“The attack did not succeed as well as I had hoped, no small impediment having been the loss of my right leg.”—Peter Stuyvesant
In 2004 my mother gave me a book called The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto. It was a gorgeous hardcover with a seventeenth century sketch of New Amsterdam on the cover. When I read the description on the jacket sleeve, I smiled. The book was interested solely in the Dutch founding of New Netherland. “It just looked like something you would obsess over,” my mother said. “You don’t have it, do you?” I didn’t. I knew nothing about it, and for that my mother grinned, “I found one you didn’t know about. HA!” I asked her if she had read it. She gave me one of those “are you crazy” looks and said, “Who the hell wants to read a book about New York?”
It became my bible.
It was every historical morsel about New Amsterdam Shorto could find and distill into 325 pages of sheer reading pleasure. The next summer when I was down and dirty in my research, I bought a soft cover copy so I could mark it up and take notes in the margins. From it came so much of what I needed to make the history of New York an active and interesting character in the graphic novel. Shorto portrayed the Dutch not only as the pioneers of a diversified New York City, but of the democratic system in America. His intended hero was Adrien van der Donck, a free-thinking Dutch lawyer who persistently petitioned for representative government in New Amsterdam. But in it I found my aforementioned historical lynch pin: Peter Stuyvesant.
One of Shorto’s most astute observations came from his theory on the revisionist history of the Dutch impact on early colonial America. When New Amsterdam was turned over to the British in 1644, the powers that were went out of their way to erase the Dutch from the collective memory banks of history. Thinking back on it, in high school history courses, all I remember from that time period were all those drab Puritans. It was all Plymouth Rock and cities on hills and of course John Winthrop, that bore with the pointy goatee who seemed to have no sense of humor. These passages were usually punctuated with, “And to the south from the Hudson to the Delaware Rivers, the Dutch East India Company started this cute little colony called New Amsterdam which quickly fell into the prayerful and industrious hands of the British.”
So in September after a wonderful summer of losing myself in Dutch history (and an unexpected historical find in the East Village), I decided to send out an email survey to the 76 people in my contacts.
My idea was to put Shorto’s theory to test. I figured if I asked people who Peter Stuyvesant was and who John Wintrop was, for sure everyone would remember the latter and have no clue of the former. The email read as follows (I don’t use caps): hey all,
The responses will follow tomorrow.