Reviewed by Mark Meuwese
At a time of year when many New Yorkers spend their days at the beach, it may be fitting to ponder Andrew Lipman’s fascinating new book, The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (Yale University Press, 2015). Lipman, who teaches history at Barnard College of Columbia University, recently won a Bancroft Prize for this, his first published book, and it is an impressive and entirely well-deserved accomplishment. The young scholar approaches the subject of Europeans encounters with the Algonquian-speaking peoples of coastal New York and New England in a wholly novel way. Instead of situating the story of intercultural relations on land, as historians traditionally do, Lipman demonstrates that the actual stage and struggle for power was decided on coastal waters. Additionally, he convincingly shows that the histories of coastal New York and southern New England share many commonalities, and need to be treated as one region.
By Richard Howe
In the early summer of 1625 the handful of Dutch West India Company settlers who had wintered on Noten Eylandt (Governor’s Island) began moving to Manhattan, along with the hundred or so newcomers who had just arrived from Amsterdam. Nicolaes Wassenaer reported that by the middle of September, 1625, they had gotten their cows and horses onto Manhattan, which suggests that the move was finished sometime around then. Since the cows and horses were moved further on up the North (Hudson) River a few days later, the settlers’ first orders of business on Manhattan were to put up housing for themselves and then to get started on the West India Company’s rather ambitious plans for the new town, which called for a large fort and 120 houses, as well as barns, mills, and facilities for making charcoal, firing bricks, and making staves. It was soon apparent that the company’s plans were far too ambitious to be undertaken by what were all in all no more than perhaps 125 people. If the southern tip of Manhattan was as heavily forested as Eric Sanderson suggests in his marvelous reconstruction of the island as it was in 1600, the company’s plans would have required the settlers to clear over 1,500 acres of forest, which —- using Michael William’s productivity estimates —- might have taken 100 able-bodied men as much as a year or more to accomplish. There just weren’t that many able-bodied men among the settlers in 1625, though there would have been a year later, when the population of the settlement had grown to around 200. And so the West India Company’s grand plans were quickly set aside: the top priority in the late summer and fall of 1625 was simply to build enough housing -— even if only temporary housing -— to survive the coming winter.
By Michael Nichols
When the Dutch finally ceded New Netherlands to the English in 1674, they left behind a legacy of place names—“toponyms,” to use the technical term. The English, whether to avoid confusion or from lack of interest, kept many, though often in Anglicized form. Thus Breuckelen became “Brooklyn,” Vlissingen became “Flushing,” the Bouwerij became the “Bowery,” and so on. Of all these descendant names, one stands out as particularly forbidding, and the ambiguity of its true meaning has invited all kinds of mythical associations and claptrap. This is “Hell Gate,” which denotes the churlish stretch of the East River between Manhattan and Astoria, Queens, at the nexus of the “Y” formed by the East River to the south and to the northeast and the Harlem River to the northwest.
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