The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley

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Jacobs_Worlds_9781438450971What follows is a guest essay by Jaap Jacobs and L.H. Roper, authors of the newly published
The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley.

As the proverbial schoolchildren know, the Englishman Henry Hudson (c. 1570–1611) conducted his 1609 exploration of the river that bears his name on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. In the same year that Hudson sailed north up the river, trading, fighting, drinking, and negotiating with Native Americans on the way, a Frenchman named Samuel Champlain made his way south from the St. Lawrence River. His trip was not a voyage of exploration and Champlain was not the leader of the expedition. Yet it too involved interaction with Native Americans, culminating in an armed encounter on what later became to be called Lake Champlain between Huron and Algonquian Indians and their French friends on the one side and the Haudenosaunee of the Iroquois Confederacy on the other side.

The Hudson-Champlain corridor became, accordingly, a geographic area where European worlds and American worlds interacted, an interaction that led to the establishment of colonial worlds which over time transformed into Atlantic worlds where Native American populations decreased, European immigration increased, and forced African immigration started.

The essays in this book introduce readers to the issues involved in the expansion of European interests to the Hudson River Valley, the cultural interaction that took place there, and the resulting colonization of the region. They incorporate the latest historical insights as scholars explore interactions between American Indians and Europeans, the settlement of the Dutch colony that ensued from the exploration of the Hudson River, and the development of imperial and other networks that came to incorporate the Hudson Valley.

Our intention here is to provide teachers and others interested in Hudson and his legacy with an in-depth introduction, written in accessible language, and ready reference to the issues involved in the expansion of European interests to the Hudson Valley and Dutch colonization of the region. We have divided the contributions into four parts with three essays in each.

The first part, “European Worlds,” offers insights into the European contexts of the settlement of the Hudson Valley, specifically that of the seventeenth-century Dutch and English empires. The Dutch Republic and England fought alongside each other against their Iberian rivals, Spain and Portugal. As the theatre of warfare spread to the Americas, Africa, and Asia, this conflict may well be called the first global war. Yet by the middle decades of the seventeenth century, rivalry between the Dutch Republic and England increased, culminating in three wars, of which the second proved fatal to the Dutch colony that had sprung up in North America. In these global wars, information was of the essence. The quest for cartographical information, which gave rise to the career of Hudson and the early seventeenth-century exploration of North America, thus became central to the Anglo-Dutch conflict that spilled into the Hudson Valley.

The second group of essays, “American Worlds,” discusses the American Indian societies with which Hudson and later Europeans came into contact and track the history of contact between natives and newcomers in the Hudson Valley as well as the effects of interaction on both American Indian and European people. Transportation by water was far more important than by land, and the geography of interaction can only be properly understood when taking the importance of rivers and waterways into account. Thus, it was along rivers that the main resource of the area, beaver peltries, was transported. And it was along the shores that the shells were found from which wampum, an essential component of trade, was made. While wampum originated among Native people, its later development owes much to the intersection of European and Indian worlds. Yet interaction was by no means confined to trade; wampum was also a vital part of diplomatic negotiations, both in the form of the ritual exchange of gifts and in the representation of agreements in the form of wampum belts.

The third set of essays, “The Establishment of Colonial Worlds,” analyzes the formation of and relations between the colonies founded by the Dutch, English, and French in the Hudson Valley and the surrounding area. New France was always the least populous of the European colonies in North America and yet France retained its colony in Canada until the mid-eighteenth century despite these demographic odds. New Netherland, meanwhile, occupied a middle ground between New France and New England, figuratively as well as literally. While the Dutch were at first drawn to the area by the fur trade, agriculture and tobacco increased in importance as colonization progressed. By 1664, New Netherland had some 9,000 colonists and Dutch models were the starting point for shaping almost every aspect of colonial life. Although this made New Netherland a success from a Dutch perspective, this population increase was outstripped by that of neighboring New England, in particular Connecticut, from where English colonists cast an eager eye over the fertile lands just across the border. Longstanding disagreements between Dutch and English colonists were eventually settled by force, when English colonies enlisted armed assistance from London to wrestle control over New Netherland from Dutch hands.

The final group of contributions, “The Formation of Atlantic Worlds,” considers social and economic developments in the seventeenth-century Hudson Valley from a wider perspective in order to provide a better understanding of the development and character of African-American and Euro-American communities and of the character of religious belief and practice in the region. Both in terms of religion, trade, and migration, the interconnectedness of American, European, and African spheres increased throughout the seventeenth century, eventually forming Atlantic Worlds.


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