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Colonisation and migration in New-America

Migration is nothing new. A lot of people immigrated to the United States after it was ‘rediscovered’. The Netherlands also colonised a part of the New World and gave it the name New Netherland. Pepijn Doornenbal, a master’s student History, conducts research in the United States about how different migrantgroups were dealt with in New Netherland.

Enslaved people

Pepijn started his research with a focus on enslaved people, who ended up in New Netherland through the West Indian Company (WIC). These people escaped their slavery at some point. Because they had built up a service record for years, it was undesireable for the WIC to keep them enslaved, because the risk they would flee or revolt was increasing. The WIC gave them a piece of land and agreed with them that they could be called if they needed them for labour. Their children would remain enslaved. ‘This way the WIC continued to be ensured of their labour, but they also met the wishes of the group.’

Unwanted guests

Eventually Pepijn expanded his research on three other groups: Swedish and Finish people (who formed one group), Jews and British. The arrival of these groups in New Netherland was undesired, because the administration of New Netherland feared that these groups would start their own colony here. Even about the Jewish group there was fear, despite there being only twenty-three of them. The British colonists were a lesser problem in the eyes of the administration, because they, for the most part, were non-catholic Christians and seeking religious freedom. For the Dutch in the colony (of which most were protestant Christians) this was less intimidating. Because the Dutch in New Netherland did not have enough manpower to rule with an iron fist, they had to find other ways to control these migration groups.

The board of the WIC in Amsterdam (that was in contact with New Netherland) contrived for example to scatter the Swedish across the colony, which made it impossible for them to claim their former territory. Eventually, they were allowed by the board of New Netherland to govern themselves, just like the British. Pepijn finds this anecdote the most interesting thing he uncovered in his research. ‘Everybody knows of course about the slaves in the U.S. and the Jews, but there is not that much known about the Swedish’, says Pepijn.

Browsing through Seventeenth Century documents

Pepijn has five bookcases to his disposal for his research at the New Netherlands Institute and has ‘absolute freedom’ in his own words. For his research he receives a lot of desired guidance from researchers of the institute. For forty years researchers of the institute have been occupied with the translation of documents that cover New Netherland to English. Pepijn uses both the English and Dutch transcriptions and copies for his research. He himself does not come in contact with the original Seventeenth Century documents. ‘These are very fragile and there is no reason to see them, because they have been transcribed by experts, who are way more experienced in that, than I am’, Pepijn states.

Different connotations

Pepijn considers it important that he can read the documents he studies in their original and untranslated language. In documents that have been translated into English, the native people of the United States are called “Indians”, while in the Dutch copy different names are used for this group. Pepijn: ‘The different names for these people had different connotations. They could be called “wilde (wild person)”, a “naturel” or an “indiaan (Indian)”. If all those words are translated into “Indians” nuance can be lost.’

Living and working in the U.S.

To be able to study in the U.S. Pepijn applied to a scholarship from the New Netherland Institute. He submitted a research plan, which got approved. Since then he lives and conducts research in Albany, the capitol of the state of New York (do not confuse it with the city of New York, which is situated in the most southern part of the state). Next to doing research he enjoys experiencing daily life there. The only downside is that he does not live in the most lively part of New York and sometimes it can be difficult to connect with the people who live there. ‘It is a bit lonely, but that too is a skill. Luckily, I can handle being on myself well’.

Advice for research abroad

Pepijn can provide a lot of advice for someone who want to conduct research abroad: ‘Make sure you have enough money. You will always face unforeseen costs. Also, check in advance the requirements for entering the country. In the U.S. you can stay three months twice a year if you have a tourist visa. After asking around here, I now know that you will not have troubles entering if you stay away from the U.S. as long as your last stay lasted. It is weird and annoying, but you have lots to lose if you don’t conform to the rules. Oh, and don’t forget to bring spices from your country of origin, because in the U.S. at least, they are very pricy.’

Lieke Bakker
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