A Description of New Netherland

By Adriaen Van der Donck; Charles T. Gehring et al. | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

Russell Shorto

In 1641 a young Dutchman did what millions of Europeans after him would do: left his home and all that he knew and set off on a voyage to America. Of those millions, most would live fairly anonymous lives; a few would do great things and receive due attention in history books. Adriaen van der Donck — who was born, probably in 1618, in the Dutch city of Breda, and died in 1655, most likely at his estate along the Hudson River — falls in between: his achievements in his adopted homeland are remarkable, and yet he has been largely forgotten.

This publication is in part an attempt at redressing that oversight. Van der Donck’s A Description of New Netherland was published in full exactly twice — in 1655 and 1656 — both times in Dutch. There was one incomplete English translation, done in 1841 and reprinted in 1968, which scholars have long realized is inadequate. Besides its inaccuracies, that version left out some of the best and most historically important parts of the book, including much of Van der Donck’s noteworthy account of the region’s Indians. The historian Thomas O’Donnell called A Description of New Netherland “one of America’s oldest literary treasures” and said that were it not for the fact that Van der Donck wrote in Dutch rather than English, “his Description would certainly have won from posterity the same

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