Bud McGrath

Paradoxes of War

December 27, 2015

According to Freud if we keep track of our dreams over time eventually a pattern emerges that tells us important truths about ourselves. The same may be true about the conscious stories we tell repeatedly about ourselves to ourselves and to others. Since serving in Viet Nam as an artillery officer I have told a number of stories about my experience there. I never thought much about any pattern that emerged from these stories that have rattled around in my memory for the past forty-five years until my anxiety about writing them for this collection provoked a particularly violent dream one night from which I awoke with the outline for this essay full blown in my head. Here are two of those stories.

vietnam mcgregor 2

At the right is McGrath.

One night during the 1968 Tet offensive Viet Cong sappers blew up piles of ammunition at the Long Binh, the largest U.S. supply depot in Viet Nam. One of the sappers caught, rumor has it, worked at the Long Binh officer’s club as a barber. Daily he had a razor to the throats of generals. That we hired to work in our base camps during the day the people we fought against at night was one of the strange features of this war. It also may be why Viet Cong intelligence often was better than U.S. military intelligence.

Another night I was the OIC of one of the sectors of the perimeter guard at Bear Cat, where my unit was stationed. Between the perimeter berm and the jungle was a cleared area of more than a hundred yards planted with mines and barbed wire. At one point in the early morning hours we heard an explosion in one of the adjacent sectors followed by rifle, machine gun, and grenades coming from our perimeter guards. Within minutes artillery began dropping into the area of the initial explosion; then helicopters and an AC-47 gunship poured fire into the area. Before the incident was over B52 bombers diverted from targets in North Viet Nam dropped their thunderous loads in the jungle just beyond the cleared area. Then all was quiet. When dawn broke a patrol went out to investigate. All they found in the area of the initial explosion was a well-mutilated monkey. Apparently the initial explosion came from the grenade launcher of one of our own soldiers who had fired without permission at a sound he heard in the open area.

During my tour in Viet Nam I saw no indication whatsoever of any kind of progress, military or political. In fact, we devastated the country and impeded its progress into the modern world for more than a decade.

McGrath 3

A South Vietnamese soldier rests his eyes at a lonely outpost northeast of Kontum, 1974 (AP Photo/Nick Ut).

In my research as an English professor I read an enlightening essay by British film scholar John Hill, who points out that in most American films violence typically is the solution to social and personal problems, while in British and European films violence is usually the problem that destroys societies, families, and individuals.1 (James Bond films muddy his thesis a bit, but one could argue that Hollywood is as much responsible for James Bond as the British.) We still live in a culture where World War II, with its clear sense of accomplishment and its clear division between the good guys and the bad guys, constructs our paradigm for war, a war made for Hollywood and John Wayne. This paradigm has been reproduced by Hollywood over and over, not only in war films but also in westerns and in the action films that have replaced them, where the solitary hero who lives on the edge of normal society preserves that society through acts of violence.

All the wars since World War II–Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan—have not shaken the Hollywood paradigm. To be sure, there have been some counter narratives, but the Hollywood paradigm still persists; the dream factory rolls out one violent solution after another. Europeans, who have experienced the destruction of modern warfare, are much more reluctant to go to war than Americans, who have been fortunate that no modern war has been conducted on their own territory. Perhaps that is why we can still conceive of violence as the solution to problems rather than the problem to be solved.

1. John Hill, “Images of Violence,” Cinema and Ireland eds. Kevin Rockett, Luke Gibbons and John Hill, (London: Routledge, 1988), 147-193.

This is the last post in our blog series ‘The War We Would Forget’. Also read JAI director Tracy Metz’s introduction (December 2), editor Phillip C. Schaefer’s introduction (December 4), the essay by veteran Jim Harris (December 7), the essay by veteran Glen Kendall (December 9), the essay by Karl F. Winkler (December 14), the essay by George J. Fesus (December 16), the essay by veteran Carl DuRei (December 18), the essay by James Laughlin (December 21), and the essay by John T. Lane (December 23).


The Dutch-American Perspective - By Russell Shorto

The work that historians do influences their lives, especially if they spend a considerable time in a foreign land that they write about. Slowly, their topic of choice becomes an essential part of their identity. Russell Shorto, a renowned writer of narrative history, writes about his own evolution at the intersection of Dutch-American history.

This blog concerns itself with the intersection of Dutch and American history. Previous posts have explored slavery in New Amsterdam, the naming – and renaming – of that city, and John Adams’ role as unofficial ambassador to the Netherlands during the American war of independence. As I pondered the task of contributing to that lineup, and scrolled through a mental list of possible topics, it occurred to me that, as I have lived at the intersection of Dutch and American history for more than twenty years, my own identity, and its evolution over that time, might be a relevant topic.

Once, after I gave a talk, someone asked me if I have a general approach to my books. I stalled a bit, trying to come up with an answer, then said something that, while vague, felt right. I said that I often start out at an intellectual place and end up at an emotional place. In terms of approaching a book subject, what I meant was that my typical entry point will be an idea, an under-appreciated aspect of history. Then, over the course of years spent researching and writing, as I eventually develop my own take on the subject, I become emotionally invested in it. The subject becomes part of who I am.

I might say something similar about my work at the intersection of Dutch and American history. I started out with an intellectual topic, and, over the years, my involvement has become deeply personal.

Children playing in the churchyard of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery, 1994

Stuyvesant at St. Mark’s

I remember the moment my interest in New York’s Dutch roots was sparked. My daughter Anna (who is now in her twenties) was a toddler, and we lived in the East Village of New York City. The nearest open space for her to run around and play was the churchyard of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery, on Second Avenue. The tombs of some of New York’s early inhabitants are there, flush with the ground. I liked the contrast of watching my vibrant young daughter play among the reminders of people long gone.

One of those tombs is that of Petrus Stuyvesant, the last director general of New Netherland and surely the colony’s most famous resident. I knew at the time that New York was once New Amsterdam, that there was a Dutch presence at the beginning, but I knew almost nothing else about it. It was my own ignorance that spurred me. I asked some historian friends what they knew about the Dutch period. They shook their heads. It seemed to be a black hole. Was there such a paucity of records?

Then someone suggested I contact Charles Gehring, who, it turned out, had been translating and publishing the records of the colony since 1974. (He is still at it, by the way.) I had three phone conversations with Charly, in which my sense of American colonial history was transformed. I began to realize not only that the Dutch contributed mightily to American history, but also that one could tell the early story of European settlement in America not just by looking at the Puritans and Pilgrims of New England, as had traditionally been done, but by focusing on Manhattan. And that would result in a very different trajectory. American history wouldn’t start out as Anglo-centric, for one thing. The Dutch colony was a multi-ethnic, polyglot place – one that more closely resembles not only New York today but the U.S. as a whole.

Russell Shorto (on the right) at the 2018 NNI conference on the Dutch roots of Brooklyn

Dutch Records

Far from being a black hole, New York’s Dutch period turns out to be rich in source material. The official records of the colony, which Gehring has been laboring on these many decades, comprise approximately 12,000 pages of material, and are located at the New York State Library and Archives, in Albany, New York. The National Archives of the Netherlands has many other notable documents from the period, including arguably the most important of all: a letter by a delegate to the Dutch States General who, in detailing the arrival of one of the first ships from Manhattan to the Dutch Republic, reports that the settlers “have purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders.” Whatever deed was issued for that sale (which has gone down as one of the most infamous swindles in history) is lost, so this document amounts to New York’s birth certificate.

“Schaghen Letter,” 5 November, 1626

I spent so much time with Gehring and his collaborator, Janny Venema, that I eventually wrote a book about the Dutch colony and its Manhattan-based capital, The Island at the Center of the World, which became a bestseller in the U.S. What surprised me even more was that Dutch publishers vied for the rights to it. I had only been to the Netherlands on a couple of short visits; promoting the Dutch edition led to my first meaningful association with the country.

To Amsterdam

My next book, Descartes’ Bones, was about the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who spent much of his life in the Low Countries, so I decided to base myself in Amsterdam while researching it. I had originally thought to stay for a year, but then a friend, Tracy Metz, who was on the Board of the John Adams Institute, the American culture center in Amsterdam, told me the Institute would need a new director, and suggested I apply for the position. I did, got the job, and spent five and a half years at it. I thus found myself in the role of an unofficial bridge between Dutch and American cultures. Most of my work involved bringing prominent Americans – novelists, politicians, historians, scientists – to speak to Dutch audiences. Meanwhile, I would regularly field phone calls from Dutch journalists asking me to comment on current events in the U.S. And so I began not only to see the Netherlands and its history through American eyes, but, to some extent, to look at the U.S. from a Dutch perspective.

Russell Shorto and Tracy Metz at an event of the John Adams Institute (2021)

Not long after settling in in Amsterdam, I had a notion to write a history of that city. Following my pattern, I started with an intellectual idea – I would write about Amsterdam as a fulcrum of philosophical liberalism – but the book turned out to be quite personal. For one thing, I wove myself into it, not in a significant way, but rather to give the reader a stand-in, a tour guide. I began the book with me putting my then-infant son in the child seat of my bicycle and bringing the reader along as we rode through the streets of our Oud Zuid neighborhood to take him to daycare. I wanted to put enough of myself into the pages that the reader would feel he or she was accompanying me in the act of uncovering events and locales in the lives of Rembrandt van Rijn, Aletta Jacobs, Anne Frank, and other notable one-time residents.

Back to the US

I now live in the U.S., and hold a position at the New-York Historical Society, where, among other things, I focus on New York’s Dutch period. With the 400th anniversary of New Netherland approaching, I’m in regular communication with institutions in both countries as we plan talks, symposia, exhibitions, and the like.

Through the years, I’ve done hundreds of talks, videos, tours, TV and radio segments, and interviews. I floated through the canals with Jane Pauley and a film crew from the nationwide U.S. program CBS Sunday Morning. I gave the then-prince and princess of the Netherlands (now the king and queen) a tour of an exhibition at New York’s South Street Seaport Museum in commemoration of Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage, based on which the Dutch laid claim to the territory that became New York. As I say, when a writer interacts deeply with a subject, the subject becomes part of the writer, and that manifests itself in all sorts of ways. My son and my stepsons were born in Amsterdam; my daughters spent formative years there. My American wife lived in Amsterdam for 23 years. In identity, they all consider themselves to be somewhere on the Dutch-American spectrum. Even our dog is a Dutch-Frisian breed, a Stabijhoun, with a Frisian name to boot (“Friso”).

But what does it mean to stand at the intersection of these two nations and cultures? It means a hybrid language is spoken at our house. There are often stroopwafels and drop in the pantry. It means always having a perspective on – and a distance from – both cultures. It also means you never feel truly at home. Or, to put that in a more positive way, you always feel at home in two places at once.

Dutch and American

Then there is the history, the way it roots itself in one. What does “Dutch” mean? What does “American” mean? As soon as you try to define a national identity you become mired in contradictions and generalizations. But I think the effort is worthwhile: personally, because we all strive to understand ourselves, but also perhaps because the effort relates to larger things. Our respective societies, like most others today, are striving to come to terms with or understand or redefine their own identities. We are grappling with our past (or refusing to do so). To what extent does being Dutch, or American, make one complicit in historical wrongs? Is it liberating to push one’s society to own up to its past? Or is that misguidedly self-destructive? For those of us who feel it’s liberating, how do we do that work and still hold on to what we feel are positive values associated with the past? As a writer of history, I feel an obligation to maintain for myself, and to encourage my readers to develop, the knack of doing two seemingly contradictory things at the same time. You want to give people of the past some space; to allow for the fact that they lived in a different culture, whose values are not ours. And at the same time you want to critique them from what we today feel ought to be universal values. You need to cut them some slack for their sake, but also hold them accountable in such a way that we can process and move beyond the injustices of their age.

While I am an American, my close connection with the Netherlands and its history means that I feel these things, and grapple with them, from the Dutch side as well. Case in point: it seems to me that the Dutch long felt detached from America’s long, ugly history of enslavement. The stain of it was part of America’s history, America’s problem, not theirs.

But thanks to the work of scholars in the past few years we are coming to understand the Dutch role in developing the slave trade in what became New York. Jaap Jacobs has offered compelling evidence of the precise date that the first enslaved Africans arrived on Manhattan (August 29, 1627), and has detailed the circumstances behind their arrival. Dennis Maika has shown that the West India Company’s “experiment with a parcel of Negroes,” in 1659, marked beginnings of a serious trade in human beings in the future New York. Recent books by Andrea Mosterman and Nicole Maskiell have probed into the subject of slavery in New Netherland. Was it really, as past historians argued, less vile than it later became under the English?

Dutch Village in New York City during the Hudson commemoration (2009)

Another example. In 2019, the Amsterdam Museum struck a nerve in the Netherlands when it announced that it would no longer employ the term Golden Age to refer to the seventeenth century, on the grounds that that era of expansion and flourishing of art, science, and culture was only “golden” for a few, and that the golden hue came at the expense of countless others. The announcement caused an uproar in the Netherlands. I know Dutch people who felt that they were losing a piece of their history, almost as if their home had been broken into and a coveted keepsake had been stolen. The news made barely a stir in the U.S. But it went through me like a sword. I’ve lived and worked for so long in that age. Although I hadn’t been aware of it before, I felt a bit proprietary about the term. It was a part of my work; I’d employed the term countless times, as a matter of convenience, but also, it now occurred to me, with something like pride. As if, in connecting my American self to Dutch history, I had come subconsciously to feel that it applied to me in some way.

And then, nearly as surprisingly to me, I found myself agreeing with the Amsterdam Museum. I’m not sure if the change required effort on my part or if it happened as if on its own, but I suddenly saw the term in a new light: a distinctly less golden one. How golden did it feel to be a native of Ambon or Manhattan in the 17th century succumbing in bloody battle to Dutch forces? Or, for that matter, to be a Dutch soldier in those same encounters? There are legitimate arguments to be made in favor of maintaining the term. That era saw revolutions in art, science, political thought, and philosophy that, taken together, were unprecedented in history. Much of what we think of today as our modern selves comes from that time. I continue to believe that. But moving forward, for an individual as well as a society, sometimes requires stopping and staring at our presuppositions, seeing them from a fresh angle.

Zwarte Piet and Blackface

Another example is the ongoing debate over Zwarte Piet. When I first moved to the Netherlands, and saw the young men in blackface accompanying Sinterklaas in the streets, tossing pepernoten to children, I was utterly aghast. As an American in the 21st century, I had been raised to see blackface – which had been common among White entertainers in early 20th century America as a way of lampooning Blacks – as an abhorrent mark of racism. It stunned me at first that many Dutch people I knew seemed blind to it.

Sinterklaas Festival Day in Rhinebeck, upstate New York

Of course, when you grow up with something, it can take an act of will to see it anew. We all of us, in all cultures, are used to our cultural trappings. They make us feel comfortable. They reinforce that elusive but necessary notion: identity.

We are living in an age when many of our cultural presuppositions are being aggressively challenged. We’re being asked – or, it sometimes feels like, forced – to look at them anew. These bits of culture are so much a part of who we are that such challenges often feel like attacks on our very beings. No one knows how we will get through this period of upheaval. I like to think that my Dutch-American identity, if I can call it that, gives me some perspective. And perspective on ourselves, in times of upheaval, may be among the most valuable of human traits.


Russell Shorto is the author of seven works of narrative history, including The Island at the Center of the World and Amsterdam. He is the Director of the New Amsterdam Project at the New-York Historical Society and Senior Scholar at the New Netherland Institute in Albany, New York, and the former director of the John Adams Institute.

Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for the other parts.

The Adventures of Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen - by Jaap Jacobs


The Holland Land Company is known for its role in settling the western part of upstate New York by acquiring land grants and selling off lots to prospective settlers in the early nineteenth century. Yet its activities in the last decade of the eighteenth century were of a different nature, as the stories of Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen show.

In the last decade of the eighteenth century, two young Dutchmen, Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen, travelled through the densely forested lands of upstate New York. They eventually discovered locations fit for the founding of the new villages of Oldenbarneveld and DeRuyter. Put this way, we have a brief and also evocative story that leaves much to be discovered. Who were Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen? What did they think they were doing when they set out on their journey? And why did they choose Dutch names for these villages at the very edge of the New York frontier?

Gerrit Boon

Let’s begin with Gerrit Boon. He was a Dutchman, but he was different from the Dutch who lived in places like Albany, Schenectady, and villages along the Mohawk River—the main transit route from the Hudson River to western New York. Boon was not a descendant of the early colonists who had settled New Netherland in the seventeenth century, however. He was newly arrived from the Old World. Born as the son of a Lutheran minister, he was baptised in Delft in 1768 and he obtained his first employment in the sugar refinery of his brother-in-law, Aernout van Beeftingh, a scion of a well-to-do Rotterdam mercantile family. Boon left Rotterdam when he was twenty-two years old and set sail to the fledgling United States of America. There he was to become an agent for a business venture set up by Amsterdam financiers.

Amsterdam Money

Interest in North America had picked up among Amsterdam banks during the Revolutionary War. In 1782 John Adams had, with some difficulty, persuaded them to support the revolutionary war effort with loans, which, though risky, were met with annuity payments. After the United States adopted its Constitution in 1789, Amsterdam credit became even more important to the federal government, thus providing Amsterdam companies with more leverage to negotiate favorable terms for direct investments, including land purchases. This of course required the use of agents to manage affairs locally. In 1789, therefore, a number of Amsterdam merchant houses joined forces to hire agents for this very purpose. It was the beginning of a collaboration that continued in various forms, collectively (and not always accurately) known as the Holland Land Company.

Jan Lincklaen

And so Dutchmen Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen travelled to North America. As agents of the Holland Land Company, they were neither the first nor perhaps the most important. In fact, over the years a number of ambitious Dutchmen were hired as agents of the Holland Land Company. Théophile Cazenove, born in Amsterdam in 1740, was from a French-Swiss Huguenot family and was hired as the first agent of the Company in 1789. Jan Lincklaen, a relative of Cazenove, was also born in Amsterdam in 1768, the same year as Gerrit Boon and, like Boon, he came from a Lutheran family. When he was eleven, his parents sent him to Switzerland to further his education. But when both his father and mother died in quick succession a few years later, alternative plans had to be drawn up. Subsequently, Lincklaen joined the Dutch Navy and rose to the rank of lieutenant. In 1790 Jan Lincklaen and Gerrit Boon were hired by Pieter Stadnitski, the primary merchant behind the Holland Land Company, to assist Cazenove in Philadelphia and together they sailed for the United States.

Initially, Cazenove’s duties consisted of managing the investments of his Amsterdam superiors in various American state debts, as well as in canal companies. Diversification of business interests was on the cards, however. The arrival of Lincklaen and Boon was part of a plan to acquire tracts of land in upstate New York for large-scale maple syrup extraction. The aim was to make sugar from maple syrup as an alternative to sugar made from sugarcane syrup, which was produced by enslaved labour on Caribbean plantations. If the plan succeeded, then the demand for slaves would plummet, or so it was hoped. But would the combination of Boon’s expertise, Amsterdam money, and American prove a successful one?

Upstate New York in 1779. Oldenbarnevelt and Kortenaer.

Searching for Sugar

In the summer of 1791, Jan Lincklaen and Gerrit Boon, accompanied by an experienced Colonel of Artillery (whose full name remains unknown) began their exploratory travels through the northeastern parts of the United States. Armed with a letter of recommendation from Alexander Hamilton which Cazenove had procured for them, they left Philadelphia on August 3rd, 1791. After four days of traversing the woods on horseback, they had a surprising encounter:

We saw the first Mapple Tree; we stopped for a moment to admire this, the object of our search. Mr. Boon, at that instant, seemed to descry beneath its bark the treasures of Peru, while I, for my part, would have wished to carve on it the name of my sweetheart,—and Colonel Prop [sic] saw nothing but the simple Mapple Tree, if any idea suggested itself to him on the subject, it would have been whether this tree could serve him in fighting the Indians and transporting his artillery.

Twenty-two year old Lincklaen may have indulged in a little exaggeration here, portraying himself as a romantic soul in the company of more mundane folk. Yet most of his journal is filled with practical details concerning roads and distances travelled, water-powered mills, means of transport, land prices, et cetera. A few days after meeting their first maple tree, the company arrived at the sugar works of John Nicholson, but the place turned out to be a disappointment. It was deserted with just “two chaldrons [..] & some other scattered utensils” and “a simple hut falling to ruins, where we had looked to find extensive works, buildings, & workmen.” And yet the location appeared to be promising. There was “a quantity of fine mapple trees 15 to 20 inches in diameter, in some of which we still saw the holes where they were tapped, & the pipes with the reservoirs where the sap had run.” They eventually found the foreman, John Jones, who informed them that the kettles had arrived too late, but that he hoped to tap two thousand trees the following spring with the help of twelve workmen. According to Jones, a regular maple tree would supply 25 gallons of sap, and five gallons would boil down to a pound of sugar.

Encouraged by Jones’s intelligence, Boon and Lincklaen continued their journey north. They visited several other recently established sugar works and saw mills, and gathered information about production methods, costs, and transportation. Two weeks after setting out from Philadelphia they crossed the state line into New York. Reaching the northern end of Lake Seneca, they turned east and, after several more miles on horseback, arrived at Cooperstown. Hamilton’s letter of recommendation served to gain them access to Judge William Cooper, the main proprietor and founder of Cooperstown, located at the southern end of Otsego Lake. Transporting sugar and other goods produced in the Cooperstown area to New York was relatively inexpensive, Judge Cooper told them. It is likely that Cooper’s information persuaded Boon and Lincklaen to choose land to the north and west of Cooperstown for their various enterprises.

Sugar making

From Cooperstown, Boon and Lincklaen continued east, first to Schenectady and then to Albany. Lincklaen remarked that they passed “through a rich well-tilled country inhabitated by Hollanders who still preserve their ancient neatness in their houses & their garments, although their language has already become much changed.” Next, the pair crossed into Vermont, which is still famous for maple syrup although its production is threatened by global warming. Lincklaen, however, did not consider Vermont the best place for producing maple syrup, as the transportation facilities were below par. In addition, the depth of snow in the mountains prevented the gathering of sap at the proper time. Turning south towards Hartford, Gerrit and Jan visited New Haven and New York, thus completing a journey of over 1300 miles.

Land Purchases

The following year, Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen set out again to explore the lands north and west of Cooperstown. They soon reached Fort Schuyler. Gerrit Boon, acting on behalf of the Holland Land Company, had already purchased 2,000 acres of land in this area, and more was to follow. On this trip, Boon and Lincklaen identified many of the tracts which they subsequently purchased as trustees on behalf of the Holland Land Company because the Amsterdam financiers were aliens and thus until 1798 were banned by law from owning land in their own name. In some cases it was not clear who the actual owner of the tracts of land was that Boon and Lincklaen were interested in. As a consequence there were many issues to discuss with Cazenove in Philadelphia. The agents of the Holland Land Company quickly set to work and, using the bank of LeRoy and Bayard in New York for financial arrangements, greatly expanded its land holdings from 1792 onwards.

Acquiring land is one thing, putting it to productive use is quite another. The aim of the Amsterdam investors may have been to buy land in bulk and sell it off in parcels to newly-arriving settlers for a quick profit. It turned out to be a longer process than anticipated, however. Attracting settlers required setting up a basic infrastructure as few were inclined to settle in inaccessible areas without means to transport their produce to markets mostly in cities on the east coast. In addition, before the parcels could be sold off, the land had to be properly surveyed. So Jan Lincklaen and Gerrit Boon had their work cut out for them. In subsequent years they founded several towns and villages and gave them Dutch names. Out of gratitude, Jan Lincklaen chose the name of his family member and benefactor and, thus, Cazenovia was founded in 1793. Tromp Township and DeRuyter followed a few years later and both are named after famous Dutch admirals who fought in the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the seventeenth century. These names, then, harken back to an age of Dutch greatness. Gerrit Boon made a similar choice when calling his first village Oldenbarneveld after a seventeenth-century Dutch leader who was executed after a political trial. Another village Boon founded was named Kortenaer, again after a Dutch admiral. Their choice of names, and especially the absence of any references to the house of Orange, was indicative of Lincklaen’s and Boon’s position in the political struggles of their time, which pitted the traditional adherents of the Orange stadtholders against the more democratically inclined Patriot party. By 1787, the political fortunes of the Dutch Patriots had plummeted and many sought refuge in France, while a small number set out to North America to find their fortune there, Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen among them.

Snow and Water

Boon’s proposed village was located at the confluence of the Steuben Creek and the Mud Creek at the location that is now called Barneveld, the epiteth “Olden” being judged inappropriate for a new settlement. He hired dozens of workers who erected various buildings, and tried different ways to expedite the production process. None of this, sadly, met with any real success. Location had something to do with this, of course. The proximity to Lake Ontaria caused extensive lake-effect snow in this part of upstate New York. The harsh conditions during the winter months meant that Boon’s workers had to stay indoors for days, sometimes even weeks on end, and were unable to do any work. And of course they continued to be paid. Perhaps Boon went too far north and unknowingly choose land at a higher elevation less suited to the production of maple sugar. After two winters, Boon aborted the sugar project and turned to the logging trade instead. He went further north and founded the village of Kortenaer. There he erected a sawmill on Mill Creek, but it burned down. The following year, Boon returned to build both a sawmill and a gristmill. But again lake-effect snow intervened. To make matters worse, a punishing winter and a sudden rise in temperatures in spring combined to cause floods which washed both mills away. Thus the Dutch milling efforts of Boon and the Holland Land Company met with a watery end.

It is sometimes suggested that Boon’s failure in the maple sugar project was due to his inexperience and naivity, as he was driven by an admirable desire to abolish slavery. A closer look, however, suggests that this was only partly the case. Gerrit Boon, Jan Lincklaen and their superiors in Amsterdam were by no means the only ones who invested in sugar works in upstate New York. The travel journals show that they prepared themselves very well and they also reveal that many others were interested too. Judge William Cooper was one such person and had been involved in the business for a few years before the two Dutchmen arrived on his doorstep. And in 1790, a group of men in Quaker-dominated Philadelphia published a pamphlet entitled Remarks on the Manufacturing of Maple Sugar. It included extensive details on what equipment was required and it was even claimed that New York and Pennsylvania could supply the whole of the United States with maple sugar, “made by the hands of freemen, [..] whereas the West-India sugar is the product of the unwilling labor of negro slaves.” As a consequence, great expectations were placed upon maple sugar. In 1791, Judge Cooper sent some fine maple sugar to be presented to President Washington. When reports got back to Cooperstown, they included a reference to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State. Jefferson thought that “in a few years we shall be able to supply half the world.” Interestingly, he had also received news that “there is a [merchant] house in Amsterdam [that intended] to set up works for the manufacturing of maple sugar” in the United States, a reference to the Holland Land Company.

List of Black people and bounded servants – page from the accounts of Gerrit Boon, 1796

Profit or Abolition?

And then there is the issue of slavery. Did Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen share the abolitionist aim in replacing West Indian cane sugar with maple sugar and consequently enslaved labor with free labor? It is certainly possible, taking into account the political stance evident in the naming patterns they employed. Yet the available records are predominantly of a business nature and contain almost no clues as to what considerations primarily motivated them. In 1797, when his project was failing, Boon became aware that the calculations of the Philadelphia gentlemen had been exaggerated. Reporting on his efforts, he stated that his aim had not been to produce maple sugar of a quality that could compete with West India sugar, but rather to find out whether it could be done yielding a profit. Perfecting the production process also turned out to be a major problem, as he could not get boiling kettles of the necessary quality. Based on the information of Jones, Boon and Lincklaen may have expected a ratio of five gallons of sap for one pound of maple sugar. Yet modern maple syrup production requires forty gallons for one gallon of syrup. With inferior equipment, this was clearly impossible for Boon to achieve, leaving aside the other difficulties. Despite his apparent emphasis on profit, there is uncertainty as to Boon’s motives. Among his accounts, there is a “List of the Black People and bounded servants”, dated 25 February 1796. A black family, consisting of husband Jack, wife Nancy, son Peter, two girls named Bella and Jenny, and a baby, was transported from New York City to Barneveld. The number of years of their service that Boon purchased is given and suggests that they would eventually be freed, although for Bella, then seventeen years old, it would take another fifteen years, until 1811. The list also includes a white husband and wife, who were supposed to serve for three years. While Boon employed enslaved labor, he may have done so to improve the family’s circumstances and provide them with a secure future.

Although they arrived in the United States together, the lives of Gerrit Boon and Jan Lincklaen took different trajectories. In 1798, after the 1795 regime change that ousted the Oranges, Gerrit Boon left the United States and returned to the Netherlands. It took some wrangling to persuade the Holland Company to pay his expenses and salary, but he ended up with the considerable sum of twenty-thousand guilders. A few years later he married an Amsterdam widow from a good family, but the marriage sadly didn’t last. Eventually, Boon moved to a small village. When he died in 1821, his main legacy was a pile of unpaid bills for wine deliveries. Kortenaer was later renamed Boonville after its founder.

Lorenzo Mansion

Jan Lincklaen remained in America and became John Lincklaen. He eventually left the service of the Holland Land Company, but he continued to live in Cazenovia and became a reasonably successful landowner, even importing eight Holstein Frisians from the Netherlands. He married Helen Ledyard, daughter of General Benjamin Ledyard, in 1797, with compatriot François Adriaan van der Kemp conducting the ceremony. Lincklaen died in Cazenovia in 1822. The Federal style house that Lincklaen built still exists. Preserved by subsequent generations, it was transferred to New York State in 1968 and is now Lorenzo State Historical Site and is only half an hour’s drive south from Cazenovia, where Jan is buried, to the town of Lincklaen, named in his honour.

Jaap Jacobs (PhD Leiden, 1999) is affiliated with the University of St Andrews. He is a historian of early American history, specifically on Dutch New York. He has taught at several universities in the Netherland, the United States and the United Kingdom. Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for the other parts.

“Tell me where it hurts” - By Pia de Jong


I must have picked it up just before leaving the US. Maybe that last day when I drove away from my home and, somewhat teary-eyed, waved at my friends standing in the driveway. But there it was when I set foot in Schiphol airport. Hello cough, hello headache, hello lousiness. I went straight to my new bed.

I recognized the symptoms. It was one of those sinus infections that had struck me several times over the past years. It never turned out to be problematic. Dr. Cody, the jovial man from the local health center – that wonderful place where they could always see me the very same day my symptoms started – without exception took out his prescription block and wrote the name of the medicine that immediately relieved my symptoms. It also made me sleep through the night, so I was back on the horse before I had even touched the ground.

To make sure he did not miss a thing, Dr. Cody sent me to all kinds of doctors, even when I suggested it probably was a bit overkill. His take on this was, since you pay an awful lot for your health insurance, you better make sure you get the best care available. He loved tests. He had a thick file on me. “Now, let’s compare with last time,” he began, poring over the numbers. He made me take baselines of my bone density, of my heart, my moles. He would tell me when to get a colonoscopy, a breast exam. He called me when I was a month late for my yearly physical.

“How can I take care of you when I do not have the appropriate data?” he explained. Dr. Cody insisted that I take a vaccine for shingles. “Come on, shingles!” I sputtered. “How bad can it be?” “Just get it”, he said. It was only after my mom got it that I realized what ordeal he had spared me from.

When I said goodbye to Dr. Cody, he told me to take good care of myself over there, in Europe.  “Remember, you only have one body,” he said. “It’s your most valuable possession.”

So back in the Netherlands, with pounding pain in my sinuses, I visited my new general practitioner immediately. He glanced at me, and without further ado, decided I had to give it some time. “Some time”, I argued. “Why? This can be stopped in its tracks immediately.”

But my new doctor was unmovable. “Call me in two weeks.” When I called him to say I did not feel any better, he told me to make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist. I called end of February; the appointment would be midway through June. And, by the end of May, I was completely fine.

Health care in the Netherlands takes a totally different approach. I remember thinking Americans were overdoing it (for those of course, who are lucky to have proper insurance). Doctors hovering over me like helicopter parents, considering every possible scenario with every symptom… “First of all, let’s make sure it’s not cancer”. Doctors here are like busy parents, telling you to grow up and bear your pain. Their mantra: just sit it out.

My Dutch doctor turned out to be right: it did take some time, and then my body took care of it. Meds are often unnecessary, and can have annoying, even dangerous side effects. Also, healthcare costs are skyrocketing, so we better be prudent if we want to continue to benefit all.  All true. But, boy, did I miss Dr. Cody’s prescription book.


Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer and columnist. She wrote several novels: Her debut ‘Lange dagen’, a coming of age novel, won the Gouden Uil award. ‘Saving Charlotte, A Mother and the Power of Intuition’, is a memoir about the year her baby daughter battled leukemia. Pia wrote for the Princeton Echo, US 1, the Washington Post, Het Financieele Dagblad, and documented her life in Princeton N.J. for NRC Handelsblad. Her columns have been published in Flessenpost  and Pia’s Amerika. You can contact Pia via her website. Illustrations are by her daughter Charlotte Dijkgraaf, who studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Click here for the other parts of this blog series.

How Are You? - By Pia de Jong

It took me a while to get used to the song and dance of greeting in the USA, that ritual seemingly as superficial as a thin layer of oil on deep water. It often takes the form of a countrywide, four-sentence conversation with carefully scripted words, starting with a standard question, followed by an answer that is a routine, vaguely reassuring. Then the obligatory return of the identical ritual of asking and answering. By comparison, it makes Kabuki Theatre seem positively wild!

I am, of course referring to this exchange:

“How are you?”
“Good, thank you. How are you?”
“Good, thank you.”

You hear this in the office when running into a colleague at the coffee machine, when the mailman delivers a package, when greeting the cashier in the supermarket, when seeing acquaintances in the street, in cafés, and even at the doctor’s office. Everywhere, 24/7!

It baffled me.  It annoyed me.  What a useless, senseless waste of energy.  What empty words. Yet, to my surprise, no one seemed to be bothered by it. I had a hard time complying with this unwritten rule. Sometimes, I admit, I behaved like an annoying teenager. When it was my turn to answer, I chose from things like: “I am in the strangest mood today,” or” I feel like jumping on the table.” I meant it as a joke, but it always missed the mark. I could tell from the bewildered looks.

Soon, of course, I picked up the habit. It dawned on me that it is actually rather convenient. Exactly because of the fact that the questions as well as the answers are so predictable. You are never at a loss for words, and you don’t have to construct a believable answer to get away with. One needn’t dig into all sorts of personal details. And, not unimportantly, no one cares if you lie. On the contrary, this is expected.

And guess what. Now being around my fellow Dutchmen all the time, I truly miss the greeting rite. What do you say when you run into each other, without feeling awkward, intrusive, or uninterested? People often make up greetings on the spot. “Hi Pauline, you look fabulous. That divorce clearly served you well” or, “Peter, you look terribly pale.  Hope nothing is wrong with you.”

How on earth do you get out of that? And even when you retreat to the obvious and formal, “Hoe gaat het ermee?” (How are you?), people tend to give honest answers. They somehow feel obliged to tell you their dog died. Or, if they are more of a private type, you feel their struggle to avoid telling what’s the matter.

Back in the day, Americans must have perceived me as typically Dutch. Direct, blunt, bordering on being rude. So much so that they were often taken aback. Of course, they were way too kind to tell me this in my face.

So, this is what I learned during ten years of greeting and being greeted in the USA. There is no obligation to dig into someone’s emotions when buying bagels at seven o’clock in the morning in the supermarket. There is some gentleness in a ritual. It gives a fellow human being a chance to simply be there, no matter what. If you are greeted, it means you are being accepted as you are.

And that is quite a lot.


Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer and columnist. She wrote several novels: Her debut ‘Lange dagen’, a coming of age novel, won the Gouden Uil award. ‘Saving Charlotte, A Mother and the Power of Intuition’, is a memoir about the year her baby daughter battled leukemia. Pia wrote for the Princeton Echo, US 1, the Washington Post, Het Financieele Dagblad, and documented her life in Princeton N.J. for NRC Handelsblad. Her columns have been published in Flessenpost  and Pia’s Amerika. You can contact Pia via her website. Illustrations are by her daughter Charlotte Dijkgraaf, who studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Click here for the other parts of this blog series.

The Naked Truth - By Pia de Jong

Being naked in public, Americans are taught at an early age, is a big no-no, even, or maybe especially, at the beach. I was once reprimanded for letting my baby daughter and toddler sons play in their birthday suits on a remote strip at a deserted beach. But lo and behold, a man wearing a uniform seemed to pop out of the sea – a Neptune with badges. What was I thinking?  He called the scene involving my innocent children ‘obscene’. Even very young girls, he explained as an added bonus, have to cover their nipples. I was immoral.

There are clothing-optional recreation areas though, one of them being Gunnison Beach. The only legal nude beach in New Jersey. However, the place exists by accident. In 1999, New Jersey passed a law to prohibit all types of nudism. But Gunnison Beach is owned by the federal government, and therefore not subject to state regulations. So, they have to deal with the brazen nudists, whether they like it or not. They make sure though people do not get the shock of their life. Unsuspecting passers-by are warned against the accidental viewing of uncovered private body parts. A huge sign at the entrance, in black capitals, reads: “Beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathers.”

Public nakedness in America at best makes people giggle. Mostly it instills fear because of the sexual connotation. That’s why the showing of Janet Jacksons right breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, caused such a big stir. For two years thereafter “Nipplegate” was the most searched-for term. And Jacksons nipple was even shielded!

The Dutch have a different mindset. My American colleagues used to refer to the Netherlands as the country of sin. And hey, I could not blame them. What else to make of a country that creates a tourist attraction out of prostitutes sitting behind glass windows?

Back in Holland, a friend invited me for a walk in a pretty beach town called Scheveningen. “Exactly the place you need”, this nice elderly lady told me. “Your dogs can run off leash.”

I was sold immediately for what I anticipated to be an idyllic afternoon. The weather was balmy, the dogs played care free. But after a while, it dawned on me we were constantly running into nudists. What were they doing at the dog beach?

“Oh well”, my friend said, waving my question away. “This also is a nude beach.”

“No warning sign?” I asked.

“Why would there be a warning sign?” she asked.

“Well, there’s a sign that dogs run loose,” I said

“Naked people don’t bite,” she said with a shrug.

Well, I couldn’t argue with that.

