The construction of The Wall across the northern border of New Amsterdam teaches some additional lessons. Planks were needed, and this meant money was needed, and wealthy people stepped forward, as they always do—not to selflessly aid their homeland, but to make more money. The well-to-do loaned money for the building of The Wall at ten percent interest. What do we think will happen if we build a wall today on our southern border. Many contracting and supply companies will be involved, and no doubt most will make money—which will come from our tax dollars. (If we hold our breath waiting for Mexico to pay for it, even the red staters will have turned blue.) Construction, however, can be a risky business, and some of the construction companies may have financial difficulties and perhaps will not make money. On the other hand, I am confident that the financiers of the wall will profit. One of the certainties of our history is that financiers will always make money out of wars and defense spending (and today pay a lesser tax rate than they would had they toiled physically toiled for their gains.)
But I digress. Some of the money went for the planks, and many, if not all, were purchased from Thomas Baxter, an Englishman. It might seem strange that he was selling the material for a barrier against his fellow countrymen. Perhaps the reason was simply the frequent one of profit above all else. But Baxter had left England, and this might indicate that he felt few ties to his birth place. And while New Amsterdam was Dutch, it was not a hostile place to others.
New Amsterdam was a commercial establishment. The Company wanted to increase the population of Manhattan to increase trade and agriculture and thereby to grow profits. All things considered, Holland was a nice place to live. Not enough Dutch wanted to move to the new world, and consequently the West Indies Company did not shun non-Dutch immigration. Thus, many of the New Amsterdam residents came from places other than Holland. In 1643, one correspondent said that he counted eighteen languages being spoken in the settlement. Twenty years later records indicate that perhaps from a third to a half of the possibly 2,000 inhabitants were non-Dutch.
Peter Stuyvesant, however, had one exception to this open-border policy. Stuyvesant was a devout member of the Dutch Reformed Church, which was the established church in New Amsterdam. (At least in my experience, it was the Dutch Reformed Church, or at least that was what it was called by my high school friends who were members of it. With our never ending adolescent humor, we called them dike jumpers. We also checked their thumbs to see if they could plug a hole in a dike to keep back the flood. Their church was stricter than those attended by the rest of us. On Sunday afternoons, we often played pickup baseball or football games, but Dutch Reformed kids were not allowed such frivolity on the Christian sabbath. That did not stop them from playing with us, but we had to move our games to some out-of-the way location where their parents were unlikely to drive by and spot them. Many years later, I ran into one of these childhood friends who had become a minister. When I referred to the denomination as Dutch Reformed, he corrected me and said now it was simply The Reformed Church.) While accepting of the non-Dutch generally, Stuyvesant was, to put it mildly, not overly fond of Jews, and when some moved into his town, he sought to expel them. His bosses did not take kindly to that and ordered Stuyvesant to allow the few Jews to remain. A healthy economy, they realized, required immigrants. Only the Dutch Reformed Church was permitted to have public services, but Jews, Puritans, Lutherans, Catholics, and Quakers were permitted to worship in the privacy of their homes. Jews were even allowed to have land for a burial ground about a mile north of The Wall, and that plot is the oldest European cemetery on Manhattan. (Many of us owe a debt to the New Amsterdam Reformed Church. The Puritans did not celebrate Christmas; it was just another work day. Many of the Dutch in America saw Christmas time as both solemn and joyous. The joyous part included “Sinter Klaus” who gave presents on St. Nicholas Day, December 6.)
This acceptance of immigrants may have meant that many of the non-Dutch came to see New Amsterdam as home and felt little allegiance to the countries of their origins. Certainly, Thomas Baxter, the Englishman who sold the planks to build The Wall to keep out the English, did not seem to have had much loyalty to the English. After his plank salesmanship, he became a pirate and preyed on English ships. But that does not mean that he had developed an attachment to the Netherlands. He also went after Dutch ships. It appears that his allegiance was simply to money.
New Amsterdam may have paid for The Wall, but it did not pay for the labor, or at least not for all the labor. The West Indies Company was involved in many commercial enterprises, and one of its most lucrative businesses was the African slave trade. New Amsterdam probably had slaves from its beginning, and by 1635 a person was appointed to be an official overseer for the Company’s slaves. By the 1660s, New Amsterdam had about three hundred slaves and perhaps seventy-five free blacks, accounting for about twenty percent of the village’s population.
Peter Stuyvesant “contributed” slave labor to The Wall. This may not have been the entire workforce, but if not, we do not know who the other laborers were or what they got paid or what the relations were between the paid and coerced workers.
(To be continued.)