I have just finished an amazing book called The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto.
Even if you don't have Dutch ancestors, it's worth reading to get a more accurate, complete view of the early influences of this country; plus it reads like a page turner novel.
Not only does it include several of my ancestors - discovered by the meticulous 20 year research by my incredible sister - it features some prominently. He calls the couple Catalyntje Trico and Joris Rapalje who arrived in 1624 - the "Adam and Eve of Manhattan" (New Netherlands). How cool is that?
Several of my ancestors made up one of the first bodies of representative government in the country; 12 people who tried without success to stop Stuyvesant's predecessor, Willem Kieft, from starting a disastrous 1643 war with the previously friendly and generous Indians.
Plus other ancestors assisted in preventing Stuyvesant from a suicidal retaliation against the English (when they - unprovoked - attacked Manhattan). Bad Puritan Pilgrims! If, instead of acquiescing to the English' generous terms, they had 'fought to the last man', I, and a whole bunch of other descendants would not be here. Thank you Nicasius, Joris, et al!
It helps to explain my interest in politics, strong support for tolerance, love of literature, easy going child rearing, even my taste for cole slaw - it's in my Dutch DNA. In addition to places: Lang Eylant, Breuckelen, Haarlem, Staten Eylan; we have the Dutch to thank for: District Attorneys, the boss, St. a Claus and St Nicholas stockings, cookies, and lots and lots of bars! New Amsterdam was rough, just as the city is today and we acknowledge - that's a large part of its charm.
Not only is it exciting to learn about history in such a personal way, to know that you come from distinguished stock is kind of emboldening. Now we fight against the powers that be in corporations. Compared to what they did, crossing the Atlantic to an unknown land that didn't even yet have a wooden shack - let alone a Radisson - for them to sleep in? How hard can it be to put up with our modern day disappointments?
What would my ancestors think of Manhattan today? Despite their vision that it would indeed become a multicultural booming metropolis based on the bustling trade port it was then, I'm sure they would be completely blown away by the skyscrapers poised on top of what used to be their farmland.
I wish they could see what our lives are like - that I can order any kind of food to be delivered at my door at any hour - that I have this device called an iPhone that lets me make phone calls, access a web of knowledge and watch videos and listen to music - all at the tip of my thumb. I can cross the Atlantic in a matter of hours instead of at least 4 months. It makes me appreciate those things even more.
I am so proud of this city that never lost its melting pot roots that go back to the Netherlands homeland. Early Manhattan was welcoming of all the people who came here, and we still are.
It's good that some things have not changed.