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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

History is written by the victors – a history of the credits



New York City, the Capital of the World. Other names are Gotham, Modern Gomorrah, The Big Apple, Empire City and Baghdad-on-the-Subway. With Times Square being the self-proclaimed Centre of the Universe. Amidst all this grandeur and bigness, portraits of two seventeenth-century men from the small villages Peperga and Koudum in the south of province Friesland, hang on the walls of City Hall and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Met. Men from a period when this insomniac Fun City was still known as Nieuw Amsterdam 'New Amsterdam'.


Before disclosing the names of the two men, we present the questions of this post first: How come Dutchmen, i.e. the people from the region Holland in the Netherlands, (also) receive the credit for things accomplished by Frisians? Or, if we put the focus on the Frisians: Why are they not able to get the credit for things they themselves have achieved? What skills do they lack that the Hollanders have? Lastly, the most sensitive question: What can Frisians learn from Hollanders?


Who hasn't heard of the Vliegende Hollander 'Flying Dutchman'? Machinations are still working to cover up that the Flying Dutchman was, in fact, a Frisian. It wasn't the fictional character Willem van der Decken from the town of Terneuzen in the province of Zeeland, but the historical seafarer Barent Fockesz. (also written as Barend Fokke, Barent Focke or Barend Fokkes) from the province of Friesland. Indeed, the typical Dutch component ‘van' is not a part of Barent's Frisian surname. Fockesz. was a captain in the service of the illustrious Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie VOC ('Dutch East-India Company'), and managed to sail with the ship De Snobber 'the sweet tooth' from Batavia, modern Jakarta in Indonesia, to the island of Texel in the Netherlands, in exactly three months and four days. In general, this journey took six to eight months!


Therefore, people deduced: it must be that Fockesz. had sold his soul to the Devil. People said he had made a pact with the Devil whereby Fockesz. would have the wind in his sails for seven years, but afterward had to keep sailing forever. A later addition to the legend is that, because of foul weather, the captain couldn't round the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa and said:

“God or the Devil, I shall round the Cape. Even if it means I must sail the seas till the Day of Judgment!”

He threw the Bible overboard. From then on he had to sail for ever the seas and may not enter any port.


Another addition to the legend is, that the Devil is on board the ship in the appearance of a black poodle. A wolf in sheep's clothing, but slightly different. Poodles have been associated more often with evilness, restless souls, and the Devil. Like the saga in the region of Ostfriesland of Die beiden Pudel 'the two poodles' and the saga of Der Pudel vom Diekhof 'the poodle from Diekhof'.


Until 1808, when it was destroyed by the eternal enemy of the Dutch, the British, there was even a statue of Fockesz. on an island in front of the city of Batavia in Indonesia. Fockesz. retreated in 1688 after his last sea journey to the East, on the Wadden Sea island of Terschelling. Because his achievements did not go unnoticed, Fockesz. was often consulted by the VOC and received the office of equipagemeester, the senior office responsible for the ship equipment (Doedens & Houter 2022). He died in 1706 and is buried on the island Terschelling as well. With the purpose of breaking waves, the famous fast ship De Snobber was sunk down at pulau 'island' Damar Basar located north of modern Jakarta in 1701.


Anyway, remember from this day forward to speak of the Flying Frisian instead of the Flying Dutchman, and Control+Alt+Delete the fictional Zeelander name Willem van der Decken. With this knowledge, please do watch the movie Pirates of the Caribbean again.


 

More Frisians up in the (thin) air - A famous early-medieval Germanic legend is that of Wayland the Smith. The trickster blacksmith who made wings and flew away from the island where he was kept captive. He too might have been from Frisia. Read our post Weladu the flying blacksmith to find out more. Yet another person of Frisian descent who carries the nickname Flying Dutchman is astronaut Jack Lousma from Grand Rapids, USA. Check out our post More Flying 'Dutchmen' and learn that even more astronauts of Frisian descent joined the ranks with Lousma in space. Lastly, the world-famous Dutch gymnast on the high bar, Epke Zonderland, carries also the nickname Flying Dutchman. The first man to achieve the triple combo on the bar. He too is a Frisian.

 

The same incompetence of Frisians in getting the credits, is the case with the colony of Nieuw Nederlant 'New Netherland' in North America in the seventh century, in the period 1609-1674.


Nieuw Amsterdam - Manhattan

The story is all too familiar. In the year 1609, the Englishman Henry Hudson, an expat hired by the merchants of the VOC and captain of the ship De Halve Maen 'the crescent moon,' discovered the island of Manhattan and sailed up the Hudson River. He was actually hired by the VOC to find the Northeast Passage to Asia via the Arctic Ocean. Like the Frisian seafarer Willem Barendsz. had tried several times not so long before but got stuck on Nova Zembla 'Novaya Zemlya' for the winter of 1595-1596. However, Hudson completely ignored the instructions of the Heeren XVII 'Lords Seventeen' of the VOC, also because he had tried it himself already not long before, and without success. A fox is not caught twice in the same snare, and Hudson sailed to the West to find a passage to Asia there.


Soon after Hudson's trip to America, Dutch immigrants started to settle in the region. First, through the New Netherland Company founded in 1613 and dissolved in 1618. This company had built a small Fort Nassau at present-day Albany (Lucas & Traudt 2021). The New Netherland Company was succeeded by the West-Indische Company 'Dutch West India Company' (WIC), founded in 1621.


In 1624, another expat working for the Dutch Republic, the German named Peter Minuit, bought the island 'Manhattes' from the so-called wilden 'wildlings' or 'savages'. The price was sixty guilders; the famous 24 USD best business deal ever in history. The purchase is documented in the Schaghenbrief ‘Schagen letter’ of November 5, 1626. It was the Westfrisian Cornelis Jacobszoon Mey, his surname was also written May, from the town of Hoorn (or Schellinkhout?) who became the first governor of the New Netherland colony during the years 1624 and 1625. The ‘wildlings’ were, according to the Dutch, called the Manhatesen, who were a small band of 200 or 300 men and women grouped together under different chiefs. Probably, the Manhatese were a northern branch of the Lenape people, meaning 'the people' in their language. Concerning the translation of Manhattan 'Manna Hatta,' opinions differ, but it could mean 'hilly island', 'great island,' or simply 'island'.


