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Formerly an Indian: Social Distance in Dutch New York

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Title: Formerly an Indian: Social Distance in Dutch New York
Author: Cholst, Rachel
Advisor: Saler, Bethel; Azfar, Farid
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: When the Dutch first settled New York in 1621, they maintained a notable social distance from their Native neighbors. I believe this distance was at least in part caused by events in the Netherlands. The colonists arrived in the New World in the midst of the Dutch Revolt (1568-1648.) The War resulted in both establishing the United Provinces' independence from the Hapsburg Empire and a newly defined Dutch identity. In an attempt to unify the disparate, autonomous provinces, revolutionary propagandists dug deep into the Netherlands' history to create an imagined, immemorial cultural bond between the Provinces. One of the strategies the propagandists relied on was to cast themselves, subjects of the tyrannical Hapsburg Empire, as another marginalized group under the thumbs of the Spanish: Amerindians. So when the first New Netherlanders arrived in the New World, they brought their recently created, amorphous identity with them. Colonial figures defined Dutch identity in relation to the Indians of New York, but also expressed concern that, when the colonists did not live up to these standards, they could not be considered Dutchman. The social distance between the Dutch and the Indians worked as a means of reifying Dutch identity, but its inevitable failure in the face of constant daily interaction meant that the Dutch ran the risk of becoming like the Indians they held at arm's length. The thesis will conclude with a case study of two Dutch-Indian siblings, Hilletie and Jacques Van Slyck, who attempted to join their father's community in Schenectady to varying degrees of success. Neither sibling was fully accepted into the community. Through putting effort into modeling themselves after those sketchy definitions of Dutch identity, the siblings pointed to the chimerical nature of Dutch identity. And so the Dutch colonists could never see past the siblings' maternal heritage: they would always be former Indians.
Subject: Indians of North America -- New York (State) -- Social conditions -- 17th century
Subject: New York (State) -- Social conditions -- 17th century
Subject: Dutch -- New York (State) -- Social conditions -- 17th century
Subject: Indians of North America -- Mixed descent -- New York (State)
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Cholst, Rachel. "Formerly an Indian: Social Distance in Dutch New York". 2011. Available electronically from

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