From then on, the beach became my go-to walking area. And after a while, I did not even notice the nudists anymore. Until my New Jersey neighbor came to visit me. He awed at the tulips, the windmills and the canals. We visited the famous Panorama Mesdag museum, depicting this very beach in 1881, a time when even in the midst of summer women wore long skirts and sleeves and children covered up everything but their ankles and feet.

Then I took him to the shore. Watching the shining sea in front of us, we took a moment to let the magic of the moment sink in. Suddenly, three women in front of us started to undress. Stark naked they walked to the water, and just stood there, laughing and joking. My neighbors face turned red. “Have you seen that, um, I mean, those women, um, they seem to not…”, he mumbled. “I had no idea”, I said, shoving him away as fast as I could. “Them Dutchies, no shame at all. Let’s get the hell out of here.”


Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer and columnist. She wrote several novels: Her debut ‘Lange dagen’, a coming of age novel, won the Gouden Uil award. ‘Saving Charlotte, A Mother and the Power of Intuition’, is a memoir about the year her baby daughter battled leukemia. Pia wrote for the Princeton Echo, US 1, the Washington Post, Het Financieele Dagblad, and documented her life in Princeton N.J. for NRC Handelsblad. Her columns have been published in Flessenpost  and Pia’s Amerika. You can contact Pia via her website. Illustrations are by her daughter Charlotte Dijkgraaf, who studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Click here for the other parts of this blog series.

Paradise Lost - By Pia de Jong

America always held some magic for me. Even as a child, I knew things happened in that vast country on the other side of the ocean. Interesting things somehow reached my small village in the south of the Netherlands: a LIFE magazine picture of a dashing young John F. Kennedy; a movie poster of Rosemary’s Baby, with the ethereal Mia Farrow, whose bobbed hair and beauty seemed otherworldly to me; the painting of the Grand Canyon hanging at the dentist ‘s wall – all glimpses of a future I set out to be part of.

So, when years later the possibility of moving there presented itself, I didn’t think twice. Of course, America had lost some of its allure over the years. Different clips were now engraved in my mind: of unjust wars waged in countries they should not have set foot in in the first place; of shameful poverty that caused people to live and die on the street; and not to mention deep-rooted racial and social injustices. Still, I was now in the country I had dreamed of: a place that stirred my creativity, and that gave me opportunities beyond my childhood dreams.

But decay, sadly, is a silent and certain killer against which everything of value is defenseless. When Trump took up residence in the White House, insulting my hero Obama in his inaugural speech, it was merely a symptom of how divided the country had become. And on January 6, 2021, when watching the US Capitol being stormed, I felt a tremendous loss. It was the end of the USA that I had admired. This country couldn’t hold itself together anymore, and I was downright frightened. Similarly, social media – where I had happily announced a new book, an article, and regularly voiced my opinions – had become an explosive war zone in and of itself. A new reality had set in. Rudeness, trolling, and vile online attacks made the public arena an unsafe spot to linger.

I started to long for home, dreaming of returning to the country referred to by its prime minister as gaaf, a “cool” country.  And it sure was, when I left ten years earlier. Of course, I was not naïve. I had followed the news. I was aware of the rise of antisemitism, of the alt right, and of a growing intolerance of “woke” culture. But I was not prepared for the extent to which Dutch society had copycatted the American model like some sort of instruction manual.

Fake news, virulent antidemocratic sentiments, unabashed admiration of populists, and aggressive personal attacks had all become commonplace. Some members of Dutch society had embraced the model of “Trumpism” wholeheartedly. And just as I thought that I had escaped the former president, Mr. Trump himself stuck his fingers into Dutch politics by publicly showing support to a group of violently protesting farmers who stood in sharp opposition to the government. A sensitive issue. Even here I sometimes feel unsafe in the public eye. Some acquaintances, with whom I used to share happy moments on social media, had become downright hostile.

I had left a country that had changed beyond recognition to arrive in one that had undergone similar transformation. The world as I knew it had disappeared. In past centuries, when making maps, cartographers drew monsters in unknown places: “Here Dragons Dwell,” the wrote underneath. You had better watch out: danger lurks in unfamiliar places. Yet, oddly enough, now that the world’s geography holds few secrets anymore, there appear to be more dragons in our midst than we could have ever imagined.


Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer and columnist. She wrote several novels: Her debut ‘Lange dagen’, a coming of age novel, won the Gouden Uil award. ‘Saving Charlotte, A Mother and the Power of Intuition’, is a memoir about the year her baby daughter battled leukemia. Pia wrote for the Princeton Echo, US 1, the Washington Post, Het Financieele Dagblad, and documented her life in Princeton N.J. for NRC Handelsblad. Her columns have been published in Flessenpost  and Pia’s Amerika. You can contact Pia via her website. Illustrations are by her daughter Charlotte Dijkgraaf, who studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Click here for part 1 of this blog series.

On the First Dutch Translation of the U.S. Constitution - By Michael Douma

There are a few topics that guarantee a historian an audience. Write a decent biography of Abraham Lincoln or James Madison, for example, and you are bound to have readers. Or, write something new and interesting about the Constitution and you might attract some attention.

I began studying the Dutch in America over 20 years ago, when I was a freshman at Hope College, and I never had much interest in Lincoln, Madison, or the Constitution. Rather, for years, I spent most of my time in the archives, looking at unread files, sometimes producing translations of old Dutch documents that might be useful for my own research on Dutch American immigrants. My friends and colleagues knew me as the American who studied the Dutch, and any time that a question about the Dutch arose in their research, they would email me.

This is how, in 2012, Christina Mulligan, now a law professor at Brooklyn Law School, approached me to comment on a 1788 Dutch translation of the U.S. Constitution. At first, I assumed that this document had been thoroughly studied by other historians, particular legal scholars and historians of Dutch New York. But to my surprise, I found that this Dutch translation was almost entirely unknown and unexplored. Alongside a German translation produced around the same time, this Dutch translation of the U.S. Constitution provides a window into how early Americans might have understood the words of one of their founding documents.

Note of the ratification of the Constitution in the report of Dutch Ambassador (1788)

The U.S. Constitution was written and approved at a national convention in 1787. But before it could be legally accepted as the national law, it had to be “ratified”, that is, certified or accepted by 9 of the original 13 states. In 1787 and 1788, there were fierce political battles about ratification waged at the state-level. New York ratified the Constitution on July 26, 1788, becoming the 11th state to do so. But this was superfluous, because a ninth state, New Hampshire, had already ratified the Constitution in June, 1788. The Dutch translation of the U.S. Constitution was produced in this factious political environment of 1788.

The translator was named Lambertus de Ronde, a Dutch Reformed minister living near Albany, New York. I began my reading of his translation by attempting a “reverse translation,” essentially trying to produce an English text of what I understood of De Ronde’s words. Through this method, I figured I would be able to locate places in De Ronde’s text where his translation departed from the original language and from conventional understandings of the constitution. In addition, by working from De Ronde’s translation, without immediately consulting the original English version, I wouldn’t be biased by the original word choices of James Madison, et al. It was even to my benefit at the time that I wasn’t all that familiar with the text of the Constitution or the debates about its interpretation. I would work with fewer initial biases.

I discovered a number of places where De Ronde had peculiar interpretations of the text. For example, he seemed to interpret the Commerce Clause narrowly to refer to merchants, not common persons trading across state lines, and he interpreted the Progress Clause “for limited Times” as “voor bepaalde tyden”, that is a certain time, suggesting that it is a finite time. By placing the Dutch translation alongside the contemporary German translation and the English original, our team of scholars created the first tri-lingual, annotated version of the Constitution and its translations of 1788. Our article and associated appendix allows legal scholars to look more closely at particular sections of the text of that Constitution that they are interested in, and, potentially to tease out more meaning about how at least some early Americans interpreted this founding document.

Although the issues of legal interpretation will certainly have a broader audience, I am probably more interested in De Ronde’s translation as an artifact of late 18th century Dutch New York culture. That is why I wrote and published a follow-up article that looked deeper into De Ronde’s background and placed his writing in international context, specifically comparing it to a translation of the U.S. Constitution made in the Netherlands five years later, in 1793.

De Ronde faced a difficult task. He was educated as a minister in the 1740s, but many of the books he owned and read were from the 17th century. He was born in the Netherlands, but in coming to New York in the 1750s, he discovered a peculiar accented American Dutch language, with a host of new vocabulary and perhaps even some old-fashioned words that had since died out in patria.

De Ronde’s house in Manhattan was raided by the British in the Revolution, and he fled to the Hudson Valley. After the war, he protested his treatment during the war, and begged the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church to reinstate him in his pulpit in Manhattan. But the church had different ideas, and in the 1780s, De Ronde became something of an itinerant minister, frequently plying up and down the Hudson River, giving good old orthodox sermons to congregations from Schagticoke to Saugerties.

In 1788, De Ronde was a respected elder minister with a command of written and spoken Dutch that must have been seen as authoritative to the Dutch-descent New Yorkers who now sent their children to schools taught in English. De Ronde himself had struggled to learn English, and although he eventually learned it, he might not have ever wrote or spoke the language well. When he took on the task of translating the new constitution in Dutch, he must have felt that he could read the language well enough to explain it to his fellow Dutch New Yorkers.

In comparing De Ronde and Dumbar’s translations, a natural question arises: whose translation was better and why? What is more, who is to say what it means to create a better translation? After all, that the two men had different interpretations doesn’t mean that one was right and the other was wrong. De Ronde was shaped by the “oude schrijvers” of 17th century Dutch Calvinism. He learned English in America, and he was familiar with some domestic political debates. Dumbar, however, was trained in law and legal history. He read modern politics and specialized in the study of federalism and republicanism. De Ronde created a translation for common New Yorkers who spoke Dutch, while Dumbar created a translation aimed for lawyers and politicians in the Netherlands. It is no surprise that they disagreed on word choice. Dumbar avoided all the cognates that De Ronde had used. For example, where De Ronde wrote “legislature” Dumbar used “wetgevende magt”; where De Ronde said “taxen” and “tollen”, Dumbar gave “belastingen, imposten.”

Lambertus de Ronde

Naturally, some places in the constitution’s text require some understanding of legal history to understand properly. De Ronde was confused about what precisely a felony was. Dumbar, however, explains the term at length in a footnote to the text. Dumbar also added notes to explain things like “indictment”, “quorum”, “bill of attainder,” “militia”, and “habeas corpus.” De Ronde, on the other hand, produced a translation devoid of any footnotes. Organizations interested in the history of the Dutch in America have probably overlooked De Ronde and owe him some more interest.

There was clear political motivation in translating the Constitution into Dutch. De Ronde’s translation was supported by the Albany Federalist Party. To some extent, this was an appeal to the Dutch constituency in New York, which was divided in Federalist and anti-Federalist camps. But I believe that this was also a sign that there were indeed a significant number of New Yorkers who could still read Dutch but not English, or at least they could read Dutch much more easily than English. In other words, I doubt that the Albany Federalist Party would think that a Dutch translation of the Constitution would be a useful symbolic exercise.

At any rate, when De Ronde’s translation arrived in the Netherlands, the Dutch legal scholar Gerhard Dumbar was quick to call it “flawed in its execution.” Dumbar certainly felt that de Ronde had misunderstood legal and political terms and their context, but he might also have been put off by De Ronde’s colloquial New York Dutch and his frequent Americanisms that crept into the document. It is not clear, for example, if De Ronde understood much about “Republicanism” as an ideology, especially since he translated “republican” as “republieke”, and he gravitated to cognates whenever possible to adhere closely to the English original, sometimes when better Dutch words were available. De Ronde speaks of “de constitutie” instead of “de grondwet”, “representatives” instead of “vertegenwoordigers” , “taxen” instead of “belastingen.” Proper nouns like “President”, “Congress”, and “chief justice” keep their original form, as do “impeachments”, “indictment”, and “adjournment.”

. Commemorative stamp on two hundred years of Dutch-American relations

Despite a persistent myth, there is no evidence that the early United States considered Dutch or German as a national language, or one in which the constitution should be written. In Canada, by contrast, the national Constitution was written in both French and English. When Canadian legal scholars debate the meaning of their constitution, they can cite versions of the text in two languages. This can lead to clarity or confusion. The early Dutch and German translations of the U.S. Constitution cannot be cited as official documents of American governing principles, but perhaps they can shed light on the meaning of the English text of our most important founding document.


Michael J. Douma is an assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where he is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics. He received his Ph.D. in history from Florida State University in 2011, and is the author of editor of six books, including How Dutch American stayed Dutch: An Historical Perspective on Ethnic Change. He is currently writing an economic history of slavery in 18th century Dutch New York.

Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for the other parts.

Goodbye to All That - By Pia de Jong

My family and I lived in the United States of America for ten years. I vividly remember the hot summer day we arrived. The taxi driver, an elegant man in his sixties picked us up at Newark Airport.

Isn’t it strange the things we notice in the first moment of being somewhere new? The air-conditioning in the car that covered me in goosebumps in the dog days of summer. The driver humming along with Aretha Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer” on the radio. Our children in the back, pointing enthusiastically at Lady Liberty, pick-up trucks, and huge empty malls along the road. Their high-pitched voices scarcely drowning out the meowing of the two cats we brought with us.

An hour later, the driver opened the door for us in front of our new home. He touched his cap, then said in a soft voice: “Here it is, ma’am. Good luck.” I looked around.  The driveway itself embodied every American cliché I could think of. The white picket fence, the round metal mailbox, the patch of dirt with the house number – 97 – planted between some bushes and a wilting geranium. And, of course, the basket ball net attached to the garage door. It was like I was standing in a quintessentially American movie still.

As I watched the car disappear around the corner, I realized my life would never be the same. Our three teenaged kids were impatient to start their new lives. There was so much to explore: schools, soccer clubs, friends, and most exciting of all, new puppies.

Summer went, then came fall with its array of colors and the balmy warmth of an Indian summer, followed by Halloween and Thanksgiving. Days full of surprises, new habits, and new people to befriend.

Even though America nowadays is not unknown in Europe – as it was in the days of Alistair Cooke, the Englishman who reported his famous Letter from American in the 1950s – our life was full of wonder; the stuff one hopes for when moving. During those exciting years abroad, I shared my adventures with the readers of the Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad. They wrote me back in return.

Most of them were ex-expats: Dutch people who once spent time in the United States and recognized my experiences. They delighted in reliving the back-to-school-days, the hassle of the DMV, and the taste of cheeses made in a factory. They remembered their children singing “My Country ’tis of Thee”, and how they turned into soccer parents, waiting endlessly in cars. They recall how nice Americans are, how welcoming to newcomers and unbelievably generous; but also, how they frowned about the bluntness, bordering on rudeness, of the Dutchies.

But nothing lasts forever. One of those crisp winter days, we took the last mail out of the mailbox, closed the door of the house, and waved one more time to our friends before we set out for the airport. A road we had travelled often in those years, it now held few surprises for us anymore. In the back of the car our dogs and cats looked bewildered. I felt grateful. A bit teary too. The next morning, we landed at Schiphol Airport. Home at last.

But, as it soon turned out, I was in unchartered waters again. Ten years away is a long time. The country had changed, and so had I. I now was one of the ex-expats. As T.S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.


Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer and columnist. She wrote several novels: Her debut Lange dagen, a coming of age novel, won the Gouden Uil award. Saving Charlotte, A Mother and the Power of Intuition, is a memoir about the year her baby daughter battled leukemia. Pia wrote for the Princeton Echo, US 1, the Washington Post, Het Financieele Dagblad, and documented her life in Princeton N.J. for NRC Handelsblad. Her columns have been published in Flessenpost  and Pia’s Amerika. You can contact Pia via her website. Illustrations are by her daughter Charlotte Dijkgraaf, who studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy.

Johnny goes Dutch - by Jaap Jacobs

When John Adams arrived in the Dutch Republic as the American envoy, he was accompanied by his two sons. They were both expected to attend school so as to further their education, but finding the right place turned out to be a bit of a problem.

Johnny may have only been twelve years old, but this was the second time that the boy from Massachusetts had visited Europe. He was a studious lad, but could be stubborn, impatient, and a bit sensitive to criticism. Also, he did not want to travel to Europe again. He much preferred to go to a school in Massachusetts (and ultimately on to Harvard), but his mother had other ideas. So one Sunday afternoon after church she took him aside for a serious talk. According to her this was a unique opportunity for Johnny to “improve your understanding, for acquiring useful knowledge and virtue, such as to render you an ornament to society, an honour to your country, and a blessing to your parents.”

Statues of Johnny and his mother in Quincy (MA)

And so it was decided, and perhaps it was for the best. Johnny respected and revered his highly intelligent mother, certainly, but she had a sharp tongue and was quite severe. She considered rigorous discipline to be the main way of keeping her son on the straight and narrow. As a result, their relation was not particularly affectionate. In contrast, Johnny had a good rapport with his father. John senior could be irritable and impetuous in public, but in private he was largely easy-going. This did not mean, however, that he did not also insist on the best education for his son. Johnny was to study Latin, of course, as well as history, as learning about the past introduced one to both negative and positive examples of human behaviour. When Johnny was just ten, his father urged him to master Greek, “the most perfect of all human languages”, in order to read Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War in the original. Nevertheless, on reflection Johnny may have thought that another European trip was preferable to this onerous task. And so off he went again, this time in the company of his father, his younger brother Charles, and another relative, John Thaxter, who acted as his father’s private secretary and the boys’ tutor.

Sailing to Spain

The party set sail in the middle of November of 1779 and landed three weeks later at a port in Spain, much further south than had been the plan. It took them several weeks to travel northward until finally they reached Paris, their first stop. Their stay lasted only six months as having determined that his efforts to establish peace with Great Britain were not sufficiently supported by the French government, John Adams decided to change tack. Dutch support and recognition of American independence now became his objectives and he therefore took his sons out of their French school and traveled north in July 1780, the month Johnny turned thirteen. This time the destination was Amsterdam, which would surely, John thought, provide even better opportunities to further Johnny’s education. His mother, however, was more interested in character development. She expressed the hope that “the universal neatness and cleanliness” of the Dutch would cure Johnny of all his “slovenly tricks”, replacing them with “industery, oconomy [sic] and frugality.”

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, Adams, following the advice of burgomaster Hendrik Hooft, initially took lodgings at what today is considered the insalubrious Oudezijds Achterburgwal. Subsequently, however, they moved to the more upscale Keizersgracht 529, which now bears a plaque commemorating his stay. Adams immediately established contact with resident Americans and Dutch politicians and bankers, including Engelbert François van Berckel (brother of Pieter Johan van Berckel, the first Dutch Ambassador to the US) and Jean de Neufville, who would later finance land acquisition projects in America through the Holland Land Company. All of Adams’s contacts were patriotic, democratically inclined, in favor of American independence, and anti-British. In August, Johnny and Charles enjoyed several days of sightseeing in and around Amsterdam, including to a menagerie with “a lioness and a white monkey and several other beasts”, the Synagogue, the Admiralty, the botanical gardens, and several book shops. When the summer ended, it was back to school, this time at the famous Amsterdam Latin School on the Singel.

The Latin School in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Agony

Johnny hated it. He and his brother were what were known as “boarding scholars,” although they often spent Wednesdays and Saturdays at their father’s lodgings. But it wasn’t the separation from his father that displeased Johnny, or the nature of his companions. Rather, the rigidity of the curriculum did not permit his intellectual talents to flourish. The school provided special language lessons, but Johnny’s ignorance of Dutch meant that he was placed in the lowest class. As a result, his progress in other disciplines was poor. “Nothing remarkable today” became a frequent entry in his diary. Frustration began to creep in, followed by “disobedience and impertinence,” or so Rector Verheyk reported. He wrote to Johnny’s father asking him to take his son out of the school before his conduct necessitated meting out the treatment prescribed by the institution’s regulations. John Adams received the note with “surprise and grief” and requested that the Rector send his sons home that very evening, with their belongings to follow the next day. In a letter to his wife, John senior did not hold back in criticizing the state of education in Amsterdam, “where a littleness of soul is notorious. The masters are mean spirited writches [sic], pinching, kicking, and boxing the children upon every turn.” A month later, Johnny and his brother, accompanied by John Thaxter, made their way to Leiden.

Leiden was refreshing after the tedium of Amsterdam. It was Adams’s intention to have his sons stay in Leiden for some time so that they could “pursue their studies of Latin and Greek under the excellent masters, and there attend lectures of the celebrated professors in that university.” According to Adams it was “much cheaper there than here [i.e. Amsterdam]: the air is infinitely purer and the company and conversation is better. It is perhaps as learned an university as any in Europe.” An American student in Leiden, Benjamin Waterhouse, found his compatriots three furnished rooms at the house of the Willer family, located at Langebrug 45, within easy walking distance of the main university building. As his father reminded Johnny: “You are now at a university where many of the greatest men have received their education.”

The Academy at Leiden

Life in Leiden

Johnny loved it. He wrote to his mother: “I am now at the most celebrated university in Europe which was founded here for the valour of its inhabitants when it was besieg’d, when they were at war with Spain, it was put to its choice whether to be exempt from all taxes for a number of years, or to have an university founded here, and they wisely choose the latter.” Within weeks of their arrival, he and his brother officially matriculated at the university, and started to attend lectures. In addition they had three hours of daily instruction in Greek and Latin with a private tutor. Law and the Classics were Johnny’s daily fare, and he also began to teach himself Dutch by perusing newspapers. He soon declared to his father that he had read the fables of Phaedrus and the lives of distinguished men by Cornelius Nepos. Adams senior replied that he should move on to Demosthenes and Cicero. Indeed, during a visit to Leiden, father and son, joined by the Mennonite minister François Adriaen van der Kemp, met in the Golden Lion Inn where they discussed the moral benefits of reading Demosthenes. It goes without saying that this is not the kind of talk that is common amongst the students who frequent the Leiden bars today.

Fun and Games

There was time for other pursuits too. Johnny asked his father for a pair of riding breeches and boots, took long walks and, of course, attended church twice on Sundays. He also obtained permission to purchase skates. But skating was not just for pleasure, as John senior reminded him. It should be practiced in moderation and the aim was “not simple velocity or agility” but grace, which helped to teach self-restraint and moderation. Adams believed in self-improvement above all else. And he had another task for his son: Johnny was to inform himself “as perfectly as possible concerning the origin, the progress, the institutions, regulations, revenues et cetera of that celebrated university, and especially to remark everything in it, that may be imitated, in the universities of your own country.” John Adams was no doubt thinking of Harvard here. Johnny learned all that was expected of him and continued to delight in his intellectual pursuits. In short, he had the time of his life in Leiden.

John Quincy Adams in 1796, by John Singleton Copley

Duty Calls

Sadly, these good times did not last. When the summer of 1781 approached, another opportunity offered itself. The new envoy of the United States to Russia was about to take up his post and needed a translator. As the main language at the imperial court was French, a language in which Johnny was fluent, he was the ideal candidate for the job. Just before his fourteenth birthday, therefore, Johnny went to St Petersburg and stayed for fourteen months. He regretted leaving Leiden and later in life considered the time in Russia a distraction from his intellectual development. Nevertheless, he would eventually return to the Netherlands in 1794. John Quincy Adams was appointed the US envoy there, following in the footsteps of his father. Though he was very reluctant to leave Massachusetts, his books, and his friends in Boston behind for his first diplomatic assignment, his duty to his country prevailed. It was the start of a public career that would eventually lead to the White House. Yet this elusive and almost inscrutable man, who constantly sought the company of books and would have preferred a life of letters, may never have been happier than when he was a young student in Leiden.


About the author

Jaap Jacobs (PhD Leiden, 1999) is affiliated with the University of St Andrews. He is a historian of early American history, specifically on Dutch New York. He has taught at several universities in the Netherland, the United States and the United Kingdom. Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for the other blog posts.


International Bond Sales After the American Civil War - By David K. Thomson

In the aftermath of a war that took the lives of 750,000 Americans and wounded more than a million others, there emerged a new chapter for American finance. New York City and investment banking entered a new era following the war and in part foreshadowed the world it would become by the end of the century and the infamous “Gilded Age.” But equally as important would be the rapid growth in American debt held abroad—particularly in Europe where the debt would number more than $1 billion by the end of the decade in 1870.

The German states emerged as the most important arena for American debt abroad in the Reconstruction era. Much like the war itself, Frankfurt once again emerged as the primary market within the German states but also the continent as a whole. An American living in Frankfurt perhaps spoke to the heart of the matter in 1868. “Really this market controls the European,” the letter from this American began, “Here all the great sales are made, and to this point are all the stocks sent from New York, and here the coupons on nearly all the stocks held in Europe are sent for sale and collection.”

What accounted for this large volume of sales? For some, investment in American debt served as a safe investment in international bonds as the increasing threat of war with France emerged in the latter part of the decade. Others emphasized investment for future immigrants to the United States and even for those who had family already on the other side of the Atlantic. But even beyond these very practical considerations, larger ideological considerations were at play.

Recruitment poster for German immigrants

Many Germans, especially veterans of the failed revolution of 1848, equated the slave South (and its Reconstruction aftermath) as a bastion of aristocratic privilege akin to those that many Germans rose up against in their failed revolution of the 1840s. What had served as a rallying cry for German immigrants to enlist in the US Army during the American Civil War now served as a call for investment in the Reconstruction era.

The German market impacted those nearby as well. For instance, the market for US debt in Switzerland also increased markedly in the post-war period. Firms throughout Switzerland invested via partners not only in New York City, but also prominent firms in Frankfurt. Bern based Marcuard & Co. is an excellent example of this. Marcuard & Co. investments in US debt came through houses in Frankfurt. Swiss banks utilized financial nexuses like New York City and Frankfurt to help expand the web of American finance into the financial peripheries of Europe by 1860s standards. This close coordination between the Swiss and Germans in particular reveals the larger financial networks at work to help expand American debt holdings abroad in the Reconstruction era.

Ledger from Hope & Co., Amsterdam

The post-war period always witnessed extensive investment via the Netherlands as well. The Algemeene Maatschappij voor Handel en Nijverheid, Amsterdamsche Bank, as well as the Nederlandsche Bank purchased US debt following the war. Other banks played even larger roles in Amsterdam. Hope & Co., Insinger, and Weduwe W. Borski, however, acted as some of the largest, if not the largest investors in US debt during this period in the Netherlands. Purchasing this debt on behalf of clients that spanned the European continent and revealed the attraction for many of this debt.

From a peak of over $1 billion worth of US debt being held in Europe by the end of the decade, it fell off precipitously as the government retired the debt and the western world reeled from the Panic of 1873. But these international investments revealed a particular moment for American debt in the nineteenth century. Despite the perception of government bonds as safe investments, an ocean separated these houses from the United States government. This was a nation comprised of a collection of states, many of whom had defaulted on state bond issues in the antebellum and immediate postwar period. It was imperative for these German and Dutch banks to have close connections via partnerships stateside.

The Great Financial Panic of 1873, closing the door of the Stock Exchange on its members

By the end of the century, the United States became the world’s largest economy. While not reflective of some inevitable financial march in the nineteenth century, bond sales during the American Civil War and Reconstruction period offer a fascinating window into American debt on the international stage post-war. American Civil War debt at one level paid for the war, but as these blog posts have demonstrated, it revealed a democratic effort at investing on one side of the Atlantic, while gaining larger support via international investment—an act that had massive repercussions in the decades to come.


David K. Thomson is an Associate Professor of History at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, USA. Thomson’s focus is on the financial history of the American Civil War era. His first book on the topic, ‘Bonds of War’, published by the University of North Carolina Press in April 2022 traces the crucially important role of bond sales by the United States government during the war to fund the conflict. Thomson’s work has also been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Bloomberg. Click here for the other parts of this blog series.


The Most Democratic Bond Issue of the War - By David K. Thomson


Following on the wild success of the 5-20 loan drive, the federal government attempted to maintain that success, but without one key person—Jay Cooke. When the question of an exclusive agency for the next major drive (the “10-40” loan, a 5% loan callable in ten years by the government that matured in forty), Jay Cooke did not initially receive the agency. Congressional investigations called for by both Democrats and Republicans to examine Cooke for war profiteering dogged Cooke throughout the 5-20 loan. While the investigations came to nothing, there emerged a great reluctance to bring Cooke once more into the fold.

Cooke’s absence from the 10-40 loan in conjunction with a 5% interest rate (versus the 6% of the 5-20 loan) dissuaded all forms of investors and the loan struggled to get off the ground. A new loan, the 7-30 loan, similarly struggled to take off in the absence of Cooke’s leadership. In the end, the federal government went back to Cooke with modified terms and he aggressively pursued the sale of US debt across the US.

Lincoln election banner 1864

The $830 million 7-30 loan issue ultimately became the most successful and most democratic issue of the war. With some 3,000 agents working on behalf of Cooke spread across the country, the loan made it into some of the most remote parts of the Union at that point in time. True, large sales took place in cities like Boston, New York City, Chicago, Cincinnati, and so on, but so too did sales take place in small towns across Maine, Iowa, Wisconsin, California, and Oregon. Such sales came at a very important and pivotal moment for the US government by the summer of 1864. By then, the Treasury struggled as it tried to meet the basic operating expenses of the war that were more than $2.5 million daily—a war of middling progress at this time it is worth noting. On August 17, 1864, the total sales of the 7-30 notes numbered some $17 million.

By the end of the year, however, sales had started to pick up among the masses, an achievement reiterated by President Abraham Lincoln in his 1864 Annual Address. “Held, as it is, for the most part by our own people,” Lincoln proclaimed, “[the public debt] has become a substantial branch of national, though private, property… Men readily perceive that they can not be much oppressed by a debt which they owe to themselves.” Central to this messaging and the success of the loan was none other than Jay Cooke.

Cooke drastically expanded his marketing inspiration for the 7-30 loan. Utilizing a public relations firm out of New York City, various ads circulated in newspapers throughout the North reiterating a message of investing as a patriotic good and the power of confidence enjoined as one. Cooke also utilized entities referred to as night agencies. These operations located in major cities offered free coffee and donuts to those who were willing to listen to the merits of investing in the bonds. The offices specifically targeted those of the working classes who were either coming off or going on shift in the late night and early morning hours. Such types of methods of recruiting investors helped to demonstrate that advertising the war as one that drew financial support of the masses was not just a convenient marketing ploy, but rather reflected the realities on the ground.

Sales even made their way into the Confederacy. As Union forces continued to push back Confederate armies in 1863 and 1864, the sale of bonds followed suit. Sizable operations emerged in localities like New Orleans (the largest city in the South) as well as throughout Virginia. Sales included not only local residents, free and formerly enslaved, but also local members of the Union Army.

Confederate money, 500 dollar bill

By the spring of 1865, the war started to come to an end and army operations and costs started to wind down. The assassination of President Lincoln led Cooke to personally manage debt sales in New York City to avert a financial panic. But the end of the war did not mean the end of the story of Civil War debt. For the end of the war inaugurated a new chapter in bond sales—thousands of miles away across the Atlantic.


David K. Thomson is an Associate Professor of History at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, USA. Thomson’s focus is on the financial history of the American Civil War era. His first book on the topic, Bonds of War, published by the University of North Carolina Press in April 2022 traces the crucially important role of bond sales by the United States government during the war to fund the conflict. Thomson’s work has also been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Bloomberg. Click here for parts 1-3 of this blog series.

The Tale of the White Horse: The First Slave Trading Voyage to New Netherland - By Dennis J. Maika


The first direct shipment of enslaved Africans arrived in New Amsterdam in 1655. The voyage of the White Horse came in the wake of significant changes in the Dutch Atlantic. In this blog, American historian Dennis Maika outlines how family and business connections shaped the development of a slave-trading center in Manhattan.

New Amsterdam’s residents would have immediately noticed something different about the arrival of the Witte Paert (White Horse) in the early summer of 1655. The stench of human excrement and illness emanating from the newly arrived “scheepgen,” (small ship) left little doubt that a slaver had arrived after a long voyage. A vessel devoted exclusively to the slave trade had not been seen before in Manhattan because in the past only small numbers of captives arrived irregularly aboard privateers and were sold as “prizes.” The Dutch West India Company had thus far never sent enslaved Africans to New Netherland, in spite of their hints and unfulfilled promises. The arrival of the first vessel to sail from West Central Africa was unique in another way: it was organized and funded not by the West India Company but exclusively by Dutch private investors.

West India Company warehouse in Amsterdam (ca. 1693)

Trafficking Humans

Today we wonder how businessmen—commercial entrepreneurs—could make a decision to traffic in human beings, but we must recognize that long ago, “commodifying” human beings was an underlying assumption in Atlantic World commerce. The slave trade between Africa and the Western Hemisphere was introduced by the Spanish and Portuguese in the early sixteenth century, and by the mid seventeenth century free individuals in the Dutch Republic, Western Africa, New Amsterdam and the Chesapeake easily and automatically placed financial value on enslaved Africans. As we focus on how and why such individual decisions were made by investors in New Netherland, we can see the factors that shaped slavery as it first developed in North America.

Dirck Pietersen was among dozens of seventeenth-century Amsterdam merchants willing to add human trafficking to their commercial portfolios after the West India Company’s Amsterdam Chamber opened the slave trade to private investors in the late 1640s. In November 1654, in partnership with Jan de Sweerts, he requested permission from the WIC’s Amsterdam Chamber to bring enslaved Africans directly to New Netherland. But such a venture was particularly risky—the historical uncertainty of New Amsterdam’s slave market and the many hazards and captive fatalities that would accompany an exceptionally long voyage made any profit highly speculative. Why then did these two partners decide to do what had never been tried before?

Extract from the register of resolutions of the West India Company, granting permission to the Witte Paert for their journey.

At this particular moment in time, several important developments in the Atlantic world improved the partners’ chances for success. First, the final surrender of Dutch Brazil in early 1654 not only disrupted the sugar trade but also the lucrative West African slave trade that supported it. Jan De Sweerts and his brothers Jacob and Paulus had recently left Brazil, returning to Amsterdam where they hoped to reconfigure their family’s business. Actively involved in the Brazil-West African trade, De Sweerts saw an opportunity to divert African captives previously intended for the sugar plantations of Pernambuco or Paramaribo to the West Indies and New Netherland. He hired Meijndert Lourensz Swart, a seasoned skipper with experience navigating and trading in the Gulf of Guinea, to secure a cargo of West African captives and take them to New Amsterdam for sale. That New Amsterdam could now be considered a viable slave market was due to the end of the First Anglo-Dutch War, which occurred only months after Brazil’s fall. With significant commercial growth in the years before the war, New Amsterdam had begun to emerge as a regional and international entrepot due, in part, to the exchange of Dutch imports for Chesapeake tobacco. With personal experience and contacts in that market, Dirck Pietersen knew that Virginia and Maryland planters were eager to reinvigorate their trade through New Amsterdam. He was also well aware that Chesapeake planters had become more keenly interested in acquiring enslaved labor.

Map of “The Gold Coast of Guinea,” ca. 1670.

Merchant Families

Amsterdam and Rotterdam investors had begun to take commercial positions in Chesapeake tobacco in the 1640s as the English Civil War disrupted trade between England and Virginia. Amsterdam’s Verbrugge family was among these early investors, as was Simon Overzee from a prominent Rotterdam tobacco trading family. By December 1648, a pamphleteer reported that half of the twenty-four European vessels trading in the Chesapeake were Dutch. Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth tried to reduce this dependency by creating the first Navigation Act of 1651, restricting direct trade with the Dutch. But Chesapeake’s dependence on Dutch markets was so strong that Virginians looked for ways to maintain their connection through New Netherland. Director General Petrus Stuyvesant encouraged this new perspective and sent negotiators to Virginia to secure a provisional commercial treaty in 1653 intended as an “inducement for extensive trade and sale of merchandize.”

Family connections helped establish the critical link between New Amsterdam and the Chesapeake tobacco trade. The Verbrugges had become one of the leading Amsterdam investment families in New Amsterdam, represented in Manhattan by their resident agent Govert Loockermans. Another critical connection was made by Pieter Varlet, a prosperous silk and cloth merchant and former West India Company Director, and his brothers Caspar and Daniel. By the early 1650s, the Varlets established both residency and family connections to facilitate their Chesapeake trade. In 1651, Caspar moved his entire family to New Amsterdam where his son Nicolaes joined the tobacco trade with his new brother-in-law, Augustine Herrman who with some justification, later claimed to be the “first beginner of Virginia tobacco trade.” Nicolaes’ sister Anna married George Hack, a prominent Virginia tobacco planter and trader.

It was Anna Hack who was among the first merchants to bring enslaved Africans from New Amsterdam to the Chesapeake. In 1652, she purchased eight captives from the St. Anthonij, a Spanish “prize” taken by a French privateer with a Dutch captain. No doubt she and her fellow Virginia growers happily greeted the news that enslaved Africans could be purchased in New Amsterdam. The appeal was not only for labor; as a result of a 1652 agreement between the Cromwellian government in England and Virginia, anyone responsible for bringing people into Virginia would receive a fifty-acre head right per individual.

From his business connections in the Chesapeake, Dirck Pietersen was well aware of these new developments. Most recently, Pietersen sold his first vessel named the Witte Paert to Simon Overzee who renamed it the Virginia Merchant. Using a familiar name with his newly purchased ship would certainly remind potential buyers of their previous experience. Thus, although the partners promised the Amsterdam Chamber directors that they were supporting Company goals of building New Netherland’s population and agriculture, their real mission was to service eager Chesapeake buyers.

The White Horse

The Witte Paert arrived as the early summer trading season in Manhattan was underway, joining at least six other ocean-going vessels in the harbor, including the city of Amsterdam’s warship, the Waegh, awaiting its upcoming mission against New Sweden. These were joined by many smaller boats, some bringing Chesapeake tobacco for export. Among these was a vessel used by Edmund Scarborough, a prominent Virginia planter known to Overzee, the Varlets, Herrman, and Loockermans. Whether by coincidence or intention, Scarborough was in New Amsterdam at the precise time the Witte Paert arrived. When skipper Meyndert Lourensz Swart held an auction for his cargo, Scarborough was the largest purchaser. We have no record of the precise number of captives he purchased, but from forty-one headrights he filed in Virginia by the end of the year (guaranteeing him some 3500 acres of land in Virginia) and the fourteen headrights acquired by his friends and family, it is safe to assume that he purchased at least 55 Witte Paert captives, some of whom he resold in Virginia and Maryland.

Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland

Stuyvesant was perhaps surprised to find the Witte Paert in the upper bay. He recently returned from a trip to Barbados and Curaçao exploring new commercial opportunities and only then received Directors’ notice of the Witte Paert permit. The resolution said nothing about what to do if the enslaved were to be taken away from Manhattan, so Stuyvesant, unwilling to interfere with auction sales already made, granted Scarborough special permission to take captives to Virginia. The only stipulation was that Scarborough promise, under hefty bail, that he would not enter the South Bay or the South River and inform the Swedes of Stuyvesant’s pending invasion. The Company was clear, however, that all proper duties and imposts be collected. Stuyvesant immediately obliged, ordering a ten percent duty be paid on slaves exported from New Netherland.

We don’t know whether or not Pietersen and de Sweerts were financially successful in their slave-trading venture. Accurate accounting of all transactions was the responsibility of the skipper, Meyndert Lourensz Swart, who was killed in a confrontation with local Munsee natives on Staten Island and whose papers have disappeared. New Amsterdam court records show that his successor was still trying to collect on promised payments in October of that same year. Notarial records in Amsterdam reveal that as late as 1659, Pietersen and De Sweerts’ son had still not been fully compensated by Scarborough, Herrmans, and several other purchasers. Although such payment delays were common in seventeenth-century Atlantic commerce, it appears as if any financial benefits resulting from the voyage were not encouraging enough to have the partners try again.

Profit and Pain

Financial records are of little help in identifying the ledger of atrocities experienced by the Witte Paert captives. We know something about the pain and suffering experienced by only two of them. We’ve learned that an unnamed woman was forcibly intoxicated by the ship’s captain to mask her serious illness from potential buyers. After the auction, she was carried through the streets, screaming as she realized her condition, to the house of Nicolaes Boot, where she died three hours later. We only know of her story because Boot, her purchaser, sued the captain for fraud and refused to pay. We also know about Antonio, a captive eventually sold to Simon Overzee. Antonio fiercely resisted his enslavement by refusing to work on Overzee’s new plantation in Maryland and by running away. In the course of “correcting” Antonio’s behavior, Overzee had him beaten, hot lard poured into his wounds, then suspended on a ladder where he soon died. We only know Antonio’s story because one of Overzee’s political enemies had him prosecuted for manslaughter. Overzee was acquitted.

Sections of a slave ship

It is obvious from the Witte Paert’s voyage that calculating profit based on commodifying human beings was the driving force behind the early slave trade. Any calculation of risk by men like Dirck Pietersen, and Jan de Sweerts could not have been made without assigning monetary value to human life. It is also clear that personal networks were essential in building reliable markets and exchanges. But we also learn that the slave trade, even if privately funded, could count on institutional support from Company officials and local magistrates to facilitate sales and protect investment.

The Witte Paert’s example demonstrated to those considering future slave trading that a dependable supply of captives and an expanding network of purchasers were essential components for financial success. Within five years, subsequent attempts by the West India Company depended on Curacao as a slave depot from which to bring the captives to New Amsterdam, whose position as a regional hub now added the South (Delaware) River colony of New Amstel to its network. The culminating effort of this new strategy was in the Company-sponsored 1664 voyage of the Gideon, that would travel from Amsterdam, to West Africa, to Curacao, then finally to New Amsterdam with 291 enslaved captives. Although the English invasion fleet that arrived at the same time as the Gideon temporarily altered the slaving trajectory, New York would ultimately become a slave-trading center in the eighteenth century.


Dennis J. Maika (PhD New York University, 1995) is Senior Historian at the New Netherland Institute. Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for the other parts.

International Bond Sales During the American Civil War - By David K. Thomson


It is a mistake to talk about the American Civil War in a vacuum. While by definition a war that was not against a foreign power, the conflict still proved of great consequence and interest around the world, but especially on the other side of the Atlantic. The power of southern cotton to fuel the textile mills of Northern France and the English midlands meant these two nations in particular had sizable stakes in the outcome of the conflict as well as its general duration. For the Confederacy, they were in fact banking on the power of cotton. In an approach labeled subsequently as “King Cotton diplomacy,” the Confederacy used their perceived financial leverage over England and France because of their cotton crop.

A cotton export embargo at the beginning of the war with the hopes of drawing Europe into the conflict to mediate a quick resolution ultimately did not work for the Southern cause. The Confederacy hoped for intervention, especially following the diplomatic crisis surrounding the Trent Affair. In the fall of 1861, a US naval ship stopped the British mail packet HMS Trent and removed Confederate diplomats bound for England and France. Calls rang out in Britain for war and while cooler heads ultimately prevailed, it served as an important notice to the Lincoln administration.

Cartoon about the Trent Affair

For decades prior to the war, US and British financial interests largely aligned and led many to believe that the British market might prove invaluable for the sale of Union war bonds. Yet, this did not prove to be the case. Many financiers in Britain, as well as their clients, found themselves heavily invested in the South, slavery, and cotton production. This left many in Britain quite reticent to invest heavily in American debt during the war and the market never really materialized—either for secondary sales or the larger goal of placing a loan abroad in London on the part of the US government. France similarly proved difficult. Napoleon III banned the sale of US bonds on the Parisian Stock Exchange. His hopes for a new French empire abroad likewise made Napoleon wistful for a Confederate victory to create an ally that might act as a buffer against a newly fragmented United States if the war went the way Napoleon hoped. The markets of London and Paris would not come to Washington’s aid, so it was on United States to look elsewhere.

US debt sales abroad proved most successful in the German states (namely Frankfurt) and the Netherlands (especially Amsterdam.) Frankfurt may have served as the most important market in Europe. Along the banks of the Main River, this city became the central hub for US bond sales abroad during the American Civil War. The reasons for this are many and include factors such as banking networks centered around kinship and faith that stretched across the Atlantic to places like New York City helping to facilitate these sales. But it also relied on other factors as well. For example, the US Consul officer in Frankfurt, William Walton Murphy, played a pivotal role creating a market in Frankfurt. Murphy hosted events at his residence and elsewhere where he encouraged Frankfurt bankers and everyday citizens to invest in the cause of Union and later emancipation. Such actions played a huge role in expanding US debt sales in Frankfurt and their continental network.

Note from the Amsterdam bank of Hope & Co. to banking partners in London written during the war

Amsterdam also proved important to the cause of debt sales. By the spring of 1864, US Minister to the Hague, James Pike, estimated that weekly transactions of Union bonds numbered $2 million in the city of Amsterdam alone. By the fall of that year as Americans went to the polls to reelect Abraham Lincoln, Pike claimed that US bonds consumed “an unlimited amount of capital” on the Dutch exchange. Extensive correspondence from the Dutch house of Hope & Co. and the Dutch aligned New York City firm of Fisk & Hatch both affirmed the vibrant market for US bonds in Amsterdam.

By March of 1865, banking house Knauth, Nachod & Kuhne estimated German and Dutch houses held $250 million of the $320 million in U.S. securities abroad (a low estimation in this author’s opinion.) But whatever the exact number might be is largely beside the point. For without a doubt, a very large market existed in Europe during the American Civil War for US debt, and these purchases went a long way towards stabilizing and reaffirming the legitimacy of the United States government during some of the darker days of the war.


David K. Thomson is an Associate Professor of History at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, USA. Thomson’s focus is on the financial history of the American Civil War era. His first book on the topic, Bonds of War, published by the University of North Carolina Press in April 2022 traces the crucially important role of bond sales by the United States government during the war to fund the conflict. Thomson’s work has also been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Bloomberg. Click here for parts 1 and 2 of this blog series.

The Rise of Jay Cooke - By David K. Thomson


In October 1862 the federal government found itself in dire straits on virtually every front. Militarily, 1862 had been a year of mixed results. While General Ulysses S. Grant had made some headway in the Western Theater, the more high-profile Eastern Theater saw the armies of the United States government struggling. Despite being within eyesight of the church spires of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia in the summer of 1862, the autumn witnessed the single bloodiest day in American history at the Battle of Antietam. A military draw, the Lincoln administration used the victory to announce the Emancipation Proclamation. This act by Lincoln had political implications in the fall Congressional midterm elections as the incumbent Republican Party experienced a contraction of their majority and went down to defeats at the state level.

Battle of Antietam, Sept 1862

But a lesser known but still vital area where the government found itself in trouble pertained to the world of finance. By October 1862, Chase struggled to sell the $500 million dollar bond issue authorized by Congress the previous February as part of the Legal Tender Act. Known informally as “five-twenties,” these bonds could be called in by the government after five years but matured in twenty. A $500 million issue, by the end of June 1862 the government sold less than $14 million since February. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase found himself with his back against the proverbial wall. The tried and true method to finance America’s past wars would not work here, so what was the alternative? Into this void stepped Jay Cooke.

Jay Cooke

Born and raised in Ohio, Cooke moved to Philadelphia and entered the world of finance in 1838 before opening his own financial house on New Years Day, 1861. At the outset of the war, Cooke worked in conjunction with the state of Pennsylvania in the secession winter and early days of the conflict to sell state bonds to the populace. Cooke became well known for his marketing of the bonds and efforts to incorporate ideas like payroll withholdings from companies such as the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad. While Cooke did not know Chase personally (despite both hailing from Ohio), Jay Cooke’s brother, Henry Cooke, moved in influential newspaper circles in Ohio as a former editor and therefore found himself interacting with Chase in the antebellum period. By 1862, Chase had truly run out of options. He turned to Jay Cooke.

Jay Cooke offered a relatively new approach in the United States pertaining to war finance. Built off of French and Austrian models, Cooke posited the idea that a popular or “democratic” loan purchased by the people could help right the financial ship of the United States. Based on a heavy marketing campaign laced in patriotic rhetoric and selling bonds as low as $50 on nine-month installment plans, Cooke saw an opportunity to sell bonds nationwide. Relying on a network of effectively traveling salesman, these agents would comb the North (and eventually the South) selling bonds to millions of Americans of a wide variety of backgrounds. For Cooke’s work, he came to an arrangement of .375% or three-eighths of one percent of sales of the 5-20 issue with all marketing costs absorbed by the Philadelphia banker and a portion of that commission going to his traveling salesman (numbering 3,000 by war’s end.)

Flyer for the 5-20 Loan produced by the office of Jay Cooke & Co. in Philadelphia

Cooke met with wild success. What had begun as a trickle of 5-20 sales in the spring and summer of 1862 quickly took off. In January 1864, the $500 million loan closed (oversubscribed at $514 million.) Cooke had helped to stabilize Union finances, even as the war ebbed and flowed from the Atlantic coast across the continent. But to talk about the power and importance of Union bonds during the Civil War and only focus on the domestic sales misses a crucial part of the story. For perhaps equally as important to the work undertaken by Cooke in the United States was the work by bankers, diplomats, and other non-state actors in the halls of power in Europe.


David K. Thomson is an Associate Professor of History at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, USA. Thomson’s focus is on the financial history of the American Civil War era. His first book on the topic, ‘Bonds of War’, published by the University of North Carolina Press in April 2022 traces the crucially important role of bond sales by the United States government during the war to fund the conflict. Thomson’s work has also been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Bloomberg. Click here for part 1 of this blog series.

The Threat of a Thousand Dollar Breakfast - By David K. Thomson


Slavery stood at the center of the American experience prior to the Civil War. From the arrival of the first enslaved individuals in colonial Virginia in 1619, the issue of slavery gradually tore the nation apart. In particular, the nineteenth century witnessed increasing hostility between North and South over the “peculiar institution.” The volatile decade of the 1850s only furthered this with events such as Bleeding Kansas, the Caning of Charles Sumner, and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. These events, capped by the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln in the fall of 1860, paved the way for southern states to break away from the United States and form their own Confederate States of America under the leadership of former Senator and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. The secession winter of 1860-1861 witnessed largely a war of words before the onset of hostilities in Charleston, South Carolina in April 1861.

Rally in support of the Union, New York City, April 1861

The firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor transitioned the war to an armed conflict. Abraham Lincoln’s subsequent call for 75,000 soldiers to put down the insurrection pushed several more upper South states to secede—including the pivotal states of Virginia and North Carolina.

The war still remained one of a war for Union and not one to end slavery in the spring of 1861, but the possibility of a large-scale civil conflict from the most important western cotton provider made many wary across the Atlantic. While the United States government marshalled forces from across the North, they also had to determine how they would fund a standing army in the field (the cost of which would ultimately exceed $2 million a day.) Since the American Revolution, the United States had long relied on bond issues, effectively governmental IOU’s, to fund conflicts. In addition to international capital to help purchase these bonds, the government had increasingly come to rely on financial elites in the United States to take these bonds off their hands and handle the responsibility of selling these financial instruments to investors in the market. But the Civil War represented a new era. Wall Street financiers and their counterparts in cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere simply could not (and in some instances would not) take on the debt of the American government writ large during the Civil War—a total sum in excess of $2 billion in 1860s money. Drastic changes in the United States even since the end of the Mexican War in 1848 meant monumental armies could take the field. Instead of a model more in line with the twentieth century of bond sales to the populace at large, the Lincoln administration first had to test the limitations of elite financial support in 1861.

Assay Office on Wall Street, the primary location in New York for investors to purchase U.S. government-issued bonds needed to finance the war

Central to all of this was Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase. Chase joined Lincoln’s cabinet as part of the “team of rivals” so that Lincoln could keep political threats close. Chase did not have a background in finance—rather he practiced law prior to the war and in particular defended fugitive enslaved individuals. Chase’s lack of financial acumen quickly was on full display. As he shuttled back and forth between Washington and New York City to secure funds for the federal government to conduct their war, it became abundantly clear that financiers on Wall Street would only extend so much faith and credit in the Union.

Salmon Chase, Secretary of the Treasury

Threats from Chase to flood the country with paper money—allegedly proclaiming that he would do so until breakfast cost $1,000—did nothing to move financial elites in his direction. By December 1861, the North had suspended specie payments, meaning you could not turn in notes for the equivalent amount of gold. Legislation out of Congress to create a new national currency and large bond issues did not resolve the fundamental problem, the government was running out of money. Chase needed a new approach and to do that he chose to rely on a little-known banker from Philadelphia. A man by the name of Jay Cooke. By entering into an arrangement with Cooke, Salmon Chase set the federal government on a new path. A path with implications not only for financing the Civil War, but beyond.


David K. Thomson is an Associate Professor of History at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, USA. Thomson’s focus is on the financial history of the American Civil War era.

His first book on the topic, ‘Bonds of War’, published by the University of North Carolina Press in April 2022 traces the crucially important role of bond sales by the United States government during the war to fund the conflict. Thomson’s work has also been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Bloomberg.

John Romeyn Brodhead’s Hunt for History - by Jaap Jacobs

Over the centuries, numerous American visitors to the Netherlands produced travel accounts, filled with their fresh insights and observations as they viewed the familiar from a foreigner’s perspective. John Romeyn Brodhead is no exception, but he was not a regular tourist. He was, or rather became, a man with a mission, hunting for history in Dutch archives.

“This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen,” John Romeyn Brodhead wrote in his diary on 21 October 1839. It was only his second day in the Netherlands and he had spent it well: “This morning [I] went to see the opening of the States General by the King — The day was very delightful and the whole pageant went of well —The military display was highly creditable. [..] In the afternoon [I] took a long ramble in the ‘Bosch’, a most magnificent Park in the northern end of the City.”

Parade of His Majesty the King of the Netherlands to the opening of the session of the States General (1839)

Albanians Abroad

Brodhead’s exuberance on his first trip to Europe is  noteworthy. He was  still a young man, the twenty-five year-old son of a prominent Dutch Reformed clergyman. He was affiliated with various Dutch-American families in upstate New York  and this had facilitated his appointment as private secretary of the American chargé d’affaires, Harmanus Bleecker. The Albany lawyer and former Congressman had been appointed to the diplomatic post in The Hague by President Martin Van Buren, also of Dutch descent, who had visited the Netherlands some years previously. Finding himself in need of clerical assistance, Bleecker asked a friend, John V.L. Pruyn (another Albanian of Dutch descent), to recommend someone to take on these duties without renumeration, but with the prospect of gaining valuable experience. Brodhead’s name  was put forward and a few months later he arrived in The Hague. As his responsibilities were not that onerous, Brodhead was able to indulge in reading history books and sightseeing. Gradually the young man began to contemplate his future: he determined to devote his life to history, in particular to “the contribution made by the Netherlands to the early history of the State of New York.”

There is little doubt that Harmanus Bleecker planted the seeds which came to fruition in Brodhead’s fertile mind. Bleecker and many of his friends in Albany and New York were very interested in history, particularly their own as descendants of the early Dutch colonists. In turn, Bleecker was doubtlessly aware that the government of New York State, at the insistence of the New-York Historical Society, had already made money available for exactly the purpose that Brodhead had in mind. But as yet no proper candidate for the funding had been identified. All that remained to be done was for Brodhead’s appointment to be made. In the meantime, the young man immersed himself in learning Dutch and French and  experiencing everything that The Hague had to offer.

The Hague, with the “Bosch” to the right. Detail of 1852 map.


In the autumn of 1840 Brodhead’s comfortable life was suddenly disrupted. He received news that his mother’s health was declining rapidly and immediately decided to book passage on the steamer President. In October 1840, he was back with his parents in Brooklyn. Brodhead’s return to New York allowed him to contact the right people and obtain the abovementioned appointment. In January 1841 he was commissioned as agent for the State of New York. Before sailing to Europe again, Brodhead spent several weeks in Albany perusing the early records of the government of New York State, including those of Director General and Council, the colonial government of New Netherland. In this way he acquired important insights relating to potential locations for finding records in Europe. Thus equipped he  began his hunt for history in England, France and the Netherlands in earnest, searching for relevant documents wherever they might be. On May 1st, Brodhead embarked on the steamship Great Western. He arrived back in The Hague on May 23rd, 1841 and did not waste time in getting started on his mission.

Request to grant Brodhead access to the National Archives of the Netherlands

The next day, Bleecker’s status as diplomatic envoy facilitated Brodhead’s introduction to the Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs. Within a few days, an audience was arranged with the King of the Netherlands, Willem II, who had acceded to the throne just a few months earlier. “His manner was very kind and courteous,” Brodhead noted in his diary: “He spoke to me about my mission — about my having been here before — said I looked somewhat older now — [He] expressed his interest in the object I had in mind and then made many enquiries about the U.S. [and about] steamships particularly.” The King also said he hoped to see Brodhead at the palace again. Brodhead was pleased with his reception by the King: “I must say I was much more gratified at my audience than I had anticipated I would be.” Contact with the Minister of the Interior, in charge of the archives, immediately ensued, and on June 3rd, 1841, J.C. de Jonge, Chief Archivist of the National Archives of the Netherlands, was ordered to provide all possible assistance. Everything was now in place for Brodhead to start his work properly.

On June 6th, John Romeyn Brodhead opened a package of newly arrived American newspapers. Almost immediately, his eyes fell upon a death notice in the Albany daily: “At Brooklyn, yesterday morning, Eliza, wife of the Rev. Dr. Brodhead, and daughter of the late John N. Bleecker, of this city.” John’s mother had died just five days after he had embarked for Europe. Upon receiving the news he wrote an emotional entry in his diary: “O! My God! What dreadful news I just read—My dear Mother is dead! Just one month ago she left this world of pain and suffering for a bright and glorous as I fully believe—I can scarcely believe it—but it must be so.”

Discovering Documents

Over the next few months, Brodhead’s thoughts must surely have turned to his mother as he trawled  through bundle after bundle of seventeenth-century documents, looking for material that suited his purpose. In a sense, he was little different from modern-day historians, who spend their time eagerly copying—previously by xerox, these days digitally—every document of potential interest.  Brodhead did not do his own copying, however. Instead he enlisted the services of chartermeester J.A. de Zwaan, member of staff at the National Archives of the Netherlands. De Zwaan pencilled remarks on many documents in the collections, marking them “Copied for New York.” In gratitude for his services, De Zwaan later received a letter of thanks from the Governor of New York, while the New-York Historical Society appointed him as a corresponding member.

Title page of the manuscript version of the Remonstrance of New Netherland,(1649)

Brodhead was quite pleased with the material that he had sourced in The Hague. The records of the States General yielded much information on New Netherland and New Amsterdam. He surmised, however, that further riches  awaited him in Amsterdam for he presumed that the archives of the West India Company would be the real treasure trove. In late August Brodhead therefore travelled to Amsterdam and went to see Mr. De Munninck, who was in charge of the papers. As Brodhead wrote in his diary that evening, De Munninck “at once dashed all my hopes by saying that all the old papers of the Co. previously to 1700 had been burnt up” some twenty years earlier. De Munninck promised “to make a further search to see if any thing has escaped the general vandalism.”Brodhead was greatly dispirited, but hoped that some remnants  might still come to light. He also put notices in Dutch newspapers asking the public to notify him if they had anything of relevance in their possession.

Fortunately, Brodhead at least had other options in Amsterdam. His weeks of perusing the records in Albany had taught him that the city of Amsterdam had played a vital role in New Netherland, especially through its involvement in the city-colony of New Amstel on the Delaware.  Brodhead therefore established contact with city officials and had no trouble in gaining access to the Stadhuis. He found much of historical value there, but did not locate all the relevant documents. For instance, Brodhead included the contract of the city of Amsterdam with Pieter Cornelisz Plockhoy and a number of Mennonite families to sail to New Amstel. Yet he omitted the travel permit granted by Amsterdam to two Catholic priests, Everard Stalpaert van der Wiele and Hilbrandus Fustius. They were even permitted to assist and serve the Catholic colonists, albeit “privately” and with “as little offence to the reformed public church as is possible.” This document is contained in the same volume as the Plockhoy contract, just five pages ahead of it. Did Brodhead simply miss this? Or did it challenge his vision of the United States as a bulwark of Protestantism in which there was no place for Catholics?

Brodhead’s other stop in Amsterdam was the Dutch Reformed Church. Its counterpart in the United States, the Dutch Reformed Church in America, had been under the supervision of the classis of Amsterdam until the late eighteenth century and only dropped the word Dutch from its name a few decades after Brodhead’s original research. Gaining access to the archives of the Amsterdam classis was even easier in this case as it did not require government permission. Brodhead was allowed to copy relevant passages from the proceedings of the classis and anticipated what he called in his diary “a present of many valuable original papers from America — Deo favente.” The “present” consisted mostly of seventeenth and eighteenth-century letters written by the New Amsterdam and New York ministers to the classis in Amsterdam. Brodhead initially mentioned in his correspondence that he received these on loan for four years, to be copied at leisure. As they were not governmental papers, Brodhead did not include them in the transcripts handed over to the New York State Library, nor did he mention them in his official report. Eventually, the Reformed Church in America obtained the so-called “Amsterdam Correspondence,” as Brodhead had hoped, although this acquisition required a substantial donation to the pension fund of the Amsterdam classis. The letters now form part of the collections of the Reformed Church in America held at the Gardner Sage Library of the Theological Seminary in New Brunswick.

With his trip to Amsterdam completed, Brodhead’s work in the Netherlands was done. In December 1841, he went to London to continue his search in the English State Papers. Unfortunately, it turned out to be difficult and timeconsuming to obtain access to the London archives. Brodhead also visited Paris on his hunt for history and while he was there a fire broke out at the Ministery of the Navy in The Hague. In an effort to save the seventeenth-century records, numerous papers were thrown out of the windows only to be scattered by a strong wind. Through intermediaries, Brodhead was able to acquire several partly scorched letters, written by seventeenth-century Dutch admirals and officials. These in turn made their way to America and are among the Brodhead Papers housed in the Rutgers University Special Collections.

The day after the fire at the Ministry of the Navy (1844)

Back to Brooklyn

Brodhead returned to New York in 1844 and spent several months compiling a calendar of the documents. He submitted his final report in February 1845, along with sixteen volumes of

transcriptions of Dutch documents, as well as the transcriptions of papers from London and Paris. It was a phenomenal achievement, considering the numerous constraints he faced in acquiring language skills, gaining access, arranging copies, and so forth. This collection formed the basis of eleven volumes of Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany: Weed, Parsons & Company, 1853-1861). Brodhead had hoped to translate and edit the transcriptions he had collected, but by this time the political landscape in Albany had changed and the job went to Edmund B. O’Callaghan instead. Brodhead decided to devote his time to writing a history of the state of New York. He completed two volumes, published in 1853 and 1871, that take the story of the state up to 1691.

John Romeyn Brodhead in his later years

Of course, John Romeyn Brodhead operated within the parameters and prejudices of his  own time and did not challenge the conventions of the day. We cannot blame him for splitting up archival collections, as respect for the original order of archival collections was not considered important by scholars and archivists until much later. The accomplishments of John Romeyn Brodhead as a researcher and writer are undoubtedly considerable, nevertheless. He laid the foundation for a monumental publication that still serves as the first point of call for much historical research into New Netherland and New York.


Jaap Jacobs (PhD Leiden, 1999) is affiliated with the University of St Andrews. He is a historian of early American history, specifically on Dutch New York. He has taught at several universities in the Netherland, the United States and the United Kingdom. Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for the other parts.




Mass Murder on Manhattan - By Mark Meuwese

Settler colonialism is not a story of friendly relations throughout. The confrontation with an unfamiliar other creates wariness and suspicion and often leads to violent outbursts in which noncombatants become innocent victims. Manhattan in the seventeenth century was no exception, as the events of 1643 show.

In the evening of February 25, 1643, soldiers and settlers of the colony of New Netherland massacred a large number of Native American men, women, and children belonging to Munsee nations on and around Manhattan. The victims were surprised in their sleep. They had assumed they were safe because they had recently sought shelter near New Amsterdam from Indigenous enemies. Dutch sources indicate that at least eighty and perhaps up to one hundred and twenty Munsees were murdered. The attacks took place on two locations. The first massacre, perpetrated by armed settlers, occurred at Corlears Hook in what is now Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The second massacre took place later in the night at Pavonia, a settlement located on the west bank of the Hudson River across from Manhattan. Soldiers of the Dutch West India Company, which governed New Netherland, committed the bloodbath at Pavonia. The two massacres ignited a Munsee-Dutch conflict known as Kieft’s War, which lasted until the summer of 1645. The war is named after Willem Kieft who was director of New Netherland during the war and whom historians hold responsible for the conflict.

Detail of the Manatus Map. The locations of the two Dutch attacks of 1643 are indicated by red circles.


Although American and Dutch historians have written extensively about Kieft’s War, one difficult question about the massacres at Pavonia and Corlaer’s Hook remains to be answered. Why did the soldiers and the settlers proceed with surprise attacks on the Munsee groups that consisted not only of warriors but also of women, children, and elders? In other words, why did the soldiers and settlers knowingly kill non-combatants? Racist attitudes, the destabilizing context of war, and peer pressure may have enabled the ordinary soldiers and settlers of New Netherland to kill defenseless Munsee men, women, and children in February 1643.

Views of Native Americans in New Netherland were complex but overall the Indigenous peoples were seen as culturally and morally inferior. Isaac de Rasière, secretary of the colony from 1626 to 1628, described the Indigenous people as “cruel by nature.”

Description of New Netherland by De Rasière with an extensive section on the Native Americans on and around Manhattan.

Calvinist ministers who worked in New Netherland considered Indigenous peoples to be heathens. As the colonial population grew in the late 1630s, incidents between colonizers and Munsees became more frequent. Cases of theft, brawls, and alcohol-related incidents involving settlers, soldiers, and Munsees were a matter of growing concern for the colonial government. Finally, the term “wilden” that the Dutch regularly used in correspondence and travel accounts when referring to the Indigenous peoples of New Netherland was another indication of the strong stereotypes held by the settlers and colonial officials. The term “wilden” referred to the widespread European belief in wild or savage humans who lived in the woods without any religion and civilization. Negative attitudes such as these made it easier for settlers and soldiers to dehumanize and kill Munsee people in 1643.


Another factor that enabled the slaughter of Munsee non-combatants was the growing fear among settlers, soldiers, and Kieft for a Munsee conspiracy against the colony in the early 1640s. This fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy because of the growing settler population as well as by the decision in 1639 to impose a yearly contribution on the Munsee communities living around New Amsterdam. This contribution was levied by Kieft in order to get the Munsees to help pay for the expenses of maintaining the fort and garrison at New Amsterdam. While Kieft claimed that the Munsees benefited from Dutch military protection, the Munsees strongly rejected the measure. They viewed themselves as sovereign nations who were perfectly capable of defending their own communities. Angry about Kieft’s contribution and the growing settler population, warriors of the Raritans, one of the Munsee nations, harassed several company employees in the spring of 1640.

Instead of pursuing accommodation and diplomacy, Kieft responded with a policy of intimidation and the threat of mass-violence. It is likely that he was familiar with the aggressive policies of the neighboring New England colonies who had waged a genocidal campaign against the Indigenous Pequot nation in 1637. Like the Puritan colonies in their war against the Pequot, Kieft believed that overwhelming force, including the targeting of Indigenous villages, was the best way to bring the “wilden” of the wider Manhattan region under control. Upon learning of the incident with the Raritans, Kieft dispatched a punitive expedition to their village. Several Raritans were killed and one was tortured. Raritan warriors retaliated by killing four settlers. Shortly after this attack, a man of the Wiechquaesgeck Munsee nation murdered a settler on Manhattan.

Proposition of Director Kieft to the commonalty, 29 August 1641

Kieft now called for a special meeting with a new advisory board made up of prominent settlers in August 1641. In this meeting, Kieft asked the board whether they agreed that if the murderer was not extradited, “it is not just that the entire village from which he originates be laid to waste?” The advisory board agreed with Kieft that the murder had to be avenged. In the winter of 1642, a military expedition tried to attack the Wiechquaesgeck village at nighttime but failed to locate it. As the conflict continued to simmer, yet another settler was killed by a Munsee warrior from the Hackensack nation. By the spring of 1642, New Netherland was on the brink of war with no less than three Munsee nations.

Kieft and the settlers became firmly convinced that the Munsee nations were conspiring against them when hundreds of Hackensacks and Wiechquaesgecks suddenly appeared in the proximity of New Amsterdam in late February 1643. The exact circumstances remain unclear but Dutch sources indicate that the Mahicans, an Algonquian nation from the Upper Hudson Valley, had recently attacked the two Munsee nations. The Hackensacks and Wiechquaesgecks fled to Manhattan in the expectation that the Mahicans would not dare to attack them at the center of the Dutch colony. However, Kieft and the settlers realized that this was a unique opportunity to strike against the “wilden”. Both Kieft and the settlers believed that God had driven the Munsees into the hands of the Dutch so that they could rightfully punish them for the murders of the past few years. With God on their side, Kieft, the soldiers, and the settlers prepared for their nighttime attacks of February 25, 1643.

The instructions for the nighttime attacks are surprisingly well documented. In the archives of the States General are the “Extracts from the register of resolutions kept by Director Willem Kieft and Councilors in New Netherland.” Dated February 25, 1643, the resolution states how the settlers in the region of Manhattan have recently developed great fear for the “wilden” because they had recently killed several settlers. “In order that we may live here quietly,” Kieft and the council of New Netherland authorized Marijn Adriaensz and his companions to attack a group of Munsees who were residing at Corlaer’s Hook, “and to do with them as they consider advisable, according to the time and circumstances.”

Willem Kieft, Director of New Netherland (1647)

In the detailed council minutes of New Netherland of the same date, currently housed in the New York State Archives in Albany, Kieft and the council also authorize a group of soldiers led by sergeant Rodolff to cross the river to Pavonia “to strike the wilden who are located behind Jan Eversen’s plantation, but to spare the women and children.” In the anonymous manuscript Journal of New Netherland, which contains a brief narrative account of the massacres most likely written by Kieft himself or someone close to him, for instance secretary Cornelis van Tienhoven, the soldiers returned to New Amsterdam with thirty Munsee prisoners. However, according to the anonymous authors of a pamphlet published by critics of Kieft in 1649, the soldiers did not spare anyone during their assault at Pavonia. Moreover, the council minutes, to which Kieft had direct access, also do not make any mention of Munsee captives being brought to New Amsterdam. It appears that the soldiers simply ignored the instructions. This would not have been the first time that company soldiers had disobeyed orders. During the punitive expedition against the Raritans in 1640, soldiers had killed several Raritans against the wishes of Van Tienhoven who was leading the attack. Clearly, the soldiers in New Netherland had no qualms about killing the Munsees.

Peer Pressure

A third and final factor that made the massacres possible was the group dynamic among the perpetrators. This is admittedly difficult to prove since we do not have detailed testimonies from the soldiers and settlers who participated in the events at Corlaer’s Hook and Pavonia. However, as Christopher Browning convincingly argued in his study of the ordinary Germans in occupied Poland during the Holocaust, peer pressure played a critical role in inducing soldiers to kill non-combatants. Reluctant soldiers felt compelled to participate in mass shootings because they did not want to be ostracized by their colleagues in a hostile environment.

A similar dynamic was at work in New Netherland. In the early 1640s, New Netherland was a vulnerable colony surrounded by numerous Indigenous nations as well as by unpredictable English, Swedish, and French colonies. Once Kieft and the advisory board members resolved to launch the attacks, it was difficult for individual soldiers and settlers to shirk their responsibilities. Soldiers or settlers who refused to participate risked isolation in the colony. The only settlers who spoke out against the nighttime attacks were a handful of prominent individuals who did not actively participate in the massacres. Through the combination of strongly held negative views of Native Americans, the escalation of Dutch-Munsee hostilities, and peer pressure, the soldiers and settlers murdered a large number of Munsee men, women, and children in February 1643. Interestingly, many settlers turned against Kieft after the slaughter of the Munsees. However, they did so after surviving Munsee groups launched devastating retaliatory attacks. In March 1643, Munsee warriors killed a number of settlers and torched many colonial farms across the wider Manhattan region. Even though most settlers had supported and participated in the massacres, they now blamed Kieft for having plunged the colony into chaos and devastation.

A nineteenth-century depiction of the attack at Pavonia,

The massacres of February 1643 were no doubt a shameful episode in the history of New Netherland. How should people in the contemporary Netherlands place these events from almost four hundred years ago in the larger history of Dutch overseas expansion? One way to think about this question is to consider what the massacres mean for Munsee people today. Contemporary Munsees have not forgotten about the massacres at Pavonia and Corlaer’s Hook. In an editorial published in the Native American newspaper Indian Country Today in 2013, the Shawnee-Lenape legal scholar Steven Newcomb discussed the massacres of 1643 in the context of the “centuries-long perpetration of genocide against our nations and people by Christian European colonizing powers.” In less strong terms, the Munsee-Delaware chief Mark Peters from Ontario in a recent video-lecture on Munsee history describes the massacres as events that contributed to the violent removal of the Munsees from their Manhattan homelands by 1700.

It is perhaps easy to dismiss the claim by Steven Newcomb that the Dutch were guilty of having committed genocide in February 1643. The Dutch did not target all the Native Americans in New Netherland and Munsee survivors fiercely retaliated against the Dutch in the aftermath of the massacres. However, from the Munsee perspective, the Dutch repeatedly targeted Munsee communities in which every member was at risk of being killed by soldiers and armed settlers. After the massacres, the Munsees living in the vicinity of New Amsterdam had legitimate reason to fear that the Dutch were trying to physically eliminate them. The effective resistance of the Munsees should not distract from the repeated willingness of the Dutch to use mass-violence against their Indigenous neighbors. The asymmetry between Dutch and Munsee violence is also evident from the overall death-toll of Kieft’s War. Most historians conclude that approximately 1,600 Munsees lost their lives from 1643 to 1645. In contrast, only a few dozen settlers were killed by the Munsees.


Mark Meuwese is Professor of History at the University of Winnipeg. He is the author of ‘Brothers in Arms, Partners in Trade: Dutch-Indigenous Alliances in the Atlantic World, 1595-1674’ and ‘To the Shores of Chile: The Journal and History of the Brouwer Expedition to Valdivia in 1643’. Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for the other parts..

New Amsterdam: What’s in A Name? - by Jaap Jacobs

The small colonial town that the Dutch founded in North America was called New Amsterdam. We now know it as New York City. The story of how the name evolved has many twists and turns and is, in fact, a tale of war and peace.

New Amsterdam was the talk of the town in 1953, as New York City commemorated the 300th anniversary of its city charter. Pomp and circumstance were the order of the day and a special stamp was even issued. In addition, the Peter Minuit Plaza near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal was officially dedicated, and a Dutch royal, Prince Bernhard, arrived to give a speech at St Mark’s-in-the-Bowery. Musically, the icing on the cake was provided by the Canadian male quartet The Four Lads, who brought together New Amsterdam, Istanbul (Not Constantinople), and New York City in a song that became their first gold record. New Amsterdam only gets a cameo appearance:

“Even old New York was once New Amsterdam

Why they changed it I can’t say

People just liked it better that way”

But it still raises an important question: why was New Amsterdam renamed New York? And who preferred that name?

Detail of the Figurative Map (1614), with a triangular island labeled “Manhates”


The story of the city’s name has little to do with what those living there actually  wanted. Before there was a city, there was an island called Mana-hatta by the Native Americans. There are various etymologies of the name, ranging from ”hilly island” to “the place where we all got drunk.” The association with alcohol has its origin in the spirits provided by Europeans, which—like infectious diseases, devastating warfare, and land grabbing—was extremely harmful to the Native Americans. The name “Manahatta” featured on a Dutch map as early as 1614, but doubtlessly had been used by the Native Americans for a long time. The Dutch explorers and traders also applied the name to the island’s inhabitants, calling them the “Manatthans.”

In this case, the newcomers adopted a Native American name, but they often used names of their own for the geographic features they encountered (like Staten Island, Arthur Kill, Hellgate, Long Island, all Dutch names in origin, but subsequently anglicized). This speaks to what was going on in the seventeenth century: two distant European countries, the Dutch Republic and England, engaged in a rivalry that shaped the history as well the names of New Amsterdam/New York.

