"TIED TO THE MAYPOLE WITH A LIBELLOUS SONG OVER HIS HEAD: SECURING JUSTICE FOR ENGLISH RESIDENTS IN NEW NETHERLAND'S COURTS" BY SUZE ZIJLSTRA

In New Amsterdam, 10 June 1645, English clergyman Francis Doughty (“François Doutey” in the source) filed a complaint against Englishman William Gerritsz accusing him of writing a “scandalous” song about Doughty and his daughter Mary. We don’t know the words to the song - unfortunately not recorded - but we do know that the Dutch court at the time recognized its libellous nature and decided to act. After Gerritsz publicly acknowledged that was the author of the song, he was sentenced “to stand in the fort tied to the Maypole, with two rods around his neck and the said song over his head, and remain there as an example to others until the English service is over. Furthermore, if the song be again sung by him, he shall be flogged and banished from this country”. [1]

In this case, with both an English plaintiff and an English defendant, the court demonstrated to the Dutch colony’s English inhabitants that Gerritsz’s behaviour would not go unpunished and, more importantly, that they could turn to a local Dutch court to get justice.  No doubt Francis Doughty was satisfied; the sentence was to be carried out at the fort as he was preaching to other English residents and the court’s sanction ensured that people would think twice about subjecting the Doughty reputation to further public insult.

Although Francis Doughty is well known in New Netherland’s history – a religious dissenter from New England who settled in Mespat/Newtown and continued to be a controversial figure in the colony – his complaint against a libellous song is one of many confrontations that reveals the sensibilities of New Netherland’s courts in securing justice for a multi-ethnic European population. In my research on Anglo-Dutch relations in the colony of New Netherland, I use court cases that record such daily interactions and disputes as the one described above to investigate the degree to which English inhabitants were included in the colony’s social structures, and whether or not New Netherland’s government made them feel as if they were welcome and respected members of the colonial society. Interactions between English and Dutch inhabitants of the colony went far beyond commercial transactions, and the court records of New Netherland offer the possibility to study the nature of these day-to-day interactions up close.

Suze Zijlstra received her Ph. D. from the University of Amsterdam in 2015.   Her dissertation was entitled 'Anglo-Dutch Suriname: Ethnic Interaction and Colonial Transition in the Caribbean, 1651-1682'. She is currently Assistant Professor of Maritime History at Leiden University.

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