletic, academic and commercial.

This is about continuing economic, military and cultural ties between Old World and New. But it is also about memory and the ways we imagine the places we live, about proving to New Yorkers that they've always been unique in America, and to the Dutch that they played a role in what became a powerful American empire.

Puritans the Dutch colonists were not. They brewed so much beer, the joke went, that there was no grain left for bread; they were pirates and prostitutes as well as merchants and farmers. One of Hudson's party had been murdered just days after first landing on New York shores.

Yet there was also something special here. Half of the colony's residents were not Dutch. Visitors marveled at hearing more than a dozen European and Native American languages spoken and seeing the practice of perhaps half a dozen religions.

In short, this settlement bore all the hallmarks of a young New York City: wilder, ruder, more open-minded and ambitious than other American outposts.

"New York takes the heat from the rest of the country for being aggressive, greedy and inquisitive," said Kenneth T. Jackson, a Columbia University history professor. "The idea was never to improve your soul -- it was always a city of aspiration."

When most New Yorkers think of Dutch influence, they stop after listing the Dutch names now part of the city, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg did on Tuesday at an opening ceremony for the week of 400th-anniversary festivities. Brooklyn, Staten Island, Harlem, the Bowery -- the basketball team the Knickerbockers.

But the Dutch like to talk about values.

A Dutch "passion for liberty, an entrepreneurial spirit, freedom of conscience" built the outpost of New Amsterdam, and later became central to the United States, said Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, at the ceremony.