Fort Amsterdam at Cormantine, Ghana (by Jacob van Meurs, 1668)

After initial forays in the sixteenth century, the Dutch were the first Europeans to explore the waterways around Manhattan and set up trading relations with the Native Americans. The English had already established a small settlement in Virginia and invoked a royal English charter to claim the area where the Dutch conducted their activities. Diplomatic confrontations in Europe were the main impulse behind the Dutch establishing a permanent presence there. This included a small colony on what is now called Governors Island. Within a short time, the focus of the Dutch colonization effort became fixed across the water on the southern tip of Manhattan, where the Dutch West India Company (WIC) established a fort. The branch of the WIC in charge of this minor settlement was based in Amsterdam and, thus, the fort was called Fort Amsterdam. There was nothing unique about the name, as the Dutch established any number of forts and settlements named after Amsterdam in the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and in Asia.

Fort Amsterdam

Unlike most fortifications named after Amsterdam, Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan developed into a civil and administrative center of some importance. Thus, many of the documents drawn up in the offices in the fort were dated and signed at “Fort Amsterdam in New Netherland.” But the existence of a mere fort was not enough. In order to boost its claim, the West India Company also dispatched a group of Walloon settlers to provide “boots on the ground.” Quickly, a small village sprang up around the fort. The village developed into a small town, which in 1653 acquired its own court of justice and city rights. And the magistrates of the city signed their official documents in their Stadthuys or City Hall at “Amsterdam in New Netherland.” The appellation “New Amsterdam” was only occasionally used, however, mostly in informal writings as shorthand for the longer name. Of course, both components of the name were equally significant in the view of the New Amsterdammers. ‘Old’ Amsterdam in Europe had not just supplied the name, it served as a model and was explicitly emulated in economic, administrative, legal, and religious matters.

And yet, the city was ‘new’, in the same way that New Netherland was new. According to Adriaen van der Donck, who published an extensive description of the colony with the aim of boosting the colonization effort, New Netherland was fertile and situated in a moderate climate, possessing good opportunities for trade, harbors, waters, fisheries, weather, and wind and many other worthy appurtenances corresponding with the Netherlands, or in truth and more accurately exceeding the same. So it is for good reasons named New Netherland, being as much as to say, another or a newfound Netherland.

That is pretty much what all European colonizers did, from New Spain and New France to Newfoundland. They divided up the “New World” and named it after their European homelands. This included of course England and New England. The English still did not acknowledge the Dutch claim to New Netherland, however, nor did the colonists in New England, who cast envious eyes westward, to the fertile soil of Long Island and the flood plains along the North River, which they preferred to call “Hudson’s River.” Rivalry between the English and the Dutch continued on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and ultimately erupted into war in 1652. This furnished some of the New England colonies, in particular New Haven and Connecticut, with an opportunity they jumped at with an eagerness bordering on aggression. Two New England emissaries obtained permission as well as ships from the English government to launch an attack on New Amsterdam. Thus armed with both the authority and the military power that had been lacking previously, they sailed for Boston.

Manuscript of Remonstrance of New Netherland, submitted to the States General by Adriaen van der Donck.

The news of their arrival quickly made it to New Amsterdam, where the authorities hastily started to repair the fort and build a perimeter defense, consisting of “an upright stockade and a small breastwork,” at the north edge of the town. The resulting ditch and fence were later dubbed “Wall Street.” But its worth was never put to the test. Just before the English ships were due to set sail from Boston, news arrived of a peace settlement in Europe. New Amsterdam had been saved by the bell. at least for now.

A royal gift

Some of the New England colonies were disappointed by this turn of events, but they did not shelve their ambitions. Encroachments into New Netherland continued but were mostly thwarted by the Dutch colonial authorities. Meanwhile, George Downing, the English ambassador in The Hague, continued his diplomatic attacks on the West India Company, arguing that he knew of no country by the name of New Netherland, except on the map. By 1660, the chances of the New England colonists were boosted when Charles II finally ascended to the throne and the monarchy was restored. Despite having enjoyed the hospitality of the Dutch during his years in exile, he was receptive to proposals from New England for a renewed attempt on the Dutch colony. In early 1664, with tensions between the two countries at their height, the king granted a large swathe of North America to his brother, the Duke of York. A small fleet was quickly assembled and sailed across the Atlantic. After stopping at Boston to alert the militias of the New England colonies, the combined land and sea forces advanced on New Amsterdam. This time, nothing could save the city, as the attack took place in peacetime. Soon, Richard Nicolls was master of “Fort James in New Yorke upon the Isle of Manhatans.” The regime had changed and so had the place-names.

The news of the fall and renaming of New Amsterdam reached Amsterdam several weeks later. A few directors of the West India Company immediately travelled to The Hague to communicate the news to Johan de Witt, the Grand Pensionary of the Dutch Republic. When they met De Witt, he was in conversation with none other than the English ambassador, George Downing. The directors of the WIC handed De Witt a hastily scribbled note, to avoid alerting Downing to the news.

Note of the directors of the West India Company to Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt, informing him of the fall and renaming of New Amsterdam (1664)

Another war, another peace

Inevitably, a military attack in peacetime led to war. In the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch fared better than the English, who, leaving aside the Fire of London, suffered an ignominious defeat when the Dutch fleet sailed up the Medway River, raided the English naval base at Chatham, and returned triumphantly with the flagship Royal Charles in tow. Both sides were now eager for peace, which was swiftly concluded at Breda. To speed up the proceedings, the Dutch and English agreed to apply the uti possidetis principle, which meant each country would keep what it controlled when the war ended. Thus, England kept New York and the Dutch Republic retained Surinam. Other colonies were involved as well, so this was not a simple one-to-one swap, as it is sometimes presented.

The Peace of Breda left the Chatham insult to royal pride unavenged and Anglo-Dutch competition unresolved. It is hardly surprising then that a new war broke out only a few years later. This time, the Dutch Republic barely survived the combined onslaught of English and French forces. Yet two of its fleets joined forces and unexpectedly sailed into the New York Bay. The English were slow to surrender, upon which the Dutch commanders unleashed a force of six hundred “sea soldiers”, i.e. Dutch marines, who took the city in an amphibious assault. Again, the place-names changed: New York became New Orange and Fort Willem Hendrick replaced Fort James. Both redesignations referred to the new stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, Hendrick Willem of Orange. But Dutch control did not last long. Another peace treaty was agreed upon and this time the possessions each country had held before the war were required to be returned. New Orange thus became New York again. The Dutch inhabitants grumbled, but the English, especially the Duke of York, liked it better that way.

“New Amsterdam or now New York on the Island Man[hattan].” Johannes Vingboons, (ca. 1665)

So that is why old New York was once New Amsterdam and why the name was changed. It is not remarkable that one name replaced another several times. After all, there are many instances in history of this type of thing happening when a regime change occurs. In the case of New York it is unusual that the name remained unchanged subsequently, despite a regime change. After British troops left the city in 1783, at the end of the Revolutionary War, it would have made perfect sense to get rid of a name so closely connected to the British monarchy. But the Americans, now independent in their new nation, didn’t change the name. They liked it fine as it was.

About the author

Jaap Jacobs (PhD Leiden, 1999) is affiliated with the University of St Andrews. He is a historian of early American history, specifically on Dutch New York. He has taught at several universities in the Netherland, the United States and the United Kingdom. Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for the other parts.


Mayken’s World - By Nicole Maskiell

On December 28, 1662, a woman named Mayken van Angola pursued freedom in New Amsterdam. She did not stand alone. Two other women—Susanna and Lucretia—stood with her and together, they petitioned the colonial government for their freedom. It was granted with the caveat that they must clean the Director General Petrus Stuyvesant’s house once a week as a condition of that freedom.

Request of Mayken van Angola, Lucretia [Albiecke] van Angola and [Susanna] Tamboer (1662)

The compelling story of Mayken and her friends has featured in several accounts of New Netherland’s early life. Mayken herself was likely one of the first three enslaved black women to be brought to the Dutch colony, and her name is one of the first references we have to an enslaved person. Her first name—Mayken—connects her to the broader Dutch diaspora, and her last name Angola connects her story to West Central Africa. She was enslaved by Geoctrooieerde Westindische Compagnie (Dutch West India Company or WIC) for three decades of her life, a fate that links her story to generations of people pulled into the vortex of enslavement by the Dutch company’s branch located in Amsterdam.

We know that during her life in the colony of New Netherland and, in later years, English New York, she lived within the community of African and African descended people, was married to a free Black man named Domingo Angola, and stood as a baptismal witness alongside white Dutch settlers for an African descended child in the community. She is rightly considered an important and founding early American woman who fought for and won her full freedom.

Looking at the evidence

The decision to set Mayken and her friends free with the qualification that they continue to clean Petrus Stuyvesant’s house, and the strenuous nature of that requirement, is a crucial element of the story that connects their lives as working women in New Netherland with the experiences of other laborers in the Dutch Republic and across the Dutch empire. This blog will explore various ways of uncovering the reality of these women’s lives and what we can learn about their enduring impact.

The digital explosion that occurred in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought researchers, learners and scholars in the Netherlands and the United States virtually closer to share ideas, documents, and experiences in a joint effort to make the stories of enslaved, bonded and free African and Indigenous people a more central part of the Dutch American narrative. Now it is possible to imagine and explore the worlds of people like Mayken and her friends in new ways.

These stories take a good measure of detective work and require a bit of sleuthing: the documents offer us tantalizing hints but leave so much more unstated. They also require wrestling with uncomfortable and painful parts of the shared American Dutch past. Using different types of evidence, we will explore the daily working lives of Mayken, her friends and their connections to American Dutch relationship.


In some ways Mayken and her friends’ experiences were exceptional: they were married, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and able to sue for their freedom. But their lives also reflected the struggles of existence within a system of bondage and unfree labor. When Mayken approached the colonial government again, Susanna and Lucrecia had died. Precious little has been reconstructed of Susanna and Lucretia’s lives and experiences, but the loss of their companionship must have been a grievous blow. They may well have succumbed to smallpox which raged during the winter and spring of 1662 and 1663. Mayken requested to be freed from the obligation of cleaning the Director General’s house because it was a much too strenuous job for her, explaining that she was elderly and suffered from an old injury presumably the result of decades in bondage. What kind of work faced Mayken and her friends at the Stuyvesants’ house?

The documents do not clarify which house the three women were tasked with cleaning. The Stuyvesants resided in two main properties on Manhattan: a two-story bowery house, and a grander stone mansion owned by the West India Company, that was ultimately confiscated by the English along with all company property as part of the colony’s capitulation. Given their status as formerly enslaved by the company, Mayken, Susanna and Lucrecia likely toiled at the WIC-owned property that was renamed Whitehall by the English. The Stuyvesant family remained in the bowery house for a century before later descendants built other properties on Manhattan, one of which was a house destroyed during a fire in New York city along with most of the Stuyvesant family papers.

A 19th-century rendering of Stuyvesant’s house

Working for Stuyvesant

The management of the household would have been the primary responsibility of Judith Stuyvesant, Petrus Stuyvesant’s wife, and she would have likely been the main person from the Stuyvesant family that Mayken, Susanna and Lucretia interacted with daily. Judith had been born in Breda, married Petrus in 1645, and arrived in New Netherland with him in 1647. Both Stuyvesant houses would have been part of the daily geography of enslaved, bonded, and free Black residents of New Amsterdam. The bowery house was surrounded by a multiethnic village of people, including free Black people, who had been settled there at the conclusion of a war with the Esopus (a local Lenape group) in 1659 and 1660. It was also a site of enslavement. When the West India Company sold the bowery to Petrus in 1651 it came with the unfree labor of two enslaved Black boys. Enslaved laborers would be a permanent feature of Petrus, Judith and their two sons Balthazar Lazarus and Nicolaes Willem’s lives.

In the Dutch Republic wealthy and middling white women were expected to manage a household with varying degrees of servant labor. As Diane Wolfthal has demonstrated in her research featuring Dutch golden age dollhouses and paintings of domestic scenes, this theory of rule included clothing intended to make rank clear, as well as secret passages and storage designed to mask the labor within households. Such assignments would increasingly become linked to non-white labor in the Americas, a process underway but not fully complete as Judith began to manage her American households. Enslaved and bonded laborers, like Mayken and her friends, would work alongside European and Indigenous people, but be used as domestics, filling the lowest ranks of the household hierarchy. The work that they were required to perform was arduous. Special tools were necessary to clean windows, sweep stoops and other dirty jobs. It was physical work that required hoisting, pulling, carrying, scrubbing, laundering, and bending.

Free from slavery

Judith Stuyvesant’s will dated 29 January 1678/9 and proved 15 March 1686 includes items Mayken, Susanna and Lucretia could have been tasked with cleaning, including furniture and dishes—“China Earthen Ware,” “Three great potts” and a “black Cabbinett of Ebbon wood with the foot or frame belonging to it,” as well as “linen,” and Judith’s “wearing apparrell of Silk and wooleen.” Ebony cabinets were maintained by rubbing waxes and oils into the wood. During the seventeenth century, linens were laundered by hand in waterways. Deep cleaning required urine, lye, boiling water, paddles or washboards—a taxing process that affected the health of working women.

Herman Doomer Ebony Cabinet,1640-50

Mayken’s plea, which rested on her years of service and the strenuous nature of the labor, convinced the colonial government and she was granted her full freedom. Scholars have also argued that her place in the community and physical location was a crucial part of her case’s favorable outcome. As Susanah Shaw Romney and Andrea Mosterman uncovered, Mayken and her friends were part of a community of Black people that was settled near the Stuyvesant’s bowery. That community was part of a larger multiracial village that surrounded the bowery. This village and its mixed community would remain a feature of the area well into the eighteenth century; its inhabitants would pass down the names of original settlers like Mayken.

African woman, Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1630. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Stuyvesants’ bowery

The chapel erected on Stuyvesants’ bowery became an important landmark for this community. In the decades following the fall of the Dutch colony, village couples would marry and baptize their children on the bowery. In 1672, two Black couples—Anthonij Backers and Maijken Arta, and Willem Anthonissen and Margariet Pieters—were married on the bowery. Their names reflected community memory and histories entangled with Dutch slaveholding families. Anthonissen and Pieters were free Black families who had roots in the earliest days of New Netherland. Mayken Arta’s husband Anthony had the family name Backers, which was most likely a connection to Jacobus Backer, Petrus Stuyvesant’s brother-in-law who held several enslaved people.

Though Mayken van Angola and other free Black people lived out their days in the bowery community, the village and the colony remained served by the forced labor of enslaved people. In later generations when the bowery was rented out, it was sold along with the labor of two enslaved men named John and Samson. In the middle of the eighteenth century, eight enslaved people—Gansey, Dick, Syphax, Primus, Scipio, Peg, Mary and Lucy—who lived and toiled there were passed down by Gerardus Stuyvesant to his sons Petrus and Nicolas. Three of them, Syphax, Primus and Scipio would run away only to be pursued in the local papers by Petrus Stuyvesant, the former Dutch leader’s great-grandson.

Advertisement, The New-York Gazette, October 11, 1777.

The stories and experiences African descended people, like Mayken, and so many others, who lived and labored in the New Netherland and across the Dutch empire, capture several central themes that have marked Dutch American history and the legacy of that relationship: friendship, bondage and freedom. Efforts to excavate and thoughtfully tell their stories continues to link scholars, researchers, and learners on both sides of the Atlantic.


Nicole Maskiell is a historian, and scholar of slavery in Dutch and Anglo Dutch America. She received her PhD from Cornell University in 2013 and is currently an Assistant Professor of History, Director of Public History, and McClausland Faculty Fellow at the University of South Carolina. Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States. Click here for part 1.

Empty Pedestals - By Brian Rose

Not long after I photographed Monument Avenue, the city announced that it was taking down all of the Confederate memorials, and in November of 2020 I returned to Monument Avenue to photograph the empty pedestals.

The Jefferson Davis pavilion remained intact, but Vindicatrix was no longer perched on her slender column, Maury and his globe were gone, Stonewall Jackson’s vacant plinth was splattered with paint like a Jackson Pollock, and the colorfully profane graffiti on J.E.B. Stuart’s pedestal was obscured with white paint. Robert E. Lee, however, stood tall, his removal awaiting a court decision, which would eventually come in 2021.

Stonewall Jackson pedestal (left), Jefferson Davis pedestal and pavilion (right)

The summer protests had subsided, the leaves were turning, and the empty pedestals carried a different message with no personages to mock, no heroes to denigrate, and no clear indication of what the future held here or elsewhere in the country.

J.E.B. Stuart pedestal

Donald Trump had lost the election, but remained unbowed atop his own defiled pedestal like Robert E. Lee. Trump was now the new hero of the Lost Cause, determined to carry on. But unlike Lee, he would not surrender at Appomattox.

In November, 2021, Virginia elected Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, as governor, and his first act upon taking office was to ban “inherently divisive concepts” regarding race and American history. The Confederate statues may have been vanquished, but the ghost of the Lost Cause still haunts Monument Avenue.

Robert E. Lee statue

This is the final part of this blog series. Click here for part 1-4.

Born in Virginia, Brian Rose moved to New York City in 1977 where he photographed the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and later participated in a survey of the Financial District, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Rose has since undertaken a number of long-term projects in Europe including documenting the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, the rebuilding of Berlin, and the urban landscape of Amsterdam. In response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Rose photographed Atlantic City, the scene of Trump’s bankrupt casinos. He published a blog about this project for the John Adams Institute, called Atlantic City, Forlorn. Click here for his book about Monument Avenue in Richmond. Rose’s images have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he has produced nine books. 

The “Patron Saint of New York” - by Jaap Jacobs

The bonds that connect the American and Dutch peoples have been commemorated in various ways and at various levels. Dutch-American Friendship Day is a well-established annual event at the governmental level. In New York City, the historical memory of Petrus Stuyvesant has recently become controversial, but in the twentieth century his image was iconic.

Two hundred and forty years ago, on 19 April 1782, the Dutch States General decided to recognize John Adams as the envoy of the United States of America. It was the culmination of a contentious political process in which the Dutch Republic’s constituent provinces (Friesland being the first) instructed their delegates to vote in favor of accepting Adams’s nomination. With Adams in place as America’s minister plenipotentiary, the Dutch Republic reciprocated by naming Pieter Johan van Berckel as its first ambassador. Among his entourage were two young Dutch noblemen, Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp and Carel de Vos van Steenwijk. After Van Berckel’s installation, Van Hogendorp and De Vos van Steenwijk toured the east coast of America, and turned their American sojourn into the New World equivalent of the European Grand Tour that formed an essential part of the education of elite young men. They were the first Dutch tourists to explore the newly founded United States of America.

Treaty of friendship and trade between the US and the Dutch Republic. Signed on signed on 8 Oct,1782.

Dutch-American Friendship Day

Two hundred years later, in 1982, President Ronald Reagan officially proclaimed 19 April Dutch-American Friendship Day. Two centuries of diplomatic relations between the two countries constituted “the United States’ longest unbroken, peaceful relationship with any foreign country.” Every year the American Embassy in The Hague, the Dutch Embassy in Washington, and their respective Consulates in many other cities organize events to commemorate the Dutch-American friendship. These include civic receptions and the distribution of Dutch flowers. Annual events of this nature form part of the memory connecting us to the past, and add to the rich tapestry that represents and makes concrete a transcendent feeling of kinship shared by the Dutch and the American peoples.

Introduction of Pieter Johan van Berckel as the 1st Dutch ambassador to the US (31 Oct, 1783)

A Friendship Day is but one of many ways that keeps alive the shared history of the two countries. In addition, there are any number of annual events, statues, plaques and the like, all of which form part of Dutch-American historical memory. Commemorations are created intentionally, of course, and are based on specific motives and with particular aims in mind. These things evolve over time and this process is the topic of the present blog, which will focus on the historical memory of Petrus Stuyvesant in New York City, as embodied by a bust, an annual ball, and a statue. Stuyvesant, whose first name is usually anglicized as Peter, was Director General of New Netherland, the Dutch colony of which New Amsterdam, now New York City, was the capital. There is no doubt that he is an important figure in the early history of New York, not least because he was in charge for seventeen years. Over time, however, he came to represent much more. So much more, in fact, that in 1915 he was commemorated through the creation of a bust housed at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in New York.

The Stuyvesant Bust

“Stuyvesant Kin Unveil Memorial,” the headline in the New York Tribune ran. “Bust Tribute Faces Altar at Spot Where Stern Warrior Knelt.” Other New York newspapers described the event in a similar vein. The New York Sun stated that: “All the speakers praised the character of the Dutch patriot and most of them declared that his sturdy patriotism had had a large part in the making of political New York, its government and its people.” Chevalier Van Rappard, the envoy representing the Dutch government, extolled Stuyvesant as “the founder of the principles of freedom, of tolerance and of appreciation of other man’s opinions, which at the actual moment still are the base of the American Constitution” and went on to declare him “the patron saint of New York.” General Leonard Wood, accepting the statue on behalf of the American people, insisted that “the spirit of Gov. Stuyvesant is the spirit of America.” The New York Times informed its readers that Stuyvesant’s effigy was a gift from Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government as a “token of goodwill.” In his acceptance speech on behalf of the Episcopal Church, New York’s Bishop David Hummell Greer emphasized Stuyvesant’s lasting effect on his community and said of the bust: “We shall always esteem it as a proof of affection between the two countries.”

Staunch seventeenth-century Calvinist that Stuyvesant was, he would have dismissed the patron saint epithet as “popish idolatry.” The anachronistic admiration he received on 5 December 1915 was not founded on nuanced or informed research. The Stuyvesant that was honored was a caricature, quite different from Washington Irving’s satirical image, but equally anachronistic. The lack of detail in the speeches underlines how little was actually known of the man behind the bronze bust. Instead, the speakers lionized an idealized image of boisterous, jingoistic leadership that was in vogue in the United States at the time, embodied by President Theodore Roosevelt’s style of government. While it made sense for a bust to be placed at St Mark’s, where Stuyvesant is buried, the question does arise as to why Stuyvesant was chosen at all. Where exactly did the idea to transform him into the symbol of Dutch-American friendship originate?

Bust of Stuyvesant

That is, of course, a long story, one that harkens back to the publication of Irving’s marvelous depiction of Dutch New York in 1809, in which “Stubborn Stuyvesant” featured prominently. A century later, the idea of presenting a Stuyvesant bust to New York City was conceived by Leonard C. Van Noppen, who at that time was the Queen Wilhelmina Lecturer in Dutch Literature and History at Columbia University. Inspired by the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909, he had noted that there was no statue or bust of Stuyvesant in New York City and took up the cause. In June 1914 Van Noppen and Van Rappard persuaded the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs to put his weight behind it and things then began to move quickly. Within weeks government funds were made available and Toon Dupuis was selected to be the sculptor. The intended date for the unveiling of the bust was 13 October 1914, incorrectly thought to be Stuyvesant’s birthday. The First World War broke out, however, and plans ground to a halt. Funds for the Queen Wilhelmina Lectureship were now in danger of being taken away, which made Van Noppen all the more eager to push forward. Unfortunately, the unveiling of the bust and the concomitant media attention in December 1915 did not yield the desired financial result for Van Noppen, as the Lectureship was put on ice. It was resuscitated after the war and, like Stuyvesant’s bust, remains an important consequence of Dutch-American cultural relations.

Stuyvesant Square

In the 1930s, another Stuyvesant memorial was erected, only a few blocks north of St Mark’s. Again, there is a bit of history to this. In 1836, Peter Gerard Stuyvesant, a prominent New Yorker and descendant of Petrus, had transferred a parcel of land to the city, which was eventually turned into a park. The proposed name was Holland Square, but it was ultimately named after the donor of the land instead. By the 1930s the park needed an overhaul. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation wanted to adorn Stuyvesant Square with a memorial of some sort and brought the matter to the attention of the Netherland-America Foundation which proposed the erection of a statue of Petrus Stuyvesant. In a memo, Harold de Wolf Fuller, the NAF’s executive director, asserted that a statue would be highly appropriate, as there was no other such memorial anywhere in the city. While the Parks Department would provide money for the pedestal, the NAF would supply funds for the statue.

The next step was to select a sculptor. In 1936, the Newark Ledger ran an article with the headline: “Mrs. Whitney to Fix Leg for Stuyvesant.” Another newspaper quipped: “Stuyvesant’s Peg Leg Puzzle to Sculptress.” The choice for a statue rather than a bust resulted in the question of whether Stuyvesant had lost his right leg or his left. The Netherland-America Foundation cautiously suggested that it might perhaps be the right leg, pointing to a Stuyvesant statue in the baptistery donated by three Stuyvesant siblings in 1924 to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Once the matter was resolved—it was indeed the right leg after all—the project came to fruition. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney researched Dutch clothing of the seventeenth century and her subsequent design received praise all around. The Stuyvesant statue was first exhibited at the Netherlands pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. At a luncheon in her honor, Gertrude Whitney called the statue “the embodiment of patriotism and civic pride”, which she considered of particular importance at that juncture in time, with war looming. Others praised Stuyvesant’s courage and steadfastness. Adriaan Barnouw, the Queen Wilhelmina Professor at Columbia University, declared that Stuyvesant had built the city into one of the finest in the New World: “It was a cosmopolitan town as early as 1664.”

Statue of Stuyvesant in New York

Unfortunately, the dedication of the statue in Stuyvesant Square turned out to be a dreary affair. June 4, 1941 was a rainy day in New York. In fact, the rain was so torrential that the speeches had to be moved indoors to St George’s Episcopal Church, located on the west side of Stuyvesant Park. Accepting the statue on behalf of the city, Newbold Morris, President of the New York City Council, praised the numerous attributes that New Yorkers had inherited from their Dutch ancestors. Thomas J. Watson, IBM-founder and chair of the board of directors of the Netherland-America Foundation, cited Stuyvesant’s success as a leader, for example. The statue was unveiled by Augustus Van Horne Stuyvesant Jr, a descendant of Petrus, and the last person to be buried in the Stuyvesant family vault under St-Mark’s thirteen years later. After the burial, the vault was sealed off and became inaccessible. Nevertheless it is said that the old Director General sometimes comes out at night to haunt his old stomping grounds.

A Multi-Layered Past

Thus the historical Stuyvesant became a canvas onto which the ideals of the 1910s and 1930s were projected. Today the name of the Stuyvesant family is no longer regarded as just “proof of affection between the two countries.” Another, darker, dimension has been added. Petrus Stuyvesant was an enslaver, like many others in New Amsterdam, and held approximately 15 to 25 Africans in bondage. The Director General’s part in the Dutch slave trade that laid the foundation for New York’s black community can no longer be overlooked, as it was in 1915 and 1941. As a consequence, the Netherland-America Foundation, instrumental in erecting the statue in Stuyvesant Square, quickly changed the name of its annual fundraiser, the elegant black-tie Peter Stuyvesant Ball, to the rather anodyne “NAF Ball.” Well-intentioned as the change undoubtedly was, the new name does nothing to acknowledge the Dutch role in the history of New York. In that respect, “The New Amsterdam Ball” would have served the NAF better.

It is easier to rename an annual event than it is to remove a material reminder of the past, however. By removing a specific memorial the memory of those who choose to commemorate that particular person or event is also erased. The City is a multi-layered palimpsest on which vestiges of the past have been inscribed by successive generations of New Yorkers who traversed the island of Manhattan and beyond. Would it not be better if it remained so as a reminder to today’s New Yorkers of their predecessors, people who can still receive admiration for their achievements as well as censure for their moral failings? If we, rightly, want to promote a balanced and inclusive sense of history, then erecting a new memorial would be appropriate. It would add to the rich history of New York City to commemorate a young African woman, Mayken van Angola, brought to Manhattan by the Dutch West India Company in 1627, who remained on the island until her death over six decades later. Mayken’s life will be the topic of the next installment of this series of blogs.


About the author

Jaap Jacobs (PhD Leiden, 1999) is affiliated with the University of St Andrews. He is a historian of early American history, specifically on Dutch New York. He has taught at several universities in the Netherland, the United States and the United Kingdom. Last year The Dutch National Archives commissioned historian Jaap Jacobs to produce a series of 24 blogposts, 12 written by himself and 12 by co-authors, on the 400 year relationship between the Netherlands and the United States.

Rumors of War - By Brian Rose

A few nights before I arrived in Richmond, protesters set fire to the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), just a few blocks off Monument Avenue.

United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters

No other organization was more responsible for the placement of Confederate monuments in Richmond and elsewhere in the south than the UDC. Women were the leaders of the Lost Cause, motivated perhaps, by a desire to give meaning to their sacrifices – their men killed on the battlefield or humiliated in defeat – a way of life left smoldering by the predations of the hated Yankees.

They raised money for war veterans and promoted the basic tenets of the Lost Cause – that the war was about state’s rights, not the institution of slavery, and that the enslaved were loyal to their masters who in most cases treated them well. Underlying it all were vague and sentimental notions of southern honor and gentility. And to the UDC, no figure in all history was more honorable than the saintly Robert E. Lee.

Rumors of War statue and United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters

Yellow police tape, several security guards, and a historic Confederate cannon protected the entrance to the UDC headquarters. The white mausoleum-like building was smudged with smoke and tagged with hastily scrawled epithets.

Rumors of War

Directly next door in front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, stood the equestrian statue ‘Rumors of War’ by Kehinde Wiley, an African American artist most known for painting the official portrait of former president Barak Obama. Wiley’s bronze sculpture was based on the J.E.B. Stuart statue a mile away at the eastern end of Monument Avenue. But instead of a haughty general gazing into the distance, a young contemporary Black man sits astride a rearing horse with an air of insouciance.

Wiley said at the unveiling: “I saw some extraordinary sculpture. People took a lot of time to make something powerful. Beautiful. Elegant. Menacing,” he said. “We can do better.”

Now, he said, is a time to appropriate the images of the past and update them for a new era. “There’s something moving in the culture. There something changing in the winds,” he said. “I’m tired of the dysfunction; I’m tired of the strife.”

Rumors of War (left); J.E.B. Stuart statue (right)

Click here for the other parts of this blog series.

Born in Virginia, Brian Rose moved to New York City in 1977 where he photographed the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and later participated in a survey of the Financial District, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Rose has since undertaken a number of long-term projects in Europe including documenting the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, the rebuilding of Berlin, and the urban landscape of Amsterdam. In response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Rose photographed Atlantic City, the scene of Trump’s bankrupt casinos. He published a blog about this project for the John Adams Institute, called Atlantic City, Forlorn. Click here for his book about Monument Avenue in Richmond. Rose’s images have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he has produced nine books.

Pathfinder of the Seas and a Tennis Champion - By Brian Rose

The most prominent statues along Monument Avenue depicted Confederate generals on horseback, heroic battlefield leaders, perched on pedestals high above the heads of onlookers. An exception was the memorial to Matthew Fontaine Maury, a naval officer, who was nicknamed Pathfinder of the Seas. He charted the world’s oceans, and his profile of the Atlantic seabed helped prove the feasibility of laying the first transatlantic telegraph cable. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Maury chose to lend his skills to the Confederate navy, and served in England as a representative of the Confederacy. On Monument Avenue he sat on a chair with the globe above his head surrounded by highly animated sculptural elements representing his roles as oceanographer and meteorologist.

Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument

Maury’s memorial was left mostly untouched by the protesters who marched up and down Monument Avenue during the summer of 2020 probably because they had little understanding of who he was and what he represented. Unfortunately, for Maury, his legacy was forever tarnished by his allegiance to the Confederacy.

Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument

While the focus on the Monument Avenue statuary reached a climax that summer, the controversy surrounding these increasingly problematic objects was hardly new. In fact, from the beginning they were considered provocations by many in the north, and in the prominent Black newspaper “The Richmond Planet,” editor John Mitchell, Jr. wrote: “This glorification of States Rights Doctrine – the right of secession, and the honoring of men who represented that cause…will ultimately result in handing down to generations unborn a legacy of treason and blood…it serves to reopen the wound of war.”

In the 1990s, in an attempt to bring balance to Monument Avenue, the city erected a statue in honor of Arthur Ashe, the Black tennis champion and native son of Richmond, who had tragically died of AIDS. Although the memorial was originally intended for a formerly Whites only recreational park – one that Ashe was not allowed to play in – Douglas Wilder, the first African American governor of Virginia, insisted on it being located on Monument Avenue. After much debate, with both Whites and Blacks expressing reservations about the placement of Ashe in juxtaposition to the heroes of the Confederacy, the city council voted to go forward with the proposal.

Arthur Ashe statue

Coming across the Ashe memorial, I was immediately struck by the awkwardness of the whole arrangement. Along this stretch of Monument Avenue, there was little of the urban architectural grandeur of the boulevard closer to downtown. And the sculpture itself was diminutive, even cartoonish. Ashe is depicted holding books and a tennis racket in the air as children reach up to him – as if pleading for mercy. Or so it appears. The memorial meant to honor this Richmond hero fell sadly short in its execution. While down the street, the masterfully rendered monuments to insurrection and treason continued to hold sway.

Arthur Ashe statue

Click here for the other parts of this blog series.

Born in Virginia, Brian Rose moved to New York City in 1977 where he photographed the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and later participated in a survey of the Financial District, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Rose has since undertaken a number of long-term projects in Europe including documenting the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, the rebuilding of Berlin, and the urban landscape of Amsterdam. In response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Rose photographed Atlantic City, the scene of Trump’s bankrupt casinos. He published a blog about this project for the John Adams Institute, called Atlantic City, Forlorn. Click here for his book about Monument Avenue in Richmond. Rose’s images have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he has produced nine books.

Goddess of Vindication - By Brian Rose

Monument Avenue was built as an extension of the city of Richmond in the late 19th century, and like many such projects, was at heart a real estate venture. But it was also an expression of the city beautiful movement inspired by European architecture, and echoed similar planning schemes like Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Grand Army Plaza in New York. The concept of grand urban gestures has always been controversial, and as a photographer, I am particularly aware of the work of Charles Marville who documented the destruction of ancient Paris neighborhoods to make way for Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s boulevards and parks.

Jefferson Davis pavilion

Monument Avenue, however, did not slash through existing neighborhoods. It was a new spoke of the expanding city of Richmond, meant for upper class whites, and the perfect location for the Confederate memorials placed at intervals along its course. In northern cities, likewise, civic leaders erected monuments to Union generals, and in some cases, the same artists were employed. The now infamous Charlottesville Robert E. Lee sculpture was modeled by Henry Shrady, a New Yorker, who was also awarded the commission for the Ulysses S. Grant memorial in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., the nation’s most prominent monument to the preservation of the Union.

Detail Jefferson Davis pavilion

The critical difference, of course, was that Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and the other Confederate luminaries were on the losing side. Typically, heroic statues in town squares are erected for victorious leaders, not the defeated leaders of a failed insurrection. But that is the perverse logic of the Lost Cause. That men like Lee were elevated in defeat. That the south went down with honor and dignity fighting for what they believed was right. Over several decades, statues to the south’s heroes went up by the dozens in front of courthouses and in public squares throughout the former Confederate states.

Detail Jefferson Davis pavilion

For me, all of this cognitive dissonance reaches its apotheosis in the Jefferson Davis memorial at the corner of Davis Avenue and Monument. A semi-circular colonnade surrounds a statue of Jefferson Davis standing, arm outstretched, beneath a fluted column topped with a female figure named Vindicatrix, goddess of vindication. On either side of him are plaques praising the bravery and sacrifice of the army and navy of the South: “Glory ineffable these, around their dear land wrapping, wrapt around themselves the purple mantle of death.”

Jefferson Davis had already been pulled down by protesters by the time I reached Richmond, and his pavilion was covered with graffiti, though not as florid as the Lee pedestal. A steady stream of visitors walked by, as they did the statue of Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, three blocks west. Jackson’s pedestal was splattered with paint almost obscuring the words: Born 1824 – Killed at Chancellorsville 1863. To be accurate, Jackson was wounded by friendly fire, and died some days later in a field hospital some distance away. But such is the power of the mythology of the Lost Cause. Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, and no sympathizer of the Confederacy wrote a poem in Jackson’s memory.

Statue Stonewall Jackson

Mortally Wounded at Chancellorsville

The Man who fiercest charged in fight,
Whose sword and prayer were long –
Even him who stoutly stood for Wrong,
How can we praise? Yet coming days
Shall not forget him with this song.

Dead is the Man whose Cause is dead,
Vainly he died and set his seal –
Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he deemed was due,
True as John Brown or steel.

Relentlessly he routed us;
But we relent, for he is low –
Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian’s bier,
Because no wreath we owe.

Detail Stonewall Jackson statue

It’s interesting to see in Melville’s poem the terrorist/abolitionist John Brown placed opposite Stonewall Jackson, the battlefield tactician and defender of slavery. Such complexity is, perhaps, more than I can handle in a series of pictures of statues. But what I did understand on the ground with my camera in Richmond, was that I needed to photograph these imposing monuments with sufficient gravitas, recognizing that their power was connected to their presence as art works and larger-than-life components of the urban landscape.

Click here for part 1 of this blog series.


Born in Virginia, Brian Rose moved to New York City in 1977 where he photographed the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and later participated in a survey of the Financial District, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Rose has since undertaken a number of long-term projects in Europe including documenting the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, the rebuilding of Berlin, and the urban landscape of Amsterdam. In response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Rose photographed Atlantic City, the scene of Trump’s bankrupt casinos. He published a blog about this project for the John Adams Institute, called Atlantic City, Forlorn. Click here for his book about Monument Avenue in Richmond. Rose’s images have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he has produced nine books.

Grand Boulevard of the Lost Cause - By Brian Rose

The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic crested in New York in the spring of 2020 when the eerie calm of the lockdown was broken by the news of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Protesters flooded into the streets across the country demanding justice under the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” I followed the news coming out of my home state of Virginia, a place I had left behind – or perhaps, fled from – seeking my fortune in New York City. There, demonstrations focused on Monument Avenue in Richmond with its imposing statues of Confederate generals. On June 16th, the statue of Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy, was toppled by protesters. A few days later, I drove down to Richmond to document the last days of the grand boulevard of the Lost Cause.

Pedestal Robert E. Lee statue

The urgency I felt was, at least to some degree, spurred by recent research I had done on my family history, which had always been largely a mystery to me. A black hole, really. My grandparents on my father’s side died young, and my mother ran away at 16 from an abusive home. So, I never knew any relatives on her side of the family. What I discovered was that my Virginia roots ran all the way back to Jamestown on both sides of the family, and that my ancestors were among the gentry who settled up and down the James River between Hampton Roads and Richmond. We were a modest middle class family with no pretensions to a glorious past, but it turns out, one of my 10th great grandfathers was George Yeardley, royal governor of the Virginia colony in 1618. Yeardley, who presided over the first representative body in the “new world” was one of the fathers of American democracy, but he was also one of the first slaveholders in Virginia. In fact, a number of the first Africans to arrive on a Dutch ship at Point Comfort in 1619, were enslaved on Yeardley’s plantation on the James River.

