Sunday, July 19, 2015

Who Is More American?

     I don't know why I am so fascinated by the Dutch experience in the New World. As far as I know, I do not have a drop of Dutch blood in my lineage. And my ancestors came nowhere near the New World in the 1600s or the 1700s. They didn't arrive until the 1800s.

     On my mother's side, there were two brothers, Thomas and Patrick, who left Ireland around 1850. They traveled to New York together. Thomas, my great great grandfather, made his way upstate and settled in for a while somewhere around Albany. His brother Patrick shipped out again as a deckhand on a freighter. He spent six or eight years working at sea, traveling as far as Australia, before finding his way back to New York. He then reunited with Thomas and the two of them started a tugboat business in New York Harbor.

     My grandparents on my father's side of the family arrived here in the 1890s, both from Central Europe. They met and married in New York, then wandered around Pennsylvania and Ohio looking for work. After a few disappointing years they settled in Connecticut where my grandfather found a steady job in a metal-fabricating factory. They had seven children. The oldest died in the 1917 flu epidemic. The youngest, the last surviving sibling, served in World War II and died in Las Vegas in 2003.

     So I sometimes wonder: When I'm reading about our Founding Fathers, or the Puritans in New England or the Dutch in New York, am I even learning about my own heritage? My ancestors had nothing to do with America at that point; they were trying to scratch out a living somewhere in Europe.

     But then, I think, in a way I'm more American than the Daughters of the Revolution, or anyone else who claims ancestry back to colonial times. After all, my immigrant experience is much more typical than someone who claims some faint connection to the Founding Fathers. The population of the United States in 1776 was around 2.6 million people. But some 4 million Irish immigrated to the U. S. in the 19th century. And there were even more from Central Europe. The total figure I found put the number at 30 million Europeans who migrated from Europe to America between 1836 and 1914.

     Maybe I find the Dutch interesting because, according to Robert Shorto, they deserve credit for bringing the first seeds of democracy to the New World -- the seeds of freedom, opportunity and self-rule -- and that above all is what defines our aspirations, whether we're from the Netherlands or Nicaragua, or England or Estonia or Ecuador.

     Also, the Dutch also gave the word for cookies (originally koekjes), which in my book is reason enough to celebrate their culture!

     And as Robert Shorto points out, the Dutch also brought us the word for boss (originally baas) which he says is a uniquely American concept. The word does not connote any divine favor or royal lineage. It just refers to the person who's in charge. There's the Mafia boss, the political boss, the boss at work -- all of whom attained their position not by any royal connection, but by some combination of talent, hard work, street smarts, and maybe a little luck. The boss is no better than we are, and if things change, as they often do, the boss could be gone tomorrow . . .  and maybe we'll become the boss.

     Then there's The Boss. American icon Bruce Springsteen, from working class New Jersey. According to Shorto, the Springsteens were among the original Dutch settlers of New Netherland.



Anonymous said...

Tom, I asssume this author is Russel Shorto? Check out the book below, by Bernard Bailyn, the dean of historians on Colonial America, and you might come away with a different notion of what it means to be American:
"The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675"

Also, 1776 by Mccullough is quite good. And read Simon Schama's Embarrassment of Riches, and his other works on the early American colonies. The 'West and the Rest' by Niall ferguson is also interesting as are Francis Fukuyama's books on why the West rose to such prominance over the rest of the world.

My mom was Dutch, members of her family immigrated in the middle of the nineteenth century. thus I have much love and respect for the Dutch people.

The Dutch accepted the Spanish Jews and French Hueguenots as refugees and championed commerce when Spain falltered (and later lost it to the English) during the reign of Phillip II.

The earliest waves of Dutch were patroons and merchants and very wealthy. They owed much of their success in business to the jews who fled Spain, as well as the French Hugenots. The later waves of Dutch immigrants were peasants and crafts-people fleeing the potato famine in the Netherlands. Some of their descendents turned out quite well, some did not.

Many groups claim the ideas concerning liberty, equality and other 'Americn' ideals. John Calvin a child of the Enlightenment and Reformation was major source of thought for most of the New england settlers. The early Dutch were very Protestant, but not interested in 'leveling' the population as the story of 'Sleepy Hollow' shows.

From what I have read, I have determined that Max Weber was not wrong when he wrote about the Protesatnt Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which is the oldest American ideal.

Like T.S. Elliot, poem, I have studied and read, read and studied history and arrived at the place I began my education. The end really is the beginning and we owe many of our ideals to the early settlers of New England who formed a different society which eschewed hierarchy (why New Englanders were the first to protest the invasion of Mexico and abolish slavery). .

The ideas that formed our declaration of Independence and

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I admire the Dutch for those things and more. For instance, I suppose you know the concept of DUTCH TREAT?

Tabor said...

So many European have added to our countries cultural wealth in so may ways. We are a melting pot and that is our strength.

Stephen Hayes said...

The Dutch we the first "United States, a collection of independent areas. They lasted about two hundred years as giants on the world stage before sinking into mediocrity. I wonder if we, the current United States, will follow in their footsteps and soon burn out as a major power.

Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting post, Tom. We are more of a "mixed salad' in Canada rather than "melting pot".

Suffice to say, many newer countries were founded on blood, slavery and downright robbery.

I am a first generation emigrant and lay no claim to founding mothers or identity apart from Irish as I was born in Ireland. And that was a melting pot too.

DNA analysis would be most interesting....


Dick Klade said...

With Holland, Michigan, right up the highway, we have lots of names in the "V" sections of phone books hereabouts.

The Dutch may have been tolerant and liberal politically compared to others several hundred years ago in America, but I can assure you that is not the case today. Members of the Dutch Reformed Church are among the more ultra-conservative groups in U.S. society.

Janette said...

Sorry, I know virtually nothing about the Dutch and their influence. I like the part about cookies!

The Irish part of my family came in the early 1700's as indentured servants. We only know because they made their mark on some Maryland Churches. Heck, that was many generations and more nationalities ago then I would like to count.

I do know that I am one lucky person to have been born in this country. I often wonder if I would have the guts to immigrate the way most people come to this country: Indentured slaves, slaves, people with no luggage, people with water and back pack. How different are the immigrates who are complained about then most of our forefathers?

Barbara said...

I recently read New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherford. It is a very long book about a Dutch family. It starts out in New Amsterdam (New York) and follows through to 9-11. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it if you have time to spend reading!!

Meryl Baer said...

Cookies alone are enough to revere the Dutch...I am researching my family and found ancestors of my Dad's living in the US in the1830s. Most family, however, came in the 1890s and early 1900s.