The English Puritans, the Dutch West India Co. and the New World

Status
Not open for further replies.

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
The English Puritans, the Dutch West India Co. and the New World

I am posting this here although it could just as easily go into "Library"...if the leadership thinks that's a better place for it, by all means, I'd be happy for it's removal there.

I am currently reading, or, rather, listening to an audio version of the book "œThe Island at the Center of the World" by Russell Shorto. This is a narrative consolidation of the work of scholar Charles Gehring, busy lo these many years translating over 12,000 pages of legal documents recently discovered and which had lay hidden in the state library of New York in Albany for, literally, centuries until discovered in the 1970´s.

These documents are from the original Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam and give valuable and fascinating insight into a period of American history relatively unknown to most.

Shorto talks about the globally burgeoning Dutch mercantile empire, its on again, off again wars with Britain, France and Spain especially as it relates to the essentially economic and business character of the New Netherlands settlement.

On several occasions, he contrasts the character of the Dutch settlement with that of the puritans and pilgrims further north up the coast in New England. Despite some really trite and simplistic dismissals of Puritanism generally and of the "œtheocratic experiment" of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he continually belabors the point that, compared to the stuffiness of English Puritanism, the Dutch were enlightened, liberal, clean and tolerant. The New Amsterdam settlement is rejoiced in as an assemblage of taverns and brothels and warehouses where the residents were not so much colonists as employees, and later after the VOC gave up their monopoly, venture capitalists.

He mentions that both the English up the coast and the Dutch government, both in Holland and in the new world were ardently Calvinist.

Which brings me to the question, which has been rolling around in my head since I started "˜reading´ this book:

Why is Puritanism a distinctly English and later American movement? Why didn´t the Dutch (or the Palatine Germans for that matter, or the Swiss) ever evince the puritan spirit?

I realize that I am attempting to deal in some pretty ambiguous terms. "œPuritan" doesn´t mean the same thing to everyone even though it may probably be safely assumed that everyone on this board at least has a fairly consistent and concurrent understanding of it. But even so, it may take some wrangling for some of us to work out what "œthe spirit of Puritanism" is. For too many the expression would refer to dourness, strict conservatism and, to paraphrase Mencken, a devout interest in making sure that no one ever has any fun. I don´t think anyone here would fall prey to that particular caricature but still, it would probably be good to get a working definition of it and expressions like it.

I mean I know what it means, or I know what I mean when I say it and I don´t think it´s too far off what most here would think about it, to whit, it is characterized by a desire to purify, the church especially, but society generally, of those sins and errors which cause it to fall so far short of the godly ideal.

However you define it, the Dutch didn´t have it. Despite efforts of the States general to legislate certain behaviors in their domains they never really seem to have shown the same zeal the puritans did.

It may have something to do with the essentially plural character of the Netherlands at the time. Despite a Reformed majority, there were still sizeable areas, which still adhered to Romanism (The Brabant, for example). This, and other factors (the early enlightenment hit them hard especially at Leyden, they were essentially a people and nation built on warehousing and trade [Holland boasts few natural resources], etc.) may have led them to a more "œtolerant" view not only of non-Reformed religions but also of behaviors that their English Calvinist counterparts would have found odious.

It is known for example that one thing which really galvanized Bradford and his people to sail for the new world after having settled at Leyden was a fear that too close commerce with these cosmopolitan people would rub off on them and soil them in some way. And indeed, when Bradford finally left, he did so with only a majority of those he had originally gone there with.

Thanks for letting me meander"¦the question is simple but I´ll reiterate: Why was Puritanism a solely English phenomenon? Or, more correctly, why didn´t the Dutch, every bit as ardently Calvinist as the English, develop a similar "˜movement´ to any great degree?

Discuss please!
 

VirginiaHuguenot

Puritanboard Librarian
Interesting questions. I don't have a comprehensive answer, but I'll toss out one factor that should be considered.

In reading my antiquarian 8-volume set on the ecclesiastical history of New York and from visiting New Paltz and researching the 17th century Huguenot diaspora, I have come to understand that the Dutch colonists were not nearly as culturally isolated as the British Puritans or the Scottish Presbyterians. (I am not arguing that their cultural isolation was a bad thing, by the way, and nor do I argue that they were completely isolated from Continental influences; they were not.)