Pedestal J.E.B Stuart statue

Driving into Richmond, I found the city streets abandoned with many storefronts along Broad Street boarded up to deter looters. There were plenty of people, however, on Monument Avenue especially in the grassy circle surrounding the massive Robert E. Lee statue, its pedestal now covered in a kaleidoscope of graffiti. Down the street, the sloping base of the J.E.B. Stuart statue was being used as a skateboard ramp. Although, the initial defacing of the monuments may have been an expression of rage and indignation, the atmosphere, by the time I arrived, was festive, even jubilant. Robert E. Lee sat steely-eyed as always atop Traveler, his trusty steed – we even remember his horse’s name – but now drenched in a rainbow of colors surrounded by a multi-racial crowd.

J.E.B. Stuart statue

It was, indeed, a purposeful and theatrical desecration of the sainted Lee and the myth of the Lost Cause – that was exactly the point – and in the process of taking possession of the statue, the power of this symbol of white supremacy was diminished, its meaning transformed.

Instinctively, I understood that this was a profound moment, though transient, and that it was important that it be preserved with my camera.

Robert E. Lee statue


Born in Virginia, Brian Rose moved to New York City in 1977 where he photographed the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and later participated in a survey of the Financial District, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Rose has since undertaken a number of long-term projects in Europe including documenting the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, the rebuilding of Berlin, and the urban landscape of Amsterdam. In response to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Rose photographed Atlantic City, the scene of Trump’s bankrupt casinos. He published a blog about this project for the John Adams Institute, called Atlantic City, Forlorn. Click here for his book about Monument Avenue in Richmond. Rose’s images have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he has produced nine books.

Loose Ends - By Jan Banning

Christina’s life sentence is based on the argument that if she had taken Amber to the hospital in time, her daughter would not have died. Exactly when she should have called in this timely medical attention was never stated. However, to justify the conviction, Amber would have to have incurred the fatal injuries before Christina left for work on Tuesday April 14, 1992. After all: no one is denying that Christina took Amber to the hospital immediately upon returning home that day.

Imagining the waiting room of the medical center where Christina and David were told that Amber had passed away

The District Attorney told the media that he didn’t know who struck the fatal blows, because ‘they blamed each other’. One of the detectives who worked on the case said afterwards: ‘Did I know who struck the fatal blow? No. I looked at her as more guilty because she was her mother.’ And: ‘Personally, I think if the jury hadn’t known that she pled guilty to the homicide, they would have found David guilty.’

A devastating consequence of the kind of plea bargain Christina accepted is that it makes an appeal or reopening of the case – and therefore the possibility of the verdict being overturned – all but impossible. As one lawyer put it to Christina: ‘It doesn’t matter if you were on the moon when Amber died and NASA had pictures documenting it. You signed the plea and gave up your right to prove your innocence.’

Contrary to what we see in films and on TV, 95 percent of all criminal cases in America – just like Christina’s – don’t end up in front of a jury, but with a plea bargain: a deal, with a lesser punishment being offered in exchange for a guilty plea. Indigent defendants in particular, with a court-appointed, badly paid and usually sub-standard or overburdened pro bono lawyer, often give up their right to a trial – even if they are innocent.

Prosecutors are also under great pressure to make plea bargains. The United States incarcerates the highest percentage of its population of any country in the world, and if every case were to go to trial the system would collapse under the cost.

Christina was sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. In theory, there is therefore a chance she could get out. The decision on this is taken by the five members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Owing to the overheated legal system, however, they are immensely overworked: each member has on average just a few minutes to make a decision on the fate of a prisoner.

On December 22, 2021, Christina’s parole was rejected for the ninth time. The argument was the same as on earlier occasions: ‘insufficient amount of time served to date given the nature and circumstances of your offense(s).’ On average, people convicted of murder now serve 29 years before parole. Christina, now 52, has been incarcerated for 30 years.

David was released on November 16, 2011. He is now married, and again living in Carrollton.

Christina and Amber in the park (1990) in Columbus, Ohio

This is the final part of ‘The Verdict: The Christina Boyer Case’. Click here for the complete series.

Artist-photographer Jan Banning has had more than 80 solo exhibitions in more than twenty countries, on four continents. His work is included in many public and corporate collections including those of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, the Forward Thinking Museum in New York City, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. His photographs have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines worldwide, including The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek. His book ‘The Verdict’ is available in both Dutch and English. Click here for more information about the upcoming exhibtion in Rotterdam. There is also a podcast, called ‘Jan & Christina’.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt? - By Jan Banning

Three months after Christina’s sentencing, David’s trial started. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy was questioned intensively on the injuries of Amber’s pancreas. He described them as ‘a couple of very, very small injuries to the pancreas’, which ‘probably would have healed themselves without medical intervention.’ ‘Serious disfigurement’, which had just got Christina twenty years on top of her life sentence, is defined in law as something that causes lasting damage. But the pathologist stated: ‘I wouldn’t use that terminology.’

He also stated that the main cause of death was ‘the blunt force trauma she received on her head.’ The question of when these wounds had been caused was therefore of critical importance. On the witness stand, the pathologist was asked whether these injuries could have been caused earlier on the fatal day, before Christina left the trailer. His answer was that although this was theoretically possible, ‘It doesn’t fit the time frame very well.’

Indictment of Christina Boyer: felony murder, murder, cruelty to children, aggravated battery

David testified that after Christina’s departure, Amber had eaten and played for a few hours before he put her to bed around 3:30 or 4 pm. The pathologist was asked: ‘Would you expect a child who has sustained these type of injuries to have been playing let’s say two hours beforehand?’ The pathologist answered: ‘It’s hard to conceive that there would be any significant period of time following such an injury that the child seems perfectly fine and then later the symptoms kick in.’

After three hours of deliberation, the jury returned with its verdict. David was acquitted of all charges except that of cruelty to children for failing to seek medical assistance. For that, the judge sentenced him to a term of twenty years imprisonment. This charge – that he had withheld medical assistance from Amber – was little different from what in Christina’s case had led to her conviction for murder and receiving a life sentence.

In 2018 and 2019, I took the testimonies to Dutch medical specialists such as neurosurgeon Guus Beute and forensic pathologist Frank van de Goot, and the latter’s Belgian colleague Werner Jacobs. All three of them confirm, more strongly even, what Dr. Dunton said at David’s trial and are of the opinion that she could not have lived long after sustaining the fatal damage to her head. Van de Goot speaks of a fatal explosion of violence shortly before Amber’s death, and Jacobs says that the clinical symptoms of the head injury are serious, i.e. deadly, and that they would follow ‘the trauma almost immediately, within minutes to at most a few hours’. So given David’s own testimony that Amber had been eating and playing as if nothing had happened for several hours after Christina’s departure, the fatal incident must have taken place during Christina’s absence.

Carroll County Jail, Jack T. Bell Detention Center. Sheriff Jack Bell was responsible for Christina’s arrest.

Click here for the first three episodes of this blog series.

Artist-photographer Jan Banning has had more than 80 solo exhibitions in more than twenty countries, on four continents. His work is included in many public and corporate collections including those of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, the Forward Thinking Museum in New York City, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. His photographs have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines worldwide, including The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek. His book ‘The Verdict’ is available in both Dutch and English. Click here for more information about the upcoming exhibtion in Rotterdam. There is also a podcast, called ‘Jan & Christina’.

Plea Bargain - By Jan Banning

Amber’s death was big news in Carroll County. It continued to be the subject of animated discussion among the readers of the local Times Georgian for many weeks. Readers – especially female readers – spoke of the unjustifiable death of Amber Boyer (sic) who was allegedly beaten ‘beyond recognition’ by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. On April 21, a Times Georgian editorial stated that ‘her beatings are believed to have been frequent’.

The police now set out to prove that Christina had been a regular child abuser. They collected fourty-three testimonies from Ohio and Georgia that cast a dark shadow over Christina’s reputation as a mother. Years later, in 2019, three students from Professor Marc Howard’s ‘Making an Exoneree’ class at Georgetown University uncovered that all accusations from Ohio were unsubstantiated. And there were no known complaints to Children’s Services in Georgia about Christina’s behavior. But at the time, Christina was perceived as a monstrous and abusive mother.

The US is the only country in the world – in almost all of its states, including Georgia – to have elected rather than appointed public prosecutors (district attorneys). And the same applies to s heriffs. In most US states, judges are also (at least partly) elected. In Georgia, this applies to pretty much all judges. In practice, this makes all of these elected officials very susceptible to populism, and the prevailing attitudes of the past decades dictate that they have to be ‘tough on crime’. The year Amber died, 1992, was an election year. During his election campaign, the D.A. stated that he would demand the death penalty against both suspects.

Six months after her arrest, Christina was finally allocated a pro bono lawyer: Jimmy Berry. He had already eighty-eight other cases and was not keen on taking on Christina’s, but the judge refused to let him off the hook. After two and a half years in pre-trial detention, during which time Christina hardly ever heard from him, he suddenly presented her with a very unusual version of a plea bargain: an Alford plea. This allows the suspect to maintain her innocence provided she accepts a sentence. If Christina agreed to life plus twenty years, the death penalty would go off the table. If not, the lawyer threatened to withdraw.

Tried by media, with no confidence in her defense attorney, and also under wrongly administered medication and under the false impression that she’d be paroled after a few years, Christina accepted the plea deal. Two and a half years after Amber’s death, Christina was sentenced to life in prison for murder by failing to seek proper medical attention for Amber. On top of that, she was given twenty years for causing ‘bodily harm to Amber Bennett by seriously disfiguring a member of her body, her pancreas’.


Book cover of ‘The Verdict’

Click here for the first two parts of this blog series.

Artist-photographer Jan Banning has had more than 80 solo exhibitions in more than twenty countries, on four continents. His work is included in many public and corporate collections including those of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, the Forward Thinking Museum in New York City, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. His photographs have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines worldwide, including The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek. His book ‘The Verdict’ is available in both Dutch and English. Click here for more information about the upcoming exhibtion in Rotterdam. There is also a podcast, called ‘Jan & Christina’.

Cause of Death - By Jan Banning

Amber was born on 29 September 1988. Only a few close friends know who the father was. But since Christina was still married to James Bennett, Amber got his surname. Over the days preceding her death on Tuesday, whenever Amber was alone with David, the girl had suffered bruises, scratches and bumps.

Christmas 1991, Amber 3 years old

On Friday, David had explained a large bump on Amber’s forehead by saying that Amber had run off, fallen and hit her head hard on the curb when he had parked his car outside Christina’s apartment. Amber had confirmed David’s explanation in simple child’s language: ‘I fell Mommy.’ Bruises and scratches sustained the next few days were also explained by both as the result of falls. Amber didn’t seem to be suffering any ill effects, just like when she fell from her tricycle – an incident witnessed by Christina.

Page form the Times Georgian

The explanations didn’t sound unlikely, as Amber was inquisitive and wild. Christina: ‘She was the kind of kid that would stick something in an electrical socket if you didn’t block it up, just to see what would happen.’ And according to Christina, ‘Amber was very outspoken. She could tell you exactly what she wanted, what she liked and what she didn’t like. She had to show me all the boo-boos.’

Immediately after Amber was pronounced dead, David was arrested on suspicion of child abuse. The medical examiner who wrote the autopsy report concluded that Amber had died as a result of ‘blunt-force trauma of the head and abdomen’. During David’s interview, Detective Thomas had stated: ‘The actual thing that caused her to die could have occurred a day or so before.’ On April 16, 1992, the Times Georgian, Carroll County’s daily newspaper, printed this: ‘The child’s death appears to be the result of injuries sustained over time.’

Thus, Christina’s absence during the last six hours of Amber’s life became irrelevant. She was also arrested and accused of murder and cruelty to children.

Amber’s grave

Artist-photographer Jan Banning has had more than 80 solo exhibitions in more than twenty countries, on four continents. His work is included in many public and corporate collections including those of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, the Forward Thinking Museum in New York City, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. His photographs have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines worldwide, including The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek. His book ‘The Verdict’ is available in both Dutch and English. Click here for more information about the exhibtion in Rotterdam. There is also a podcast, called ‘Jan & Christina’.

Click here for part one of this series, Amber’s Death.

Amber’s Death - By Jan Banning

Carroll Co., Georgia, USA. Tuesday April 14, 1992 was a balmy spring day just before Easter. Shortly after 12:30 pm, 22-year-old Christina Boyer drove off from her new boyfriend David Herrin’s trailer in his old Chevy Impala. She went to work as a typist in the nearby town of Carrollton, leaving her three-year-old daughter Amber in David’s care. Christina: ‘When I left, she jumped in David’s lap with a book for him to read to her. She said: “He reading me mommy.”

Six hours later, Christina pulled back up in the driveway. ‘I saw David had come out on the porch. He was just standing there looking at me and mumbled something. So, I stuck my head out and said: “What?” And then he said he couldn’t get Amber up. My response was: “What? She’s still asleep? She will never sleep tonight!” He said: “No, I mean I can’t wake her up”. At that point, I jumped out of the car, ran to her room and she was lying there under the covers. She had a foul odor to her mouth. I put my head to her chest but I heard and felt nothing. I yanked the covers, scooped her up and ran for the car screaming, “She’s not breathing, drive!”’

Imagining Amber’s cot right after she was taken to hospital

For about an hour, they sat in the waiting room, hoping the doctors could resuscitate Amber. ‘David has his hands covering his face – he mumbles over and over: “I’m sorry!” but doesn’t answer my question – “for what?”’ Attempts to revive Amber were in vain. She was pronounced dead at 8.25 p.m. What had happened during Christina’s six-hour absence? And what happened afterwards? We will delve into that in the next episodes.

Christina and Amber in their appartment in Carrollton

In June 2013, artist/photographer Jan Banning received permission to portray female inmates in Georgia’s Pulaski State Prison. Afterwards, he went on the internet to do background checks on the approximately 80 women who stepped up. Christina was one of them.

Pulaski State Prison, Georgia, Christina Boyer

Jan Banning: “I quickly found reasons to doubt the official version of her case. Over time, I collected and studied the complete archive, asked Dutch and Belgian medical specialists for their interpretations, and during my research, I became increasingly convinced that Christina was innocent.

Christina and me started a correspondence and eventually I invited her to make her own contribution. We entered into a close collaboration. The resulting book (and exhibition) The Verdict is a kaleidoscopic whole which combines documentary and staged photos with newspapers, Christina’s diaries, her written associations with my photos, photos from her family album, my own writings and those of Georgetown University law professor Marc M. Howard.

I hope that the book and the exhibition about this case will contribute to the release of Christina Boyer. But the project has a wider scope. The Verdict is a case study of the cruel American criminal justice system and its impact on human beings. In a deeper sense, the exhibition also depicts how the indigent are being crushed by cold and almost self-steering systems. It raises questions about subjectivity and objectivity, about truth and falsehood, and about distilling judgment from a confusing multitude of data.”


Artist-photographer Jan Banning has had more than 80 solo exhibitions in more than twenty countries, on four continents. His work is included in many public and corporate collections including those of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, the Forward Thinking Museum in New York City, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. His photographs have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines worldwide, including The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek. His book ‘The Verdict’ is available in both Dutch and English. Click here for more information about the upcoming exhibtion in Rotterdam. There is also a podcast, called ‘Jan & Christina’.

The Enduring Confidence of James Madison - By Dennis C. Rasmussen


Despite being a rather sickly hypochondriac, James Madison outlasted all the other founders, living until June 1836, almost through Andrew Jackson’s second term as president. Through all that time he remained relatively confident in the superiority and durability of America’s constitutional order. He did occasionally harbor some real worries and experience some palpable disappointments, as might be expected, but these concerns were never so deep and lasting as to lead to disillusionment with the political system as a whole or to despondency about its future. In this, he was the proverbial exception that proves the rule among the founders.

James Madison

The obvious question is why Madison was such an outlier. Why did he remain largely optimistic about America’s constitutional order when so many of his compatriots came to despair for it?

One potential answer can be ruled out immediately. Given his familiar moniker “The Father of the Constitution,” one might assume that Madison was sanguine for so long because he got what he wanted out of the Philadelphia Convention and remained satisfied with the result, but this was by no means the case. In fact, Madison lost more battles than he won in Philadelphia, including a number of those that he regarded as most important, and at the Convention’s close he deemed the Constitution to be radically defective.

Yet Madison soon grew reconciled to the Constitution, and indeed became one of its biggest admirers, in a way that his coauthor of The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, never quite did. And his confidence in America’s constitutional order endured, unbroken if not quite undisturbed, for almost another half century – not only through the 1790s, by the end of which Washington, Hamilton, and Adams had all grown disillusioned, and not only through Jefferson’s despondent final years, but also through much of the turbulent Jacksonian era.

Madison’s confidence can be attributed, at least in part, simply to his temperament. He was far more composed and even-tempered than the passionate Jefferson, the fiery Hamilton, the irascible Adams, or even Washington, whose pent-up anger occasionally burst through the stoic façade that he generally showed to the world. Madison’s unflappable disposition no doubt contributed to his lack of despair.

Tom Freeman’s painting of the burning of the White House by British troops during the War of 1812 during Madison’s presidency

On a related note, Madison also had lower expectations than the other founders regarding what was politically possible. He never supposed that his fellow citizens would consistently surmount partisanship or sacrifice their self-interest for the sake of the common good (as Washington and Adams, respectively, hoped they would), nor did he long for the nation to achieve economic and military greatness on the international stage or for virtuous yeoman farmers to conduct the politics of their local ward (as Hamilton and Jefferson, respectively, envisioned) – and this meant that he was less likely than the other founders to be disappointed in what America became.

Still another explanation for Madison’s late-life confidence was precisely that by that point he had lived so long and seen so much in company with the nation that he had helped to found. He reasoned that if the Constitution and the union managed to survive the Alien and Sedition Acts (a harsh crackdown on civil liberties spurred by war hysteria), the War of 1812 (during which much of the capital went up in flames under Madison’s own watch), and the Missouri crisis (the biggest confrontation yet over the nation’s most divisive issue, the expansion of slavery), then surely they could survive a good deal more. The longer the nation endured, the more durable it seemed.

The War of 1812, depicted as a boxing match between King John III and James Madison

If Madison could find solace in the fact that America’s constitutional order had managed to weather nearly a half-century’s worth of storms by the time he reached old age, then perhaps we should be cheered to recall that it has now survived for more than two hundred and thirty years. This should not be taken as grounds for complacency, of course, for today’s political ills are both serious and pressing, as the elderly Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson would surely remind us. Madison, though, would encourage us to summon a broader sense of perspective before announcing the doom of the republic.


Dennis C. Rasmussen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is the author of four books, including Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders and The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought, which was shortlisted for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. Click here for the first 5 parts of this blog series.

The Disillusionment of Thomas Jefferson: Sectionalism - By Dennis C. Rasmussen


Thomas Jefferson’s disillusionment was in many respects the most surprising of all. For most of his life he was consistently – one might even say relentlessly – optimistic about America’s future. Even when the Federalists implemented measures that he deemed deeply objectionable during their ascendancy in the 1790s, from Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan to the Alien and Sedition Acts, he was confident that the American people would eventually set things right, for he believed that deep down they were almost all virtuous republicans, and indeed Jeffersonian Republicans.

Thomas Jefferson, by Thomas Sully (1821)

And Jefferson believed that the people did set things right through what he immodestly called the “revolution of 1800,” by which he meant his own elevation to the presidency. His Federalist opponents were annihilated as a political force in the early years of the nineteenth century, and he was succeeded in the nation’s highest office first by his most trusted political partner, James Madison, and then by his longtime acolyte, James Monroe, for two terms each. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Jefferson retained a sense of hopefulness far longer than did figures like Washington, Hamilton, and Adams.

Yet in Jefferson’s final years he too came to despair for America’s future. His late-life loss of heart was brought on by a number of factors, but the central one was the sectional divide between North and South that came to light during the first great conflict over the expansion of slavery in America, the Missouri crisis of 1819–21.

In a famous letter of April 1820, Jefferson proclaimed that this conflict “like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.” In the process of explaining the cause of his alarm, he all but prophesied the path to the Civil War: “a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

Map of the Missouri Compromise 1820

Jefferson concluded the letter with an unforgettable expression of regret: “I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of ’76. To acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it.” One would be hard-pressed to compose a clearer, more forceful articulation of disillusionment than this, and it was far from an isolated moment of anguish on his part: Jefferson wrote seemingly countless letters on the Missouri crisis during this period, each more hysterical and apocalyptic than the last.

Jefferson was kept in the depths of despair in the years leading up to his death in 1826 by what he regarded as the illegitimate and dangerous centralization of political power within the federal government, even at the hands of his fellow Republicans. Indeed, he found this tendency so distressing that he began to wonder whether a breakup of the union might soon be not only inevitable, but desirable. In December 1825 he told one correspondent that “there can be no hesitation” when “the sole alternatives left are the dissolution of our union … or submission to a government without limitation of powers” – clearly implying that he found disunion preferable to the path that he believed the nation was then taking.

Jefferson’s grave site at Monticello (VA)

The following month, Jefferson wrote to another correspondent to bemoan “the evils which the present lowering aspect of our political horizon so ominously portends.” He had expected, he confessed, that “at some future day, which I hoped to be very distant, the free principles of our government might change … but I certainly did not expect that they would not over-live the generation which established them.”

Throughout Jefferson’s final years, in short, even his abiding faith in the American experiment grew emphatically riddled with doubts.


Dennis C. Rasmussen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is the author of four books, including Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders and The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought, which was shortlisted for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. Click here for part 1-4 of this blog series.

The Disillusionment of John Adams: Civic Virtue - By Dennis C. Rasmussen


The namesake of this institute, John Adams, was unsurpassed among the American founders in the depth of his knowledge about politics, history, and law. No one in that age of remarkably learned political leaders – not even James Madison – read as voraciously or ranged as widely as Adams in contemplating the proper underpinnings of government.

John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart

One of the key insights that Adams gleaned from his studies was that republican government depended not just on the right institutions but also on the people’s character. No country could remain free for long, in his view, unless its citizens exhibited a sense of civic virtue – a willingness to put the public good ahead of their own – for otherwise politics would be little more than an insoluble clash of conflicting interests.

Yet Adams was never entirely persuaded that the American people possessed the requisite sense of duty. As early as January 1776, he fretted that “there is So much Rascallity, so much Venality and Corruption, so much Avarice and Ambition, such a Rage for Profit and Commerce among all Ranks and Degrees of Men even in America, that I sometimes doubt whether there is public Virtue enough to support a Republic.”

House of John Adams at the Keizersgracht, Amsterdam

Adams spent most of the decade from 1778 to 1788 abroad, serving as a diplomat in France, Britain, and the Netherlands. Whereas the years that Thomas Jefferson spent as minister to France reinforced his belief in the unique purity of America and its people, Adams’s time in Europe had the opposite effect. In his magnum opus, the Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States, he declared flatly that “there is no special providence for Americans, and their nature is the same with that of others.”

Neither the launching of the new government in 1789 nor his own elevation to the presidency eight years later managed to assuage Adams’s worries. Just two months after his inauguration he grumbled that “the Want of Principle, in so many of our Citizens … is awfully ominous to our elective Government” and that “Avarice and Ambition … is too deeply rooted in the hearts and Education and Examples of our People ever to be eradicated.” It is doubtful that any other American president has been as pessimistic about the entire political order at the very outset of his administration.

After facing a challenging presidency and then losing a rather vicious election to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, Adams concluded that “downright corruption has spread & increased in America more than I had any knowledge or suspicion of” and predicted that “we shall be tossed … in the tempestuous sea of liberty for years to come & where the bark can land but in a political convulsion I cannot see.”

‘Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States’, by John Adams

Adams’s retirement lasted for more than twenty-five years – longer than that of any other American president until the twentieth century. During this period he experienced occasional bouts of relative optimism, such as in the midst of the patriotic fervor unleashed by the War of 1812. Throughout most of that quarter century, however, his bracingly candid and wonderfully colorful correspondence continued to dwell on his fellow Americans’ lack of fitness for republican government.

“Oh my country,” Adams exclaimed to his friend Benjamin Rush in 1806, “how I mourn over thy follies and Vices, thine ignorance and imbecillity, Thy contempt of Wisdom and Virtue and overweening Admiration of fools and Knaves!” To his son John Quincy, he predicted that “the Selfishness of our Countrymen is not only Serious but melancholly, foreboding ravages of Ambition and Avarice which never were exceeded on this Selfish Globe … the distemper in our Nation is so general, and so certainly incurable.”

In all, then, Adams’s disillusionment with the American experiment started much earlier than it did for the other protagonists of this series- before the Constitution was even a twinkle in the framers’ eyes – and lasted for nearly a half century. As he saw it, the pervasiveness of selfishness, avarice, and ambition would pose a perpetual threat to America’s fragile project of self-government.


Dennis C. Rasmussen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is the author of four books, including Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders and The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought, which was shortlisted for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. Click here to read the first three parts of this blog series.

The Disillusionment of Alexander Hamilton: Governmental Energy - By Dennis C. Rasmussen


Among the American founders, Alexander Hamilton was easily the most consistent and unabashed proponent of a strong national government. His foremost dream for the new United States was that it would eventually achieve the kind of international prominence, military might, and economic prosperity that he saw embodied in the great European monarchies, especially Britain, and he believed that a vigorous or “energetic” central authority would be necessary to achieve these ends.

Alexander Hamilton, by John Trumbull

Many of Hamilton’s contemporaries – Thomas Jefferson being the foremost example – worried that a powerful national government would threaten individual liberty, but Hamilton insisted that stability and energy were necessary in order for liberty to endure. In his view, an impotent government is often a greater threat to liberty than a strong one and a dearth of effective political power is frequently more dangerous than an excess of it – as he believed the nation’s experience under the feckless Articles of Confederation had demonstrated.

Although the Constitution was designed to rectify this problem, Hamilton did not believe that it went far enough in doing so. At the end of the Constitutional Convention he resolved to defend the new charter as better than nothing – which he went on to do so ably in The Federalist – but he told his fellow delegates that “no man’s ideas were more remote from the plan [i.e., the Constitution] than his were known to be.” In his view, the narrow interests of the small states and the widespread but unwarranted apprehensions about centralized power had prevailed even within the group of (mostly) nationalist Federalists who had assembled in Philadelphia.

The Federalist

Hamilton therefore spent most of the 1790s seeking to strengthen the government in every way that he could dream up. As the nation’s first treasury secretary he developed a sweeping financial program that helped to put the country on a sound economic footing; as a pivotal member of President Washington’s Cabinet he fought to expand presidential power in both domestic and foreign affairs; and as the effective commander of the nation’s army later in the decade he sought to capitalize on the “Quasi-War” with France in order to build up the military.

Although he accomplished a great deal during these years, Hamilton was never satisfied that he had done enough. Jefferson and the Republicans, suspicious of his every move, continually whipped up popular opposition to his actions and prevented him from realizing the full extent of his vision. Around the time that Hamilton resigned his Cabinet position in 1795 he declared that his mindset was “discontented and gloomy in the extreme. I consider the cause of good government as having been put to an issue & the verdict against it.”

Statue Hamilton in D.C., 1st Secretary of the Treasury

Then, to Hamilton’s great dismay, Jefferson and the Republicans swept into power in the election of 1800 with a mandate to pare down the government’s powers still further. Although Jefferson’s conciliatory inaugural address initially gave him a glimmer of hope, Hamilton soon grew convinced that the new president was systematically rendering the government weaker and the country more vulnerable. In his view, the Republicans were betraying America’s founding principles as well as its greatest hero: “In vain was the collected wisdom of America convened at Philadelphia,” he wailed in one of his many public protests. “In vain were the anxious labours of a Washington bestowed.”

Burr-Hamilton duel (1804)

Hamilton’s confidence in the durability of the American regime ebbed and flowed over time, as it did for the other founders, but by 1802 it hit rock bottom. In a letter to his friend Gouverneur Morris he went so far as to describe the Constitution as a “frail and worthless fabric,” adding that “every day proves to me more and more that this American world was not made for me.” He told another correspondent that the survival of republican government in America would require “foundations much firmer than have yet been devised” in the United States.

By the time of his fatal duel with Aaron Burr in 1804, in short, Hamilton had concluded that the Republicans had already done irreparable damage to an already-weak government and that little but disorder and dissolution could be expected thereafter.


Dennis C. Rasmussen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is the author of four books, including Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders and The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought, which was shortlisted for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. Click here for other parts of this blog series.

The Disillusionment of George Washington: Partisanship - By Dennis C. Rasmussen


Throughout his remarkable public career, one of George Washington’s foremost wishes for his country was that it would remain free of political parties and partisanship. All of America’s founders at least professed an aversion to “factions,” as they were frequently called, but none loathed them more fiercely, consistently, and sincerely than he did.

As Washington saw it, partisans are necessarily partial, meaning that they favor the interests of a parochial group over the public good. Partisans could not be true patriots. Parties were also, in his view, fatal to republican government. By sowing conflict, they divided the community and subverted public order; by opposing the government’s actions, they prevented its effective administration; by favoring some over others, they opened the door to political corruption and foreign influence.

In the event, of course, America’s first party system, which pitted the Federalists against the Republicans, emerged within the first few years after the Constitution was ratified and the new government was set up. In fact, the two sides were led by a pair of bitter enemies within President Washington’s own Cabinet, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

By 1792, the year in which he reluctantly accepted a second term as president, Washington had already begun to bemoan the “internal dissentions” that were “harrowing & tearing our vitals” and making it “difficult, if not impracticable, to manage the Reins of Government or to keep the parts of it together.” Unless the partisan bickering abated, he warned Jefferson, the republic “must, inevitably, be torn asunder.”

When the partisanship did not abate — on the contrary, it grew continually worse over the course of his second term — Washington’s outlook became ever more bleak. He immortalized his worries for posterity in his famous Farewell Address of 1796, the great theme of which was the dangers of factionalism in its various guises: political parties, geographic divisions, and the ways in which foreign entanglements exacerbated both. The Farewell is often read as a warning about potential dangers that Washington feared the country might someday face, but it was just as much a lament about ills that he was sure had already beset it.

Washington’s 2nd inauguration (1793)


Although Washington lived only three years beyond his exit from the presidency, the state of American politics during his short retirement confirmed his darkest fears. Partisanship reached a fever pitch during the early years of the Adams administration, in the midst of the undeclared “Quasi-War” with France, leading Washington to warn that “party feuds have arisen to such a height, as to … become portensious of the most serious consequences” and that they appeared unlikely to “end at any point short of confusion and anarchy.”

Washington came to believe that it was no longer individuals and their virtues but rather parties and their ideologies that determined the outcome of elections. He insisted to one correspondent that if the Republicans were to “set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of Liberty, a Democrat, or give it any other epithet that will suit their purpose … it will command their votes in toto!” By this point, Washington was convinced that not only Congress but also the American people had become thoroughly and irretrievably partisan—and he had always insisted, since his days at the head of the Continental Army, that republican government could not survive for long under such conditions.

Washington’s Farewell Address (1796)

In Washington’s own view, then, his political career represented something like the reverse of his military career: in politics he won most of the battles—the elections, the policy disputes—only to lose the broader war. Just weeks before his death in December 1799, he wrote to James McHenry, his former secretary of war: “I have, for sometime past, viewed the political concerns of the United States with an anxious, and painful eye. They appear to me, to be moving by hasty strides to some awful crisis; but in what they will result—that Being, who sees, foresees, and directs all things, alone can tell.”


Dennis C. Rasmussen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is the author of four books, including Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders and The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought, which was shortlisted for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. Click here for the 1st part of this blog series.



Why America’s Founders Came to Fear for the Country’s Future - By Dennis C. Rasmussen


On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered one last time in what is now Independence Hall in Philadelphia in order to sign the charter that they had spent the past four months crafting. As the last of the thirty-eight signers affixed their names to the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin called attention to the high-backed mahogany chair that the president of the Convention, George Washington, had occupied at the head of the room that summer, which had a decorative half-sunburst carved into the crest (and which is still on display at Independence Hall – see the photograph below for a detail of the crest).

Detail of the Rising Sun Chair, Independence Hall, Philadelphia (PA)

Franklin remarked that painters often found it difficult to differentiate, in their compositions, a rising sun from a setting sun. “I have,” he said, “often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that [sun on the chair] behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

This vignette is often taken to exemplify the great sense of hope that America’s founders felt at the new government’s birth, but it is a striking fact that almost none of them carried that optimism to their graves. Franklin survived to see the government formed by the Constitution in action for only a single year, but most of the founders who lived into the nineteenth century – or even to the dawn of the new century, like Washington – came to feel deep anxiety, disappointment, and even despair about the government and the nation that they had helped to create. Indeed, by the end of their lives many of the founders judged America’s constitutional order to be an utter failure that was unlikely to last beyond their own generation. This blog series will tell the story of their disillusionment, drawing on my new book on the topic, Fears of a Setting Sun.

Like the book, this series will focus principally on four of the preeminent figures of the period: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. These four lost their faith in the American experiment at different times and for different reasons, and each has his own unique story. As we will see, Washington became disillusioned above all because of the rise of parties and partisanship, Hamilton because he felt that the federal government was not sufficiently vigorous or energetic, Adams because he believed that the American people lacked the requisite civic virtue for republican government, and Jefferson because of sectional divisions that were laid bare by conflict over the spread of slavery.

Franklin at the Constitutional Convention 1787 by Joseph Boggs Beale

Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson were the most prominent of the founders who grew disappointed in what America became, but they were certainly not the only ones. In fact, most of the other leading founders – including figures such as Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry, John Jay, John Marshall, George Mason, James Monroe, Gouverneur Morris, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Rush – fell in the same camp.

The most notable founder who did not come to despair for his country was the one who outlived them all, James Madison. Madison did harbor some real worries from time to time, but on the whole he remained sanguine about the nation and its politics all the way until his death in 1836. The final entry in this series will explore why Madison largely kept the republican faith when so many of his compatriots did not.


Dennis C. Rasmussen is Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is the author of four books, including ‘Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America’s Founders‘ and ‘The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought‘, which was shortlisted for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award.




The Age-Friendly City - By Chris & Melissa Bruntlett


As we get older, many of us aspire to the same ideals: To enjoy old age from the comfort of the home we’ve built for as long as our bodies and minds will allow. We save for retirement to reduce financial worry, set up systems with family and friends to take care of each other, and do our best to choose a place that makes us happy.

What is often overlooked is how the built environment around us — namely our streets — helps or hinders our ability to age in place. When the parameters of aging in place are defined, they need to look beyond just how one’s home is organized, and to how neighborhoods can be better arranged to allow people to live independently for as long as possible. Otherwise, we run the risk of increasingly isolating older adults, and putting them in greater harm.

When planning and designing civic spaces, successful design is often touted as one where amenities are accessible within a one-kilometer walking radius from one’s home: “The 15-Minute City”. However, for the average older adult, that radius is often drastically reduced. This means that to create an age-friendly city, that radius should be reduced to 500 meters. Additionally, important details like seating and ubiquitous curb cuts are crucial, providing opportunities for people to stop and rest when their stamina begins to diminish, and to get them to the places they need to go.

Beyond design features, it is the life of a street that is critical to creating a positive space to age in place. As we grow older, our social circles naturally diminish. Families move, friends relocate to be closer to relatives, and, of course, our peers inevitably begin to pass away. A vibrant street life therefore becomes the space in which older adults can continue to feel a part of society rather than apart from it. Social isolation has very damaging effects on us regardless of age, but for older individuals who are retired, opportunities to interact with others play an important role in their emotional well-being.

An elderly person who leaves the home at the same time every day to go shopping can expects to see familiar faces along the way, creating opportunities for happy “Hi-Hi” moments. The cashier at the grocer becomes a regular social contact that can uplift their mood simply by asking about their day. This ensures they experience feelings of connection and value, even in these brief moments. Powerfully, these small, seemingly insignificant snapshots in time, help combats feelings of isolation, depression, and loneliness, all of which are detrimental to our health and some of the leading causes of premature death.

Car-based systems that mandate ownership of or access to an automobile are predicated on the assumption that everyone can drive or wants to drive. The truth is that all of us, at some point in our lives, will no longer be able to do so. According to the American Automobile Association, older adults are outliving their ability to drive safely by seven to ten years. Combined with research from the RAND Association suggesting that drivers over 65 are 16% likelier to cause a crash, this creates dangerous environments not only for them but for everyone around them. Age-friendly mobility systems recognize the need to create networks and systems that provide other, safer, options.

The clearest evidence of this is the prevalence of older adults cycling longer into old age in the Netherlands. People over 65 comprise the largest group of adults who cycle, not because they’re super-human, but because of a combination of traffic calmed streets and safe, separated cycling networks. We also can’t overlook the role electric bikes play in this trend, allowing older adults to keep pedaling on, even when their stamina begins to diminish. Low-car, human-scale environments allow people to participate in society far longer into old age.

The WHO Global Age-friendly cities guide identifies eight dimensions an age-friendly city must consider: Outdoor spaces and building, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, community support and health services. If we want to ensure our society is afforded the respect and dignity to age in place and be a part of our social fabric for as long as possible, then we need to prioritize the human experience above all else.

This is the last part of the blog series ‘Life is better on a bike’. Click here for part 1-5. Chris and Melissa are Canadian authors and urban mobility advocates. In 2019, they moved to the city of Delft in the Netherlands.

You can follow them on Twitter: @modacitylife or visit their website. Their book ‘Curbing Traffic’ appears at the end of June. John Adams readers get a 20% discount (use promo code BRUNTLETT) at islandpress.org. All pictures in this blog are by Chris & Melissa Bruntlett.



The Prosperous City - By Chris & Melissa Bruntlett


No matter the country, the connection between access to opportunity and economic prosperity is intrinsic. A population should be able to easily access housing, education, employment, health care, shops, and essential services. Despite this recognition, a car-dominant focus overlooks the negative impact this has on almost everyone, particularly those of lower incomes.

