April 2009 marks 400 years since Captain Henry Hudson departed Amsterdam on a Dutch East India Company ship, the Halve Maen (Half Moon). That September, Hudson sailed up the New York River that now bears his name. Hudson’s voyage attracted Dutch traders to the area, leading to the establishment of diverse, relatively tolerant settlements: New Amsterdam and the New Netherland colony.
These Dutch-American pioneers brought with them liberal values cherished in the Dutch Republic of the 17th century. The Dutch had wrested themselves from Spanish dominance and cherished their freedom. They established a collaborative ruling body that would govern the affairs of the seven united provinces that made up the Republic, leaving a great deal of autonomy to the provinces, cities and citizens. Taking pride in their independence, the Dutch were entrepreneurial, open-minded (although some would call them stubborn) and tolerant to different religions or convictions. These liberal values -and the Dutch ‘act of secession’ from Spanish rule- would be a source of inspiration for the American Founding Fathers two centuries later.
The formal Dutch presence in New Netherland lasted only 50 years, yet its influence is still evident today. The quadricentennial of Hudson’s voyage offers an excellent opportunity to celebrate the importance of our shared history and values, yesterday, today and tomorrow.