Lena’pe people

The Lenape hadn't sold the land at all. Private land ownership is not possible from the viewpoint of Native Americans. More likely, the Lenape merely agreed with Minuit that the Dutch could use the land of Manhattan in terms of usufruct ('use of fruit'), while also forming an alliance against hostile native tribes. Consequently, the Lenape continued to stay on the land as well. They regularly appeared and expected food and accommodations from the settlers for extended periods. If the colonists didn't provide it, they often threatened to slaughter hogs, chickens, and cows. In fact, in many areas on Manhattan Island and the Noortrivier ('north river'), current Hudson River, up to the town of Beverwijck, current Albany, the presence of native tribes on the settlers' lands was continuous. Even if land was 'bought' and the colonists didn't immediately establish themselves on it, the native tribes could demand a second 'sale' a year later.


In other words, in the eyes of the Lenape, these transactions were temporary permissions to stay on land that remained their territory, provided the settlers continued to honour them with food, gifts, and assistance in wars against hostile tribes (Venema 2003).


It was, in general, a quiet, relatively peaceful, and intense coexistence between the Dutch settlers and native peoples during most of the time of the history of the New Netherland colony. Of course, apart from the Kieft's Wars, which will be addressed further below. The Dutch were keen on buying beaver pelts, and the native tribes were keen on selling these to the Dutch. There was not half a day when there were no native tribesmen present in the settlements of the New Netherland colony. Although it wasn't allowed to shelter native tribesmen inside your own house, the Dutch built primitive bark houses on their property to accommodate their business partners when needed. These little houses had names like wilden huysje 'small wildling's house' and hansioos huysje 'Hans' small house'. Despite native tribesmen being omnipresent, the two cultures remained separate. There aren't many examples of interracial relationships, and mixed-race offspring were probably limited, although several cases of admixture have been documented.


One thing which periodically caused commotion were drunk native tribesmen. When drunk, it often led to outbursts of violence, such as molestation, killing of livestock, property damage, and occasionally resulting in deaths on both sides. For this reason, it was prohibited to sell alcoholic beverages to native people. While drinking within Dutch culture reinforced ties within the group, for native tribesmen it led to isolation of the individual from the group due to the loss of self-control and temper. Illustrative of this is that the Maquas tribe, in anticipation of their wars with the French, requested the Dutch authorities in 1659 not to sell any brandy to their tribesmen.


Enforcing regulations against selling alcohol to tribesmen was quite a challenge for the colonial authorities. Take, for example, the village of Beverwijck, the future city of Albany, which had about 1,000 inhabitants and approximately thirteen taverns. That amounts to one gin joint for every seventy-five inhabitants. It must have been an immense task. Public drinking houses were always the first institutions established by the Dutch in the colonies (Lucas & Traudt 2021).


Incidentally, the Schaghenbrief is considered the birth certificate of New York City. It was written by the Westfrisian Pieter Janszoon Schaghen from, indeed, the town of Schagen in region Westfriesland. He was a special administrator of the WIC. He wrote this letter to inform his WIC superiors that the ship Wapen van Amsterdam 'arms of Amsterdam', had returned from the West, including the contents it had brought back. The cargo consisted of over 8,000 pelts of beavers, otters, minks, rats(?), and wildcats, along with some oak.


Colony New Netherland, a new province of the Dutch Republic, was quite a property. It extended roughly from present-day Albany, New York, in the north to Delaware Bay in the south, comprising all or parts of what became New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Roughly 700 kilometers of coast, stretching from peninsula Cape Cod, which itself was English, to peninsula Delmarva.


 

Republic of the Seven United Netherlands - The term 'Dutch Republic' is an abbreviation of the official name: Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden ‘Republic of the Seven United Netherlands’. The republics of the federation were in alphabetic order: Lordship of Friesland, Duchy of Guelders, Lordship of Groningen, County of Holland and West-Friesland, Lordship of Overijssel, Lordship of Utrecht, County of Zeeland. County of Drenthe was also part of the republic, the eighth Province, but had no voting right within the States General.

The Republic had five admiralties. An admiralty was responsible for the organisation of a naval fleet. These were: Amsterdam, De Maze (Rotterdam), Noorderkwartier (region Westfriesland), Dokkum/Harlingen (Friesland) and Middelburg (Zeeland).

 

New Netherland colony - America

The settlements of the colony all received very Dutchly names. Like Rhinebeck, Haarlem (Harlem), Vlissingen (Flushing), Breukelen (Brooklyn; check also our post Attingahem Bridge for its surprising early-medieval Frisian history), New Amstel (New Castle), the Bronx, Wall Street, Tappan Zee, Oester Eylant (Ellis Island), Bloemendaal (Bloomingdale), Bouwerij (Bowery), Conijne Eylant (Coney Island), Dutch Kills, ‘t Lange Eylant (Long Island), Staten Eylant (Staten Island), Kinderhook, Rensselaer, (East) Nassau, Nassau County, the Oranges, Beverwijck (Albany), Fort Oranje (Albany), Midwout, Swaanendael, Heemstede, Rustdorp, Rotterdam, Sprakers, Schuylkill River, Verplanck, Peekskill, Ossining, Yonkers (jonkheer, the estate of squire Van der Donck), and, of course, New Amsterdam (New York City). Really, just to name a few.