Bike bridge spanning a highway (Eindhoven)

Taking into account depreciation, insurance, fuel, maintenance, financing, parking, and registration, the average American automobile costs its owner a whopping $12,544 a year ($14,452 for an SUV). That’s half a million dollars over the course of someone’s working life. With the average low-income household earning $20,000 to $50,000 annually, and the average family owning 2.28 cars, this is not an insignificant sum of money. It is driving many families into debt, with Americans owing a total of $1.6 trillion on auto loans in 2018 (that’s $4,875 per capita). But it is debt that is practically required by the built environment: even in dense New York City, only 15 percent of jobs are accessible within an hour by transit, as opposed to 75 percent within an hour’s drive.

Sign: “Bicycle street. Cars are guests”

We often view the burden of car ownership as the expense of the vehicle itself, but in reality, it is the external costs — the ones not borne by the owner — that are often the most damaging, impacting millions. There are, of course, the costs for road construction and maintenance (through the collection of taxes), the health care costs associated with an increasingly sedentary society, and the environmental costs of a fossil fuel-burning society. Beyond these, however, are the hidden costs of a transport system designed to maximize automobile flow. These costs are downloaded onto households that don’t have the means to purchase their own motor vehicle.

These households are also hit the hardest by lack of investment in transit. With acute emphasis on the continual movement of cars, and funds channeled to “solve” issues of congestion, the relatively small remaining portion of budgets is split between walking, cycling, and public transport — with the latter often losing out. Since 1956, highways have accounted for nearly 80 percent of all government spending in America’s transport system, leaving precious little for other modes.

There is no better encapsulation of this than Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, an 18-kilometer freeway that has severed the city from Lake Ontario since it was built in 1955. In 2016, council voted to replace the crumbling arterial, including a 7-kilometer elevated section, at a cost of $2.2 billion. Between 2020 and 2030, that single piece of infrastructure will eat up 44 percent of the transport department’s capital plan, despite moving 7 percent of commuters. Less costly, at-grade options were rejected by councillors after a staff report predicted they might prolong peak driving times by two to three minutes.

Bike parking at a train station (Rotterdam)

In contrast, the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways) is an outstanding example of what’s possible with a more balanced approach to these investments, boasting 3,200 kilometers of track connecting 410 stations. When regions don’t allow the automobile to dictate and dominate their budgets and priorities, it frees up all kinds of funding to improve the speed, frequency, and coverage of their public transport. For Delft residents like our family, this means — taking connections into account — 202 daily trains to The Hague, 182 to Rotterdam, 168 to Utrecht, and 150 to Amsterdam. With 81 percent of the country’s population living within 7.5 kilometers of a station, the national railway operates like a national metro system. Harnessing the synergy between cycling and public transport is integral to freeing residents from the economic burden of automobile dependency, thus leading to a more prosperous and equitable country.

Parking space for bicycles at a bus stop

These collective investments in frequent, flexible public transport — to maximize convenience and coverage — are precisely what governments must do to lighten the financial burden of car ownership and break down the barriers experienced by those lowest on the socio-economic ladder. But too often, untold billions are spent widening roads to benefit those who already enjoy the greatest proximity and privilege, while mass transit that would benefit those who need it the most is chronically ignored and underfunded. By doubling, and then tripling down on car dependence, and mandating costly ownership, regions are literally holding themselves back, preventing swaths of the population from fulfilling their economic potential. The tremendous cost of car dependency continues to blow a giant hole in our governmental and household budgets, and everyone ends up the poorer for it.

This is part 5 of the blog ‘Life is better on a bike’. Click here for part 1-4. Chris and Melissa are Canadian authors and urban mobility advocates. In 2019, they moved to the city of Delft in the Netherlands.

You can follow them on Twitter: @modacitylife or visit their website. Their book ‘Curbing Traffic’ appears at the end of June. John Adams readers get a 20% discount (use promo code BRUNTLETT) at islandpress.org. All pictures in this blog are by Chris & Melissa Bruntlett.

The Accessible City - By Chris & Melissa Bruntlett


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a reccurring theme appeared every time a city suggested removing on-street parking in favor of low-car environments with extended sidewalks, pop-up bike-lanes, and patios; all in an effort to accommodate physical distancing and safer movement through its streets. Namely, the negative impact that would have on the disabled community: creating more space to access high streets and retail hubs using human-scale modes would lead to inaccessibility. Essentially, cars created equitable access.

At the core of this belief is the presumption that everyone living with a disability has access to an automobile and uses it as their main mode of transportation. This overlooks the fact that many living with some form of disability cannot legally drive, depending on the type and severity of their condition. Additionally, it assumes people living with a disability want to be dependent on a car (or someone else to drive it). This couldn’t be further from the truth. In a 2008 paper, Dr. Rachel Aldred identified that 60% of people living with a disability in the UK do not have access to a motor vehicle. When you compare that to only 27% of the general population, it begins to become clear that presuming the disabled community can only access the city through car travel is not only flawed thinking; it is completely false.

The continuing focus on designing cities around the automobile is creating disabling environments; places where only the most able can enjoy the public realm independently and unimpeded. The fact is, as so eloquently phrased by Dr. Bridget Burdett, principal researcher at MRCagney in New Zealand: “Every person is on a continuum from strong to weak, from tired to energized, from depressed to exuberant, and from pain free to experiencing chronic pain.” At any point in our lives, we may find ourselves living with a disability, a lesson Melissa learned earlier this year when she unexpectedly broke her leg. Auto-centered ideas, like thinking everyone with a disability has access to a car, are ableist ideas, and assume autonomy of movement—not being dependent on others to get around—is not a value equally desired by the disabled community.

Beyond presumptions of access, since the dawn of the automobile, transport planning has focused largely on the journeys we regularly take. They are easily counted, as they are visible in traffic volumes, public transport ridership, and physical observations of street activity. However, much like how this approach tends to focus on the office commute — ignoring care trips and trip-chaining — it also omits the trips people don’t take. This is particularly problematic for the disabled community.

By only focusing on the trips they see, cities critically forget to take into account the impact disabling environments have on the people for whom leaving the house is a struggle. The impact of inaccessible design that forces people to travel convoluted, uncomfortable routes that take far more time than direct routes. The impact of public transport schedules with reduced service during off-peak hours that don’t take into account the non-“nine-to-five” job. These are factors that cause people — particularly those living with a disability — not to make the trip at all. The impact of those forced choices are myriad: reduced physical and mental well-being, feelings of isolation and social disconnection from their community, higher rates of depression, and so on.

The key to addressing this issue and ensuring a more equitable approach to transport planning for people with disabilities is simple: Talk to them! Policies that incorporate Universal Access Design principles are certainly a good start, but unless planners and designers are actually conversing with the people these decisions will directly impact, there will always be the risk of misinterpreting their actual wants and needs.

Our experiences inform how we approach our work. By inviting the people who are living with the disabilities we are aiming to accommodate; we can better understand their lived experience and how to design for it. This in turn enables equitable access to the city, without the need for a private motor vehicle. From community engagement to stakeholder meetings, to the people leading our cities, inclusive design starts with inclusion. From there, we can do away with assumptions and anecdotes, and collaborate on creating enabling cities that provide the right of autonomous and independent travel to everyone.

This is part 4 of the blog ‘Life is better on a bike’. Click here for part 1, 2 and 3. Chris and Melissa are Canadian authors and urban mobility advocates. In 2019, they moved to the city of Delft in the Netherlands.

You can follow them on Twitter: @modacitylife or visit their website. Their book ‘Curbing Traffic’ appears at the end of June. John Adams readers get a 20% discount (use promo code BRUNTLETT) at islandpress.org. All pictures in this blog are by Chris & Melissa Bruntlett.




The Feminist City - By Chris & Melissa Bruntlett


In the Netherlands, 56% of cyclists are women. This is not, as many like to purport, because Dutch women are born on bicycles, or that somehow, they are more confident, take more risks, or are in any way superior. Rather, the female cycling rates are so high because every Dutch city, town, and village has been planned in a way that makes it one of the easiest and most convenient ways to get from one’s home to every destination—regardless of gender. When life’s daily trips—getting children (or oneself) to school, doing groceries, going to work, meeting up with friends—are made simpler by cycling, it becomes the natural choice; especially for women.

Unfortunately, since the dawn of the industrial age, and the subsequent proliferation of the automobile, speed and convenience were attached to one mode over any other: motor traffic. The establishment of city planning in the early 20th century placed its focus on the view from 30,000 feet up, meaning shaping streets that got one from their home to their destination (i.e. work) with the fewest obstacles or detours. With all planners at the time men, their experiences and needs informed their approach, instead of speaking to the people who actually lived on the streets to understand their needs. Coupled with suburbanization and the increasing separation of work from home, the marginalization that has impacted generations of city dwellers became inevitable.

One’s personal and lived experiences influence our decisions, creating both implicit and sometimes explicit bias. To truly appreciate the very male approach to urban design and planning, it helps to reflect on the four urban functions coined by the Congrès International d’Architecture Modern in the early 20th century: living, working, recreation, and circulation. As a membership made up entirely of men, working was naturally valued above all else. This terminology explicitly omits the experience of women in cities. In particular, the trips required to perform care work: unpaid labor performed by adults for children and dependents. The term, coined by Professor Inés Sánchez de Madariaga from Madrid Polytechnic University, was further expanded to define care trips, or all the trips taken in a day to perform care work, often done through trip chaining: the practice of making multiple stops within one journey; still predominantly done by women.

Following decades of underrepresentation by women in the planning and transport sectors, it is no wonder the needs and wants of women haven’t been taken into account. In the UK, women make up just 30% of those working in the transport sector. Similarly, women working in the US transportation sectors make up just 20%. It may not seem like correlation, but the fact is that representation matters, and has been proven to change systems before.

In 1980, the election of President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir in Iceland was the catalyst for major improvements for the quality of life for women in the country. Policies like full-time, highly subsidized childcare, and nine months paid parental leave had a dramatic effect of women’s lives. Because she had experienced the world differently from her male predecessors, President Finnbogadóttir’s life informed how she governed.

Similar, in Europe, the adoption of gender mainstreaming following the UN Conference on Women in 1985 and the subsequent Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 set out to integrate equality objectives into all programming and was successful in bringing conversations of the feminist

perspective into the planning process. This led to a number of initiatives and programs throughout Europe that help create more gender equity in cities. Unfortunately, because gender mainstreaming was not an established policy, many of these programs became “nice ideas”, quickly slashed during budget cuts or changes in political leadership. Therein lies the challenge – unless gender equity in cities is taken seriously, permanent change will remain optional rather than mandatory.

“We don’t know what a feminist city is because we’ve never had one.” These words by urban anthropologist Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman are poignant. But there is hope. Leaders like Janette Sadik-Khan in New York City, Anne Hidalgo in Paris, and Valérie Plante in Montreal have shown that with women at the table, positive change to our transportation systems, and our cities, are possible. Prioritizing gender equity in planning and transportation sectors, as well as for those who live in our cities will make that feminist city a more attainable reality, and one that benefits everyone.


This is part 3 of the blog ‘Life is better on a bike’. Click here for part 1 and 2. Chris and Melissa are Canadian authors and urban mobility advocates. In 2019, they moved to the city of Delft in the Netherlands.

You can follow them on Twitter: @modacitylife or visit their website. Their book ‘Curbing Traffic’ appears at the end of June. John Adams readers get a 20% discount (use promo code BRUNTLETT) at islandpress.org. All pictures in this blog are by Chris & Melissa Bruntlett.

The Child-Friendly City - By Chris & Melissa Bruntlett


Emigrating to a new country is a difficult decision for anyone, and we were fully aware that uprooting our nine- and twelve-year-old children from the lives they had known since birth would come with its own set of challenges. But to give our children a freedom and independence we found impossible in our car-dominated East Vancouver neighborhood, in 2019, we chose to trade the peaks of British Columbia for the lowlands of South Holland.

According to Dr. Lia Karsten, associate professor of urban geography at the University of Amsterdam, geographical childhood for most kids these days can be classified into two types: indoor children: those who spend majority of their time indoors, largely of lower means and access; and the backseat generation: those who are shuttled from one activity to another in the backseat of a car. As motorized traffic increasingly dominated streets in the latter half of the 20th century, childhood was pushed from the public sphere—playing on the streets with friends under the watchful eye of neighbors—to more private, safe space like homes, backyards, and play gyms.

One of the most damning effects on both indoor children and the backseat generation is their growing disconnect from the world around them. When no longer able to explore their streets unsupervised by foot or bicycle, the space between their relative “zones” – homes, school, community centre, etc. – become vast oceans that are impassible without the assistance of their caregivers. Dr. Karsten describes this as “the city as an archipelago”, where, because travel is so intensely supervised and controlled, many children don’t know how to get from their home to any of their other regular destinations.

Our former Vancouver home was surrounded on all sides by four- and six-lane arterials each moving upwards of 40,000 cars per day. Because there were few crossings we felt comfortable enough to allow our children to navigate—due to fading markings or the prevalence of ‘beg buttons’ to ask permission to cross the street—they rarely walked independent of their parents.

This lack of safe design is having a detrimental impact on kids everywhere, namely in the form of severely reduced activity level. In Canada, 93 percent of children don’t get the recommended daily amount of physical activity. That could be vastly improved by walking or cycling to and from school each day. Where 50 percent of American kids walked or cycled to school in 1959, fifty years later that was just 13 percent.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In the Netherlands, two thirds of school children walk or cycle to school and 75 percent for high school students. This dates back to policies established decades ago mandating the safer design of streets. In our current home of Delft, a 1970 Traffic Circulation Plan specifically addressed the mounting safety crisis due to the speed and volume of cars on their streets. The fundamental idea was that every child should be able to walk safely to school, a friend’s house, the shops and everywhere in between without having to cross a major arterial. Preventing cars from using neighborhood streets as thoroughfares created an environment where even decades later, young children can safely travel within their community.

Delft’s safe and social streets allow our children to travel independently with friends inside and outside the city. They get more physical activity, they have more social interaction with their peers and they are happier, as they are no longer trapped inside their home or supervised by Mom and Dad. At a time when five to ten percent of children in the U.S. are diagnosed with depression, cities and towns can help them combat loneliness and inactivity by designing streets that allow our kids to feel more connected to their community.

Physical activity, the ability to experience the world independent of their parents, and the social relationships that can be built through walking and cycling among peers are critical to our children’s health and happiness. Streets designed to encourage this are a basic human right that all children should be able to enjoy, not just the Dutch. It just requires the commitment to prioritize the safety of our most vulnerable, allowing them to come back outside and experience the world on their own terms.


This is part 2 of the blog ‘Life is better on a bike’. Part 1, an interview by John Adams director Tracy Metz with Chris and Melissa Bruntlett, appeared on May 20th. Chris and Melissa are Canadian authors and urban mobility advocates. In 2019, they moved to the city of Delft in the Netherlands.

You can follow them on Twitter: @modacitylife or visit their website. Their book ‘Curbing Traffic’ appears at the end of June. John Adams readers get a 20% discount (use promo code BRUNTLETT) at islandpress.org. All pictures in this blog are by Chris & Melissa Bruntlett.

Everything in life is better on a bike - By Tracy Metz


“Ask a Dutch person why they cycle so much, and they’ll shrug: ‘It’s just in our culture’; oblivious to the vast infrastructure networks built to make it easy. Ask an American why they drive so much, and they’ll do the same. First we shape our streets; then our streets shape us.”

Chris & Melissa Bruntlett

This was a recent tweet posted by the Canadian authors and urban mobility advocates Chris and Melissa Bruntlett. The couple made a conscious choice two years ago to leave Vancouver and move to the Netherlands with their two children. The life-work balance is better here, they felt, in large part because people have so many more options for moving around – and therefore for living their life – than in North America. They live in Delft and have not had a driving license since they moved here.

Chris works as marketing and communications manager for the Dutch Cycling Embassy, which was started in 2011 by the ministry of transport to export Dutch expertise overseas. Melissa is an international communications specialist with Mobycon, a Dutch-American consultancy for sustainable mobility. At the end of June their new book is appearing, called Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives. Talking to them, and reading this book, makes you stop and realize what an enormous impact our streets have on our lives: how they are designed and for whom. For cars, or for people?

Rush hour in Amsterdam

The Netherlands is the safest place in the world to walk and cycle, Chris says – but it doesn’t necessarily look that way. “Human-based transport systems feel more chaotic because they are more dependent on eye contact instead of traffic lights and rules. Those may feel safe, but ironically they are more deadly, because most drivers then go on auto-pilot and stop paying attention.”

For Melissa, it was an emotional moment to realize that as a woman on a bike here, she is no longer alone. “In Vancouver the simple act of getting on a bike in your normal clothes was remarkable. It has been nice not to stick out anymore.” Unfortunately, this past winter her bike slipped on an icy patch and she broke a leg. That meant surgery and walking with crutches for seven weeks. “We borrowed a cargo bike and Chris took me around. We did learn that there is lots of room for improvement in accessibility on trains!”

Hasn’t everyone seen the light by now about the advantages of cycling? Even Los Angeles now has a successful bike-sharing scheme, and during the corona lockdown a lot of cities have expanded their bike path networks.

Bike parking at Amsterdam Central Station

Chris: “The challenge now is that electric cars and autonomous vehicles are seen as the easy fix. But they are not going to solve everything. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, technology has been seen as the way forward. But tech cannot solve the problems cars create in equity, accessibility, livability, public space, air quality. We shouldn’t be talking about electric or autonomous or flying cars, but about fewer cars and more options. Why should we have a thousand choices for breakfast cereal and only one for mobility? We hope that our book will help cities maintain the transformation they achieved this year, and not go back to the status quo before the pandemic.”


‘Curbing Traffic’ (publ. Island Press) appears at the end of June. John Adams readers get a 20% discount (use promo code BRUNTLETT at islandpress.org) The rest of this blog will be written by the Bruntletts themselves; part 2 will be about children. You can follow them on Twitter: @modacitylife or visit their website. All pictures in this blog are by Chris & Melissa Bruntlett.



Testimony of our landscape - By Richard Frishman

House and ambush site of state field secretary for the NAACP Medgar Evers (Jackson, Miss.). In 1963, he was gunned down in his driveway by a white supremacist.


All human landscapes are embedded with cultural meaning. And since we rarely consider our constructions as evidence of our priorities, beliefs and behaviors, the testimonies our landscapes offer are more honest than many of the things we intentionally present. Our built environment, in other words, is a kind of societal autobiography, writ large.


Many of the places I’ve photographed were found after conducting research online, in person and on location. I have reached out to scholars, historians and ordinary people who might share their insights, experiences and suggestions. Local libraries, museums and historical preservation websites often guide me to forgotten places, often hidden in plain sight.

Former Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market (above) in Money, Miss., where in 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman. He was later kidnapped, tortured, lynched and dumped in the muddy waters of Black Bayou Bridge over the Tallahatchie River (below).


In 1964, three civil rights activists were followed by Klan members after being released from county jail in Mississippi. They were forced off the road, taken to the remote location shown in this video (below) and bludgeoned to death.In showing  this hallowed ground, I wanted to convey the feeling of the place and the terror it represents. I can never know what truly went through the hearts and minds of these moral heroes. I can only know what their courage and suffering means to me.


The past is never dead. It’s not even the past. Thus observed the brilliant writer William Faulkner of Oxford, Mississippi. America continues to struggle with its ghosts of segregation. This troubling truth, so evident in the rising racial rhetoric of today is my motivation to document these stories. I am not photographing places as much as commemorating the people who struggled.

Below: grave of Charles Eddie Moore (Meadville, Miss.). In 1964, two black teenagers, Henry Dee and Charles Eddie Moore were picked up by KKK members while hitchhiking. They were tortured in a nearby forest, locked in a trunk of a car, driven across state lines, chained to a Jeep motor block and train rails, and dropped alive into the Mississippi River to die.



Rich Frishman’s photography is in a wide range of private and institutional collections in the US. His work has garnered dozens of prestigious awards. In 1983, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He lectures around the US about the intersection of the designed environment, history and social issues. Click here for his website. All pictures © Richard Frishman. This blog series is an adaption of on an article by Richard Frishman previously published in the New York Times. Edited by Mieke Bleeker. To read part 1 and 2 of this blog series, click here.

The Original Sin - By Richard Frishman

A former ‘segregation wall,’  built to separate customers of color. Templin Saloon, Gonzales (TX).


Slavery is often referred to as America’s “original sin.” Its demons still haunt us in the form of segregated housing, education, health care, employment. Through these photographs, I’m trying to preserve the physical evidence of that sin — because, when the telling traces are erased, the lessons risk being lost.

‘All white help’ sign at Clark’s Cafe in Huntington, (Or)

Many of the locations I’ve documented have already disappeared. The painted sign for Clark’s Cafe in Huntington, Ore., which trumpeted “ALL WHITE HELP,” was destroyed shortly after I photographed it (right). The Houston Negro Hospital School of Nursing (below) has since been demolished.

I often wonder: Does such erasure remedy the inequalities and relieve the suffering caused by systemic racism? Or does it facilitate denial and obfuscation?

These photographs are less about the places themselves and more about the people who once populated them. My goal is to heighten awareness, motivate action and spark an honest conversation about the legacy of racial injustice in America.‘

Houston Negro Hospital School of Nursing, Houston (TX)

The photographs are also a testament to the endurance of the racial inequalities that have plagued American society, projected backward and forward in time.

The deaths last year of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among many other Black Americans, prompted a long-overdue national reckoning, spurring one of the largest movements in U.S. history.

And these pictures prove that if you look carefully enough, you’ll find that the evidence of the structures of segregation — and the marks of white supremacy — still surrounds us, embedded in the landscape of our day-to-day lives.

The E. F. Young Jr. Hotel (Meridian, Miss.) provided lodging for black travelers who were excluded from other hotels during the Jim Crow era.


Next week: Part 3 – Testimony of our landscape. Click here for part 1 – “We might get lost again”


Rich Frishman’s photography is in a wide range of private and institutional collections in the US. His work has garnered dozens of prestigious awards. In 1983, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He lectures around the US about the intersection of the designed environment, history and social issues. Click here for his website. All pictures © Richard Frishman. This blog series is an adaption of on an article by Richard Frishman previously published in the New York Times. Edited by Mieke Bleeker.




“We might get lost again” - By Richard Frishman

Former colored entrance to a theater, Kilgore (TX).


The six faded letters are all that remain, and few people notice them. I would never have seen them if a friend hadn’t pointed them out to me while we walked through New Orleans’s French Quarter. I certainly wouldn’t have realized their significance.

On Chartres Street, above a beautifully arched doorway, is a curious and enigmatic inscription: “CHANGE.” Now part of the facade of the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, the letters mark the onetime site of the St. Louis Hotel & Exchange, where, under the building’s famed rotunda, enslaved people were once sold.

Several years ago, I began to photographically document vestiges of racism, oppression and segregation in America’s built and natural environments — lingering traces that were hidden in plain sight behind a veil of banality.

When the Omni Royal Orleans (left) was built in the 1950s, some of its history was incorporated into a small section of the building. The word “change” is a fragment salvaged from the original St. Louis Hotel and Exchange. The remaining letters were lost.


Some of the sites I found were unmarked, overlooked and largely forgotten: bricked-over “Colored” entrances to movie theaters, or walls built inside restaurants to separate nonwhite customers. Other photographs capture the Black institutions that arose in response to racial segregation: a Negro league stadium in Michigan, a hotel for Black travelers in Mississippi. And a handful of the photographs depict the sites where Black people were attacked, killed or abducted — some marked and widely known, some not.

The small side window at Edd’s Drive-In, for example, a restaurant in Pascagoula, Miss., appears to be a drive-up. It was actually a segregated window used in the Jim Crow-era to serve Black customers.

The locked black double doors aside Seattle’s Moore Theatre (below) might be mistaken for a service entrance. In fact, this was once the “Colored” entrance used by nonwhite moviegoers to access the theater’s second balcony.

These sites surround us, but finding and verifying them requires months of due diligence.

The very existence of the door shocked me. I had walked past it countless times over the 40 years I’ve lived in Seattle, never giving it a thought. It wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that the tragic nature of this obscure door resonated with the sobering reminder on the marquee.

Former colored entrance at Seattle’s Moore Theatre


After being tipped off by a contributor to a website called Preservation in Mississippi, I verified the history of the window at Edd’s Drive-In with the manager, Becky Hasty, who told me that the owners had retained it as a reminder of the past. “If we don’t remember where we’ve been,” she said, “we might get lost again.”

Next week: Part 2 – The Original Sin


Rich Frishman’s photography is in a wide range of private and institutional collections in the US. His work has garnered dozens of prestigious awards. In 1983, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He lectures around the US about the intersection of the designed environment, history and social issues. Click here for his website. All pictures © Richard Frishman. This blog series is an adaption of on an article by Richard Frishman previously published in the New York Times. Edited by Mieke Bleeker.

Home is where the heart is - By Chad Bilyeu & Mieke Bleeker

A large part of issue number four of Chad in Amsterdam is about origin. What does it mean when you’re constantly on the move?

In A Tale of Three Cities (The Dutch Inquisition), we find Chad once more at a bar, being asked where he’s from. This time, it gets him reminiscing about the three cities he has lived in: Cleveland, Washington D.C. and Amsterdam. “It’s tricky to ascertain precisely where I’m from as I’ve lived in a few places on the globe. The majority of my life has taken place in a triptych of diametrically opposed cities”.

“When I’m in Cleveland and someone asks me where I’m from, I assume that they are probably themselves from Cleveland and are wondering precisely where on the east or west side I grew up.” In DC he was quick to learn that origin was not such a hot issue. The opening line most heard in the capital, where politics and career making are ubiquitous, is not ‘where are you from’, but ‘what do you do?’

In Amsterdam, he found, the question ‘where are you from’ was put to him so often, that it started to feel less of an inquiry and more like an inquisition: “It seems that my origin is of utmost importance here in Amsterdam. I found it strange that the denizens of such a historically diverse city had such a proclivity towards focusing on superficial differences.”

Meanwhile, over at the bar, Chad doesn’t answer the question this time. Instead he gets up, lost in thought and heads home.Phone Home

Phone Home* is an ode to his family back in Cleveland. “I wanted to add a personal touch. In some of the stories, I may seem like a jerk, always spewing criticism. But I’m really not, I’m just telling it like I see it.”

It’s kind of nice to see a more personal side of Chad, as he is chatting away with his mom about the cats and sharing inside jokes. Talking about the situation back home makes Chad realize the upsides of living in Amsterdam. Like how it’s safe to wander the streets at night, and how there is no out of control gun violence. And simply just how beautiful the city is.

As anyone would, Chad misses his family. But, as his mother points out to him, every place has its good and bad sides. Home is where the heart is. And in the end, isn’t that what it comes down to?

* fun fact: the artist of Phone Home, Rachelle Meyer, worked on a blog series for John Adams last year, which showcased her Faces on the Ferry art project.

Lera Ryazanceva created the images for ‘A Tale of Three Cities’. Those of ‘Phone Home’ were made by Bernie Mireault. All content copyright © Chad Bilyeu. Visit Chad’s website to get your copies of ‘Chad in Amsterdam’. They are also available in several bookstores in Amsterdam, like Athenaeum Boekhandel and The American Book Center. Click here for the other blogs in this series.

Something Fishy - By Chad Bilyeu & Mieke Bleeker


In The Four Fish Specialists in the third issue of Chad in Amsterdam we’re talking herring. Although it is considered a delicacy in the Netherlands, dipped in onions, the silvery and slightly slimy snack is not for everyone. Especially for the non-Dutch, it can be quite the experience.

Chad’s first encounter with the infamous fish was not a good one. There was something ‘fishy’ about it. So when a market vendor at the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam tries to sell him herring instead of the requested ‘kibbeling’ (fried fish), he hesitates.

But, curious as he is about the peculiarities of the Dutch, he decides to give it another try. While the vendor is preparing his order, Chad turns out to be quite knowledgeable about the history behind the Dutch love for herring.

“You know, I just so happened to be reading about herring in this one dude’s book just recently”, he explains. This ‘dude’ turns out to be former John Adams director Russell Shorto, who in his book Amsterdam wrote about the lucrative business of the herring trade that brought about the Dutch Golden Age. A term Chad is critical of, as it downplays the atrocities inflicted upon other nations during this time period.

Still, his renewed attempt at munching away herring at the Nieuwmarkt? Nothing fishy about it this time.

Where are you from? – part 2

In the first part of this blog series, we learned that Chad is not too keen on being asked where he is from. “In terms of getting to know someone, it’s such an empty question. It would be nice to be considered an individual instead of always being branded ‘an American’.

So mostly, questions like these do not lead anywhere. But sometimes they do. In the third episode of The Dutch Inquisition, Chad is out clubbing* when a girl comes up to him and asks him the dreaded question: where are you from? An animated conversation follows and even some romance.Chad points out one particular image in the story: the one where the girl offers him a drink. Not particularly mind-boggling you’d think, but according to Chad, it always has his American friends stunned. “It really shows the difference in dating culture between the Netherlands and the U.S. In the States you would never let a girl pay for anything on a date. In fact, women expect you to pay. So a girl offering a guy a round, is pretty alien to me and my friends.” Chad admits the Dutch directness between the sexes has its advantages. This time, it got him the girl and the drink.


* fun fact: most locations featured in the comic are based on pictures taken by Chad which the artists use as a source for their drawings.

Gary Dumm created the images for ‘The Four Fish Specialists’. Those of ‘The Dutch Inquisition’ were made by Bernie Mireault. All content copyright © Chad Bilyeu. Visit Chad’s website to get your copies of ‘Chad in Amsterdam’. They are also available in several bookstores in Amsterdam, like Athenaeum Boekhandel and The American Book Center. Click here for the other blogs in this series.

The Dutch Inquisition - By Chad Bilyeu & Mieke Bleeker

In the recurring item The Dutch Inquisition in the second issue of Chad in Amsterdam, Chad again goes into the subject of compartmentalization, the Dutch urge to divide the world into nicely fitting categories, as he sees it.

One of the things he loved about Amsterdam when visiting the city before moving there, was its diversity. But after settling in, he found this diversity to be somewhat superficial: all these different people hardly mingled. Instead, they would stick with their own, safely within the borders of their own group.

As he tries to explain the situation to an American friend who is visiting, it’s clear that the Dutch claim on tolerance bugs him. Are you truly tolerant when there is hardly any interaction between all these different ethnicities?Fietsdepot

Fietsdepot is a fun story, and probably the most recognizable of all for everyone living in Amsterdam, no matter your background or where you came from. The horror when you realize your bike is no longer where you parked it, but instead has been moved to the fietsdepot (‘bike depot’), located at the western outskirts of the city.

One can only empathize with Chad, while he struggles with the bureaucratic hassle and takes the trip westward by public transport and on foot.

What also seeps through, is Chad’s genuine curiosity about how things work in the Netherlands. When he meets the employee of the bike depot who is in charge of matching towed bikes with their rightful owners (the typical accent of a Dutch person who speaks English reproduced brilliantly), he lets himself get fully educated on the workings of the depot’s system.One thing he learns: chopping things up into clear-cut categories even applies to something like a bike depot. Chad: “You know what it reminds me of? The moment your plane descends to Schiphol Airport and you see the fields below, all divided into neat squares.” That’s quite a clever comparison.


DroL created the images for ‘The Dutch Inquisition’. Those of ‘Fietsdepot’ were made by Erik Why. All content copyright © Chad Bilyeu. Visit Chad’s website to get your copies of ‘Chad in Amsterdam’. They are also available in several bookstores in Amsterdam, like Athenaeum Boekhandel, The American Book Center and Zwart op Wit. Click here for the other blogs in this series.


Where Are You From? - By Chad Bilyeu & Mieke Bleeker


“Where are you from?” Chad has lost count how many times he’s been asked that question. It inspired him to create The Dutch Inquisition, a recurring item in all four issues of the comic. The question seems pretty harmless, nothing more than an easy way to start a conversation. But to Chad, it is much more.

First of all, the infamous Dutch directness: “You’re having a drink, minding your own business, and from the other side of the bar, someone yells: ‘Where are you from?’ No pleasantries, no introduction. Before you know, this guy is in your face, fully convinced he knows more about the U.S. than you do.”

But the question also touches upon another Dutch trait according to Chad: compartmentalization, in this case probably best translated by the Dutch word ‘hokjesgeest’. “Once they find out you’re American, people seem to think they have you all figured out. Like labelling you a patriot. I wouldn’t describe myself that way. It’s stereotyping people. It makes me feel like I’m on display. Nothing good ever comes out of it. Certainly not a good conversation.”

An ‘Amsterdammertje Situation’

In Amsterdammertje we meet a different Chad. Well, actually it’s the same Chad. But since each story is drawn by a different artist, we get to see multiple representations of him (the four issues almost 20 ‘Chads’), and his different sides too.

When moving to another country, he finds it important to delve into its culture, its customs, and all the weird and interesting habits that come with it. “I wouldn’t call myself an expert on Amsterdam”, he says, “but a lot of expats or even Dutch people who are not originally from Amsterdam, think they know everything there is to know about the city just because they live there. For me, that’s not enough.”

In Amsterdammertje we clearly see he did his homework. How many of you had heard of an ‘Amsterdammertje situation’ before? According to tradition, if the last bit of ‘jenever’ (gin) in the bottle turns out to be too little to fill up the glass, the customer gets it for free, while the bartender opens a new bottle to pour a full one.

At the same time, Chad admits his handling of the situation also shows his American side: too polite, using too many words to explain himself, and, because of that, losing the stand-off with the bartender, twice. That would not have happened to a smart-mouthed Amsterdammer.








Visit Chad’s website to get your copies of ‘Chad in Amsterdam’. They are also available in several bookstores in Amsterdam, like Athenaeum, The American Book Center and Zwart op Wit. Jared Bogges created the images for ‘The Dutch Inquisition’. Those of ‘Amsterdammertje’ were made by EKS Graphics. All content copyright © Chad Bilyeu.





‘Your Freedom or My Freedom?’ - By Mieke Bleeker


After a harrowing journey, the Pilgrims had finally reached the Promised Land and found their freedom. But what about the freedom of the people who were already there?

Land for grabs
The New England coast might have appeared abandoned at first. Earlier European visitors transmitted numerous diseases that ravaged the Native American communities. Between 1616 and 1619, ninety percent of the original inhabitants of the coastal region had either died or fled. Still, the Pilgrims were aware of native tribes inhabiting the land. But because the way the indigenous people lived was so foreign to them, they considered the land to be ‘unpeopled’ and unused. The Pilgrims took it as a sign from God: the land was theirs to take.

Mutual interests
Still, based on mutual interests, the Pilgrims and the local Wampanoag people developed a relative friendly relationship at first. The Pilgrims were clueless on how to get the colony started. As almost half of the Mayflower passengers had died by the spring of 1621, they were in sore need of help. The Wampanoag on the other hand were looking for allies against other hostile native tribes. This agreement might have been the origin of the so-called first Thanksgiving celebration.

(Mis)representation of the 1st Thanksgiving, J.A. Brownscombe (1914)

Thanksgiving 1621
The popular story of the first harvest festival in 1621, with Pilgrims and Native Americans joyfully coming together to give thanks and share food, came to lead a life of its own. But the exact origin for the present-day feast is hard to pinpoint. Sources tell us of Thanksgiving celebrations in Virginia as early as 1619. But whatever the true nature of the 1621 edition (some say the Wampanoag joined primarily for diplomatic reasons), in 1637 Thanksgiving took on a whole different meaning.

The relationship between the Pilgrims and the native tribes had not been without conflict, but as the influx of colonists increased, so did the competition over land and trade. Confrontations became more frequent and more violent. In 1637, a series of incidents led an alliance of colonists (including some native tribes) to burn a village of the Pequot tribe, killing hundreds of men, women, and children. The ones who didn’t die in the fire were ambushed and shot. This became known as the Mystic Massacre.

‘Sweet Sacrifice’
As far as we know, the Pilgrims did not participate in the attack. Although the brutality of the attack rattled him, Governor and Pilgrim William Bradford seems to have been pleased with the outcome. In his History of Plimoth Plantation he writes: “The victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory.” Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which was founded in 1628, proclaimed an official Day of Thanksgiving to commemorate the battle.

‘History of Plimoth Plantation’ by William Bradford

Day of Mourning
There would be more massacres and many wars. The American colonies expanded, while the native tribes were deprived of their land and their freedom. It would be oversimplified to directly blame the Pilgrims for the demise of the indigenous people, but they did play their part. It is therefore not surprising that the Native Americans of New England chose to regard Thanksgiving Day as a Day of Mourning instead.

The ultimate price
The National Day of Mourning originated in 1970 when Wampanoag leader Wamsutta was invited to make a speech in Plymouth on the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival. But when the organization found out that he intended to use his speech to address the tragic fate of the native tribes, they did not let him speak. So instead, he and his supporters gathered elsewhere. While overlooking Plymouth Harbor and the Mayflower replica, Wamsutta gave his original speech. This would become the location of a yearly manifestation honoring native ancestors and the struggles of native peoples to survive today. In the end, it was they who paid the ultimate price for other people’s freedom.

National Day of Mourning Plaque, Plymouth


This was the last blog of the blog series ‘The Pilgrim Fathers: The Price of Liberty’. Click here for part one and two.

The exhibition ‘Pilgrims to America – and the Limits of Freedom’ is part of Leiden400, a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. It highlights not only the story of the Pilgrims but the cultures and places they came into contact with as well. ‘First Americans’ at Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden showcases contemporary indigenous lives, art and politics in North America.

‘Do I Stay or Do I Go?’ - By Mieke Bleeker

Even though the Pilgrims believed strongly in God’s providence, this question must have weighed heavy on their minds. What would it be like on the other side of the ocean? Would they survive the crossing? Could they afford it? In the end, only about fifty of the three hundred people who made up the Pilgrim community in Leiden in 1620 left for the New World.

Design by Northern Light

Getting a land grant from the English King was the easy part. In 1619 they received permission from King James I to settle in Virginia. Although he considered the Pilgrims to be traitors, having them as far away from England as possible was probably for the best.

The unconditional trust the Pilgrims had in God’s will did not always work in their favor. They got misled by the Merchant Adventurers, a group of investors who financed their trip. For the first seven years in the New World, the Pilgrims were supposed to work four days a week to pay off their debt. Two weekdays could be spent working for themselves. After this time period, they would be their own masters and the houses and the surrounding land would become theirs alone. But right before they left, the deal changed: four days of work for their investors turned into six, and after seven years, the Merchant Adventurers would remain part-owners of the houses the Pilgrims built. Apparently, liberty came with a price.

