Rogers on Jacobs and Roper, 'The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley'

Jaap Jacobs, L. H. Roper, eds.
Greg Rogers

Jaap Jacobs, L. H. Roper, eds. The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley. An American Region: Studies in the Hudson Valley Series. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014. 277 pp. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4384-5097-1.

Reviewed by Greg Rogers (SUNY Cobleskill)
Published on H-War (August, 2017)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley originated from a 2009 symposium at SUNY New Paltz marking the four-hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage and is part of a recent resurgence in academic interest in New Netherland and the colonial Hudson Valley.[1] Edited by Jaap Jacobs and L. H. Roper, the collection of twelve essays by veteran scholars from both sides of the Atlantic addresses a variety of themes and topics relevant to secondary school teachers, academics, and undergraduate and graduate students alike. The “worlds” in question, the European, American, colonial, and Atlantic, loosely organize the chapters conceptually. Each section is composed of three chapters dealing with wide-ranging topics, such as the Iroquois, migration, wampum, and religion, and all contribute to the editors’ stated purpose of providing “an in-depth introduction and ready reference to the issues involved in the expansion of European interests to the Hudson Valley and the colonization of its environs” (p. ix).

The collection begins by examining the European contexts of the region’s colonizers. A pair of essays by the editors, Jacobs and Roper, provide highly readable overviews of the seventeenth-century Dutch and English empires, respectively. Jacobs explains the rise and character of the Dutch Republic, specifically its uniquely prosperous middle class and political decentralization. Externally, the rise of the West India Company was due in large part to the increasing vulnerability of the Spanish Empire and the distracting revolts and economic issues faced by the English and French. These contingencies contributed to an emerging power that was both flexible and ambitious enough to engage with northeastern North America a generation after its founding. Roper provides an overview of the growth of the English Empire that takes into account early setbacks, failures, and distractions. Driven by an anti-Catholic zeal, England would later find success, and eventually stability, in such colonies as Virginia and Bermuda. These accomplishments soon put the English in direct competition with the Dutch, bringing about the three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the late 1600s and the acquisition of New Netherland in 1664. In addition to these two overviews, the first section is rounded out by Kees Zanvliet’s fascinating, and more micro-historical, piece on cartography and the Dutch self-image in the age of Hudson. His tracking of the careers of several cartographers adds a human dimension to the proceedings, which at times is conspicuously (and understandably) absent in a work seeking to provide a series of introductions. The essay also addresses calls put forth by J. H. Elliott (The Old World and the New, 1492-1650 [1992]) and others, which encourage scholarship that examines the impacts of the New World on Old World Europe.

The second section, which covers the American context, is composed of three outstanding pieces that examine the centrality of native interests to New Netherland’s development and the transformation of the colony after the British occupation. Timothy Shannon is interested in the region as an “avenue of empire” and pushes the narrative chronologically by linking seventeenth-century developments with British “imperial refashioning” and even the emergence of the American Republic (pp. 67, 81). He depicts the region as being ethnically diverse and commercial-orientated while at the same time increasingly militarized due to global conflicts, such as King William’s War and the Seven Years’ War. Shannon also looks at the changing relationship with the Six Nations Iroquois, which had been largely based on shared interests in the fur trade with the Dutch, but became more tense due to British growth and expansion. Paul Otto’s work on the “wampum revolution,” which is the first of several pieces that touch on the important shell bead, illuminates the convergence of Dutch and Munsee Indian networks (p. 85). Wampum, perhaps the perfect symbol of New Netherland’s intercultural contact and change, underwent changes in its material, figuring prominently in diplomacy, war, and trade. Otto concludes that wampum eventually served to reorient the Munsee from being an inward-looking people to being thoroughly Atlanticized by the mid-seventeenth century. Further north and west, the Iroquois confederacy occupied a position of great importance, in terms of not only geography but also its relations with the Dutch (and later English), which were vital to New Netherland’s economic growth and security. Jon Parmenter, a leading authority on the Iroquois, examines the role of Kasawentha, the idea that intercultural relations can ideally be mutually beneficial while also preserving independence and the freedom of movement. His study, which some readers will find a bit more specialized than some of the others in the collection, is an in-depth look at the evolving diplomacy between native and European peoples. Using the two-row wampum as a metaphor, Parmenter shows how the Dutch adapted to Iroquois expectations and norms from 1613 to 1664. All three pieces in this section excel at uncovering the ways the processes of encounter and exchange served to shape the complex region well beyond Hudson’s initial exploration.