Moreover, the individuals who benefited from the colony, the colonial elite so to speak, became famous names in America. They are the Van Buren, Vanderbilt, Leffert, Van Nostrand, Philipse, Van Cortland, Schuyler, Van Leers, Wyckhoff, Van Horn, Beekman, and, of course, Roosevelt families. Other important mercantile families of the Dutch colonists of New Netherland were Verbrugge, Momma, Van Rensselaer, and Van Twiller (Lukezic & McCarthy, 2021). All together, there are many Dutch 'van' surnames and once again, no typical Frisian surname extensions '-ga', '-ma', or '-stra'. Read our post How to recognize a Frisian by name and pretend not to laugh.


We found a few exceptions to the rule, and place names of Frisian origin have been given. One is Cape May in Delaware Bay. Named after the aforementioned Westfrisian Cornelis Jacobszoon Mey, who was the first governor of the New Netherland colony. Opposite of Cape May, on the southern side of the Delaware Bay, the settlement of Swanendael 'swan's dale' along Hoorn Kill, the current Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, was founded. From Swanendael, by the way, the Dutch started with whaling around 1630 (Romm 2010). Commercial whaling in the Arctic had started twenty years earlier, led by England, the Dutch Republic, and the free cities of Hamburg and Bremen. Read our post Happy Hunting Grounds in the Arctic. Another exception is the place name Cape Henlopen, also in Delaware Bay. Named after the merchant Thijmen Jacobsz. Hinlopen from the town of Hindeloopen in province Friesland. Another example is the place name Vriessendael 'Frisians dale' at today's Edgewater on the banks of the River Hudson. It was founded by the Westfrisian globetrotter and adventurer David Pietersz. from the town of Hoorn in the region of Westfriesland. He is commonly known as David de Vries 'the Frisian' or as David Pietersen de Vries.


This De Vries bloke must have been a remarkable personality. He had been in the East before popping up in the West. On Staten Island, he had established a farmstead. During his life in New Netherland, he tried to help out the fairly incapable Governor Wouter van Twiller when a British merchant ship wanted to sail up the Hudson River. Instead of telling the English trader to buzz off, Governor Van Twiller ended up being drunk and wasted on board the ship with the captain. Eventually, it was De Vries who prevented the English ship from breaching Dutch sovereignty.


But De Vries is mostly remembered for his, albeit in vain, efforts to prevent Governor Willem Kieft from making war with the native peoples: the Tappan, the Hackensack, the Wickquasgeck, and the Raritan. Governor Kieft had succeeded Van Twiller in 1638. The so-called Kieft's Wars occurred from 1643 to 1645, much to the horror of not only De Vries but also many inhabitants of the New Netherland colony, and even back in the Republic itself. In 1647, Kieft was fired. In 1633, De Vries also made an effort to restart commercial whaling in Delaware Bay, but it was not a success.


 

Dutch Heritage - On Broadway 240th St., you can find the only surviving house on Manhattan Island in Dutch colonial style. It is the farmhouse of William Dyckman. He himself was not Dutch but a German from Westphalia (although some say his family originated from Amsterdam). It was built in 1785. It is now a museum representing the Dutch period on Manhattan.


The Hudson Valley was dotted with Dutch settlements and also home to two famous American legends, namely that of the Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow and that of Rip van Winkle. The Dutch origin is an important element of both stories. The legend of the Headless Horseman reminds us of the saga of the headless knight of the port town of Marienhafe in the region of Ostfriesland. In fact, he is a former pirate carrying his head under his arm and can be spotted around midnight at the tower of Marienhafe. Both American legends have been written by Washington Irving (1783-1859). He is buried at Sleepy Hollow.


Other old houses in New York in the Dutch colonial style are the Lott House and the Wyckoff farmhouse, both in Brooklyn and built in/around 1652. But also the Flatlands Reformed Church, also in Brooklyn, built a year later in 1653. The Wyckoff farmhouse, between Clarendon Rd and Ditmas Ave in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, is considered to be the oldest house in New York City. Originally the name was spelled as Wykhof. It was built by an Ostfries 'East Frisian', namely Pieter Claesen from near the town of Norden in the north of the region of Ostfriesland. Pieter Claesen arrived in New Netherland in 1632 when he was twelve years old. It was in 1652 when he bought a piece of land from the WIC in New Amersfoort, also known as the Flatlands, and what would become Brooklyn.

 

Finally. Time to talk about the portraits in City Hall and the Met in New York City that we started this blogpost with. They are of government officials. As said, from the small villages Koudum and Peperga, both in the south of the province Friesland. Only forty kilometers apart from each other as the crow flies.



Pieter Stuyvesant (1611?-1672)


The one of village Peperga in City Hall is the portrait of Pieter Stuyvesant (see image below), also called Peter or Petrus Stuyvesant. Peperga, a small village, only fifteen kilometres as the crow flies away from the Zuiderzee 'southern sea', and thus connected with the wide world. The profession of his father Balthasar Joannis Stuyvesant (ca. 1587-1637), a minister, probably also gave Stuyvesant a broader look at the world. His father was born in the port of Dokkum in Friesland and died in the port of Delfzijl in the province of Groningen. His mother was Margaretha Hardenststein (1575-1625), who died in the village of Berlikum in the province of Friesland. Grandfather Joannis Stuyvesant was an innkeeper in Dokkum.


Pieter Stuyvesant received his elementary education in Dokkum, a port town where the Admiralty of Friesland was located. It was here that he had his first encounter with the international military enterprise of the Republic, to which he would eventually belong. In 1628, he began his studies at the University of Franeker in the province of Friesland. His decision to pursue philosophy rather than theology dismayed his father. Franeker was a university of great international prestige in Europe at that time, with about 200 students and sixteen professors, and it was teeming with new ideas. Even René Descartes delivered lectures at this university in 1629, and Stuyvesant was among those who attended them.


