One of the news items in a recent summary of “This Week’s Top New York History News” here at The New York History Blog had a link to an article from the Albany Times Union (reprinted from the New York Times), entitled “New York Won’t Celebrate 350th Birthday.” The article noted that neither the city nor the state was commemorating the takeover of New Netherland by the British in August, 1664.
The writer suggested that “a dispassion for the past” among the public was a basic explanation.
The article quoted a historian who said: “I’m trying to imagine what it would look like: a re-enactment of British ships threatening to bombard the Wall Street area? But nothing actually happened, not a shot fired, except for Peter Stuyvesant’s temper tantrum. Not sparky stuff. Lowering a Dutch flag somewhere and raising a British one instead? Doesn’t set the pulse a-pounding.”
Of course, that perspective seems rather limited. It does not take into account the historical significance of the event. The British takeover was the beginning of the colony of New York and a major step in Britain’s control of what later became the United States.
This might have been an opportunity not only to commemorate the event but also to call public attention to New York’s historical development and greatness.
Just to the south, New Jersey is building a series of commemorative events around “New Jersey 350,” emphasizing the themes of innovation, diversity, and liberty. “Since its creation in 1664, New Jersey has played a pivotal role in the shaping of American life and culture,” says the website. “Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to commemorate the Garden State’s notable contributions to the nation and the world.”
New York needs to do more to commemorate turning points in its history, and to use them to build public awareness of that history. Leadership is essential. That points up the need for a Commission on New York State History, proposed by Assemblyman Steve Englebright in the 2014 legislature. His bill is being revised and will be reintroduced next year.
This also points to the opportunities for New York State History Month, which Section 57.02 of the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law designates as November. Section 2 of the law says “The purpose of this month shall be to celebrate the history of New York state and recognize the contributions of state and local historians.” The law has been on the statue books for several years with little attention or official activity.
There seems to be some rising interest in History Month this year. In Albany, the University Club is planning a series of History Month events. The State Museum is developing links to websites of organizations that may be initiating History Month events.
November would be a great time to take up the story of the beginning of New York, including its brief reconquest by the Dutch a few years after the British takeover, and its subsequent return to the British.
Illustration: Articles about the Transfer of New Netherland on the 27th of August, Old Style, Anno 1664.