Babel On the Hudson: Community Formation in Dutch Manhattan
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This dissertation focuses on New Amsterdam, the small port town at the tip of Manhattan Island that became the capital for the Dutch colony of New Netherland. It addresses two of the most entrenched stereotypes regarding New Netherland. One is the popular notion that religion never played an important role in New Netherland, since the colony was built upon commerce and economic considerations. The other is that community life and consciousness was stymied in Manhattan until New Netherland became an English colony. At the root of both stereotypes is the accepted perception that an intense and selfish drive for wealth, financial remuneration and self-advancement was the modus vivendi of New Netherland's settlers and colonial officials. Consequently, they neither gave much thought to religion nor took time to foster a shared sense of community. The central aim of this dissertation is to demonstrate that Dutch Manhattan did develop a dynamic community life. It resulted from the difficulties encountered by both Europeans and Africans in trying to reconstruct in the New World aspects of societies they had left behind, and from the interactions of members of the Atlantic's three racial groups in Dutch Manhattan. The other important aim is to demonstrate the role religion played in the community and in community formation by discussing how religion was utilized to determine one's fitness for community membership and as a tool of colonization. Religion played a key role in the formation of alliances both within and outside the colony, and groups created spaces within the society for individuals to maintain and nurture practices that were not sanctioned by the larger community. This dissertation demonstrates that while the colony had its genesis as a trading venture, religiously infused ideas were at play during the early contact period prior to settlement. Furthermore, once the decision for permanent settlement was made, religion and religious considerations played a prominent role in the internal contestations for control and figured prominently in the process of community formation. Aside from religion, this dissertation also explores the role of trade, contestations for control both within and outside the colony, and war in shaping and redefining the contours of community in Dutch Manhattan.
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