Stuyvesant wasn't your typical obedient college kid. Known for both stealing from his landlady as well as having sex with her daughter, and for rough behavior in taverns in the port of Harlingen. That time, Harlingen was one of the major ports of the Republic. Maybe Stuyvesant was lurking around the vice districts of Harlingen together with the controversial Polish professor Johannes Maccovius. Of the latter, we know he frequented a brothel in Harlingen named The King of England. Read our post Harbours, Hookers, Heroines and Women in Masquerade for more about this and other brothels. Whether or not he smoked tobacco, since a cigarette brand was named after Stuyvesant centuries later, we don't know. Perhaps Stuyvesant had one of those fancy Gouda smoking pipes that had just become fashionable. In the year 1630, Stuyvesant was expelled from the university, probably because of the incident with the daughter of his landlady (Greer, 2009).


His nickname was Peg Leg Pete, or Zilverbeen 'silver leg' in Dutch. This because of his sparkly wooden leg, covered with frills and decorations. He lost his leg during a military naval campaign at the island of Saint Martin in 1644. Captain Ahab of the Caribbean. Had the New Yorker writer Herman Melville, of partly Dutch origin, one-legged Stuyvesant in mind when creating this character Ahab and writing his famous book Moby Dick? Although Stuyvesant stole from his landlady when he was young, Stuyvesant as a governor was tough on colonists who cheated native tribe members in business deals. He's being described as the man who gave a damn for the noble and academic laws of Hugo Grotius or, indeed, Descartes. The company's law (i.e. WIC) was the only natural law for him, and he understood duty and station (Shorto 2005).


oldest image of New Amsterdam by Laurens Block (?), 1650

Stuyvesant was by far the longest-serving governor of the New Netherland colony and made a real mark. Stuyvesant was appointed by the WIC in 1646 and fulfilled this position for eighteen years. Normally, governors only did the job for a couple of years. Albeit he didn't achieve what his Westfrisian colleague Jan Pietersz. Coen had achieved with the Dutch Indies in the East earlier that century, he still expanded and secured the young colony all this time. That was quite a challenge, by the way. The neighbouring British colonies to the north and Swedish colonies to the south were quite aggressive Pac-Men, while at the same time, the Dutch colony was extensive and only sparsely populated. About 10,000 people in total. Hence, the defence was difficult.


During Stuyvesant's rule, in the year 1653, the settlement of New Amsterdam even received the status of city with its own council. The birth of Spin City. Furthermore, it was Stuyvesant who founded the settlement of Beverwijck in 1652, later to become the city of Albany. This was the area around Fort Oranje. Beverwijck, meaning 'beaver trading site', refers to the main economic activity: the trade in beaver pelts the Dutch bought from the native tribes (Venema 2003).


On September 24, 1664, Stuyvesant surrendered to a British fleet of 300 soldiers. This occurred during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The citizens of the New Netherland colony refused to fight and take up arms, knowing they would never stand a chance against this fleet and the British colonies to the north. They pressed Stuyvesant to negotiate a surrender. As we shall see further below, New Netherland was quite an obsession of King Charles II of England. The process of surrender would be Stuyvesant's last act as governor, but a decisive one in world history.


The Articles of Capitulation, which were agreed upon for the surrender of New Netherland, attest to the bourgeois rights and liberties achieved by the Dutch people since the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe ('act of abjuration') of 1581. This is the declaration of independence of the Dutch Republic. In the Plakkaat, it was stated that the people may free themselves from a ruler if he no longer fulfils his duties and obligations towards the people. The Articles, negotiated under the supervision of Stuyvesant, state, among other things, that the Dutch in the colony shall enjoy the liberty of conscience, that they would be free to come and go whenever they liked, and that trade would be free. Also, the Articles state that the representative government institutions of the Manhattanites would stay the same, except for them swearing loyalty to the king of England from now on.


With these negotiations, the British Empire was infected with the virus of bourgeois liberties for which, in the end, no vaccine was available, and it would soon spread into the United States, soon to emerge. What we call a serious butterfly effect.


A year after the surrender, Stuyvesant returned to patria, to Holland. He was ordered to do so by the States General of the Republic to answer why he had surrendered the colony without putting up a fight. Stuyvesant defended his case and pleaded to be allowed to return to his property in the New Netherland colony. In the end, he was permitted to do so. Back to his estate, the bouwerie, meaning 'farm', today known as the Bowery. Apparently, he and his family had become Americans, and America was his home (Shorto 2005). The Bowery stretched from East River to 4th Avenue. People still greeted him on the streets of New York with 'General'.


Less admirable, on the Bowery, Stuyvesant owned forty slaves (Hondius 2017). For this, Stuyvesant has recently been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Frisia (ICTF). Check our press statement concerning his indictment and about the ICTF. Stuyvesant died in the year 1672.


The Saint Mark's Church in the Bowery, built on top of a chapel Stuyvesant had commissioned back in 1660, is the oldest place of continuous religious worship on Manhattan. Stuyvesant is buried there. His tomb is built into the side of the church. Local legend has it, especially throughout the nineteenth century, the area of the church is being haunted by the ghost of Peg Leg Pete; the proud, stiff Frisian. You could hear him walk, his soul tormented still by the fact he had lost New Amsterdam to the English. A bit similar to the sagas surrounding the pirate and privateer Klaus Störtebeker who haunts the old tower of the port of Marienhafe in Ostfriesland. Around midnight, you can hear his footsteps too.


Stuyvesant was remembered in history as the governor who was straightforward, stubborn, and authoritarian. Known for his quote: "I value the blood of one Christian more than that of a hundred Indians." He was never seen as also the man who planted individual freedoms and liberties firmly on American soil, which were subsequently carried across the River Delaware in 1776 by George Washington. Stuyvesant achieved this through the delicate art of the possible, which also required a firm hand. Especially in the fragile and delicate situation of this remote colony.


In all this freedom of trade, individuality, and representation of government, Stuyvesant stood in a millennium-old tradition of Frisia. Read our posts Porcupines bore U.S. Bucks and Upstalsboom: why solidarity is not the core of a collective to understand this old tradition. And, as we have seen, from his youth up until his days as a student, Stuyvesant was familiar with international knowledge, trade, and politics.


