About the Project
Between 1609 and 1664, more than 150 ships undertook roughly 250 voyages between the Dutch Republic and the colony of New Netherland. These ships crucially connected colonial nodes across the North Atlantic Ocean, transporting administrators and colonists, delivering provisions, supplies, and essentials, and conveying missives and other correspondence as the only means of communication. Far from simply cogs in the wheel of imperial expansion, these ships were the link between the Dutch Republic and its overseas holdings. Surprisingly, while the activities of ships made up a substantial component of the colonial narrative, the impact of ships' activities is rarely addressed in the cause and effect relationships of colonial histories. Anything but interlopers, ships were a recurrent, familiar, quotidian presence for the seventeenth-century Dutch, touching every aspect of life. Viewing history through the lens of ships adds a critical component to understanding the rich and complex Dutch North Atlantic colonial network, whose very existence depended on maritime support.
This project produces a database of voyages to New Netherland that aims to integrate the activities of ships into the larger story of the colony. It provides an extensive resource for the reconstruction of maritime activity at the foundation of, and essential to, the development of New Netherland. The database offers accurate, up-to-date, details about voyages and corrects misinformation, often reprinted many times over from secondary, outdated, or misinterpreted sources. Structured for searching, correlation, and analysis, the database consists of more than 10,000 data points derived from primary sources. More than a series of facts, however, the database points researchers to the stories of these voyages, and provides a framework on which to build. The collection invites inquiry on many aspects of maritime activities surrounding New Netherland, including shipping times, ports of call, cargoes, animal carriage, the transport of enslaved Africans, and passenger experiences. Exploring relationships between ship owners or outfitters and skippers, extending to crews, suggests trusted networks, likely meant to secure voyages. The variety of routes to New Netherland via Curaçao and other Caribbean locales encourage a new perspective on the role of New Netherland in the wider Atlantic sphere. More broadly, the database reflects a dynamic and connected Dutch North Atlantic network and highlights the influence of the system of ships at the helm of seventeenth-century Dutch imperial expansion into the North Atlantic.
While databases offer unique opportunities for historical analyses, their structure inherently limits the ability to convey the nuance of historical records. In the database format, any gaps in the history are expressed as missing data points. These gaps are most evident in the earliest voyages to New Netherland, for which there are sparse records. There are also relatively few exact dates available for voyage departures and arrivals. And passenger data must always be considered incomplete, as there are no known "lists." In an attempt to contribute context and to supplement the data, the database includes voyage notes for pertinent information that falls outside of the data structure. The database will continue to be updated and refined as new information comes to light that can help fill those gaps.
This project is the result of a Charles W. Wendell Research Grant and many hours of research, questioning, discovery, and crosschecking. My gratitude goes to the Grant Committee of the New Netherland Institute for their support of this project and for their patience, and especially, to Charles Gehring and Steve McEarleane for their direction. Appreciation also goes to Jaap Jacobs for generously sharing his earlier work on New Netherland voyages and to Jesse Sadler for his guidance during the initial data design and analysis.
Julie van den Hout has a bachelor's degree in Linguistics and Dutch Studies from UC Berkeley and a master's degree in History from San Francisco State University. She is the author of Adriaen van der Donck, A Dutch Rebel in Seventeenth-Century America (2018).
Image: Dutch Ships in a Calm Sea, Willem van de Velde (II), c. 1665. Rijksmuseum.