Going Dutch: A Visit to New Netherland

Arent van Curler's Farm

Arent van Curler's Farm by Len Tantillo

After a rough wagon ride along the North River, you turn into the Van Curler Farm. Around you stretches very flat land with acres of wheat and oats as far as you can see. No wonder the driver calls these "the Flatts."

You jump down and hurry toward a low long structure with a red tile roof. You discover one section is a house, and the rest is a barn. People and animals are living in the same building. You don't think your teacher knows this. She said farmers in the Netherlands sometimes lived like this, but not here. She'll sure be surprised.

You peek inside the barn door, and see a low wall separating the two areas. The heat from the sheep, cows, horses, and pigs' bodies might help keep the family's room warmer, but the smells.....

Van Curler's servants are unloading the wagon so you follow them down wooden stairs into the cellar. Hanging from a hook on the wooden walls is a pair of what you realize are ice skates. They aren't shoe-skates like yours at home but just a single iron runner with straps. What fun they must have on the frozen North River in cold weather. Have they ever thought of skateboards for warmer weather?

You stroll around outside, scuffing trash up from the ground. Most of it is near windows and doors where people have just tossed it out. Some are pieces of trade goods you've seen before: a broken pair of scissors, fishhooks, and beads. Van Curler must be trading with American Indians. You spot a little square item. It's one of a pair of dice with small dots on each of the six sides. And you find several clay pipe stem whistles. Looks like everyone has fun making and playing these. At the far edge of the property is a pile of smelly garbage bones. You gingerly pick up a big claw. It must be from a bear. What a meal that was!

On one side of the farm building is a yellow brick courtyard containing a cistern for collecting water. This must be where they prepare food and maybe do laundry. In the far distance you hear the clang of hammer on metal. Probably a blacksmith shop. A farm would need lots of tools like hinges, chains, and pitchforks.

Artifacts from the horseshoe pit.

On the other side of the farm building, you spot a large iron stake sticking out of the ground. It's too low to be used to tie up a horse. As you get closer, you see horseshoes lying in sand. These people have been playing a game of horseshoes! You're tempted to pick up one of the shoes and throw it to see if you can get it over the stake, but decide you'd better not. Who knew the Dutch played this game? Golf, horseshoes, dice, ice skates...cool!

The wagon driver calls, and you climb up onto your seat. The back of the wagon is loaded with beaver pelts. Where is that stuff going, you ask. The driver grins and says on a ship called a sloop to New Amsterdam. Your teacher said New York City once was called that. From New Amsterdam, the pelts will be shipped to Europe to make fur coats and felt hats, he adds. Would you like to come? You bet!

QUESTIONS:

1. What games did Dutch children and adults play? Do you and your family play any of the same games?

2. What types of activities took place at the Flatts?

3. What do you think became of the trash thrown out of the windows? (Hint: Archaeologists discovered it centuries later.)

Archaeologist James Bradley explains: “At the Flatts, the most important building was a combination house and barn. This was a style of architecture with which Arent van Curler was familiar; he had grown up in a similar house in the Netherlands.” 

Dutch settler Adriaen van der Donck explains:“The beaver pelt, or skin, is thick and densely covered all over with very fine fur. The fur is made into the best hats that are worn, named beavers or castors for the material they are made of.” 


About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. More

 

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