Jacob Benckes (left) and Pieter Stuyvesant (right)


One of the most, if not the most, influential and wealthiest citizens of New Amsterdam, and good acquaintance of Pieter Stuyvesant, was the Frisian Frederick Philipse (1627-1702). His surname is also spelled as Philippus or Flipse. He was born in the town of Bolsward and married the wealthy she-merchant Margaret Hardenbroeck, widow of Pieter Rudolphus de Vries in New Amsterdam. Philipse was an artisan and responsible for constructing the wall of Wall Street, a contract he received from Stuyvesant. Philipse also built the Philipsburg Manor and the church of Sleepy Hollow, where he, and many of his progeny, are buried. After his wife died, Philipse married Catharina van Cortlandt. Philipse amassed much of his wealth through the weapon and slave trade. Weapons were exported to Africa, especially sold to pirates in Madagascar, and slaves were imported. The Philipse dynasty remained very influential in New Netherland until the War of Independence (De Haan & Huisman 2009).



Jacob Benckes (1637-1677)


The other portrait (see image above) is the one you can find in the Met. It's the portrait of the untold naval hero Jacob Benckes, often written as Binckes or Binkes, from the village of Koudum in province Friesland. We will elaborate on his history since it's typical for the question of the post how Frisians always seem to succeed in not getting the credit.


Young Benckes was a seafarer and merchant in wood which he imported from Norway. Traditionally, the towns in the southwest of the province of Friesland traded a lot with Norway. His naval career at the Admiralty of Amsterdam started in 1660, among other things, with operations to escort merchant convoys to Norway and secure the river Elbe in the interest of Dutch merchant vessels.


Captain Benckes was also very active in the heroic Raid on the Medway in June 1667. His frigate, the Essen, which carried fifty stukken 'cannons' and twenty-five marines, was part of the strike force on the river. The Marine Corps of the Republic was the first corps in history specialized in amphibious operations. It was one of England's biggest military humiliations ever. Other prestigious Frisian naval officers who took part in the raid were: Enno Doedes Star from the village of Osterhusen (county of Ostfriesland), Volckert Schram from the town of Enkhuizen (region of Westfriesland), Jan Corneliszoon Meppel from the town of Hoorn (region of Westfriesland), and Hans Willem van Aylva from the village of Holwerd (province of Friesland). These are world-famous names, of course... No credits earned.


The Raid on the Medway was part of a daring strategy of the powerful regents, and brothers, Johan and Cornelis de Witt. A strategy to obtain the strongest position at the peace negotiations table in the town of Breda, which had been going on for some time. The English had tried to do the same earlier by raiding the Frisian Wadden Sea island Terschelling on August 20, 1666. Alpha dog and a beta dog, but this time the Dutch won.


The Treaty of Breda of 1667, which was very favourable for the Dutch, meant the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In the treaty, it was agreed that all territories conquered from each other on May 20, 1667, would be respected. That meant the New Netherland colony belonged to England. The, in fact, more lucrative properties Suriname, island Saba, island Sint Eustatius and island Tobago, Fort Cormantin, and all of the Banda Islands, belonged to the Republic. The beaver-pelt trade in the New Netherland colony was already in decline from around the '1660s.


The peace of Breda was short-lived, and five years later the Third Anglo-Dutch War started. The year 1672 is the so-called Rampjaar 'disaster year' of the Dutch Republic since not only a war with England broke out, but also one with France and one with the Habsburg Monarchy. Bit of an overkill, even for the young Republic. Benckes is one of the captains during the Battle of Solebay on May 28, 1672. This time a sea battle against a huge, combined English and French fleet. Although heavily outnumbered, the Dutch were more or less victorious and left the ship the Royal James shot to pieces and burning behind. A prestigious warship with hundred stukken 'cannons' and, moreover, the flagship of King Charles II. The king who graved for New Netherland.


They were hectic times, and Benckes was therefore almost full time at sea. Following the Battle of Solebay, he was immediately sent on a secret mission to the West via the neutral port of Cadiz in Spain. Once in the Caribbean, Benckes had a rendezvous with a squadron of the Admiralty of Zeeland under the command of vice-admiral Cornelis Evertsen. A squadron that 'happened' to be in the hood, and they 'happened' to find each other quite easily. They combined their squadrons into a joint fleet of twenty-one ships. The biggest military naval fleet the West had ever seen roaming its shores.


After causing some serious havoc and plundering on the coast of Virginia, they recaptured New Amsterdam and the New Netherland colony in 1673. That was just a year after Stuyvesant, its former governor, had died of age on his estate in the Bowery. The recapture of New Amsterdam only needed a short exchange of cannon fire. Benckes and Evertsen marched on Broadway. We love to think this is the origin of the ticker-tape parade. New Amsterdam, renamed New York by the English after they had conquered it in 1664, was renamed once again. This time it was baptized Nieuw Oranje 'new orange'. Anthonij Colve was installed as the new, and last, Dutch governor of the colony.


New Amsterdam by unknown artist, 1673

Nicolaes Bayard, a nephew of former Governor Stuyvesant, who lived in the colony when it was retaken by the Dutch, was appointed secretary of the War Council which temporarily governed the colony. It is thought that due to Bayard's diligent and hard work, many government reforms were implemented in a very short time. When a year later the colony was returned to England already, it was negotiated that the rights and freedoms of the citizens, and the governance by and large would be respected by the British. Just as Stuyvesant had done before in 1664 with the Articles of Capitulation. That turned out to be the case in practice as well. New Yorkers can thank Nicolaes Bayard still for it.


According to The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide, "the last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of New Yorkers, common sense snuck in at number 79" (Adams 1996). Indeed, New Yorkers owe Stuyvesant, Benckes, and Bayard big time.


 

Cradle of American Liberties - With the New Netherland colony, the Dutch established a colony with settlements based on free trade, liberty, and the right to accumulate personal wealth. The Dutch successfully fought the first great bourgeois revolution in world history and founded a federation of republics (Leonard 2020). That was about two centuries before the French Revolution in 1789.