New Netherland is further contextualized in the next section, which deals with colonial worlds. Leslie Choquette’s piece on the first fifty years of New France is an important comparative history; the colony occupied a position both geographically and conceptually between the Dutch and English in the early seventeenth century. New France, much like its Dutch neighbor, was largely shaped by trade, although agricultural settlement began to increasingly define the colony. However, as in the previous section, the role of native peoples, in terms of diplomacy and labor, is essential. Jacobs’s contribution examines the various motivations that brought colonists to the Hudson Valley, challenging the long-held belief in the supremacy of the fur trade as the chief interest. His nuanced overview takes into account the multiethnic settlement; the challenge posed by Kieft’s War, later demographic growth (1654-64); and the system of patroonship, which reconciled trade and colonization. He concludes that any understanding of the colony must take into account the wider Dutch Empire as New Netherland was “essentially Dutch” in its governance, law, religion, and economy despite its diverse population (p. 158). Furthermore, it was generally a success in terms of colonization when compared to the East Indies, Brazil, and the Cape Colony. Lauric Henneton’s piece on the geopolitical contest for the Connecticut Valley also emphasizes global factors in a way that invites revision of longstanding historiographical trends. Dutch calculations about retaining the region and the use of wampum were not purely North American or Atlantic, but instead involved the Africa trade and interest in the East Indies as well. As with Zanvliet, cartography also plays a role as Dutch and English mapmakers used the naming of places to record discoveries and exert sovereignty. The competition for the “geopolitical hotspot” and its furs is further complicated and nuanced by the inclusion of local Algonquian actors and intra-English rivalries between the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth (p. 170).

The final section more explicitly covers New Netherland’s connections to the wider Atlantic world. Willem Frizhoff delves into the intricacies of religious toleration in one of the collection’s more specialist works. His essay examines both the European roots of Dutch toleration and the role of the Dutch Reformed Church in the colony. He concludes that the church served as a valuable social institution, one that acted as a “social binding agent” among a heterogeneous group of settlers (p. 216). Toleration, as it existed in New Netherland, was more of a blind eye toward nonconformity rather than an official policy, resulting in a freedom of worship that existed primarily at the personal level. Claudia Schnurmann revisits both wampum and Indian engagement with the Atlantic in her piece on trade networks. She reveals how wampum and furs had very different uses and meanings among the Algonquin, Iroquois, and Dutch. Each group was able to successfully engage in an Atlantic trade system that satisfied their demands. Wampum is shown to have a dynamic history. Shell beads were excavated and worked by Algonquian coastal suppliers; sent to the Iroquois, who valued them as a diplomatic tool; and later transformed into an unregulated currency by the Dutch, whose trade connected the Americas with the Atlantic. Wampum was even “mass produced” for a time from Bermuda shells with European tools by native and colonial laborers. The collection ends with veteran colonial New York scholar Joyce Goodfriend’s look at immigration to New Netherland. She argues for the need to create a new, single narrative that combines the experiences of Europeans and African slaves. Such a conceptual shift would yield studies that reveal the “commonalities of experience,” shattering the largely Eurocentric colonial immigration historiography (p. 243). In addition to outlining future studies, she identifies potential points of comparison, including personal agency, the Dutch Reformed Church, and family.

The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley is an essential work for anyone teaching or studying the English and Dutch colonial endeavors in the region in question. It successfully blends synthetic introductory pieces with a variety of specialized topics, such as religious toleration and Iroquois diplomacy. It serves as a great introduction not only to the history of the seventeenth-century Hudson Valley but also to the most current trends in its historiography. The editors further the accessibility for nonspecialists by making generous use of maps, charts, and illustrations. The idea of using loosely defined European, American, colonial, and Atlantic “worlds” as an organizing principal is yet another strength. While it may be debatable where each chapter should be ideally situated, the framework highlights the often multiple contexts and influences at work in New Netherland. Local, imperial, and Atlantic actors and their interests combine and interact in nearly every chapter. One only wonders why a “global” heading was omitted as many of the works reach well beyond their ostensible categories. Also missing is an introduction and conclusion by the collection’s editors. An introduction would have been beneficial to introduce the myriad topics and levels of analysis, while a conclusion could have perhaps pointed the way for future studies. Regardless of these small setbacks, the volume is a valuable addition to the New Netherland historiography and will prove useful for those seeking a thorough introduction to the colony’s complex worlds.


[1]. For representative recent works, see Jaap Jacobs, The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009); Susanah Shaw Romney, New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Evan Haefeli, New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); and Tom Arne Midtrod, The Memory of All Ancient Customs: Native American Diplomacy in the Colonial Hudson Valley (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012).

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Citation: Greg Rogers. Review of Jacobs, Jaap; Roper, L. H., eds., The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley. H-War, H-Net Reviews. August, 2017.

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