In June 1743, three sailors aboard the schooner Rising Sun mutinied and murdered the ship’s captain, Newark Jackson, the supercargo or merchant, George Ledain, and two other crew members. The mutiny occurred shortly after the ship completed a trading venture to Suriname that exchanged captive Africans for cacao, sugar, molasses, and silver. Jackson and Ledain were merchants from Boston, Massachusetts, established figures in the New England-Suriname trade, and, had the mutiny not occurred, the voyage would have been another routine trading venture between the English and Dutch colonies. This mutiny is the subject of my recent research and sheds light on the significance of using Dutch archival sources to understand the British North American colonies that eventually became the United States.
While English-language sources provide details of the mutiny, Dutch sources provide a more complete and accurate accounting. Dutch authorities captured, tried, and executed the mutineers in Suriname and the trial left an extensive documentary record that allow us to better understand this case. On the surface, the activities onboard the Rising Sun appear like other long-studied early American trade networks. Yet, Dutch sources tell a different story.
A critical figure largely absent from the English sources is Edward Tothill, a Dutch-speaking, New Amsterdam descendant with ties to Suriname. Tothill’s name appears all the over the trial documents, where he signed affidavits, filed petitions, and facilitated the recovery and distribution of the Rising Sun and her cargo for the ship’s owners and deceased men. In taking such actions, Tothill was fulfilling his role as an agent for merchants and ship captains from New England doing business in Suriname. Tothill’s background demonstrates why he found himself in such a position. His father was Jeremiah Tothill, an English merchant living in New York City. Jeremiah married Janneken de Key, the daughter of a prominent Dutch New Amsterdam family. Edward later moved to Boston. One of Tothill’s cousins married Abraham Wendell, a Dutch merchant from Albany, who also relocated to Boston and became an established figure in the city’s merchant community. It should not be surprising that when Wendell became involved in the Suriname trade, he turned to Dutch-speaking kinsman Edward Tothill to serve as his agent. In the case of Tothill, the Dutch archives allow us to better reconstruct the life of a key facilitator in the trade between Suriname and the British colonies.
Tracing Edward Tothill’s connections in Suriname also led to the discovery of Fairfield Plantation where Tothill acquired the cacao that was onboard the Rising Sun. As its English name suggests, Fairfield did not belong to a Dutch proprietor, but rather Massachusetts merchant and planter, Isaac Royall Jr. Royall’s wife Elizabeth inherited Fairfield upon her grandfather’s death in 1725 and Royall requested Dutch authorities take an inventory of the estate in 1740. The very existence of this inventory and the ability to link it to Tothill—and thus The Rising Sun—suggests something different about New England’s trading activities. All the men involved constituted a trade diaspora that spread out of New England, across the British Atlantic, and ended in Suriname. The discovery of Fairfield and its implications for understanding early New England demonstrates how looking at Dutch sources on trade networks can yield unexpected discoveries.
Even after the fall of New Netherland, the Dutch remained important. Dutch archives enrich and alter our understanding of important themes and institutions in early America—even for historians of New England like myself. I would argue they help us more accurately approximate the way in which people like those involved in the case of the Rising Sun understood the world they lived in. Indeed, if we want to more fully want to understand New England colonists and their way of life, Dutch colonial records can prove invaluable.
Jared Ross Hardesty received his PhD from Boston College and is currently associate professor of history at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. He is the author of Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston (New York: NYU Press, 2016) and Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England (Amherst & Boston: Bright Leaf, 2019). His current research project examines the murder of an eighteenth-century slave trader, smuggler, and chocolatier and is entitled The Case of the Rising Sun: A Tale of Smuggling, Murder, and Chocolate in Early America.