The settlers in New Netherland came from everywhere and for all sorts of reasons. The colony attracted traders, merchants, prostitutes, slaves, former slaves, trappers, explorers, etc. It became a mix of Norwegians, Germans, Italians, Jews, Africans, Walloons, Bohemians, Munsees, Montauks, Mohawks, and, of course, Dutch. A colourful collection of losers and scalawags, inconsequential and meandering, waiting around for the wind of fate to blow them off the map (Shorto 2005). It mirrors the demographic situation in the Republic and especially that of Amsterdam, where around 1650 half of the population had not been born in the city itself (Venema 2003).


The Dutch Republic back then - uniquely in Europe and the world - believed in an open market and in global competition. Also, relative tolerance toward religion was part of Dutch society. One of their most famous philosophers, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), the first modern thinker and founder of the Age of Enlightenment, wrote in 1670:

“in a free state every man may think what he likes, and say what he thinks”

This New-Netherland model had a lasting impact on the history of United States, and not only because of the similarities of being also a federation of republics. Political freedom and representative government were inherited through the New Netherland colony, long before the Declaration of Independence, and long before the British did. Quite the opposite of the early British colonies founded by the religious rigid Puritans and Pilgrim, north of the New Netherland colony. It was New Netherland, not Boston, Plymouth, or Jamestown, that is the cradle of America’s liberties, the Bill of Rights, and the center of open market and globalized economy. A belief that individual achievement matters more than birthright (Shorto 2004).

An exception to all this happiness was the settlement of Rensselaerswijck in the north of the colony, part of current city of Albany and capital of New York State today. It was founded by the diamond merchant and shareholder of the WIC, Kiliaen Rensselaer from the village of Hasselt. He governed his settlement in a strict feudalistic way. Rensselaerswijck, by the way, was purchased from the Mahicans in the '1630s by a Frisian named Sebastiaen Jansz Krol from the port of Harlingen, on behalf of Kiliaen Rensselaer. Krol was lay minister as well. During 1632 and 1633 Krol was also provisional governor of the New Netherland colony after Minuit was ordered to return to the Republic. Before being provisional governor he also fulfilled the position of commander of Fort Orange.


George Washinton crossing the River Delaware, 1776

During the War of Independence between 1775-1783, the rebellious colonies (including the former Dutch colony) were actively supported by the Dutch Republic in their fight against Britain. Especially with weapons smuggled to America via the Caribbean. The reprisals of the English were tough and economically it cost the Republic dearly.


It goes without saying, diplomats of the American colonies tried to persuade countries to officially recognize the independence of the Republic of the United States of America. Province Friesland was the first state within the Dutch Republic to vote for recognition. That was on February 26, 1782. On April 19, 1782, the Dutch Republic recognized the independence, and was the second in the world to do so. The Kingdom of France was quicker than Province Friesland, and had recognized the independence of America on February 6, 1778 already. The driving forces in Friesland to recognise the States were Coert Lambertus van Beyma from Harlingen, and Johan Casparus Bergsma from Dokkum. On August 31, 1782, the newspaper the Independent Gazetteer reported that the people in Friesland were celebrating the independence of the United States and in the town of Franeker even with fireworks (Dijkstra 2021).


A typical Dutch historic frame is that unofficially, however, the Dutch Republic had recognized the States on November 16, 1776 already. So, before France. That was when the Dutch cordially greeted the American ship Andrew Doria from Saint Eustatius with eleven gunshots. An act that already infuriated proud Great Britain, then still at war with the Continental Army of America.

 

Back to the joint venture in the West of Benckes and Evertsen.


When the Amsterdam and Zeeland squadrons returned to the Republic, the conquered flags of the English were handed over by Benckes to Amsterdam. Not to the Admiralty of Zeeland. Hence a clear signal the whole operation in the Americas was authorized by the States of Province Holland en West-Friesland, and it was this Province that was in the lead of the thing. Nevertheless, in the centuries to come it was Evertsen who got the credits for recapturing New Amsterdam and Benckes was forgotten. Illustrative is the strophe of the nineteenth-century poet Potgieter: “Die Evertsen een eerkrans vlechte!” (‘Which braided a wreath for Evertsen’). No mention whatsoever of Benckes.


With the Treaty of Westminster in 1674, that marked the end of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the New Netherland colony was returned to England. There is much speculation about the naval operation of the combined operation of Vice-Admiral Evertsen and Commodore Benckes in the West. It is suggested much was secretly orchestrated by Stadtholder William III. The Prince of Orange happened to be one of the main shareholders of the WIC, a company that was facing bankruptcy at the time. A company, by the way, that was responsible for the transport of an estimated 300,000 slaves from Africa, which was about half of the total Dutch transatlantic slave trade. Time to make a profit again, William might have thought. Or was it to create leverage in the war against England, knowing New Netherland was precious to King Charles II?


But maybe there were even other interests involved which were more viciously on the side of William III. He had ambitions to marry his first cousin Mary II, who was a niece of King Charles II. Giving New Netherland to King Charles II as a kind of wedding gift, could contribute to get this marriage deal done. Not long after the Third Anglo-Dutch War had ended, William and Mary indeed married in 1677. The restitution of the New Netherland colony to England was explicitly approved by Stadtholder William III. One of the five negotiators sent by the Republic to negotiate the Treaty of Westminster was a Frisian by the way, Willem van Haren from region ‘t Bildt.


In 1675 Commodore Benckes is sent on a mission to assist the King of Denmark in his conflict with the King of Sweden, with the purpose to secure the Sound for Dutch trade. After this mission he is instructed in 1676 to go to the West again. At the same time, Admiral Michiel de Ruyter (from Vlissingen) is sent to the Mediterranean, and Admiral Maarten Tromp (from Den Briel) is sent to the Baltic Sea. So, a Frisian, a Dutchman and a Zeelander (‘Zeeuw’) were the three naval officers ruling the seas and determined to make life difficult for the French.


