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Lecture | CMGI Brown Bag Seminar

Jan Rodriguez: A Seventeenth Century Atlantic Life

Wednesday 31 May 2023
CMGI Brown Bag Seminars 2022-2023
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
Conference room (2.60)

This presentation will focus on Jan (or Juan) Rodriguez, a free man of African descent who lived in the western half of the island of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti) and who is the subject of my new research project. Although he was technically a Spanish subject, Rodriguez was likely involved in illicit trade with the Dutch and others, who visited the poorly defended ports of the western half of the island. In 1612, Rodriguez boarded the Dutch ship Jonge Tobias. The ship was bound for the Hudson Valley, a region that the Dutch had recently explored and were then starting to colonize. When the ship departed, Rodriguez stayed behind, becoming the first non-Indigenous person to live in what later became the colony of New Netherland. Rodriguez thus formed a crucial link between Dutch traders and Indigenous peoples of the Hudson Valley. Rodriguez stayed in the area for at least a couple years, and maybe longer. By that time, the Dutch had established Fort Nassau near present-day Albany. A Black man from Hispaniola was a key player in the birth of New Netherland.

Rodriguez is mentioned in a handful of documents in both Spanish and Dutch archives, but the fact is that there will always be a lot we can never know about him. My project aims to illuminate his life by exploring his world. This talk will briefly introduce what is already known about Rodriguez. It will offer up ideas and, ideally, provoke discussion about how historians should piece together lives and communities that appear only briefly in the archives.

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