Methods and Sources
The database records details on voyages of ships that made port in New Netherland for the years 1609-1664. (This period covers Dutch control of New Netherland, but excludes the brief 1673 recapture of the colony so as not to conflate Dutch and English interests.) For this project, a voyage is defined as the journey from point of departure to point of return, usually round trip, but encompassing any segments, or legs, of the voyage created by stops underway. The purpose of the project is twofold--first, to provide an evidence-based, freely accessible, online database of voyages, and second, to present visual analyses of the data.
This project draws from primary sources that were collected, evaluated, and mined for information surrounding voyages to New Netherland. Many of the sources queried come from colonial manuscripts and translated Dutch documents held in the New York State Archives, New York State Library, and the National Archives of the Netherlands. These include Dutch colonial court records, council minutes, administrative correspondence between West India Company principals in the Dutch Republic and colonial administrators, merchant correspondence, ships' journals, account books, and soldier rolls, among other primary sources. Information surrounding the logistics of voyages to and from the Dutch Republic comes principally from notarial records in the Municipal Archives of Amsterdam. Approximately 4,700 "Hart Summaries," of notarial documents held in the Amsterdam Municipal Archives and on microfilm at the New York State Archives provided a myriad of details in outlined legal contracts pertaining to shipping as well as in declarations made by crews and passengers before and after voyages. While colonial records tend to prioritize administrative interests, letters, journals, and, especially, statements made in notarial documents, enlightened the perspectives of ordinary sailors, passengers, and colonists. Though time and access did not permit examination of all notarial documents these summaries represent, the scanned manuscripts were consulted when conflicting information demanded clarification. Resolving conflicting information required an understanding of context, crosschecking of sources, and containing the scope of analyses to the evidence available. Information was crosschecked by creating a timeline of voyages for each individual ship to contextualize activities within events in the colonies, while reanalyzing all voyages as a chronology to examine ships' interactions with each other.
Data variables collected and recorded include:
Place of departure and arrival
Dates of departure and arrival
Ship owner or charterer
Enslaved Africans transported
Information was entered into the database in standardized formats in order to make terms searchable and analyzable. Terms were then analyzed for data visualizations and presented as timelines, maps, graphs, and a social network analysis. Data visualizations are an important part of digital humanities projects such as this, for their ability to expose previously unexamined connections between various attributes of the data, to reveal new perspectives and interpretations of known sources, and to generate research questions.
Examining individual voyages while evaluating the system of ships as a whole, tells us that the activities of ships were an integral part of the history and development of New Netherland. For example, the data demonstrate the inherent risk of transatlantic voyages through bad weather, shortages of food or water, shipwreck, or capture, with resulting repercussions for the colony. Merchant voyages increased substantially after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, enhancing economic growth in the colony. Ships' tonnage trended upward over time, with tobacco exports sustaining the colony as supplies of beaver skins waned. A social network analysis indicates that the West India Company as well as private merchants outfitters established relationships with certain skippers that likely represented trusted partnerships and secured economic interests. Stops in Curaçao and the island's reciprocal trade with New Netherland indicate that these two peripheral nodes, along with the Dutch Republic, made up a Dutch North Atlantic network. In summary, integrating the activities of ships into the story of New Netherland is critical to understanding its development.