Benckes was tasked to conquer French Guiana and to colonize the island of Tobago. He succeeded in both. However, in February 1677 the French attacked with a big fleet Fort Sterrenschans on Tobago, which was still under construction. Benckes was able to stand his ground despite many loses and much destruction. The French sent immediately a new fleet to the West, whilst the Republic was slow with decision making. Military reinforcements arrived too late to help out Benckes. Benckes was stuck on the island, isolated. December that same year a second battle took place during which Benckes was killed. The battle of Tobago was one of the heaviest colonial battles ever. Tens of man-o-wars were destroyed, and it took more than 2,000 lives.


Benckes never lived to tell to be promoted to rear admiral. When he died at Tobago he was quite young, namely forty years. Officers, when promoted to rear admiral, were in general of older of age. Secondly, he was in the service of the Admiralty of Amsterdam, and he did not descend from the Amsterdam or Holland patricians. Admirals were often selected from influential families. Instead, Benckes was a relatively modest merchant from Friesland. Perhaps, if he had worked for the Admiralty of Friesland he would have had better chances for quicker promotion. Although, the States General of the Republic always had a say in appointing admirals, except for the Admiralty of Zeeland that was more independent in its human resource policy.


A vacancy Benckes might have hoped for, is the kind that Admiral Tjerk Hiddes (from the village of Sexbierum in Friesland) left behind in the year 1666. That year Hiddes was killed during the Four Day’s Battle against England. Hiddes is known for his statement after the disastrous Battle of Lowestoft in 1656 under the command of Admiral Jacob van Wassenaar Obdam, alias Foggy (‘slow’) Obdam:

“Vooreerst heeft God Almachtigh ons opperhooft de kennis ontnomen of noyt gegeven.”

First of all God Almighty has taken away from our chief the knowledge or never had given it.


Other (vice-) admirals from province Friesland, region Ostfriesland and region West-Friesland were: Hans Willem van Aylva (from Holwerd), Rudolf Coenders (from Harlingen), Pieter Florisse (from Monnickendam?), Jan Cornelisz Meppel (from Hoorn), Christoffel Middaghten (from Sexbierum), Volckert Adriaansz Schram (from Enkhuizen), Hidde Sjoerds (from Sexbierum), Enno Doedes Star (from Osterhusen), Auke Stellingwerf (from Harlingen), and David Vlugh (from Enkhuizen).


Robinson Crusoe

Lastly, there is the case of Robinson Kreutznaer, or better known as Robinson Crusoe. The castaway on a deserted island with his slave Friday. A story written by Daniel Defoe in 1719. Since Defoe said his story was all true, the question arises, who was this Robinson? Here the credits go to a Scot named Alexander Selkirk. Despite the Dutch-sounding last name Kreutznaer. Selkirk was a castaway on an island before the coast of modern Chile. Nothing is less true. It were the events of Benckes and his isolated stay on the island Tobago around which the story and character of Robinson Crusoe was modelled by Defoe (De Vries 2020). From the northern side of the island Robinson Crusoe could see the island Trinidad, as it is written by Defoe.


The story of Robinson Crusoe is, in fact, an ode to superior England with Tobago being England. France and Germany are represented by the cannibals, and the Dutch Republic is the enslaved cannibal named Friday. The father of Friday is Spain, out of which the Dutch Republic was born indeed. There are many more hints giving away Benckes’ adventure on island Tobago was the basis of the story. Yet again, this Frisian did not get the credits. They still go to the Scotsman Selkirk.



Conclusion


It's like what Winston Churchill once said: "history is written by the victors". In this post, Frisians repeatedly appear, but mostly as government representatives, like clerks, negotiators, administrators, and naval officers. They were the instruments, it seems, of the powerful, of William of Orange, for example, or of the victorious Province of Holland. Even Stuyvesant didn't get the credit that really mattered: establishing the basis for the freedoms and liberties of Manhattan and America as such. True, he got his own cigarette brand centuries later. Instead, these credits of liberty often go to a southerner and lawman, Adriaen van der Donck, under the argument that Stuyvesant was a boy from the countryside (Shorto 2004), which he evidently was not, as explained earlier in this post. Indeed, Van der Donck has the 'van' in his surname, which Stuyvesant does not have.


Concerning the Frisians in general, only some landmarks at the edge of the world, and beyond, have been named after them. Find them on the barren Norwegian archipelago of Spitsbergen in the Arctic Ocean (i.e. Ny-Friesland, Barentsøya, and Barentszburg) and the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, as well as the Barents Sea near Novaya Zemlya and Frisches Haff in Russia. Also, Vries Strait is named after a Frisian, namely Maarten Gerritsz Vries from the port town Harlingen, who discovered in 1643 as the first European the Kuril archipelago, including the island Sakhalin, north of Japan. Neither should we forget the Gemma Frisius and David Fabricius impact craters on the moon, nor the Oort Cloud in deep space. All together, mostly places you do not want to visit. Read our posts Sailors escaped from Cyclops and Happy Hunting Grounds in the Arctic for more stories about Frisians in the Arctic.


The question remains, how come the goody-goody Frisians lack the skills to receive the credits, so badly? Their inability to claim success? Or, is it that they're simply indifferent to success and glory? We welcome any ideas on this typical trait.


We leave Churchill behind and finish this post with a flattering remark from the American statesman John Adams (1735-1826). Adams was one of the founding fathers of the United States and the second President. Adams also played an important role in designing the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. And, it was also Adams, in charge of getting the Dutch Republic, including Province Friesland, to recognize the independence of the States, who said that the Frisians were famous for their spirit of freedom.

 


Note 1 – If interested in how the Dutch tradition of free market and capitalism have evolved, read our post Porcupines bore US bucks. It becomes tedious, but yet again another piece of history the Frisians failed to receive the credits for.