Monument De Vliet Leiden, the Pilgrims’ point of departure

Family separation
And the price for freedom kept rising. In order to save money, the Merchant Adventurers decided to make room for paying customers from England and also added a group of misfits the English were happy to get rid of. Less space meant the Pilgrims had to make some difficult choices: who should go? Who would stay? Families split up, the youngest and weakest were left behind. Most of them would never see each other again.

A rocky start
In July 1620, the Pilgrims left Leiden for Delfshaven, a small harbor near Rotterdam, where they boarded the Speedwell, the boat that was purchased to sail alongside the Mayflower to America. This scene is supposedly portrayed in a painting by Adam Willaerts. After arriving in Southampton, where the other passengers boarded, both the Speedwell and the Mayflower set sail, only to return to the English coast three days later. The Speedwell was leaking uncontrollably, which happened again after a second try. They had no choice but to abandon the ship and cram into the already packed Mayflower. Some travelers, including some of the Pilgrims, decided to abandon the ordeal and stay behind.

The Departure of the Pilgrims from Delfshaven, by Adam Willaerts

Myth of the Mayflower Compact
The ten-week trip was extremely uncomfortable. The delays, bad weather, and poor navigation caused the ship to arrive in winter time instead of summer and at the wrong place: on 11 November 1620, the Mayflower anchored near Cape Cod, Massachusetts instead of reaching the coast of Virginia. After a failed attempt to sail further south, they settled for what would become the coast of New England. The passengers other than the Pilgrims saw an opportunity to get out of the arrangements: “They would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them, since they would not be settling in the agreed-upon Virginia territory.” The Pilgrims feared the new colony was doomed if they did not stick together.

Enter the Mayflower Compact. This agreement, signed by 41 of the male passengers, settled the terms of self-government for the colony which basically held the group together. The document was – and still is – often cited as the first democratic experiment on American soil, and a precursor of the U.S. Constitution.

Text of the Mayflower Compact

But that’s a myth. The Pilgrims did not aspire to a democracy, they just did what was needed for their ‘holy experiment’ to succeed. As the Compact stated, everything was “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” Did the Compact inspire the writers of the Constitution? Perhaps. But free exercise of religion for all as laid out in the First Amendment? The Pilgrims would have been horrified.


Next week: How the indigenous people paid the price for the Pilgrims’ newly found freedom

The exhibition ‘Pilgrims to America – and the Limits of Freedom’ is part of Leiden400, a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. It highlights not only the story of the Pilgrims but the cultures and places they came into contact with as well. Part of the program is a city walk which leads visitors along sites connected to the Pilgrims, like the American Pilgrim Museum and the Pilgrim Fathers Monument De Vliet.

“Can I Be Who I Am?” - By Mieke Bleeker


Can I be who I am? It’s one of the questions the exhibition Pilgrims to America – And the Limits of Freedom presents to its visitors. If we could ask the strict, Puritan religious community in England in 1608 which we now know as the Pilgrim Fathers, they would probably have answered with a negative: no, they could not be who they were in the England of that time.

Design by Northern Light

Therefore, after clashing with the English State Church and the English King over their beliefs and in fear of persecution, roughly a hundred of them decided to pack their bags and head to the Dutch Republic. The city of Leiden, a fairly tolerant city for those days, had no objections taking the English refugees in. They were free to live, believe and worship as they saw fit, as long as they worked an honest job and would live in peace.

The Pilgrims settled down quietly in Leiden and lived mostly within the confines of their close-knit community. But God had bigger plans for them.

Heaven or hell
Their ultimate goal was to return to the ‘pure’ faith of the first Christians and rid the church of everything that had no literal basis in scripture. What set the Pilgrims apart from other Puritans, was their conviction that they had been divinely chosen to serve as a beacon for the salvation of humanity, predestined to create ‘one nation under God’. If Leiden turned out not to be the right place for this ‘holy experiment’, God would surely lead them somewhere else.

Geneva Bible as used by the Pilgrims

Their strict beliefs left little room for dissent: anyone who preferred different rules of faith was on his way to hell. The tolerance the Pilgrims sought for themselves in order to freely exercise their beliefs, did not extend to the outside world.

Fear of the other
Not surprisingly, then, one of the reasons why the Pilgrims decided to leave Leiden was fear of assimilation. City life came with all kinds of temptations, and after over a decade, it got harder and harder to stay on God’s righteous path and to maintain their ‘Englishness’. Over time, their journey over the Atlantic has become synonymous with the American urge for freedom, but disdain for how others lived their life should be part of the narrative too.

Devout 17th century couple praying,(anonymous, after J. de Gheyn)

Fear of war
But we have to be fair. The reasons for their desire to leave were manifold. Life in Leiden was tough. They worked hard for low wages, mostly in the textile industry. There was also a fear of war. After a twelve-year truce, the relationship between the Dutch Republic and the Spanish had gotten very tense, with dire implications for the degree of tolerance and freedom of expression.

Time to go
This becomes clear from what happened to William Brewster, a Pilgrim who printed anonymous publications criticizing the king of England. After pressure from the English, whose help the Dutch depended on in case of a new war with Spain, Brewster was arrested and his printing materials seized. This move had been unthinkable in the years before and showed the Pilgrims that their time in Leiden was coming to an end. After eleven years, they packed up and left again, paying the price for how they envisioned freedom.

William Brewster Alley, Leiden


Next week: The Pilgrims face a dilemma. Should they stay or should they go?

The exhibition ‘Pilgrims to America – and the Limits of Freedom’ is part of Leiden400, a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. It highlights not only the story of the Pilgrims but the cultures and places they came into contact with as well.
Part of the program is a city walk which leads visitors along sites connected to the Pilgrims, like the American Pilgrim Museum, De Pieterskerk and the place where William Brewster printed his pamphlets.


Rumblings Among the Dispossessed - By Sjors Roeters


Shelter in place, they ordered. Stay home, they said.

Tonight I have neighbors for a change. I’m new on the block. I parked my van next to a family along the Pacific Coast Highway, half an hour west of Los Angeles. The stuffed garbage bags outside their beat-up car indicate that they’ve been living here for a while.

I actually have dozens of neighbors tonight, because it’s quite a good spot. There are no “NO OVERNIGHT PARKING” signs, so it appears that car and van dwellers are relatively free from harassment by police and security. And of course there’s the luxury of a porta potti on a parking spot a few hundred feet away which, according to the schedule on the door, is supposed to get emptied and cleaned once a week.

Yet even adding the Californian sunshine, and seeing and hearing the waves of the Pacific crash onto Malibu beach, I can’t stave off the sadness that sweeps over me every time I see people forced to live in their cars and on the streets – an inescapable observation in my daily life as a foreign journalist living in a van in this country. Official numbers say that there are half a million unhoused in the US. According to other estimates it is more in the range of two million.

I’m fortunate I’m not forced to live in a van. I chose to because I planned to travel across the United States for a year to follow the Bernie Sanders campaign. Then came the pandemic and all events were cancelled. After Bernie dropped out, my gaze broadened further still.

Slowly making my way up north along the West Coast, I immerse myself in Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States. Zinn was an influential American historian and this is his most famous work. First published in 1980, it sold over a million copies and has seen many updated editions since. It is considered a classic because it provided a new take on American history, from the arrival of Columbus in 1492 to the 2000 election and the ‘War on Terrorism’. The phenomena the book highlights, such as rising inequality and militarization, have become only more pronounced over time.

During its rise as a global empire, the United States, “finding itself possessed of enormous wealth, could create the richest ruling class in history,” writes Zinn, “and still have enough for the middle classes to act as a buffer between the rich and the dispossessed.”

Homeless. Unhoused. Outdoorsy

The homeless, they’re often labeled. The unhoused, they’re occasionally termed. When asked, they sometimes refer to themselves as the outdoorsy. Like Allen, an outdoorsy guy I met on a parking lot in Las Vegas. With or without a pandemic, they don’t have a home to stay safe in.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been living on the streets of the richest country in the history of the world for years. They end up in the streets for all kinds of reasons. Some because of mental illnesses and disabilities – eleven per cent of the unhoused are veterans – for which they can’t get help because they’re uninsured. As Theo Henderson, currently unhoused and residing in LA, tells in his podcast We The Unhoused: “I did not one day wake up and decide to live out on the street. I was working as an educator, and I had a diabetic coma. It happened at the most inopportune time, during the 2008 Great Recession.”

Many of the unhoused work full-time jobs, but still have to live in their cars or tents because they simply cannot afford to pay rent. The pre-pandemic ‘booming economy’ has caused rents to rise astronomically. Considering that at least twenty-two million people lost their job in the past four weeks, homelessness is bound to rise rapidly – unless people go on rent strike.

Data shows homeless communities and people of color are two to three times as likely to die from COVID-19. The middle and upper classes complain that life under lockdown is horrendous, that they want to go to bars, restaurants and shopping malls again. Meanwhile images from New York City show the working class, predominantly black and brown, crammed into subways during rush hour (not even six inches apart), because the lowest-paid jobs, the cleaners and janitors and Wal-Mart employees, can’t be done remotely.

Are all men created equal?

All men are created equal, they wrote.

COVID-19 has prompted authorities to address the homelessness crisis that has been sweeping across the US for decades. One might applaud the efforts to house the unhoused in hotels. But for whose sake? And so by extension: for how long?

I’m not getting my hopes up. This country started out as a series of colonial business enterprises – not a noble democratic experiment, as is generally claimed. A highly stratified class society quickly developed. This balance of power in favor of wealthy elites was firmly established long before the American Revolution of 1776 took place and the Constitution was written. The Constitution merely institutionalized and consolidated the power of the economic and political elites.

“The Constitution was a compromise between slaveholding interests of the South and moneyed interests of the North,” Zinn explains. It solidified the injustice and systemic violence already pervasive in the empire. “Four groups were not represented in the Constitutional Convention: slaves, indentured servants, women, men without property. And so the Constitution did not reflect the interests of those groups,” Zinn points out. But now everyone can vote, right? Zinn: “If some people had great wealth and great influence; if they had the land, the money, the newspapers, the church, the educational system – how could voting, however broad, cut into such power?”

Millions across the country are concluding that it is not enough to rely on the electoral component of democracy. People are rising up. In California calls for rent and debt strikes are becoming louder and louder. In Los Angeles people are demanding “Homes not hotels”. Since the start of the pandemic, dozens of unhoused families have taken over state-owned houses that have long stood vacant, and more continue to do so every single day.

Families reclaiming vacant state-owned homes in LA

Workplace strikes, rent strikes, debt strikes: throughout history, strikes were one of the only ways the working class and dispossessed have ever been able to gain political power and drive societal progress. This pandemic has made very clear that it is the working class that creates value in the economy; when they don’t go to work, the economy collapses. And they’re becoming aware of their power. More and more strikes are hitting corporations across the country. On May 1, nationwide rent and workplace strikes are being organized.

Something’s rumbling among the dispossessed.



Sjors Roeters (1991) is a journalist focusing on the influence of economics and tech on society.

Dutch doctors in the epicenter in New York City - By Jaap Jan Boelens and Leontine van Elden


Every evening at seven o’clock we listen to the tens of thousands of New Yorkers cheering in support of all the healthcare workers and other essential workers in emergency rooms, outpatient clinics and nursing homes. Our kids are proud of us: “They are cheering for you too!”

When we moved to New York City in the summer of 2018, we didn’t really know what to expect – but we certainly did not anticipate this. As a family of two physicians and three daughters, we decided together to make the move to New York City, with two cats and a horse. We quickly felt at home here, with the wonderful people this vibrant and multicultural city has to offer. We feel the fear too, but it never crossed our minds to leave the city in its time of need.

Get to know the neighbors

Suddenly we are getting to know our neighbors, such as Ashlee who is a Juilliard alum and teaches music at Columbia University. Daughter Isis (15, tenth grade) and little sister Faye (7) are taking piano lessons, and their music drowns out the ambulance sirens outside. And Carolina, an NYU-student from Brazil who is stuck in Brooklyn without her family, takes the subway every day from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to guide our youngest daughter Faye through her virtual schooling while we are at work. She is definitely one of those essential workers!

Merle, Faye and Isis

Disruption of our daily life

Our daily lives have been disrupted, not in the least for our daughters. Our eldest daughter Merle (a junior in high school), who loves her social life and misses her friends, bravely celebrated her eighteenth birthday solely with her nuclear family. She has emerged as a real chef, making breakfast for her little sister to keep her ‘healthy’ and preparing meals and lunches. Our cats are happier than ever, with people around all day giving them extra attention, and even horse Zoe gets ridden a couple times a week by a friend.

Seven-day shift at the Intensive Care Unit

Jaap Jan is normally responsible for managing the pediatric (bone marrow) transplantation and cellular therapy team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. We had to drastically change practice in only a couple of days. For example, the usually very frequent checkups in the main hospital weren’t possible anymore, but thanks to telemedicine we were able to do the checkups at the labs in the MSK regional centers.

Even though our hospital is a cancer center, we knew there would inevitably be a surge of COVID-19 patients. In New York hundreds of healthcare workers as well as hundreds of cancer patients contracted COVID-19.

The majority of the COVID patients admitted to our hospital had cancer. That brings an extra dimension to the treatment: what can we and can’t we do. Both of us worked to make sure that the impact on the already vulnerable (pediatric) cancer patients is as small as possible. The routine of going into a room, examining the patient and talking to the patient and the family has changed drastically: as you have seen in the media, we have to wear full protective PPE. This all takes a lot of extra time and makes contact also less personal.

Leontine just finished a seven-day shift at our Intensive Care Unit as a ‘critical care physician’, instead of her usual pulmonology practice. Although MSK is a cancer center and doesn’t have an emergency room, they have managed to create room for critically ill COVID patients. Some staff have been re-deployed to other departments. The pulmonary team Leontine normally works in, for example, is rotating in shifts.

The hospital has put a lot of effort into protecting its healthcare workers and there have been no shortages of protective material. Leontine did come home every day with stories about critically ill COVID-19 patients fighting for their lives, in complete isolation from their loved ones. But she was very much aware that the real “frontline healthcare workers” are out there.

Humble and blessed

People tell us: you are so brave, working “on the frontlines”, whilst we feel humble and salute all the helpers around us. We feel blessed to work in a highly specialized cancer care hospital where everybody is well-prepared. And above all, we are proud of our three cool kids who are handling this situation on top of a life-changing immigration just twenty months ago.


The Dutch doctors Jaap Jan Boelens (oncologist) and Leontine van Elden (pulmonologist) moved to New York City in 2018 with their three children Merle, Isis and Faye, plus two cats and horse Zoe. Jaap Jan and Leontine both work at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where for the past weeks they have been on the frontlines of the corona pandemic.

My Life as a Dog - By Leon Neyfakh


I had gotten pretty good about feeling lucky even before all this happened. But I’m now more conscious of my luck than ever, both in terms of the big picture – I am young, healthy, self-employed – as well as all the circumstantial reasons that have allowed me to experience the pandemic not as a catastrophe but as a novel interruption of my regular life.

My wife’s parents made it possible for us to leave our apartment building in Brooklyn and relocate to an empty house outside the city. We are “stuck” here with two of our closest friends and two cute dogs who don’t mind each other. The four of us spend our days doing work while sitting on couches; when we finish for the day, we take the dogs out to a field where they can run around, and in the evenings, we take turns cooking dinner. When it gets cold in the house, we can turn up the thermostat. There is literally nothing to complain about.

The biggest luxury might be that we have full control over what we know about the outside world, and how much information we’re exposed to about the suffering we’re being spared. We could fill each day reading about people who are sick and dying; doctors and hospital staff who are making impossible decisions on little to no sleep; workers and business-owners who don’t know how they’ll recover their losses or start earning money again. I do read about all those things, and I do empathize and donate and mourn and worry. But I do so from the comfort of my temporary home. And the fact is I could choose to ignore it all if I felt like it.

Having this discretion insulates me from reality to a degree that should be impossible. It is a form of extreme luck that a stronger, less selfish person might try to redistribute. But I have convinced myself, conveniently, that there’s little I could give up that would help anyone else. It makes me wonder how the people without my luck – the people with loved ones who have died, who are waiting in food lines, who are risking their own health by going out into the world to help others – would conceptualize the difference between us, if they didn’t have more urgent things to think about. I wouldn’t blame them for hating my guts.

After I finish writing this, I will take my dog outside to pee; then I’ll give him breakfast and pet him while he sleeps on a literal tuffet. My wife and I have had him for 5 years now, and on countless occasions, during moments of acute work-related stress, we have glanced over at him and thought, “You have no idea what’s going on, you’ve never had to do anything, and nothing bad has ever happened to you.” All true. Lucky dog.


Leon Neyfakh is an American podcast maker. He created the award-winning podcast series ‘Slow Burn’, about the Watergate scandal and the Lewinsky-affair. His podcast ‘Fiasco’ deals with the hotly contested 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush and the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration. Leon Neyfakh visited the John Adams to talk about storytelling in the digital age in 2019.

Quiet Spring in Rock Creek Park - By Bas Blokker


Every morning my editor calls from the Netherlands. We discuss what we think is happening in the United States, what we’ve read or seen, and what could be a topic for me to write about. He used to call from the Amsterdam office of the national daily NRC Handelsblad, a four-storied workspace in the old center of the city. The sound of coffee machines and colleagues in the background. Now the only sounds other than his voice, are the shrieks of his young children. He’s working from home. As millions and millions of people are doing. As I am in Washington DC. Trying to be a correspondent for the USA.

Once our deliberations are done, I get to work. Plenty to write about. And every day, somewhere between four and five o’clock, I put on my shoes and coat, and I go out. I walk, sometimes I ride my bike to some place where walking is nicer, unknown. That’s a new ritual.

A week ago, I went to New York to write a story about a city that has found itself in the heart of the pandemic. As I drove back home to Washington DC, I heard Dr. Anthony Fauci say during the daily White House press conference that people who had been in New York City and left for another place should self-quarantine for two weeks. Since then, my world has shrunk into the size of my house – but for the daily walks.

Car-less Sundays

Now I have to be careful to not trivialize the gravity of this epidemic. Every day stories, pictures and podcasts fill my ears and eyes with people getting sick, people suffocating and people dying. I’ve seen pictures of bodies being stacked in refrigerated trucks in New York because the morgues are overflowing. There cannot be a lighter side to this.

Still, every time I go outside to walk, I see other people doing the same. The sound of cars and busses has been replaced by the sounds of people talking, children laughing, bikers ringing their bell.

In the Netherlands some people have compared the corona-walks there to the 1973 oil crisis. Back then the oil-producing countries strangled the western countries that supported Israel during the Yom Kippur war. The Dutch government proclaimed a ‘car-less’ Sunday for each month the oil embargo held. Kids skated on the highways.

Spike in gun sales

All differences aside, I see what they mean. There is a peacefulness to these walks that belies the severity of this crisis, apparently in the Netherlands just as it is in Washington. It could be that this feeling will fade as the weeks of ‘stopping the spread’ grow into months, which I think is inevitable. As food or other daily needs get more scarce, people might dig in and turn to some real aggressive hoarding. And if I am really trying to scare myself, I read about the huge spike in gun sales. (Not as high as the Obama-election spike, though. Apparently that was even scarier.)

Nietzsche? Or Conan the Barbarian?

But until that moment, let me enjoy this quiet spring in Rock Creek Park. A father throwing balls with his 9-year old son. A couple letting their toddler swing on the hanging branches of a tree. A lonely man (social distancing!) reading on a park bench. My neighbor’s piano playing has definitely improved these weeks.

There are a lot of caveats: domestic violence is bound to spike, some parents could go crazy because of the children being around all the time. My editor keeps warning me to take time off. He says people staying at home tend to lose track of their working hours, at the risk of burning out.

But I can’t help thinking that the people that don’t catch the Covid-19-virus, who don’t get sick at least, will be healthier because of the way of living these weeks. Less stress (maybe) and more walks (definitely). To quote Nietzsche: what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger. Or was it Conan the Barbarian who said that?


Bas Blokker is US Correspondent for NRC Media (NRC Handelsbald, NRC Next, nrc.nl). He lives in Washington DC.

Mieke Kirkels – The Oral History of the Black Liberators - By Jonathan Pieterse


There is one person who has done more than anyone else in the Netherlands to bring the stories of the Black Liberators into the light of day: Dutch oral historian Mieke Kirkels. She is the author of From Farmland to Soldiers Cemetery, From Alabama to Margraten and Children of Black Liberators. I interviewed her to hear how she discovered the suppressed history of the participation of African American soldiers during World War II.

Kirkels decided to interview Dutch farmers in the Margraten area for the National Project ‘Heritage of World War II: Eyewitness Accounts’, which started in 2008, to hear what the farmers thought of their farmland becoming a military cemetery. Kirkels’ story is filled with remarkable coincidences, such as this one: “In one of the first interviews an older woman told me: ‘I felt so sorry for those poor black guys.’ I had no idea what she was talking about: to me, the American liberators were white guys with their shiny boots, helmet and a big smile. But she was talking about black guys having to bury all those bodies! Many of the farmers I interviewed confirmed it.”

The revelation that African American soldiers were stationed in the Netherlands prompted Kirkels to try to incorporate them into her project about the cemetery at Margraten. However, by 2009 she had found so little information that she almost decided to continue without their stories. Then, out of the blue, she got an email from the United States. “It sounds like a coincidence, but to me it felt like fate: An American woman wrote to say she was so glad the website about the cemetery at Margraten was in English, since her neighbor had been a US Army captain in World War II.”

Dr. Wiggins

This neighbor, Captain Solms, turned out to have been in charge of a unit of African American soldiers who dug graves at Margraten. But he was white. Was he by any chance still in touch with any of those African American soldiers? The veterans’ organizations were whites-only back then. But Solms had met one of them two years before, and still had his phone number! His name was dr. Jefferson Wiggins from Connecticut, born in Alabama. Kirkels interviewed both dr. Wiggins and Captain Solms and in September 2009 they both came to Margraten to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Dutch province of Limburg.

Dr. Wiggins asked Kirkels to help him write his memoirs (From Alabama to Margraten, published in 2014) of his three years in the segregated US army during World War II. She was the only person he had met in the Netherlands who knew of the segregation. That ignorance was not limited to the Netherlands. Kirkels: “American journalists, accredited by the US Army to come to Europe, were forbidden to write about the African American soldiers.”

Children of Black Liberators

Another startling coincidence led to her next project, the book Children of Black Liberators (2017). “People could order the book From Alabama to Margraten and pick it up themselves. Suddenly there is this man of color standing in front of me. He took my hand and said: ‘I am so happy with your book, I have been searching for years in archives for black soldiers stationed here, because my father was one.’ His name was Huub Schepers. Eventually, about 25 children of African American soldiers reached out and 12 of them were willing to be interviewed. Through this project these ‘children of black liberators’ became like the family that some of them never had.”

Kirkels also interviewed pastor Matthew Southall Brown sr, a black veteran, by phone in 2016. Three years later in May 2019, he emailed her that he wanted to visit the cemetery at Margraten. The American embassy then invited him to represent the U.S. as a guest of honor at the official start of 75 years Freedom in the Netherlands. Pastor Brown was one of 7 veterans present at the commemoration – and the first guest to shake the king’s hand. “For me, it has now come full circle.”

Race code 2

Kirkels is now researching the African American soldiers who are buried at Margraten. Her colleague, researcher Sebastiaan Vonk, made a final list of 172 African Americans buried there. They were able to identiy them om the basis of the race code on the burial certificates: race code 2 were African Americans. Vonk is now leading a project in the United States to interview the relatives of those 172 soldiers, with the aim of telling the story of a group of soldiers who have been forgotten until now. Kirkels: “There are a couple of websites about American cemeteries, but they are just about white American soldiers. We want to give the African American soldiers of Margraten a face and tell their stories.”


For more stories about African American soldiers in the Netherlands and Mieke Kirkels’ research, visit https://blackliberators.nl. This is the final blog in our series on the Black Liberators. Click here to read the whole series.

Pictures © Martijn Beekman/Jean Pierre Geussens, Artwork © Brian Elstak

All In All We Be Blessed - By Michael Martin


After leaving the Netherlands ten years ago my family and I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where we still rent an old red-brick parsonage adjoining a Moravian church. Directly across our street is an elementary school and around the corner a middle school; within a couple of blocks you’ve got two more churches, a public pool and a few day-care centers. Weekends come and the school playground across the road turns into a neighborhood park; kids shoot hoop and dogs get walked and if you want to talk to someone you can talk. What a big slice of life just out the front door! But no more.

For awhile it’s been like I don’t know what it is we’re nowhere near the end of.

The churches were one of the first acts around town to get wise to the situation. After they shut down on account of the coronavirus everything else soon followed and now the neighborhood and the city is oh so quiet.

But boy are we fortunate. My wife can work from her home office and the boys are dialed into their school with something called ‘remote learning.’ They don’t seem to miss seeing their friends and I know they don’t miss their teachers. When I first thought about all of us being at home together day after day for god knows how long I think to myself, ‘Uh-oh.’ But some survival instinct seems to have kicked in for each of us. I make breakfast for the boys each morning. Never did that before. Christa bakes bread after that. We watch bad movies together at night. We’re taking polaroid pictures of apples and the dog. Hang ‘em on the fridge. The din from the nearby freeway is gone. No planes overhead. The birds seem louder. All in all we be blessed, even though the anxiety visitations come upon me from time to time — that bad worry about everyone I love.

Horses don’t like being alone either. It’s the herd thing. I was out riding the other day with a friend who has three horses stabled at her farm about an hour from our place. My friend rode the gelding and I took one of her mares while the other mare, Daisy, remained behind at the barn.

We steered Gigi and Elijah along the shoulder of a two-lane asphalt road. Even in these rural areas, everyone is laying low so only a few vehicles came up on us. As they slowly eased by each driver would wave and we would wave back.

“My dad loved his country because he could criticize it. It meant he cared”.

Horses spook easily when they’re away from what they’re used to – the scent of other critters, funny noises, those kind of things can get them edgy. If they sense a danger they might dash for home – with you or without you, makes no difference to them. But Gigi and Elijah were easy that day. The ride smooth and peaceful and as the morning rolled along for some reason I got to thinking about my father.

I got to thinking what my old man would make of the mess America is now. The Trump Virus and all. My dad had flown hundreds of missions in the Air Force in two wars. But he was no patriot. Didn’t own the Vietnam Vet hat. Would have scoffed if someone ‘thanked him for his service’. He was just a good pilot and liked the steady pay for being one. He loved his country because he could criticize it. It meant he cared. When he was alive he’d make his comments on the whole national circus without saying a word. He’d couch in front of the evening news and I’d be close to the old man, studying what he’d shake his head so incredulously at, when he’d take a deeper pull from his cigarette. I was working all that stuff in my head as we turned the horses around to head back to the farm.

“Gigi and Elijah picked up their gait, ready to canter back to their farm.”

It’s called ‘barn sour’ – the herd instinct. Gigi and Elijah picked up their gait right away, ready to trot, ready to canter back the long haul to their farm. To Daisy. We worked the reins and held the horses back and had we not they would have had their way with us and galloped home. As we rode along the mare and gelding heard Daisy braying from the barn and brayed back. And we weren’t even that close.

We rode the mare and gelding into my friend’s pasture. We unsaddled the horses and slipped the bridles off and carried it all away as the horses ran around. When I got to Daisy in her stall she was loathing it all like a tiger in a cage. I cornered her and slipped a harness and rope on her. Walked her toward the pasture. The closer we got the more I had to hold the mare back. The closer we got it felt she’d pull my arm off just to get into the pasture with her pals.


Michael Martin is the author of ‘Extended Remark: Poems from a Moravian Parking Lot’ (Portals Press). For decades his poetry has been published widely in literary magazines, including Poetry Ireland, the Moth, American Journal of Poetry, RHINO Poetry, New Orleans Review, Carolina Quarterly & Berkeley Poetry Review.

He co-founded the literary magazine Hogtown Creek Review and for a decade lived in the Netherlands, where he was a feature writer and contributing editor with Amsterdam Weekly. In 2010 he edited the anthology ‘Rules of the Game: The Best Sports Writing’ from Harper’s Magazine. He’s been a consulting editor for Lewis Lapham, Dutch film director Louis van Gasteren, poet Jack Butler and author Jim Bouton. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and boys.


False Reassurance - By Casper Thomas


Life under lockdown in Washington DC has quickly led to new habits. The daily late-afternoon walk ranks in the category ‘pleasant’. The Corona-crisis has turned parts of DC into what sometimes resembles a Southern European city: countless people just going around the neighbourhood, stopping for a chat. People on the streets instead of cars. This is one aspect that I hope remains after the days of quarantine are over.

There is of a course a local touch to this leisurely spectacle. Normally one of the most dressed-up cities in the US, DC now seems to wear little else but sports kit and ‘athleisure’ wear. If I were to make a Corona-investment, it would be in companies producing yoga pants. Until then, I try and spend money at local restaurants than are eerily empty now. Ben’s Chili Bowl – in business since 1958 – had a radio add calling on customers to do take out. I happily obliged.

Five o’clock is now competing with other moments of the day for the cocktail hour slot. ‘We have rediscovered daytime drinking’, a neighbour merrily announced. Being a foreign correspondent means 17:00 hours is Trump time. At that moment the White House holds its daily Corona-briefing. Like the daily sitcom, there is always anticipation about who will star today. The President himself of course is the lead character, and vice-president Pence is rarely absent. Around this core duo, there is a revolving cast of characters. Medical experts, military men and the president’s own family, to all of whom Trump grants the stage.

Will Anthony Fauci, the country’s top epidemiologist speak? Or will he only stand there, keeping a plain face, trying to not reveal his inner thoughts as the president of the United States touts unproven drug treatments for Corona and spreads misinformation. ‘We are doing a great job’. ‘We have this under control’. ‘I have great relations with the State governors’.

In the midst of the greatest health crisis the US has seen in a century, Trump deals in false reassurance. The registered death toll is nearing the 15.000 and expected to reach the 100.000 or beyond. New York City is considering mass burial sites in public parks. On Twitter, Trump taunts and insults State governors, who beg the federal government to supply more emergency ventilators and masks. As long as the Corona-crisis lasts, United is the last thing these States are.

On a recent occasion, The Corona-briefing featured Michael J. Lindell. From Minnesota and with an estimated net worth of $300 million, this businessman stood behind the lectern to explain what Americans should do now the virus spreads. The US was a nation ’that had turned its back on God’, Lindell Said. It was time to ‘go home and get back in the Word’.

The enormous reservoir of religiosity among Americans is, admittedly, one of the things I struggle with most to get my head around. Maybe it’s my personal conviction that faith, or non-belief, is best practiced in private – I consider a church congregation hovering between the public and the private sphere – and preferably not talked about. Lindell reminded me why. ‘God gave us the grace on November 8 2016 to change the course we were on’, he said. I consider politicians elected, not as divine gifts. When faith meets political power, the inexcusable becomes a priori pardoned. Trump has proven a case in point on numerous occasions.

Lindell is also an ‘inventor’ and the CEO of My Pillow, an online company dealing in, well, pillows. On its website, you can buy his book filled with entrepreneurial wisdom as well as a Mike Lindell bobble-head-figure. Perhaps this effigy will now be in higher demand, as Lindell has converted part of his production capacity to making facemasks. He had been invited by Trump to announce this generous act of supplying the nation in times of need. There was a question begged by this little spectacle of capitalist theocracy that America in a way has become. Why are facemasks, cheap and even less perishable than Twinkies, in such short supply in the US?

The Surgeon General recently reported critical shortages of all medical supplies. US hospitals report having to compete for stock amongst each other, often finding batches snatched away by a higher bidder. The Corona outbreak is considered a global health crisis. At the same time, it is a crisis of completely market-based healthcare systems that promise rewards for those who can turn scarcity into profit.

While writing the paragraph above, the name of one of the main proponents of an alternative health care system, pops up in my mailbox under the header ‘breaking news’. Bernie Sanders is quitting the primaries, making Joe Biden in all likelihood the Democratic nominee. Sanders’ free health care for all plan was one of the reasons many moderate Democrats were reluctant to pit him against Trump. Political history does not deal in ‘ifs’, but one wonders how the primaries would have played out if Corona had hit a few months earlier.

Still, health care persistently ranks as the number one topic of concern for American voters on either side of the political divide. Bernie throwing in the towel was a reminder that a presidential election waits at the end – or maybe in the midst – of this. US financial institutions operate on scenarios that the economy will not return to full normal until the summer of 2021. Events drawing large crowds, for instance, may be banned for a significant period of time. The mass rally is perhaps the most defining feature of US elections, and I was looking forward to reporting on them. Instead, I brace myself for more televised speeches. Not having a fired-up MAGA-crowd may turn out to be Trumps biggest problem that comes out of the Corona-crisis.


Casper Thomas is correspondent in Washington D.C. for Het Financieele Dagblad and editor of De Groene Amsterdammer.




Marga Altena – Bringing Color to Dutch History - By Jonathan Pieterse

Marga Altena wrote the text for the graphic novel Franklin – Een Nederlands Bevrijdingsverhaal (Franklin – A Dutch Liberation Story). She is a cultural historian who publishes about class and ethnicity like the book A True History Full of Romance. Mixed Marriages and Ethnic Identity in Dutch Art, News Media and Popular Culture (1833-1955). The scenario for Franklin, her first non-fiction book, is based on her own research and studies like Cees van Kouwen’s Forgotten Liberators and Mieke Kirkels’ Children of Black Liberators. Marga is a project coordinator for Loving Day.nl, a platform for researchers and others interested in mixed race relationships and families in the Netherlands. As such, Loving Day facilitated and organized the Black Liberators project. Loving Day was named after the married couple Mildred and Richard Loving. You can watch the trailer for the movie based on their life.

How did Marga come to be interested in mixed-race couples and African American soldiers in World War II? “I was asked for this project because of my earlier work. For my PhD thesis, I studied how in the Netherlands about 1900, photos and films of female factory workers were employed by various producers to support very different political agendas. I discovered that there was a great likeness in the ways class and raciality were expressed. That’s why my thesis Visual Strategies was followed by my study of ethnicity in the Netherlands, resulting in the book A True History Full of Romance.

© Brian Elstak

An important storyline in Franklin is how Frances, the granddaughter of the African American soldier Franklin, decides to find out who her grandfather was. She visits archives and searches online, looking for hints of her past. Was this a way for Marga to incorporate her research methods into the story she was writing? “Yes indeed. It was a way to show how historians do research, but my main object was to write a scenario about African American soldiers that would interest a large and varied public. It helps that Franklin includes several generations. For young readers it can be difficult to relate to people who lived 75 years ago. For them, it is easier to sympathize with a protagonist who they can imagine to be their grandfather. I hope that Franklin shows that this history still affects people’s lives today.”

The Black Liberators have long been a forgotten part of Dutch history. Why? Marga speaks from her own experience: “In Dutch research and in society the topic of raciality has long been avoided. I was told that researching racial issues in the Netherlands meant risking my career.” This is still a problem: When the Dutch news organization NOS covered our NIOD exhibition, their website received 900 negative reactions within 5 days. Comments dismissed NIOD, a respectable organization, as “a left-wing grachtengordel institution’ and the exhibition organizers as “out to divide the Netherlands.” Other comments stated that we are “forcing diversity into Dutch history” when we aim to fill a void in historiography and do justice to the Black Liberators. As a researcher, Marga studies patterns in people’s expressions and in media representations. If patterns of exclusion keep repeating themselves and prove to have long histories, you cannot but conclude that that the Dutch still have a problem with racism today.

In Franklin the children of the Black Liberators are highlighted. They were included to do justice to these children, and to show how history influences peoples’ lives today. The children of the Black Liberators were very visible in Dutch society at that time and they were considered a disgrace. Often, these children were sent away from their mothers and put in foster homes and institutions. There they were mistreated and sexually abused to such an extent that many were traumatized for life. As adults, they could only feel safe with their spouses and children; the rest of the world felt hostile.

Black Liberators Exhibition

Finally, I asked Marga how Franklin and the Black Liberators exhibition have been received by the public. At the exhibition at NIOD, like at the Vrijheidsmuseum in Groesbeek and at Theater aan het Vrijthof in Maastricht, visitor reactions have been very positive. Some of the visitors were children of Black Liberators themselves and they felt recognized and seen. Other visitors are surprised to learn about the existence of black soldiers in the Netherlands. Some wish to make them more visible in Dutch history, saying: “Every Dutch person should know this story!” The book sales for Franklin started slowly but are now picking up. And even more now the book has been selected as one of The Best Book Designs. Marga hopes that before long, Franklin will become widely popular and turn into a textbook classic. 100 copies are donated to school libraries to ensure that the story remains accessible in the future. Franklin – A Dutch Liberation Story is available at book shops, websites and through Rose Stories.

The first installment of our blog series was an interview with Brian Elstak, who created the art of Franklin. The second blog is an interview with NIOD researcher Kees Ribbens. The third blog is based on a talk by professor Gloria Wekker, about forgotten and suppressed history.

How We Live Now - By Russell Shorto


My wife and I both work from home. We live in a small town in the mountains of western Maryland, which is always quiet. So: not much change. Except that our 10 year old is no longer in school, and our 19 year old is back from his first year at university. Both of them are here with us, roaming around the house, settling in front of a computer to do some school work, then roaming again. Maybe what’s weirdest about that is that they’re both being so nice. We all are. Nobody is panicking or getting on each other’s nerves. I guess we all know there’s nowhere to go, so we don’t let ourselves slip into bitchiness or pouting, which would only spiral downward.

We go on long walks, together or in pairs or alone with the dog.

Of course we consume news fiendishly, including from friends and family, and report findings to whoever is in the same room. “Prince Charles has it.” “Is somebody taking care of your aunt?” Yesterday we learned that Pamela’s niece, a nurse in the neo-natal unit at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, was told they were running out of hospital masks so they should be prepared to bring bandannas to work. That is possibly the single most alarming thing I’ve heard to date.

