Nov

18

 Gotham and New York: the Novel make a fine pair of telling the history of a great metropolis with many financial insights contained within. Both books are very informative and tell you everything you should know about the hi-ways and byways that led to current times. However, both books spend an inordinate amount of time on the plight of the 1% who did not prosper with the rising tide.

Henry Gifford writes: 

To the list of New York City books I recommend The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto.

Basically, in the 1970s, some government employees were throwing out boxes of junk from the basement of the NY State capital building in Albany, NY, and someone looked to see what was in the boxes and found old documents written in a language nobody could understand. Turns out the documents were written in old Dutch, which very few people can understand, but someone found a translator and a non-government-employee wrote some checks to get the translation done.

The documents were basically the history of NY City when it was a Dutch trading post.

As a trading post it wasn't a country or a colony, but something that perhaps doesn't have a well-matching modern equivalent. New Amsterdam, as it was called then, was run by a governor, but many people from all over passed through or lived there. One description from the time said something like:

"Mine eyes hath never seen such a place so full of people from all over - Africans, Europeans, Natives, Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, etc., each of which has a place where they worship and at least one place where they eat (and I think drink) - all living in harmony. Such happiness and prosperity I have never seen anywhere else."

Maybe still a decently fitting description.

Not many people liked the governor, who was a bit of a jerk, and who broke the law requiring doing what can be done to avoid war with the natives - the law required fair trade, whatever that meant. But, he was appointed by the powers that be in Holland, so there wasn't much anyone could do.

But a Dutch lawyer by the name of Adrien van der Donk, who was living in New Amsterdam, formed an advisory council, elected I think, who advised the governor. They had no official power, and the governor had no obligation to listen to them, but he didn't get to be governor by not being an astute politician.

I won't spoil the rest of the story for anyone, but the book makes a good case that democracy started in New York City, while the pilgrims who landed in Massachusetts were interested in anything but freedom.

anonymous adds: 

The Plymouth Pilgrims were very much interested in liberty. They were superceded by the Massachusetts Bay Colony that had the Royal Charter and, therefore, the sole legal authority; but they never surrendered fully to the Puritans belief in witch hunting and one almighty pulpit. The Mayflower Compact is the foundation of the American notion that the People, as individuals and not merely as a class or estate, are Sovereign. The Pilgrims and the Hugeunots and the Jews - refugees all - brought their ideas of freedom to Holland. They and the native Dutch created the amalgam of open outcry trade and commercial credit by contract whose rewards we all live by and exported it to the New and Old Worlds.

As Shorto's book and others demonstrate, New York became the center of Amercan commerce rather than Boston because, as Harvard daily reminds us, the Bay Colony was more interested in theocracy than free enterprise. The Anglicans in the Duke of York's Crown charter wanted the same monopoly for New York that the Congregationalists had established in Boston, but they always had to struggle against the melting pot that the adventurers from Holland had already set to a rolling boil. To the extent that the Royal authority did take hold in NY, the city lost out to Philadelphia (Franklin, with his eye for the main chance, chose Philly, not NY, when he left Boston). How Gotham became #1 again is the story of how the Dutch and others took hold once again after the British Crown was evicted.


Comments

Name

Email

Website

Speak your mind

Archives

Resources & Links

Search