Note 2 – The cigarette brand Stuyvesant is founded by the company Reemtsma with the slogan ‘Der Duft der großen weiten Welt‘ (The perfume of the great wide world). Also this was taken from Stuyvesant from the British, namely by the British American Tobacco plc. Reemtsma is a family business originating from Region Ostfriesland in Germany, today located in the city of Hamburg.


Note 3 - From the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide of Douglas Adam:


Tips for aliens in New York

Land anywhere, Central Park, anywhere. No one will care or indeed even notice.

Surviving: get a job as a cabdriver immediately. A cab driver’s job is to drive people anywhere they want to go in big yellow machines called taxis. Don’t worry if you don’t know how the machine works and you can’t speak the language, don’t understand the geography or indeed the basic physics of the area, and have large green antennae growing out of your head. Believe me, this is the best way of staying inconspicuous.


If your body is really weird, try showing it to people in the streets for money.

Amphibious life forms from any of the worlds in the Swulling, Noxios, or Nausalia systems will particularly enjoy the East River, which is said to be richer in those lovely life-giving nutrients than the finest and most virulent laboratory slime yet achieved.


Having fun: this is the big section. It is impossible to have more fun without electrocuting your pleasure center….


Note 4 – For great artist impressions of New Netherland, check the site of painter artist Len Tantillo.



Suggested music

Rob de Nijs, Dag zuster Ursula (1973)

Counting Crows Mr. Jones (2009)


Further reading

Abbott, J.S.C., Peter Stuyvesant. The Last Dutch Governor of New Amsterdam (1873)

Adams, D., The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide (1996)

Attema, R., Maarten Gerritsz Vries. VOC-commandeur van Harlingen (2008)

Breuker, P., Fryslân yn de Gouden Iuw. Opfettingen. Ideeën. Ferbylding (2022)

Buwalda, A.A., Friese kapiteins (33): Johan van Bonga (2019); Friese kapiteins (45): Douwe van Glins (2020); Friese kapiteins (54): Tjaard Tjebbes Hobbema (2020)

Connolly, C., The True Native New Yorkers Can Never Truly Reclaim Their Homeland (2018)

Degener, R., Dutch bought Cape May land for whaling colony that never materialized (2012)

Dijkstra, A., De Hemelbouwer. Een biografie van Eise Eisinga (2021)

Doedens, A. & Houter, J., Zeevaarders in de Gouden Eeuw (2022)

Goor, van J., Jan Pieterszoon Coen. Koopman-koning in Azië. 1587-1629 (2015)

Greer, B., Sex and the City. The Early Years. A Bawdy Look at Dutch Manhattan (2009)

Haan, de P. & Huisman, K. (ed), Gevierde Friezen in Amerika (2009)

Hondius, D., Jouwe, N., Stam, D. & Tosch, J., Dutch New York Histories. Connecting African, Native American and Slavery Heritage; Geschiedenissen van Nederlands New York (2017)

Hondius, D., Jouwe, N., Stam, D. & Tosch, J., Gids Slavernijverleden Nederland. Slavery Heritage Guide The Netherlands (2019)

Israel, J., The Dutch Republic. Its Rise, Greatness and Fall (1995)

Jamestown & American Revolution (website), Frisia Leads the Way in Recognizing U.S. Indpendence (2014)

Knottnerus, O., Culture and society in the Frisian and German North Sea Coastal Marshes (1500-1800) (2004)

Koops, E., Peter Stuyvesant (1612-1672). Gouverneur-generaal van Nieuw-Nederland. De calvinist met het Zilveren Veen (2020)

Leonard, R., How the Dutch invented our world. Liberal democracy and capitalism would have been impossible without the Dutch (2020)

Linwood Grant, J., Well, I’ll be a Flying Dutchman! (2016)

Lukezic, C. & McCarthy, J.P. (ed), The Archaeology of New Netherland. A World Built on Trade; Lucas, M.T. & Traudt, K.S., A Mid-Seventeenth-Century Drinking House in New Netherland (2021)

Maritiem Portal, Koudumer zeeheld veroverde New York op de Engelsen, nu in Fries Scheepvaart Museum (2018)

Numan, K. & Pol, van de R., Janssoon van Schaghen, Pieter (1578-1636). Graankoper, raadslid van Alkmaar en lid van de Raad van State, musicus, dichter (2011)

Otto, P., Peter Stuyvesant (1999)

Panhuysen, L., De Ware Vrijheid. De levens van Johan en Cornelis de Witt (2015)

Pennewaard, K., De laatste, verzwegen zeeheld (2018)

Pye, M., The Edge of the World (2014)

Romm, R.M., America’s first whaling industry and the whaler yeomen of Cape May 1630-1830 (2010)

Shomette, D.G. & Haslach, R.D., Raid on America. The Dutch Naval Campaign of 1672-1674 (2013)

Shorto, R., The Island at the Center of the World. The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America (2004)

Siefkes, W., Ostfriesische Sagen und sagenhafte Geschichten (1963)

Steensen, T., Die Friesen. Menschen am Meer (2020)

Venema, J., Beverwijck. A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664 (2003)

Vries, de J., Verzwegen zeeheld. Jacob Benckes (1637-1677) en zijn wereld (2018)

Vries, de J., Waar is Robinson Crusoe gebleven? (2018)

Vries, de J., Wat hebben Jacob Benckes en Robinson Crusoe gemeen? (2020)

Wiarda, H.J., The Dutch Diaspora. The Netherlands and Its Settlements in Africa, Asia, and the Americas (2007)

Wiersma, J.P., Friese Mythen en Sagen (1973)

Wijdeven, van de I., Nederland en de VS: Natuurlijke bondgenoten (2010)

Zijlstra, H., Grafsteen moeder Pieter Stuyvesant ontdekt (2010)

Zimmerman, J.C., Poëzy 1827-1874 van E.J. Potgieter (1890)

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