About this initiative
Traditionally, the history of New Netherland was written (by Anglo-Americans, the English, and the Dutch) with the starting point set at the coincidental discovery, in 1609, of the river and valley that would, in 1664, be named after the English explorer, Henry Hudson. History books then jump to 1624 when the region, under the auspices of the West India Company, becomes a new overseas province of the Dutch Republic. The fifteen years in between are seemingly unimportant. The notion is an insignificant and violent time – a bloody and throat cutting period of trade without scruples, of Dutch merchants and the dangerous native savages, the North American Indians, fighting each other.
Dutch entrepreneur, Hubert de Leeuw, discovered more than 20 years ago that the period in between these points was extremely significant. A thorough study of primary sources in the Netherlands, lengthy talks with American and European historians, and carefully listening to the oral history of native North American tribes provided him the opportunity to reconstruct what actually happened in this 15 year period.
Mr. de Leeuw is of the opinion that this important part of Dutch history has been neglected.
It is precisely this part that includes the stories and achievements: Merchants and seafarers who secured mutually beneficial trade agreements with the Mohicans and the Mohawks, tribes who were once bitter rivals. Later, the impact of the Dutch approach to trade that led to a conditional reconciliation between the native tribes in the area. Of most of importance, the role played by the free traders and seafarers, like Hendrick Christiaensen, Adriaen Block, Jacob Eelkens and Jacob Cornelisz May, whose actions paved the way for the later developments in the region. Once the building of Fort Nassau commenced in 1614, with their eagerness for trade, and with the diplomatic negotiations with the natives, they laid the true economic and political base for, and firmly and definitively anchored New Netherland in North America. Thanks to them, ten years later, in 1624,New Amsterdam, now New York, could be founded, and the area between the lands claimed by the English and the French could be claimed as a Dutch province by the States General.
Convinced that Henry Hudson would only be a footnote in history had it not been for the perseverance, courage and the success of these Dutch traders. It should be noted that de Leeuw has no intention to knock Hudson off his pedestal.
To be fair, without Hudson’s discovery, it would have been less likely these Dutch merchants would have gone to the region and met the Native peoples.
In 1664, England claimed the Dutch province in North America, on the grounds that it was ‘discovered’ by an Englishman, Hudson. The fact that this Englishman sailed under the Dutch flag seems easily dismissed. That the river was actually discovered 85 years earlier, in 1524, by Giovanni da Verazzano was also forgotten. Furthermore, according to English history, Henry Hudson becomes the hero, and a ‘founding father’ of New York without ever settling there. The true founding fathers are the Dutch seafarers and merchants who built their base of operations in the area, and who therefore deserve, maybe more than Henry Hudson, the historical credit.
The core mission of the Hubert de Leeuw ‘s life over the past two decades has been to add the missing pieces to the existing history and tell the whole story. With his research, he hopes to stimulate historians to do more research and to give ‘Honor Where Honor is Due’, to officially recognize this ‘prehistory,’ and note 1614 as the year New Netherland was born (rather than 1624). In addition, his mission is to have others recognize the Dutch traders and seafarers and award their efforts the honor and respect they deserve as early examples of tradesmen with the business sense that has made the Netherlands a great country, two tenants to which the country owes its standing in the world up to this day.
Above all, it is a fascinating story.