Today is July 4th, the Independence Day of the U.S. As an American and New Yorker, I would like to give thanks to our amazing country. And on a day like today, I also like to reflect on who we are and where were we came from. But with all the differences between us, is there really one place, one point on a map, where we can all say yes, this is who we all are and where we all came from?
There are many different places to chose.
Are we British? We speak English and lots of our heritage comes from there, including those that originated from the 13 original colonies.
Are we Spanish? Many of us speak Spanish and are from Hispanic and Latin descent. The Spanish also colonized southern states like Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Are we French? At one point, half of America was the colony of Louisiana (New France), extending as south as New Orleans and as north as Hudson’s Bay in Canada.
Are we German? It’s very American to eat hot dogs (“wieners” & “frankfurters”), hamburgers (named after Hamburg, Germany) and drink our beloved “American” beers like Budweiser (Eberhard Anheuser & Adolphus Busch), Coors (Adolph Coors), Pabst Blue Ribbon (Frederick Pabst), Schlitz (Joseph Schlitz), and Yuengling (David & Frederick Yuengling).
Are we Italian? It’s also very American to eat pasta, pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti & meatballs.
And that’s just naming several of the European places. How about all the Native Americans who were here before the Europeans, and how about those that descended from the slaves from Africa, and all the people who descended here from Asia and other places?
Can there really be one country, one place, that everyone can point to and say yes, this is who we are and where we all came from.
Yes, there is.
For anyone living in America, and especially New York City, there is a place that we can all point to, no matter what differences there are in our ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds.
It is a country called The Netherlands.
The Dutch influence in America is actually the biggest hidden and most interesting historical secrets of the U.S. and especially New York City. It’s one that has daily and consistent influence in our lives, also one that is rarely discussed or mentioned in any of our history books.
Believe it or not, by the time you read the rest of this story, it’s impossible to not be convinced. And if you’re an American (and certainly for anyone who is a New Yorker), maybe you’ll also be convinced you may also be a little Dutch too.
A Land of Economic Opportunity
The Dutch came to the New World strictly for one reason, to create economic opportunity.
Unlike the British who came to the New World to escape religious intolerance and set-up their own distinct religious communities, like the Puritans in New England, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Catholics in Maryland, and the Baptists in the south. And the Spanish and the French to the New World to further extend the influence and reach of their kingdoms.
New York City (previously known as New Amsterdam), was actually settled by the Dutch West India Company. Therefore, was strictly a business decision to come to the New World and create economic opportunity for its company, employees, and stakeholders. Those that came to New Amsterdam did so from different cultures, ethnicities, races, and religions backgrounds to work together for a common purpose and for the corporation. Anyone who wanted to conduct business was welcome.
How many hundreds of millions of people have since come to America and New York City for that same value of economic opportunity.
A Land of Immigrants
We have a value in the U.S. that that anyone can come here from anywhere and work hard, and they can succeed, no matter who they are or what their background is. That value first originated in the U.S. from the Dutch West India Company when it settled in New Amsterdam. As long as you came to work hard, they would have you, no matter who you are or where you came from. Within the first year of the New Amsterdam settlement, it was reported that over 18 languages were spoken.
Since then, millions have immigrated to the U.S. from many different places around the world, with hundreds of millions of people in America holding that same “American” value.
Freedom of Religion
Since the Dutch colony in America was founded for trade, and not for religion like the British colonies, when the colony tried to recruit settlers, they realized that religious intolerance would keep many prospective settlers away. Because of that, New Amsterdam was more tolerant of those with different cultures and religions.
The First Amendment guaranteed freedom of religion when it was adopted in 1791, but it was actually about 150 years earlier in New Amsterdam that allowed Jews to worship and own land.
This Land is your Land, This Land is my Land, From California, to the New York Island.
In many countries, and even still to this day, the king or the government owns the land. It’s not your land, it’s their land. The same was true about places like England, Spain, and France.
But in The Netherlands, this land is your land, and this land is my land.
Since the land is below sea level and it is also very flat, the land tends to flood, rendering it useless to live on. It is due to this natural geographic condition that forced the Dutch people to invest their resources in creating infrastructure that served not only their own individual interests, but also for their community.
The Dutch were innovators at creating dams, bridges, dikes, and canals. All the big budget infrastructure projects we have including highways, bridges, airports, and in the future it’ll be universal WiFi, 5G, and the internet of things that connect us all. Those connections and building infrastructure for all of our common use is what helps makes America and New York City great.
There are millions of Americans working for Corporate America, and when we think America and New York City, we think about big companies doing big things. Well, the biggest company in the history of companies doing the biggest things in the world was actually the Dutch East India Company back in the 1600’s and 1700’s.
The Dutch actually created the concept of a corporation with the Dutch East India Company being the world’s first and biggest multi-national corporation. They also created a Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam to trade with the New World.
Since the Dutch organized labor and investments through corporations, the salaries and profits did not necessarily go through a king like in other countries, and therefore, capital would be more evenly distributed among the middle and working class. Start-ups and new companies can also more be easily formed. The Dutch East India Company was also the world’s first publicly listed company, allowing anyone to invest and own a part of the company.
That being said, these Dutch corporations did serve a dreadful role as they also dealt in the slave trade.
Wall Street originated from the Dutch word “de Waalstraat”, which was the name of the street that was derived from a wooden wall on the northern edge of New Amsterdam, built to protect against Native Americans, pirates, and the British. That street later became the home of the New York Stock Exchange (the Dutch also created the world’s first stock exchange).
In New York, places like the Hudson River, Coney Island, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Harlem, are also named after Dutch people and towns.
Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus right down Santa Claus Lane
How American is our annual Santa Claus tradition? Indeed, it was the Dutch explorers in American who dedicated their first church in New Amsterdam to “Sinterklaas”, and the story of Santa Claus coming into town, asking children if they’ve been naughty or nice, and riding around town giving gifts to children has continued its Dutch tradition in America (when the British took control of New Amsterdam, they merged Sinterklaas with Christmas).
On a day like today, you will probably be eating cole slaw “koolesalade” (Dutch for “cabbage salad”), and maybe even cookies “koekje” (Dutch for “little cake”) or doughnuts (Dutch for olykoek, meaning “oily cake”) for dessert, all of which are Dutch.
You also are probably celebrating today because your boss (“baas” is the Dutch word for master) gave you the day off, or you’re still in school (“school” is the Dutch word for a school of fish).
If you’re reading this far, do I really need to continue, or can you see how if you’re an American and / or a New Yorker, you may also be a little Dutch, too.