Historically, the Netherlands were very much a melting pot. No doubt you will recall that the Pilgrims (English Separatists) came to Massachusetts by way of Holland. While there, some were incorporated into their group who were actually French Huguenots and not British at all. Likewise, when the Dutch came to New York, many of them were French Huguenot or Walloon. The New Paltz settlement is thought of as Dutch but Huguenot Street in New Paltz, the "oldest street in America," derives its name from the true origin of those settlers. The Dutch have unique characteristics with respect to culture and religion, but their proximity to Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and Scandavian countries, not to mention the UK, helped (as you noted) to promote a sense of "tolerance" and lead to a haven for the good and the bad in a theological sense.

Thus, the Dutch influence on American culture, history and religion comes from a much more diverse blend than that from the British isles.
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks, Andrew; as always, I respect and value your insight on anything having to do with history, an avocation we seem to share.
 

tcalbrecht

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by Steadfast
Thanks for letting me meander"¦the question is simple but I´ll reiterate: Why was Puritanism a solely English phenomenon? Or, more correctly, why didn´t the Dutch, every bit as ardently Calvinist as the English, develop a similar "˜movement´ to any great degree?

Because they realized they wouldn't be able to celebrate Christmas. :lol:
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Just going by my background I would say that the Dutch were not as influenced by John Knox as the Puritans. Their views were never legalistically oriented. For example, the Dutch don't have a RPW like the Puritans do, though they were just as adamant about Sola Scriptura. If you look at their catechism, as an example, they put the exposition of the law in the section on thankful living, not under the knowledge of sin and misery.

Even today you won't find one single Theonomist among them; they just won't countenance it. Yet that in no way disparages their zeal to have the law read every Sunday for the confession of sins, and to declare an assurance of pardon to those who are repentant and seek to find life apart from themselves in Christ Jesus our Lord. The law is very normative, but not legalistic.

That seems to be quite distant from the Second Reformation, the Solemn League and Covenant, and all that Presbyterian history. Not that I think it just legalistic wrangling, but that there was more political influence there than in Holland, which manifested itself in a more legalistic expression of the same faith. To put it more simplistically, and perhaps not as accurately: in Holland the church ran the government; in England the government ran the church.

Bradford and his people found a refuge in Leydon, and not everyone was willing to move from that relative comfort to risk the dangers of the new world. But the original intent had always been to go to the new world; with only the pastor and a few remaining behind until things got settled. But these were not Calvinists like their hosts were, and did feel some discomfort in their Dutch setting. As I understand, they gained a few converts from Dutch Calvinism, and so were regarded with some disdain by some as teaching a strange form of Christianity. (It's been a while since I read that book, the narrative written from Bradford's rediscovered memoirs, so I may have that wrong. )
 

AdamM

Puritan Board Freshman
What makes the Puritans unique among Calvinists is their development of "œExperimental Calvinism." It was the belief that God is most glorified not just by His people confessing correct doctrine, but having their inward affections finding their delight in Him. "œHeart Religion" is another description of the Puritan approach. (For what it's worth, there have been Dutchmen such as Wilhelmus A Brakel and Joel Beeke today who were/are "Puritan" in spirit.)
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Originally posted by AdamM
What makes the Puritans unique among Calvinists is their development of "œExperimental Calvinism." It was the belief that God is most glorified not just by His people confessing correct doctrine, but having their inward affections finding their delight in Him. "œHeart Religion" is another description of the Puritan approach. (For what it's worth, there have been Dutchmen such as Wilhelmus A Brakel and Joel Beeke today who were/are "Puritan" in spirit.)

:up:

I'm tellin' ya, Adam, you HAVE to start up a church! You have 18 months, give or take. :lol:
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Originally posted by tcalbrecht
Originally posted by Steadfast
Thanks for letting me meander"¦the question is simple but I´ll reiterate: Why was Puritanism a solely English phenomenon? Or, more correctly, why didn´t the Dutch, every bit as ardently Calvinist as the English, develop a similar "˜movement´ to any great degree?

