Opinion: Remember the Dutch on Thanksgiving

It’s that time of year again, when family and friends get together for that belly rubbing meal. Thanksgiving often brings our focus back to our founding families. We in Connecticut had our own early settlers. We had “New Nederland” roots right here, on our own shores. These settlers were here before the Pilgrims arrived.

Trade evolved right at the mouth of the Connecticut River, “Keviets Hook,” with European settlers and the natives trading, both men and women. Connecticut is sandwiched between two historically renown states, Massachusetts and New York and we get the short end of the stick. We are hardly aware of our “New Netherland Heritage.” Our first European arrivals were the Dutch!

Why do we keep ignoring the Dutch?

Ships and cargo had been arriving for many years, up and down our rivers. The “lowlander” Europeans left here may have assimilated with the natives sharing “their way.” Where do we get off saying those Europeans weren’t settlers?

You wouldn’t know it from reading most Connecticut histories. Even our state capital claims an Englishman, Thomas Hooker, as its founder. It would be more accurate to give a Dutch fellow, named Jacob Van Curler, who in 1633 built a fort where Hartford now stands. That was three years before the English arrived.

The fact that the first settlers of New England resided for a time in Holland is hardly known to most Americans. It is believed however that several details of this sojourn, with particular reference to the historical significance will be of interest. The first group with their pastor, John Robinson, and others that followed, arrived in Holland by way of Texel, Naarden and Middelburg.

After a short period in Amsterdam, they proceeded to Leyden and lived there for several years in full religious liberty. The decision to seek a “New Home” across the Atlantic was motivated by their desire to preserve the identity of the group. After ten years in Leyden, the fitted out a small 90 ton vessel, the Speedwell, and made plans for departure.

On July 22, 1620, the entire congregation assembled on the quay of Voorhaven in Delfshaven before embarking on the Speedwell. A generous contingent of Delfshaven locals were present at the quay-side to wish them good journey. Before departing, the congregation knelt before their Pastor who commended the immigrants to the Word of God and prayed for safe passage to the New World.

The party embarked, the anchor was hoisted and after a volley of the crew, a cannon salute and cheers of the good locals, the vessel cast off and sailed down the Maas.

In Southampton the group joined other Pilgrims from London and elsewhere in England and transferred to the Mayflower. The voyage lasted nine weeks before landfall in Cape Cod Bay. After this long roundabout journey these pilgrims were well aware of the Connecticut coastline, as many navigators like Adrian Block and others had been arriving for many years before their arrival.

When it comes to local history, the focus too often is on our towns, not on our state. Connecticut played a much more important role in US history than is commonly known, and deserves to be understood. Embrace it!

We in Connecticut have a hard time understanding our heritage. Well, if you don’t understand your roots you have a hard time getting your arms around them. Everyone should know the value of our “New Netherland” Ancestral connection. Rest assured, most don’t understand a bit of it, but it remains so much a part of our identity.

If nothing else, it’s always reassuring to know our state history began with “good hope”.

Richard Manack is a resident of Torrington, New Netherland historian and the owner of Dutch sailing barge, “Golden Re-al.” His source is “Dutch and Indigenous Communities In Seventeenth Century Northeastern North America” Suny Press.