September 13, 2009

How Mannahatta became Manhattan

Hudson Is Not My Hero: Anniversary Highlights 400 Years of Exploitation

A Review of the book, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City, by Eric. W. Sanderson.

By Jessica Lee
Sanderson’s portrait of Mannahatta provides a lens to see why European explorer-capitalists would have drooled over this little island. That while his exploration did not lead to the East Indies like he had hoped, this location was surely as rich: “… skins and peltries, martins, foxes,” Hudson promptly reported to his financiers when he returned to Amsterdam. Less than a year later, Dutch private traders, including the famous Adriaen Block (which a school in Flushing, Queens, is named after), launched profit-seeking fur expeditions into the area.

While Mannahatta provides us with beautiful pictures and descriptions, the book gravely lacks significant political, economic and historical information and analysis to explain the forces that transformed the island to what we recognize today.

“Hudson’s quest was tied into the historic current washing over the powers of Europe … to reach around the globe: to discover, exploit, expand, to do business,” writes Russell Shorto in The Island at the Center of the World, a 2004 groundbreaking glimpse of the role of the Dutch in early American history. “As the European powers sent off their navies and adventurer-businessmen to roam the seas in history’s first truly global era, this island would become a fulcrum in the international power struggle, the key to control of a continent and a new world.”
Comment:  This review overlooks the Christian basis for the European expansion and colonization. The explorers and conquerors could do their dirty work because the Bible said they could.

Whenever we discuss the conquest of America, we should remember this point. The "noble" Pilgrims had economic motives and the "noble" explorers had religious motives. The two are inextricably intertwined.

For more on the subject, see Those Evil Europeans.

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