It is impossible to overstate the hideousness of Trump, including the fact that a large majority of Republicans continue to see him as a credible human being, let alone as a credible leader. His hideousness has grown exponentially with all of this. The future will look back on the Republican Party in the United States at this moment as on a par with the very lowest depths of human thought and morality.

My mother is sheltering with my sister and her family, which is a relief: everyone in that household is working from home. My niece was on a plane last week and the man next to her was coughing; today she doesn’t feel well so everyone is wondering if she has it. A friend in New York told me yesterday he has been volunteering at a homeless shelter, which is noble and kind, but I worry about him getting the virus. He lives alone and has no family.

Every day more people tell me they are watching Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences as an antidote to Trump’s horror shows. Cuomo offers information and empathy. In the evenings he appears on his brother’s news show on CNN. Their mix of news with fraternal taunting is the first big TV hit of the coronavirus era.

At the start of all of this, I bought a jigsaw puzzle, figuring we would be stuck together and it would be a family project. Nobody has done more than fiddle with a few pieces. Maybe we’ll start on it in a week or two. It’s a painting of the facade of Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris. I loved going there when I was in Paris in my early twenties, pretending that I’d just missed Ernest Hemingway paying a visit to Sylvia Beach.

Benji, the 19 year old, has become a body builder. When I told him he couldn’t go to the gym, he didn’t get angry but instead put together a homemade gym in the car port out back, then announced that he was going to provide customized training regimens for Pamela and Anthony. They’ve been doing their workouts, maybe more for his sake than theirs. So far I have been able to resist getting buff.

We all four eat dinner together every single night. They’ve been pretty great dinners, both the food and the conversation. Relaxed, roaming topics. The virus filters into the conversation, then gives way to another subject. Last night we were talking a lot about our apartment in Amsterdam, and the time one of the two cats — Simon — ran away. Simon never returned. Garfunkel continued living with us for years, then last year he got hit by a car. We wondered if maybe Simon was still out there, roaming Oud Zuid.


Russell Shorto is an American writer, historian and journalist, best known for his book on the Dutch origins of New York City, ‘The Island of the Center of the World’. He is also the author of ‘Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom’, which tells the story of the American Revolution through the eyes of six Americans from vastly different walks of life. Shorto is a former director of the John Adams Institute. He currently lives in Maryland. He is a senior scholar at the New Netherland Institute and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.

A Stage Set without Actors or Audience - By Brian Rose


As a photographer, the concept of sheltering in place is foreign to my instincts, but here in New York, in the midst of this invisible infectious storm, we have been ordered to stay at home. However, we are permitted the liberty of taking walks as long as we maintain the requisite social distance of six feet (2 meters). So I’ve been walking the streets and parks of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, largely devoid of human presence, a stage set without actors, and no audience, still brightly lit. It is a troubling, but strangely beautiful moment in the history of this dynamic city, the daily ebb and flow of commuters from the suburbs frozen, and the countless flights from abroad grounded. We are alone in the world together – all nine million of us.

Having done this work a long time – documenting the urban landscape – I understand the value of taking a patient measure of change and continuity in contrast to the more episodic nature of photojournalism. In 1980 I photographed the Lower East Side at a time when New York was crumbling, and many had given up on the city. In retrospect, it turned out to be a moment of rebirth more than a moment of decline. My photographs serve as a record of that inflection point in history.

A few years later, I photographed the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. I did not know when I started that project that the wall would soon open, that democracy would sweep across eastern Europe, and that my work would constitute a key document of that time.

Before 9/11, I made many photographs of lower Manhattan that included the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers as ubiquitous signposts on the skyline. After their destruction, I continued to photograph the site, collecting visual evidence, following the gradual rebuilding of the city. I had no special access. No commission. I just did what I do as a photographer.

The greatest lesson for me, as obvious as it may be, is to never take anything for granted. Even the most seemingly permanent of structures – physical, political, cultural – can disappear in the blink of an eye. The present is quite likely another pivotal moment in history. It will test our resilience as urban animals, human beings, living in a complex, dense environment. It will test our institutions and possibly our democracy.

The pictures I am taking are not dramatic depictions of the calamity that has befallen New York. They are simply what I see walking the streets in this “time of plague”. The trees are blooming, and the sky is blue, adding insult to injury. Or perhaps, signalling hope that we will come through this stronger, as we have come through great upheavals in the past.

Photographer Brian Rose studied urban design at the University of Virginia and moved to New York City in 1977 to attend Cooper Union. In 1980, he and fellow Cooper graduate Edward Fausty photographed the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In 1985 Rose began photographing the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, resulting in the book ‘The Lost Border. The Landscape of the Iron Curtain’ (Princeton Architectural Press, 2004).

From 1993 to 2007, Rose lived in Amsterdam. In 1998 he photographed the Mercatorplein neighborhood with its immigrant population and Amsterdam School architecture: ‘Mercatorplein, Image of a World in Amsterdam’. Back in New York in the mid-2000s, Rose began re-photographing the Lower East Side of New York. ‘Time and Space on the Lower East Side’ (2010) was followed by two companion books: ‘Metamorphosis’, about the Meatpacking District, and ‘WTC’, a chronicle of the Twin Towers and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

His most recent project was about Atlantic City (Circa Press, 2019). In a series of urban landscape images, Rose portrays Atlantic City as a metaphor for America’s dysfunctional politics. The John Adams Institute devoted a blog series to this project. Rose’s images have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All images © Brian Rose






Gloria Wekker – Suppressed Histories - By Jonathan Pieterse


Gloria Wekker is an professor emeritus of Gender and Ethnicity at the University of Utrecht. In 2016 Duke University Press published White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race, about racism in the Netherlands. She is Surinamese-Dutch. At the Institute for War-, Holocaust- and Genocidestudies she spoke about the importance of an inclusive history. The occasion was the opening of the exhibition Black Liberators, about the Afro-American soldiers who helped liberate Western Europe during the Second World War.

©Lenny Oosterwijk

While reading the graphic novel Franklin: A Dutch Liberation Story, professor Wekker was struck by the general ignorance in the Netherlands on the topic of the children of black liberators. Is this a forgotten history, or a suppressed one, she wondered? There is an important difference between the two. A forgotten history has an accidental character, there was no deliberate attempt to ‘forget’ it.

Tapestry depicting the history of African-American soldiers during World War II in the Netherlands. After drawings by Brian Elstak, designed by Lyanne Tonk and woven by FiberArt Pure Country Weavers.

However, the suppression of history is very intentional. It refers to hidden power structures. Who decides which questions are addressed in the discipline of history? Why has it taken until now until the history of these children of black liberators was written? It may be a cliché to say that history is written by the victors: but like most clichés it is also true. Ann Stoler, the Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research in New York City, has coined the term colonial aphasia, which may be of use here.¹ Aphasia is a disorder which impairs a person’s ability to process language. Instead of talking about colonial amnesia, we should speak of the collective inability to speak. Colonial Aphasia is about 1. Actively cutting off knowledge, 2. The inability to create a vocabulary that connects appropriate words and terms with the corresponding things, and 3. The inability to understand the importance of that which has already been said.

Professor Wekker can speak about colonial aphasia from experience. When she was the Chair of the Diversity Commission at the University of Amsterdam in 2015-2016, many of the interviewed staff spoke openly of the lack of female professors and associate professors, but there was an incapacity to speak about religion and especially race and ethnicity. There was no vocabulary that allows the staff to speak out. Those who manage to speak on the topic, say: “with time, more teachers and students-of-color will come…” effectively placing the blame for their absence at the feet of the excluded groups.

Jonathan Israel – The Dutch Republic

Professor Wekker returns to history. She says that what she regards as the four canonical works on Dutch history, Israel, Schama, Shorto and Kennedy―all by foreign authors, coincidentally―have one fact in common: Race is conspicuously absent from their histories of the Netherlands. They reflect to the Dutch what they believe of themselves already and what they presumably have told these authors: we don’t do race, nor racism. And so, the issue of race in Dutch history is not forgotten, it is suppressed. Only now, it seems, has the time come where we can finally allow ourselves to look at the history of the black liberators and their children.

Tapestry depicting the history of African-American soldiers during World War II in the Netherlands. After drawings by Brian Elstak, designed by Lyanne Tonk and woven by FiberArt Pure Country Weavers.

If you have missed our previous two blogs, click here for my interview with Brian Elstak, the illustrator of Franklin – A Dutch Liberation Story. And click here for my interview with professor Kees Ribbens, about comics and popular history.


  1. Stoler, A.N. Colonial Aphasia: Race and Disabled Histories in France, Public Culture 23:1, 2011.


Celebrating a Birthday – via Zoom - By Deborah Frieden


It was time for my first social distancing Happy Hour. On the block where I live, in Oakland, California, my neighbors stepped out onto their porches or front yards with a drink and we all toasted each other from a safe distance. My husband and I live at the bottom of a hill. So when we stepped outside we couldn’t see anyone. Still holding our French 75 cocktails, we emailed our neighbors that we were outside. Seconds later, one replied – just walk up the hill, we are here!

Since then other small moments of connection and generosity have occurred – calls from distant friends, a visit from a neighbor checking in on us (standing ten feet apart on our deck) and the forming of a neighborhood email list to provide help to anyone in need. Tonight, we are holding a virtual birthday party for my husband with friends who had otherwise intended to throw him a party. We will convene over Zoom with drinks in hand so we can see one another despite my aversion to how the computer camera seems to age me worse than in real life! Small gestures are now big things in our lives.

“We are simultaneously in need of news and yet unable to take one more minute of it all.”

We have been at home for 12 days now, although it was only 4 days ago that Governor Gavin Newsom put the “shelter in place order” into effect for all Californians. This means Californians must stay at home except for essential trips like grocery or pharmacy shopping, medical help or other necessary activity. Yesterday was a glorious spring day and we took a walk through the neighborhood to see all the gorgeous flowers in bloom – it seemed like an ordinary weekend, except we crossed the street every time someone came toward us. There remains a surreal quality to it all – everything looks normal except for how quiet it is on normally busy streets. Getting out for exercise and fresh air is helping a lot to keep our spirits up, but the rain is returning so we’ll have some gloomy days coming up.

Shopping is very much an issue…what’s safe and what’s not? Picture a bumper car game, but now the objective is to stay as far apart as possible when traffic is coming from all directions. This was us this past weekend, when my daughter Adrienne (33) and I braved our local farmers’ market to obtain some fresh food. Weirdly only the young people were wearing masks. We could only wonder what that was about, as my daughter helped steer me away from busy stalls or the inevitable oblivious wanderer.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf had asked the markets to stay open to support our small farmers, but also to make fresh produce available when the grocery stores’ shelves were often bare. I bought an armload of tulips in season now since I don’t know if the small family farmer will be able to stay in business. Since then though, we are no longer even going out to shop and are using online purchasing.

“My daughter scored toilet paper at her local market and gave it to my husband for his birthday.”

Ordering food is a game of chance too. Deliveries get postponed for no apparent reason but then when they do come, you get a quarter of the order and it is always the most random set of items, rarely the basics. Today two tubes of toothpaste, a jar of peanut butter and a bottle of rice vinegar arrived at my doorstep – what will I do with these? Supposedly, the flour, oatmeal, milk and butter will come later… but no mention of the meat. There is still almost no toilet paper anywhere, although my daughter scored a 12-pack at her local corner market and gave it to my husband for his birthday. Fortunately he appreciated the ironic humor of her gesture. That said, there is a lot of food coming into the city and the delivery networks are ramping up, so we expect things to improve shortly.

Finally, I must say something about the TV. We are simultaneously in need of news and information and yet unable to take one more minute of it all. Many of us have substituted the ‘news’ sent by friends as we sit at our computers hoping to work but distracted by a sense of restlessness, curiosity, and an overwhelming need to know what our friends and family are doing. Which brings me back to where I started…the small things mean a lot right now.


Deborah Frieden lives in Oakland, California. She is a cultural project planning consultant assisting organizations and municipalities in planning for the creation of new museums, cultural centers, district initiatives or the re-envisioning of existing institutions. Her work is national as well as international and goes beyond the walls of the institutions and explores the contextual issues of cultural organizations in their specific communities, who they serve, and how their development will enhance their community. In 2006, Deborah was awarded the prestigious Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in recognition of her work. She spent a year in residence in 2006-7 and is currently serving on the Alumni Council. 

At Sea Without A Captain - by Kim Wehle


The question of how America is dealing with COVID-19 warrants a response on at least three levels: the personal, the political, and the ethical.

On a personal level, the feeling in the United States seems to toggle between anxiety and fear on the one hand and, by some reports, indifference on the other. I live right outside Washington, D.C., hunkered down with my four daughters, who are finding ways to enjoy the downtime even though they can’t see their friends. My older, college-age girls have quickly realized that this is a rare time in their young lives where the ‘have-to’s’ cease. They still do online classes, but are able to indulge in art, reading, TV-binging, and cooking without having to satisfy the social draw of their friends or the obligations of work. The younger ones seem more able to tolerate the hours that lie ahead with ease – perhaps a reflection of how “boredom” is something that children learn to handle with aplomb.

Yet in some parts of the country, people are reportedly still going about their business as if little has changed. This is due no doubt to a lack information – or blatant misinformation from certain facets of the media and even the White House – as well as, perhaps, the general human instinct to shy away from truths that are too overwhelming to fathom. Death is one of them.

“We will collectively lose many lives that could have been saved if measures had been taken earlier.”

Politically, the United States is at sea without a captain. President Trump has proven himself unable to muster basic compassion or leadership and continues to dispute the validity of science and expertise. This is not surprising given who he is, but the implications are devastatingly serious. Without a strong leader, Americans are left to navigate the storm largely on their own. State and local leadership have stepped up to varying degrees, as has private industry, but the country needs more federal help.

The clear-eyed view here is the same as that of countries across the globe: the current state of infections and exposures means that we will collectively lose many lives that could have been saved if measures had been taken earlier to test, to quarantine, to track contacts of infected people, to stock up on medical supplies—especially ventilators, and to convey consistent information to an often misinformed and frightened public.

“We are engaged in an astonishing debate over whether economics are more important than people.”

With the $2 trillion congressional aid package that Congress passed this week – the full Senate voted on Wednesday, the House on Friday – the silver lining is that the U.S. Congress is finally kicking into gear after years of overall obeisance to the White House and private interests. The needs of struggling individuals and small business are finally taking center stage – because now there is no choice.

Ethically, Americans are finding ourselves engaged in an astonishing debate over whether human life matters. Or, to put a finer point on it, whether economics are more important than people. One of my sincerest hopes-against-hope is that, with our populace having toyed with the extreme edge of humanity, this catastrophe will bring core principles of benevolence, mutual respect, honesty, truth and common sense back to America to one degree or another – because now there is no choice.

In the meantime, please stay safe.

Kimberly Wehle is a former assistant United States attorney, a former associate independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, and a visiting professor at the American University Washington College of Law. She is a CBS News legal analyst, a BBC News contributor, and author of “How to Read the Constitution and Why.” She spoke about her book on the Constitution at the John Adams Institute on Super Tuesday, March 3rd, at an event moderated by Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal. Her second book, ‘What You Need to Know About Voting – and Why’, will be published in June. Click here to follow her on Twitter.

Kees Ribbens – Comics and Popular History - By Jonathan Pieterse


Kees Ribbens is a big comic book fan. He has a large collection of comic books, many of them about World War II and so I interviewed him about his involvement with Franklin – A Dutch Liberation Story. He is also a senior researcher at the NIOD, the Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and one of the organizers of the exhibition ‘Black Liberators’, about the African American soldiers in the US army in the Second World War.

Franklin: A Dutch Liberation Story

It was Kees Ribbens’ and Mieke Kirkels’ idea to create a graphic novel as a way of telling the story of the Black Liberators, the African American soldiers who helped liberate the Netherlands at the end of World War II. Black Dutch artist Brian Elstak was asked to draw it. The result is Franklin – A Dutch Liberation Story. You can read my interview with Brian Elstak here.

Given his interest in popular culture, Ribbens himself has a substantial number of comic books published in various western countries. But actually very few of them depict black soldiers in World War II. Throughout the 1950s, ‘60s and ’70s an incredible amount of cheap black-and-white comics about World War II were produced. They could hardly be called nuanced depictions of history, and so the absence of African American soldiers is not very surprising.

Sergent O’Brien, by Jean Pape

The comic Sergent O’Brien (written in France in the 50s) shows an African American soldier, but he is portrayed as part of a white squad of soldiers and as carrying a weapon. The illustrator completely disregarded the fact that the US army remained strictly segregated until 1948, and that African American soldiers were rarely allowed in combat roles in Western Europe, during World War II.

Only more recently have comic books started to pay more attention to soldiers of color. For instance, recent French comics now often feature soldiers from the French colonies in both World Wars. Ribbens explains: “Comic books are not the most progressive of literary genres. They often follow where film and novels have gone before. They are more a reflection of movements in society than they are pioneers. Perhaps that is why it is only now that comics have started to incorporate minorities into their depictions of history.”

Commemoration 1955, Wageningen

Why have the Black Liberators have been absent so far from the Dutch collective memory of World War II and the liberation? Ribbens: “Historical collective memory tends to be somewhat one-sided and lacking in nuance. The liberators were Brits, Canadians and Americans. Most of them were white men and so they were all remembered as white men. Moreover, the Dutch have always focused on the liberation of the north and the west of the country in 1945. The liberation of the south by the Americans in 1944 is a less-known chapter. As a consequence, the African American soldiers, who made up some 10% of the American army that liberated the South, were left out of the picture.”

The graphic novel Franklin finally acknowledges the role that African American soldiers played in the liberation of the Netherlands. Our collective historical memory is becoming more diverse, more inclusive. This is due in part to changes in the Dutch population during the past decades.

Cemetery Margraten

Kees Ribbens explains how the NIOD became involved in the Black Liberators project. A few years ago, with the 65-year commemoration of the end of the war, a government grant to the NIOD helped to start research into the multicultural aspects of World War II. At the same time a project was initiated to study the history of the American cemetery at Margraten. This research revealed that the cemetery was constructed by African American soldiers, and a number of African American soldiers are buried there. This discovery represented a forgotten piece of history: the role African American soldiers played in the Netherlands during World War II. Mieke Kirkels has continued this line of research in recent years, revealing various stories of these African American soldiers and their descendants.

Can New York City Lose its Twinkle? - by David van der Leer


Questions are typically more appealing to me than the right answers, but tonight I realized I am yearning for answers to questions I had been avoiding for weeks.

It is 9 pm and I am standing on the roof of my apartment building in Chelsea. We are sandwiched between the skyline of the Financial District to the south, and Midtown with its grand Empire State and Chrysler Buildings to the north. In just a few weeks, all I see around me has gotten downgraded from what many still seem to consider the capital of the world, to ‘an’ and perhaps soon ‘the’ epicenter of the pandemic.

Sunday evening, strict measures were announced to stop the spread of the virus: in the city and all around the state non-essential businesses have been ordered closed and we are only allowed to go out for bare necessities like food, medicine and brief stints of exercise. Who knows for how long? And who knows when there will be even stricter measures?

For the past four weeks I have been preparing for this moment, from moving my team to work from home and readying my apartment to lock myself in, to testing videoconference dinners and drinks with friends and family. Getting it all done in time – just before the strict rules that finally went into action, and before I possibly get sick – feels like a strange New York accomplishment that I should not be so relieved with having succeeded at.

“I realize I never heard the birds in the trees sixteen floors below me until this morning.”

I look down. Normally hundreds of cars drive on 7th Avenue below me. At night they create a cloud of lights that when you squint your eyes, looks like a twinkling Christmas tree that is crowned by the bright lights of Times Squares in the distance. Tonight, I squint as usual, but a long 42-city block strip of grey asphalt stretches out in front of me, and however much I try, I cannot make it twinkle with just a handful of cars.

A helicopter with a search light keeps circling the Google East-Coast headquarters a block away from me ominously, but when it finally disappears, there is so little traffic that for the first time in years I hear a church bell ringing in the distance. Staring at the empty sidewalks, I realize I never heard the birds in the trees sixteen floors below me until this morning. Those who can leave, have left, or more likely they occupy the dark apartments in the towers across from me only for a few weeks a year anyway. The city is quieting down.

“Why we are so focused on growth, that we cannot manage a massive slowdown?”

With the quiet around and in me, the questions I have been pushing away for weeks, hit me in full force. Probably like many other people, I feel a pressure build in my chest when I question if the healthcare system is ever going to be able to handle what is about to hit us? Why we are so focused on growth, that we cannot manage a massive slowdown? And, how we are going to be able to take care of the most vulnerable around us while we are all cooped up in our apartments? Finally, I wonder how one protests against the many political mistakes that now have become blatant threats to our lives, when the act of congregating is a risk to those same lives? How selfless or selfish will we turn out to be?

All questions that, if we are not alert and pro-active enough, will in a matter of weeks unfold into answers that we never imagined having to hear. Stay safe. Be well. Let’s squint and find that twinkling in the distance.

David van der Leer is Dutch, but has lived in New York for almost fifteen years. He is a forecaster and cultural advisor at his agency DVDL DD, the former Executive Director of the Van Alen Institute, and a Guggenheim Curator.

“My apartment is small but so close to everything that I walk and bike everywhere. My fridge is the size of a hotel room mini bar, and I keep virtually no stock of anything in my pantry as I eat or take 85% of my meals out. I keep barely any plants because I am often traveling, and many of my friends live a 30-minute subway ride away. My doormen send and receive my many packages and dry-cleaning throughout the week. Frankly, I don’t even know how to operate the washing machines in the basement of our building. Usually I like all of that – it is all still so New York after all these years – but calamities of the past, like Superstorm Sandy, have left their mark. And judging from the manic Amazon delivery trucks, and the lines at the supermarkets and pharmacies, I was not the only who had to figure out what it means to suddenly stock up, and imagine a life in which you cannot rely on any of the trivial luxuries I have gotten so used to.”

Brian Elstak – Art, Racism and the Black Liberators - By Jonathan Pieterse


For the first instalment of this blog about the Black Liberators, I interviewed Brian Elstak. Not only did he contribute to the Black Liberators exhibition at the NIOD (temporarily closed), he’s also the illustrator of the graphic novel Franklin – A Dutch Liberation Story. It tells the fictional story of the African American soldier Franklin, stationed in the Netherlands during World War II. He meets a Dutch girl, they fall in love and conceive a child. The novel also tells the stories of their child and grandchild, as they search for answers about their heritage.

Brian Elstak, who is himself black, describes his own style as ‘sketchy and raw’, which makes it particularly well-suited to a frayed and raw story such as Franklin. Asked why he wanted to participate in this project, he quotes the famous singer Nina Simone: “A true artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” Through this project he addresses the very real racism that still plagues the Netherlands. Much of his art deals with serious, heavy topics, but he tries to offset the heaviness with other projects: he has written several children’s books as well.

When I asked Brian if he already knew the history of the African-American soldiers in the American army in World War II, he said: “You know, but you don’t know.” There are hints in the known histories, here and there. But it is not widely known that there were black servicemen, nor that the US Army was segregated till long after the war. Movies don’t usually show it either, with a few exceptions. For instance, the movie Red Tails (2012) is about the Tuskegee airmen, a group of African-American pilots during World War II. The movie’s producer, George Lucas, had to fight for years before he finally got the movie made. Yes, thát George Lucas, director of Star Wars and Indiana Jones! Another movie that shaped Brian’s view of African American soldiers before he started working on the graphic novel is Miracle at St. Anna, directed by Spike Lee.

It is set in Italy in 1944, and shows a group of African-American soldiers in the thick of battle. Brian explains that he was inspired by this movie while drawing the African-American soldiers in Franklin as carrying weapons, only to be told later that they weren’t allowed to carry weapons at all in the Netherlands – nor in any other part of Western Europe, in fact. The African-American soldiers were assigned to support roles, delivering equipment and provisions to the front lines and serving as mechanics. The only exceptions were the African-American soldiers assigned to guard German prisoners of war. They just didn’t receive any ammunition to go with their weapons. As Brian put it: “They were allowed to die for their country, but they weren’t allowed to defend themselves.”

This was part of the challenge to create a historically accurate graphic novel. A lot of research was required, and Brian had to comb through a mountain of photographic material. A lot of it came from the BBC, where a large number of African-American soldiers were stationed before they went to the mainland. The stories from that time are similar to those from the Netherlands. They all provide the ingredients that Brian used to draw Franklin.

I had gotten the impression after reading Franklin that the period of liberation might have been one of the most racism-free times in Dutch history. Brian explained that the Dutch population was simply glad to be liberated, and anyone who brought freedom, food and commodities was welcome. But just like when a famous person dies, after a short time we forget and life goes on. The stories from this time are forgotten if we don’t talk to those who lived through it. The oral history can only be remembered if it is talked about – and if it is forgotten, you can only see one side of history. A Golden Age, but Golden for whom?

Franklin shows how everything is connected, through the characters of Frances (Franklin’s granddaughter) and her father. It is not just a World War II story, people today still grapple with racism. Brian hopes that Franklin will become pop culture, so we may learn to listen to one another’s stories.


Follow Brian Elstak on Instagram and his website. You can buy your own copy of ‘Franklin: A Dutch Liberation Story’ here (use discount code BOEKKORTINGFRANKLIN – valid from April 1-May 31. In Dutch). The book has been added to the list of ‘The Best Dutch Book Designs 2019‘. All images © Brian Elstak.

John Brown: friend or foe? - By Mieke Bleeker


“John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
His soul is marching on.”

‘John Brown’s Body’ – Union marching song (tune: Battle Hymne of the Republic)

For people either very much against or in favor of slavery, the question whether John Brown was a hero or a villain must have been easy to answer. While Union soldiers marched to the tune of the song dedicated to Brown, many in the South viewed him as a criminal and a madman, or someone we might nowadays call a domestic terrorist. For people in the middle, he was a little bit of both, as this quote by Abraham Lincoln seems to indicate: “Old John Brown has just been executed for treason against the state. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong.” 

Marching Union soldiers

Different views, different treatment

But the different views of John Brown and his fellow raiders did not end there. They also become apparent when we look at how they were treated after their arrest and even in death. While many abolitionists pleaded for the release of Brown, they did not ask for the freedom of the two black raiders who were captured. These black men were hanged separately from their white fellow raiders, and while all convicts had asked to be buried in a free state, only their request was dismissed. Instead, their bodies were hastily buried in Virginia, only to be dug up by medical students for dissection.


Heyward Shephard Monument

A topsy-turvy monument

Things get even more topsy-turvy when we look at the case of Heyward Shepard, the free black man who was – presumably accidentally – shot and killed by John Brown’s men. In 1931, a monument was erected for Shepard by – of all people – the United Daughters of the Confederacy, claiming it to be a symbol of faithful black people who did not join the raid or believed in its purpose. Besides the fact that we have no idea what Shepard’s thoughts on the raid might have been, the monument feels more like a bad PR-stunt to defend the lost cause of the South. It’s still there, although it seems to go unnoticed by most visitors to Harpers Ferry.

Modern day views

Booklet Centennial 1959

Even in this day and age, people still seem to have mixed feelings about John Brown’s actions. At the raid’s centennial in 1959, the reenacted capture of Brown was met with wild cheers from the crowd. The black raiders did not play any part in the ‘festivities’. Under President Barack Obama, things changed, and descendants of both the black and white raiders were invited to attend a commemoration. Some called upon the President to posthumously pardon John Brown. In 1965, Malcolm X uttered the following: “If you are for me and my problems – when I say me, I mean us, our people – then you have to be willing to do as old John Brown did.” Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh once cited Brown as an inspiration.


So what should we make of John Brown? Was he a liberator, a murderer, inspired, radicalized, sane or mad? It’s an ongoing debate. What we can say, is that when it comes to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, nothing is black and white.


Crossroads of Abolitionists - By Mieke Bleeker


Frederik Douglass

Why John Brown opposed slavery in the way he did is hard to say. We know that as a twelve-year-old, he witnessed a slave boy about his age being severely beaten with an iron fire shovel, which shocked him greatly. We also know that his father, who was involved in the Underground Railroad by providing a safe house to escaped slaves, sent his son to be schooled by an abolitionist. And when John started his own business, he used his work place to hide countless runaway slaves. Still, Brown seems to have been primarily motivated by religious principles during this time of his life, not by fanaticism or political conviction. But he lived in polarized times, which might have triggered his activism, as the following incident indicates. In 1837, a pro-slavery mob attacked and killed minister, journalist and abolitionist Elijah Parish Lovejoy, prompting Brown to claim: “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!”


Six years later Brown and his family moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, a hotspot of the abolitionist movement. He joined the Free Church, where he listened to anti-slavery speeches by renowned abolitionists like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. It proved to be another pivotal moment in his life. Sojourner Truth was born in to slavery on an estate owned by Dutch settlers and grew up speaking Dutch as her first language. After finding freedom, she travelled the country preaching abolition and equal rights for all women and blacks alike.

Sojourner Truth

It’s unknown whether she ever spoke to John Brown, but Brown did meet Frederik Douglass several times. Douglass was also a former slave, who became a vigorous social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman. Their meetings had a profound influence on Douglass. Up until then he had hoped abolition could come about peacefully, but his conversations with Brown made him strongly doubt this. Still, when Brown asked him to join his armed revolt on Harpers Ferry, Douglass was intrigued but refused, believing it was likely to fail and would hurt their cause.


Help and admiration

Historical marker Harriet Tubman, Maryland

A famous abolitionist who did help John Brown with the raid was Harriet Tubman. A former slave herself, she carried out dangerous missions to slave-holding states, freeing hundreds. Tubman was well acquainted with both Douglass and Truth and met John Brown in 1858. Due to her knowledge of escape routes and her contacts in the region, she was able to offer Brown valuable information to plan his assault on Harpers Ferry. She also recruited supporters. It is said that ‘General Tubman’, as John Brown called her, was planning to join the fight, but illness prevented her from going. After John Brown’s death, she claimed that Brown “had done more for her people in dying than hundred men would in living.

Portraits of John Brown and his family at Frederik Douglass’ house

Douglass agreed. Although he had to flee to country temporarily after a letter addressed to him was found among John Brown’s possessions, he often voiced his admiration for Brown: “John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes and compromises. When John Brown stretched forth his arm the sky was cleared.” Up till this day, a picture of John Brown and his family adorns the hall of Frederick Douglass’ former house in Washington D.C.


Was John Brown’s failed raid still a success? - By Mieke Bleeker


Just over a week after his capture, John Brown stood trial. He was charged with treason, conspiracy and murder. It must have been quite a sight: the courtroom was packed with witnesses, journalists and spectators, while John Brown was lying on a cot due to stab wounds he had sustained during his arrest. Brown’s lawyer made an insanity plea, but Brown wasn’t having it: “I am perfectly unconscious of insanity, and I reject, so far as I am capable, any attempt to interfere in my behalf on that score.” He knew the trial was his only chance to get his case against slavery on the front page of the nation’s newspapers, and being described as crazy would not help his argument.

Grave of John Brown

The trail took four days. The jury – all slave owners – found Brown guilty on all charges. He would be hanged a month later. Four of his surviving raiders received similar sentences. To add to the drama, Brown sat on his own coffin in the back of a horse-drawn wagon on his way to the gallows.


During the raid, fear of a massive slave rebellion sent the people of Harpers Ferry into a frenzy, further fueled by the liquor that was served in the saloons throughout the night. Dangerfield Newby, an ex-slave who had joined John Brown hoping it would lead to the release of his enslaved wife and children, was shot and killed, his body heavily mutilated and left for hogs to eat (the alley where this took place is still called Hog Alley). William Leeman, who had killed the mayor of Harpers Ferry, was shot while attempting to escape across the river. Angry townspeople and militia men used his body for shooting practice for hours afterwards. They also turned on raider William Thompson who was taken prisoner at some point during the raid. He was dragged onto the bridge, shot and thrown into the river, where the mob emptied their rifles into him. John Copeland surrendered and was greeted by an angry crowd shouting “Lynch him! Lynch him!” One of the slaves John Brown freed during the raid was beaten unconscious and drowned.

Dangerfield Newby

War fever

A journalist at that time wrote: “The Harpers Ferry invasion has advanced the cause of Disunion more than any other event that has happened since the formation of Government.” The war fever that had already began to emerge grew fast. The excessive response of both the military and the townspeople was a clear symptom. Although John Brown’s army was only small, multiple militias from nearby Frederick, Charles Town, Martinsburg, Shepherdstown and Winchester marched to Harpers Ferry to suppress the revolt. Robert E. Lee brought no less than ninety U.S. Marines with him. Not what you would call a fair fight.

Domino effect

Emancipation Memorial

The raid made clear that compromise was no longer an option. While the voices against slavery in the North grew louder, the South felt more and more threatened. Both sides braced themselves for a conflict. John Brown’s actions created a domino effect. The aftermath split the pro-slavery Democratic Party in two, while the Republican Abraham Lincoln went from dark horse to frontrunner for the presidential candidacy of 1860. Soon after his election, South Carolina was the first state to secede. Civil war was coming, as John Brown seems to have predicted in a note he wrote shortly before his execution: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with Blood.”

In hindsight, the raid on Harpers Ferry seems merely a prelude. When the war ended, four million enslaved people were freed. So, if we could ask him, would Brown consider his failed raid a success in that sense? With 620,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians dead, it would be an extremely hard question to answer.

The raid: “Men, get on your arms, we will proceed to the Ferry” - By Mieke Bleeker


John Brown

John Brown, a white man, was a fierce opponent of slavery who saw the enslavement of black people as a sin against God. At an anti-slavery convention in Canada in 1858, he proposed the creation of a free state under a new set of laws called the ‘Provisional Constitution of the United States’, which would apply to anyone who joined his cause. Brown became Commander in Chief of the Provisional Army, which consisted of only twenty-two men, sixteen white and five black (four of them were born free, one was a freed slave). Extensive preparations followed. On October 16, 1859 he finally told his followers: “Men, get on your arms. We will proceed to the Ferry.”

Harpers Ferry, 1859

Smooth start

Strategically, the attack on Harpers Ferry made sense. To reach Maryland and disappear into the wildness of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you needed only to cross the bridge over the Potomac River. Also, the town was home to the United States Armory and Arsenal, where over a hundred thousand guns were stored. Surprisingly, the Armory was hardly guarded. Upon entering Harpers Ferry around 10.30p.m., they encountered just two watchmen: one on the bridge and one at the Armory. This might seem odd. But in the late nineteen hundreds, an organized attack on the US government by its own citizens on such a scale was simply unimaginable. Rumors of the raid even reached the Secretary of War, but he dismissed it as something not very likely to occur.

Bridge over the Potomac River

With the darkness providing cover, John Brown and his men easily took over. Within a couple hours they took 60 hostages (among them the great-grandnephew of George Washington) who were confined in the fire engine house, which later would become known as John Brown’s Fort.

Going down

But things quickly fell apart. At 1.30 p.m., a train arrived at the station which was held until daylight. The long stop-over stirred enough commotion on the train for Howard Shepherd, the station baggageman, to walk out to see what was happening. He was shot and killed by John Brown’s men as he approached the bridge. The first victim of the raid had fallen. He was a black man, a former slave, already free. John Starry, the town’s doctor, also became alarmed after noticing armed black men in the streets. He saddled his horse and warned the authorities. Soon the bells of a nearby church rang out to warn the town’s citizens. Meanwhile, the passengers on the train that had been allowed to continue its journey, told everyone at the next station that a massive slave revolt was underway in Harpers Ferry. So great was the fear in the South of an armed slave uprising, that the number of raiders got higher every time the incident was passed on.

John Brown’s Fort

Killed, captured, questioned

While John Brown and his small group of men waited for the hundreds of slaves and other like-minded men who they expected to join the fight (but who never came), the townspeople, several militias and the U.S. Marines moved in. On October 18, Robert E. Lee, who would soon become the Commander of the Confederate States Army, quickly captured or killed most of the raiders and stormed the engine house where John Brown and the last of his men and their hostages were now trapped. Once they were in, the ordeal lasted no more than three minutes. Brown and his surviving followers were arrested.

During his questioning John Brown made clear that, although he failed, the story of his raid did not end there: “You may dispose of me very easily; I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled – this Negro question I mean – the end of that is not yet.”

The capture of John Brown

Atlantic City: Excess and Decline - By Tracy Metz


In this fourth and final blog of this series, John Adams director Tracy Metz selected photographs from Brian Rose’s book ‘Atlantic City’ showing Atlantic City as a symbol of excess and decline.


“Atlantic City is a dramatic symbol of American excess and decline. Once the most popular family vacation destination in the United States, the city has slid into a dystopian version of its former self, with beachfront property plummeting amid vacant lots and deserted high-rise hotels garishly positioned against the coastal backdrop.” Nowness – March 7, 2017


“How can a presidential candidate look at a city damaged so directly by his own business practices – and say only that he’s smart to have gotten out when he did?”Arielle Brousse, The Washington Post – October 6, 2016

“Down at the Boardwalk’s terminus, by night, the seagulls keep flying into the Revel and dying. Or they flap and limp around a bit before dying. You never see or hear the impact, you just get what happens after. Immense white gulls, flapping, limping, expiring. They fly into the Revel’s giant vacant tower of panes and break their necks, because without any lights on, the glass is indistinguishable from the sky.”Joshua Cohen, N+1 magazine – Winter 2017


You can order the book here at Circa Publishers. Watch a video with Brian Rose here, and read a review and interview in the Guardian here.


Trump’s failed Kingdom - By Tracy Metz


For the third blog of this series, John Adams director Tracy Metz selected several photographs from Brian Rose’s book ‘Atlantic City’ showing the remnants of Donald Trump’s failed Atlantic City kingdom.

“The shuttered Trump Plaza will likely be torn down. It is one of four casinos that closed in 2014, representing a third of Atlantic city’s gaming halls. Trump’s name has been removed from the façade. Only the gaudy golden crest, a color reminiscent of Trump’s famous hair, remains.” Matt Katz, WNYC News – August 26, 2015

“In January of 2016, after a winter storm flooded parts of the Jersey coastline, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, then a candidate for president, sarcastically asked whether he should ‘pick up a mop’ to help with flooding – a remark that was criticized by environmentalists for being out of touch with the gravity of the situation. Christie accepts that human activity contributes to climate change, but contends that the issue ‘is not a crisis’.” Michael Edison Hayden, National Geographic – May 4, 2016