Because they realized they wouldn't be able to celebrate Christmas. :lol:

That's interesting, Tom. And it may not be just a funny remark. The Dutch celebrate Sinter Klaas on Dec. 5th, and later observe Dec. 25th for Christmas. But they don't all observe it by going to church, while they will observe Sinter Klaas whether it be on a Sunday or not. I just don't understand it, myself. And I'm from Dutch origin. Could it be the proximity of the Netherlands to the German culture?

But did the Puritans make any such observances? The Pilgrims avoided it tenaciously, as I recall.
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks very much to all for your responses.

I think I kind of knew what Adam said, but I appreciated reading it in black and white...thinking Edwards, Edwards, and leading to new questions about the crossing of pietism with the Calvinist stream.

John, thanks a lot for your response(s) too...I have some Dutch way way back, but not much, just a sliver of a fellow named Root and another named Van Sweringen. It's great to hear perspective from a person within their "sphere of influence".

;)
 

tcalbrecht

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by JohnV
That's interesting, Tom. And it may not be just a funny remark.

In all humor there must be an element of truth.

The continental reformed (ala the TFU; the "Dutch") made it clear that they liked the idea of church holy days.

Moreover, if in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord's nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly. But we do not approve of feasts instituted for men and for saints. Holy days have to do with the first Table of the Law and belong to God alone. Finally, holy days which have been instituted for the saints and which we have abolished, have much that is absurd and useless, and are not to be tolerated. In the meantime, we confess that the remembrance of saints, at a suitable time and place, is to be profitably commended to the people in sermons, and the holy examples of the saints set forth to be imitated by all.

That's a big "if" in the first sentence. The Puritans denied that the church had the option of instituting holy days no matter how pious or religious they might appear. The church had no liberty to do what God had not commanded in worship.


THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord's day, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued. (The Directory for the Publick Worship of God)

Perhaps the difference is due to the Puritan vs. "Dutch" view of the Sabbath. The Dutch deny the idea of a Christian Saabbath, so there is nothing to guard as far as God or His moral law is concerned.


Moreover, we celebrate the Lord's Day and not the Sabbath as a free observance. (The Second Helvetic Confession, 24)

Perhaps they viewed the notion of a Christian Sabbath as one of those "Jewish dreams" spoken of elsewhere in the TFU.

By contract the WCF say:


As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

They loved what they had so they were content to stick with it.
 

Peter

Puritan Board Junior
What Andrew said about the "cultural isolationism" of Scotland contributing to the rise of Puritanism reminded me of a possible exception to the idea a form of Dutch Puritanism never appeared- the Afrikaaners. The Afrikaaners were primarily Dutch, though Calvinists of other cultures were mixed in, but the thing they had in common with the Scots was their isolation from the rest of the world and the development of a more rigid Calvinism.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I recall stories my Dad told us of when he was a lad, when he would sneak out and and either bike somewhere or skate on the slueces. If their parents ever found out that he and his buddies did this on a Sunday they would be in for it. Of course they did it all the time on the other six days, but Sundays were strictly observed. There definitely was no play allowed, so biking or skating were out. The only exercise they got was in walking to church and back for both services.

Now if you had the holy occupation of dairy farming, then of course milking on Sundays was as good as going to church. Now this is a sarcasm, but some who were herdsmen who could go to church only once because of their work were seen as twicers, (go to church twice per Sunday) while others, with some other occupation that allowed them only one service per Sunday were deemed as oncers]/i] (go to church once per Sunday. ) If the family was there, but the father wasn't, because of his duty to his cows, then he was a twicer, but if his wife and children weren't there for the second service, then he was a oncer. It didn't matter that the wife did not drive, or did not have her licence, or did not have a car; everyone made it to church somehow.

It's strange, though, that our particular congregation was made of about 1/3 oncers and 2/3 [i[twicers
. That can be attributed to the mass immigration features of the 40's and 50's. You see, not all were church-going people, but they too were in that mass of people that suddenly picked up and moved to the new world on the sponsorship of the Dutch government. Many came unprepared, and with two trunks, and two hundred dollars maximum to qualify for the sponsorship. So these too needed a community for fellowship. So they joined the churches that these immigrant families formed, just for the community aspect of it. These were usually the oncers.

Just a vignette from the past.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top